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The Forum > Article Comments > Small town life-styles > Comments

Small town life-styles : Comments

By Lyn Allison, published 28/9/2006

Decentralisation is the only possible long-term solution to the sprawling problems of Sydney and Melbourne.

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Spot on Lyn. After working over the data provided by the Bureau of Transport Economics 1996 report, we found that each new settler in Melbourne by 2015 will cost the existing residents $8,000 a year in congestion related costs. In Brisbane it is closer to $12,000 a year.

In contrast, the average expenditure by state governments on each of its citizens is only $6,000 a year. So each new metro settler generates $6,000 in tax revenue but is offset by $6,000 in services and $8,000 in congestion.

Furthermore, these costs are being incorporated into the cost of delivering government services so it is no surprise that service delivery is declining.

The most successful decentralisation experiments in Australia have been Darwin and Canberra. And both of these have been associated with self governance. State expenditure is 15% of GDP so it is an important economic engine in its own right. But at the moment much of this economic engine is misfiring in the regions.

We need new states within the commonwealth so regional communities can spend their own share of GST funds on their own priorities. It is nothing radical. Just create one and the rest will soon follow. And the cities can buy some time to fix their own problems.
Posted by Perseus, Thursday, 28 September 2006 10:28:26 AM
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I can't help but agree, but not all is lost.

Traditionally local councils have been pretty disparate, though in Queensland, the arrival of the Integrated Planning Act has changed a few things.

While councillors, especially those in the smaller shires, are finding it hard to come to grips with new planning requirements, the ultimate goal is to draw these communities closer together - that's why we've seen projects like the much touted Size Shape Sustainability, (SSS) which has in many ways been an attempt at amalgamation by stealth, but still represents an an attempt to share resources of councils.

At the moment, the Southern regions of Queensland are attempting something that hasn't really been done before. Where previously the state government has forced coordinated planning upon the regions, (SEQ regional plan as an example) this time, it is being driven by councils, who are all preparing strategic growth plans and what not, and then coordinating them through wider organisations. The former local government minister Desley Boyle was pretty supportive.

While it all sounds like boring acronyms, the SEQ plan for instance has already kickstarted works on the congested ipswich road.

If the State and Federal government can cotton on to the importance of decentralisation as an alternative to vote grabbing in urban areas, we may yet be able to induce a change in the population demographic.
Posted by TurnRightThenLeft, Thursday, 28 September 2006 11:03:22 AM
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Cue the anti-immigration lobbyists who will once again use a potentially useful thread to instead push their own barrow:
Posted by foundation, Thursday, 28 September 2006 11:15:38 AM
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Lyn,

Just a simple observation: get rainfall maps of the US and Australia. Then you'll see why we didn't decentralise over our vast land as the US has been able to do. Then drive an hour north from Manuka and visit Goulburn. Mt Gambier is another example. Their problems will be repeated over many inland cities in the next hundred years, if my guess is correct. The example you mention of Wagga has huge problems with dry-land salinity and water supply and can ill afford a large population increase

Then consider this: the US had a population of 300 million. It's inevitable that there will be proportionatly more 'city towns', like Wagga in the US than we have, provided they have the water to support them. The same applies in Europe.

Australia is decentralising but along the coasts and mainly to the north. Inevitably, those small towns will link. How we manage that volunteer shift---maybe be green belts---is the challenge, not trying to set up greenfield sites in dust bowls. That was tried with soldier settlemets and failed dismally at great social costs.

Our cities do have problems but whether they are problems in cities or of cities I'm not sure.
Posted by PeterJH, Thursday, 28 September 2006 11:17:52 AM
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Lyn,

Do the Australian Democrats support every building in Australia collecting water from the roof for rainwater tanks for use in replacement of mains drinking water?

Do you regard collecting water from roofs to be a water resource of national significance?

When 6 million house roofs yield 70KL of rainwater each year, and all other buildings use rainwater, the total yield will be more than 500 billion litres - enough to fill Sydney harbour or supply a city the size of Melbourne.

A national rainwater tank policy will see rainwater tanks being the lowest cost source of additional water supply as a result of economies of scale in manufacturing, installation and financing.

Therefore, will the Australian Democrats ask federal and state governments to investigate the potential of rainwater tanks?

In relation to decentralisation, virtually every regional town and city has a wealth of un-used or under-used infrastructure. There is, obviously, a cost saving when abundant and cheap regional infrastructure is used instead of scarce and expensive city infrastructure.

Businesses that set up in regional areas instead of the city generate a real cost saving in terms of better utilisation of available infrastructure.

A way of reflecting this is to provide businesses that set-up in regional areas with a grant equivalent to their first 5 10 years of income tax paid.

The value of the grant is offset against the value of the improved use of infrastructure.

Greg Cameron
Posted by GC, Thursday, 28 September 2006 11:19:36 AM
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Lyn
I'm not sure about the prospects for decentralisation, at least the way it has traditionally been conceived of in Australia. Certainly not much was achieved from the decentralisation initiatives in the 70s such as Albury/Wodonga, Bathurst/Orange and others (Monaro, SA?). But things have changed a bit since then.

The problem has always been how to get jobs to decentralise. People like warm, coastal climates so retirees have driven a substantial decentralisation movement over the last 30 years or so. As so many jobs now serve population directly, many workers have been attracted to these places from the big cities. Trouble is these sorts of places have limited capacity - they are in limited supply and are often environmentally delicate (so of course were the capitals but most of what was lost is forgotten).

Big cities have the great advantage that they provide enormous economies of scale. They permit specialisation. Given that there are many cities throughout the world that are much, much larger than Sydney or Melbourne, we may still be a fair way from the economic limit. Improvements in electronic communications do not appear to be driving decentralisation of jobs away from cities on any significant scale (and indeed many believe they have the opposite effect).

The real decentralisation story has been happening within metropolitan areas. The great bulk of jobs in Sydney and Melbourne are now out there with the residents, well away from the CBD.

By and large, people want to be where the jobs are and the jobs want to be where the people are. Perhaps the best policy could be for all of us to stop thinking about 'suburbanisation' quite so perjoratively and start thinking about it as 'decentralisation'?
Posted by Claudiecat, Thursday, 28 September 2006 12:24:53 PM
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