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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4138

Mr ERWIN (Ballaarat) - Australia today is entering an era of development which was never envisaged when the first settlement took place less than two centuries ago, and which was not fully realised even at the time of federation 72 years ago. No time is more opportune than now to take stock, plan ahead and organise so that development will be smooth and beneficial to all and the mistakes of the past will not be repeated or aggravated. There is no doubt in my mind that Australia's No. 1 problem is decentralisation. Decentralisation means far more than encouraging a few industries to establish themselves outside the big capital cities, although this industrial movement may be termed the core of decentralisation. Decentralisation is the spreading of our whole industrial, commercial and business life more evenly over the land we occupy, according to each part's relative capacity. It is a vital national problem, and to succeed it must become a national way of thought.

We live in a country which, potentially, has the greatest promise of any in the world. What a grand thing it would be if we had a properly distributed population and industrial, transport and commercial strength, which, I believe, are vital necessities for the proper and orderly functioning of our society and the proper and adequate usage of our country. Now that we have our large cities, quite out of proportion to our total population, we are, to use a colloquial term, stuck with them. But if the nation is alert to the potential and actual danger of large cities then the development of these cities can be slowed and a better distribution of population and all the essentials of a modern society can be achieved. Decentralisation must begin at the top. You must have wider and more intimate control through more States, if you are a federalist - and more regions, if you are a centralist - because centralisation of control in the big capital cities is the great barrier to the decentralisation of every other form of activity. All this cannot be achieved overnight, but if the will and the unity of purpose can be found, Australia could witness a revolution in the development of this land that would make her one of the greatest nations on earth.

To deal fully with the question of new States one must look back to Australia's history to see how the present division of administration occurred and where it fell short of perfection. Its basic cause lies in the fact that for many years after 1788 Britain had no interest in Australia other than as a place in which to dump unwanted citizens. Nor could Britain, at that stage of history, with poor communications, appreciate any real potential in the country. But the spirit of men here was greater than the vision of faraway politicians, and gradually the people spread out from Port Jackson to the north, south and west.

As new areas developed, demands for selfadministration grew and Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia emerged. It is difficult to understand why the division stopped there. As the people spread north to Queensland and into the New England and Riverina areas of New South Wales one might have expected new colonies to arise as people got further and further away from the centres of administration, particularly in view of the slow transport facilities in those days. Yet today we have large administrative areas in which more than half the people live in or near big capital cities. The remaining half get government at a distance. It is no criticism of a metropolitan government to say that it does not understand or appreciate the day-to day problems of people hundreds of miles away. Members of Parliament are, after all, ordinary people. If a member of Parliament is born and lives practically the whole of his life in say, Sydney he cannot, no matter how hard he may try, have a proper appreciation of the problems of the people of Bourke, or Walgett or Coonabarabran. In the first place, their way of thinking is entirely different; their lives are poles apart. And where there is no real appreciation, and no proper understanding of the problems of others there can, unfortunately, be no true sympathy with them.

In all the mainland State parliaments metropolitan members outnumber those from the country. In Victoria, for example, there are two metropolitan members to every member from the country. If only half as many people live in the country as in the capital city it not be claimed that this is unfair - no section can claim any greater proportional representation than another - but it does mean that up to two-thirds of the State's parliamentary representatives 'think metropolitan*. This is not unreasonable; in fact it is only natural, as I have already pointed out. But it produces a state of affairs where those outside the big cities get government at a distance, and government not fully sympathetic to their needs.

I do not suggest for one moment that State governments have been totally unmindful of their obligations to all the people in their States. I am simply suggesting that people living long distances from the centre of administration would be better suited if allowed to conduct their own affairs. The metropolitanmindedness of governments must always be a barrier to proper decentralisation, uvi the claims of success made for decentralisation policies are somewhat exaggerated.

The big capital cities are still outpacing all other areas. The really big industries have mostly congregated in or near the capitals. After World War II many industries established annexes in country areas, setting them up in old school buildings, public halls or temporary structures. There was never any really permanent aura about them. Certainly some of them have remained, but just as many have long since closed down. The movement < ┬╗me at a time when labour everywhere war in short supply. These industries soaked up the labour available in the country, and they have now returned to the big cities and have taken this labour with them, actually worsening the position. What happened, of course, in a great number of those instances, was that the industry so established in a country town was just large enough to utilise the spare labour available in and around the town. There were few big enough to create employment opportunities over and above the labour force available locally that would bring new people to the locality.

The big industries continue to crowd the capital cities. It is argued that they must be established there because that is where the labour is. That is not a wholly valid argument. Obviously the labour is there, because that is where the jobs are. Continuing to provide avenues of employment in the big cities is only further ensuring that more labour congregates there. It must follow that, if jobs are created elsewhere, the labour will move to them. One of the classic examples of this is the Latrobe Valley in Victoria. There could be no suggestion that the great industry of this valley should be established in Melbourne, because the very essence of it, the huge browncoal deposits, happen to be 90 miles away from Melbourne.

