Fixing the failed state that is regional Australia
The question of whether city or country is best has been an ongoing debate for a long time. I heard it often as I worked in Brisbane for thirty years and prior to that as I lived and worked in various regional, rural and remote locations in Queensland for extended periods.
In the 1200’s Marco Polo a merchant and great traveller declared cities were best. For twenty-four years Polo journeyed to and from Venice to China along the Great Silk Road. On his travels he encountered many great cities including Constantinople, Baghdad and Beijing and he realised that cities were far more important to the economy of the Silk Road than the country areas through which it passed.
In 2010 in Australia the independent federal politicians are about to “turbo-charge” regional and rural Australia according to their spokesperson Rob Oakeshott. They have secured a new $10 billion regional investment fund in return for their votes and they seek to prove Marco Polo’s assessment wrong. For them the country is at least as important as the city.
An advocate for some regional communities is Fred Chaney a former federal politician. He recently described country Australia as a failed state because of failing infrastructure that cannot support unplanned growth, inadequate housing, an escalating cost of living and environmental degradation on a scale hardly able to be comprehended. The regions according to Chaney have been neglected for years as the democratic processes became concentrated on the needs of cities.
The supporters of country Australia including Oakeshott and Chaney face a dilemma. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the trend towards urbanisation is stronger in Australia than in many other parts of the world with up to 88 percent of the population projected to be living in cities by 2050. This phenomenon will continue to create a massive wealth gap between city and country.
Australia’s largest cities are growing at over 2.4 per cent per annum. People are accepting that the sustainable, higher density environment of a city adds to their quality of life and that cities will continue to be the wealthiest, most lively, innovative and diverse places in Australia. Even massive national investments in telecommunications such as the National Broadband Network (NBN) or other infrastructure such as fast rail networks will not equalize the balance of power between city and country.
Melbourne with its Central Activity Districts and Brisbane with CityShape are currently planning to manage continued high population growth with an impact on lifestyle, traffic, the environment and high density residential development. There is more choice for people who move to the city and are prepared to forgo the garden and sell the car in exchange for a home closer to work, entertainment precincts and parks.
Despite the best efforts of the independent politicians, people who choose to live in the country must accept that there is a disparity between city and country in access to public services. In many regions including isolated indigenous and non-indigenous communities there will continue to be deep poverty. Not only will young people from the country aspire to move to the city but city people will not aspire to live in places they perceive to be unattractive.
As regional populations continue in decline with more residents gravitating to major cites it will be interesting to see if the new paradigm embraced by the Federal Government and the independents can reverse the trend and make a fundamental difference for country living.
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