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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4152

Mr COOKE (Petrie) - It would be churlish of me not to congratulate the Minister for Uiban and Regional Development {Mr Uren) on being the first Commonwealth Minister to bring the Commonwealth into planning for cities. Whether the methods which he intends to use will be successful. I think it is irrefutable that now the Commonwealth is deeply involved in what is happening in the cities, both old and new. Whatever change of political circumstances may come about, I think that the Commonwealth's involvement in this area must continue and will continue to expand in the years ahead. However, I think that the Minister's Department has not yet settled down to a classification of the programs which it wants to implement. The Minister, in his second reading speech on the Albury-Wodonga Development Bill said:

The Government is committed to a direct and continuing involvement in cities, old and new.

A little later he said:

New cities are designed to reduce population pressure on existing cities.

He referred to what he called regional growth centres. I think that there are probably 4 classifications which could be used with greater advantage and greater clarity. Firstly, there are new towns. They are certainly created to reduce population pressures on existing cities. New towns require a different approach and have different problems to solve in their development. The second type of classification is expanded towns. If I might say so, the Albury-Wodonga project would fall into this category because there already is an urban existence in Albury and in Wodonga. The Minister proposes to expand this town into a much larger town with a population of some 300,000. I believe that this is the most difficult sort of project to undertake, and I will say more about that when I deal with the Bill.

The third type of classification is a project involving urban renewal in the inner city areas. The inner city areas of most of the capital cities have run down over the years. They require massive injections of money to assist in buying back land that has passed into seperate ownerships, to bring them into larger agglomerations and thus provide them with all the expertise and techniques that are available to us now. This means that more people will be brought back into the urban centre and this will create a more vital inner city.

The fourth classification I suggest is suburban assistance. This covers the project of the rapidly developing suburban areas where what is needed is Commonwealth money to assist in providing public services which have fallen behind on account of the rapidity of development - things like sewerage, the provision of schools and public libraries and particularly the provision of open space. Very often local councils on the perimeters of cities find that there is a spill-over of 'population into the outer area and it all happens very quickly. Of course, a small local council does not have the finance to cope with the increase in facilities that are required when subdivisions occur at such a rapid rate. Most of them have town plans which are admirable; most of them have provision in their town plans and zoning schemes for open space and public purpose lands; but they do not have the money to acquire these when they are needed. So I see that the fourth classification would be for the Commonwealth Government to provide money to assist in the acquisition of those facilities within the framework of already existing town planning.

Let me briefly give my view of the Commonwealth's role in this field. I see it as a threefold role. The first is to provide teams of experts which could be made available to the States and local government bodies to help with planning and development of new projects. The cost of assembling expert teams of this sort is very high and it is beyond the means of most local councils in Australia. Assistance from the Commonwealth level would be most welcome. The second role for the Commonwealth is to provide money for urban projects. The third is to provide the staff necessary for development corporations where these are required. In my view, development corporations would be required where a new town or an expanded town was being established.

Let me now come to the project which is in fact a pilot project for the Minister for Urban and Regional Development and his Department. I refer to Albury and Wodonga. Without wishing to put the kiss of death on the project at this stage may I perhaps issue a word of caution. I think that Albury-Wodonga is an unhappy choice for the first pilot project. It is an inland city, and everyone knows that the establishment of facilities is far more expensive in the inland than it is on the coast. Also, inland cities have problems with regard to the supply of essential services such as water. That leads on to the second problem which, in my view, means that this is an unhappy choice.

Water control on the Murray River must be an important and worrying consideration for the Department in developing Albury-Wodonga as a city of 300,000 people. Only last week a newspaper article drew attention to the problem of water pollution at Mildura. This must be a serious problem. This morning the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) tabled the minutes of a meeting between himself and the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria. At the meeting the main question debated was the quality of the water in the Murray River and the serious problem that exists there with regard to the salinity of the water. Other problems which were also discussed concerned the establishing of a very large city on the Murray River whose waters are required further down, for both irrigation and urban uses. This creates an additional problem for anyone developing a city in this situation.

The third objection - one which I find most puzzling - is that the Government has selected as its pilot project a city which has all the problems one could possibly think of. There are 2 State governments to deal with; there are 2 local authorities to deal with; and they are all in the centre of the inland area. With that sort of arrangement, trying to obtain agreement on what is to be done in the development of Albury-Wodonga will be a job for a magician. I make a comment in passing on the agreement, which is a schedule to the Act. It looks as though it were drawn up at a Mad Hatter's Tea Party on the Murray under a gum tree. It provides for the establishment of a Commonwealth Development Corporation, a New South Wales Development Corporation and a Victorian Development Corporation. Then there is the curious business of the Ministerial Council. Nothing can be done unless the Ministerial Council comes to a unanimous decision. With these complications I would think that the Ministerial Council should have thought the thing through before it reached any agreement at all. The Minister is shaking his head. I have no doubt that they had great difficulties at this particular tea party. But the point I am making is that the Government has made this selection which has nothing to recommend it at all. Its tremendous administrative problems could have been overcome if the Government had selected a site and dealt with only one State government. That would have been a very much easier task in providing the pilot operation for the types of new cities and expanded cities that the Government wants to produce.