Another example is Broken Hill, a city of 30,000 inhabitants in what is a barren and somewhat unprepossessing area. If labour could be found for the Latrobe Valley because the brown coal was there, and if labour could be found to establish a city of 30,000 people at Broken Hill because the silver-lead was there, it must follow that if a big automobile plant is established in a relatively small town or city the labour will move to it. There is only one difference in the 2 cases. In one case circumstances force the establishment on a site, whereas in the other case private enterprise cannot be forced to set up its establishments in any particular place. But governments may point the way, and can encourage such movements, whilst industry itself should be able to realise that by crowding into the big cities it is contributing to their target potential in time of war and to a bad balance of population in times of peace. In addition to the defence and population imbalance factors, there is a third reason why we must endeavour to slow down, stop, or even reverse, the growth of the big capital cities. It is simply that Australia cannot afford such large cities. A factor not often realised, but nevertheless true, is that big cities cost money. These are costs that every nation must eventually meet, but they should not have to be met on the present scale in a country with a population of only approximately 13 million people.

Like our over-large administrative divisions, our big cities are a legacy of our history. They began as ports, simply to supply the needs of the settlers. They became the administrative centres for colonies covering large areas. When people began to move inland, the governments stayed where they were. Commerce gathered around them, and eventually industry followed. Because of this administrate failure to reach out into the new land, as the Americans had done, commerce, industry and administration all became concentrated in the one spot. It was simply a case of applying a European administrative concept in an American-sized country.

There seems to be in Australia a general conception that a State capital must also be the chief port. That is not so. It is interesting to note that of the SO American State capitals only three, Boston in Massachusetts, Providence in Rhode Island and Honolulu in Hawaii are ports, and of these only Boston can be regarded as being a port of any importance in the American scene. There is also the view that the capital must be the largest city. Again, only 14 of the 50 American State capitals fall into this category. Obviously when, a century ago, our States became selfgoverning colonies, no consideration was given to whether the place where the administration had been set up for the convenience of far away England was, in fact, the best site for the capital of the colony.

It is interesting to note that, in the last 100 years, the population of Ballarat has risen from approximately 47,000 to approximately 65,000, while that of Brisbane has increased from 22,000 to 817,000. The fact that Brisbane became the chief port for the south Queensland area made it inevitable that it would leap ahead of Ballarat which was, in any case, bound to lose population as the gold rush subsided. However, it is obvious that the retention of administration at Brisbane has resulted in the proportional increase being out of all reason. Naturally at this stage it is too late to make a change. Leaving aside the enormous cost that such moves would involve, it is doubtful whether any useful purpose would be achieved, for the capitals have developed where they are. However we should recognise them as mistakes of the past and not repeat them in the future.

Unfortunately the mistake is already being repeated in Darwin. The capital of a territory 1,000 miles long, it is being groomed as a future State capital for the whole of that area. It is the chief port, the chief air terminal and the administrative centre. As Darwin grows, commercial and industrial life will concentrate there while the remainder of activity in the Territory, except for mining and a few other allied industries, will be left to develop more slowly. It is another Sydney or Melbourne in embryo, and 100 or 150 years from now the scattered inland people will feel just as badly about metropolitan-dominated government there as country people in New South Wales do now. Darwin has an assured future as a port and an air terminal. The Government should be assuring a future for some other centre.

The establishment of new States cannot adjust Australia's population imbalance overnight. In fact the big cities have such a start that there will always be a fairly bad imbalance. However, with a realistic administrative approach to the problem, new States will achieve much that is worthwhile. First, they will give people who are now a long way from their administrative centres the opportunity to govern themselves. Secondly, they will produce more compact areas, with which the administration will be in closer touch. Thirdly, they will provide an opportunity to draw to particular areas. Fourthly, provided the total force is not simply enlarged, they will draw their public service from the existing and reduced States, bringing with them people to provide the necessary additional services. Fifthly, they will create avenues of employment; they will have to draw on the big cities for labour. Lastly, they will produce a change in the 'centre of gravity' of people's thinking, a new spirit and a new interest. All these factors must tend to slow down the growth of the big cities and build up smaller cities elsewhere, but they must be accompanied by a virile decentralisation policy in the States governed from the big capitals to ensure a better dispersal of population to the new areas.

Many proposals for new States have been made. The most active movement has been in the New England area of New South Wales. Proposals have also been made for new States in the northern half of Queensland, in the

Riverina area of New South Wales, in the south-eastern corner of Australia - taking in a section of New South Wales and a section of Victoria - and in the western section of Victoria and the southeast of South Australia. This would give a total of 1 1 States, but there is sufficient population for 13 States to be formed in the populated areas of Australia. I suggest that 7 developmental regions should be established in the more sparsely populated area. It is difficult to say by what rules one would determine an area's ability to govern itself but it would appear that when some of the existing States assumed self-government a population of somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 was considered sufficient. All of the proposed 13 States would have populations well in excess of the 60,000 mark. However, if any principle of minimum population were adopted, it would affect the future of the suggested development regions.

There must be a general awakening to the fact that if we are retain our present standards of living we must decentralise. There also must be a re-adjustment of the financial relationship between the Commonwealth and the States. There must be a re-appraisal of the role of the Commonwealth and the States. There must be a properly integrated interstate highway system and a modern, efficient railway service. Since the war years, mainly because the Australian Government gained taxing powers by means of the Defence Act, the position of the States within the framework of the governments of Australia - Federal State and local - has greatly lessened and weakened. This weakening continues as the Australian Government moves into the various spheres of State government responsibility. Those of us who believe in the federal system rather than unification must work for the formation of new States and the strengthening of their status and importance in the areas of their responsiblity. The question is: Do we fool

Debate (on motion by Mir Scholes) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.7 to 8

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