OPINION: by John F. NolanNews Weekly
Regionalism the solution to excessive centralism
, February 14, 2004
Daily in the newspapers and on the television stations we are confronted by all the sad stories of death on the roads, overcrowding of hospitals, errors made in treatment of patients because of lack of facilities or overwork of medical staff, endemic poverty, the high cost of housing, drug-taking by young people leading to robberies and violence, etc.
Many of these problems can be traced back to failures of our social system, because of breakdown in the basic unit of our society, the family, and to our urban planning practices.
It is well known that rather than treat the symptom with band-aid measures, we should be attacking the underlying cause.
I have given a lot of thought to this matter, sparked perhaps by the well-meaning but flawed first-home buyers scheme which ended up enriching building contractors and real estate agents and lawyers, as well as providing opportunities for property investors who compounded the error by using the negative gearing provisions of the taxation regulations.Cure worse than disease
The end result is, of course, the incredible increase in the cost of houses, which not only deny many struggling families the possibility of buying homes but have delivered sharp increases in rents and cost the taxpayer millions. The cure was worse than the disease. The last condition was worse than the first.
As a one-time planner of a sort, I have diagnosed the condition. The capital cities are suffering - like much of the Australian populace - from a case of near-terminal obesity. I have a modest proposal to offer as a solution.
Why can't the Govemment, instead of pouring more nutriment into these cities already grossly over-fed, endeavour to do what it alone can do - develop instead those dozens of country towns and townlets now dying on their feet from want of assistance.
Why don't we look to countries like the US and copy some of their good points instead of the less than attractive aspects which we so-avidly ape? America is a country packed with small towns as well as some of the largest cities on earth.
The small towns are some of the more attractive, lacking the less-desirable traits of the mega-cities and many, especially the older ones, possessing considerable charm.
By contrast, Australian populations are crammed into five capital cities, each suffering from traffic gridlock, air pollution, social dislocation and inequality of wealth distribution leading to discrimination, feelings of inferiority, and envy. The time has come for some radical cures to be applied.
My suggestion, stated as briefly as possible, is as follows: ten growth centres be chosen, at least 300 kilometres from the capital cities, to discourage commuting by inhabitants.
These should be chosen on the basis of attractive living conditions and climate and desirably connected by rail with the capitals or at least within proximity to rail corridors to facilitate future construction of high speed links.Tax incentives
To encourage the start-up of new businesses (or relocation of existing businesses from the overcrowded capitals), corporate taxes in the centres should be reduced from 30 cents to 15 cents for a period of ten years then to 20 cents for a further ten year period.
Local and State governments could assist by reducing or eliminating stamp duties and local charges on industrial and residential land.
Restrictions should be placed on the size and power of motor vehicles with concessions allowed for electric or non-polluting transport.
Emphasis should be placed on the construction of bikeways rather than roads. Medium density housing should be encouraged to restrict urban sprawl and distances travelled as well as economies on infrastructure.
Planning should encourage localised shopping centres with provision for ordering of bulky items not stocked by catalogues.
Nothing new in any of this, you say! Well maybe not, but they have all been tried with varying degrees of success, depending on the determination of governments to implement them. Let's see if we can do it better than anyone else. We have a reputation to uphold, don't we?