I hope that, as the Minister and his Department gain more experience in the development of new towns, they will arrive at agreements with the States- I hope that the States will be more sensible in their approach to these matters as well - and that more sanity will prevail and a more reasoned and balanced agreement will be arrived at. In my view, there ought to be one development corporation. The development corporation ought to be vested with power to plan and develop the area. It ought to be relatively free from ministerial veto at every turn. It ought to be able to proceed with the planning and development of the area. At the end of it all it ought to be able to hand the area over to some form of local government. This is one of the things which I fear has not really been thought out by the Ministerial Council in relation to Albury-Wodonga. What will happen to AlburyWodonga when it is fully developed by whichever of the 3 development corporations does the job? What form of local government will take the place of the development corporations? The development corporations cannot go on for ever. At some stage they must be wound up. Local government must be established in this area. This is one of the critical things that certainly should be agreed on before things proceed too much further.

I commend to the Minister's attention the provisions of the Bill for Treasury advances to the development corporation. I think that this is a sensible way to go about it. I also urge the Minister to ensure that the Development Corporation keeps proper accounts, because we know that here in Canberra a lot of the development has been paid for by taxpayers' money and no one has any idea how much it has cost. I believe that new towns and expanded towns can be developed in Australia with the assistance of a Treasury advance of some millions of dollars in the first instance. After that the Development Corporation ought to be self financing out of sales of developed land and so on, because in the future the Development Corporation will have the advantage of the rising prices of land in the developed area and ought to be able to break even at least, if not to show a small profit on the Treasury advance. This is something which the Minister ought to keep firmly in mind, to make sure that the accounts are properly kept so that the people of Australia and honourable members can see every year exactly how much money is being spent on this project and how much revenue is being returned from it. I envisage that we would expect this program to cost the Australian taxpayer millions of dollars in direct Treasury advances and in subsidies of various sorts. If we are to establish new cities, we have to accept that. Industry will not go and establish in such new cities unless some inducements by way of financial and tax concessions are offered to it. So we must expect that a considerable amount of money will be spent.

I wish to speak briefly about the land commissions which seem to be associated with the Albury-Wodonga project. They do not come in directly in that development project but they are associated in general terms in one of the Bills that we are discussing here tonight. I do not know what purpose the land commissions will really serve. The Minister said in his second reading speech that their purpose is three-fold. He said that we want to allow areas to be comprehensively planned and developed. I agree with him in that. I think that in most cases it is proper that a development corporation should acquire the land in large lumps if the development is to proceed in an orderly fashion. I am not quite so sure whether it is necessary for the development corporation to acquire all the land within a designated area. It may be possible for the development corporation to acquire only essential public sections of the land in a development plan and allow others to develop privately. I do not know. This is something which perhaps experience will show us and on which the reports of the department will enlighten us as the years go by.

The other point I mention is the acquisition of land. I agree with the Minister that it is reasonable that once an area has been designated as a growth area the owners of land within that designated area should not be unjustly enriched as a result of Government money being spent in developing the project. But on the other hand, I do not believe that owners in the designated area should have to wait up to 10 years before they are paid compensation for the land which was compulsorily acquired from them. I would like to see a reduction in the period for which compensation could be withheld. I would like to see the period reduced to, say, 3 years so that the development corporation, once it has decided to develop an area, could move in and compulsorily acquire all the land which it needed within 3 years of the declaration of the designated area. I think that this would resolve some of the problems which are now causing concern.

One of the other objects of the land commission, according to the Minister's second reading speech, was that the Government wanted to make land available at fair prices. I notice that the Minister used the expression at fair prices'. He has not said that he wants to make land available to people at prices which are less than they can obtain land for now. I think that he is very sensible in doing that because the price of land today contains a very high component for development costs. The price for the raw land will be the same to the Minister's land commission as it will be to the private developer. The development costs of the land will be the same to the Minister's land commission as they will be to the private developer. One would imagine that the margin of profit would be somewhere in the same vicinity if the corporation has development funds with which to finance its own projects. The only thing which the commission will not have to face but which private developers do have to face is the very high rates of interest that have to be paid between the period when the land is bought and the time when ultimately it is sold. Those interest charges may add $500, $600, or $700 to the cost of a block of land, depending on how long it takes for the council concerned to approve of the subdivision and for the property to be sold. So I do not think there will be very much difference in the price of the land which is released by the Minister's land commission, if the commission is to make available fully serviced land for the home buyer. I know that other members on this side of the House want to speak, so I will not say anything more about these Bills now. I may get an opportunity to make a few passing comments on various clauses when the Bills are considered in the Committee stage.

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