Australia needs some grand vision and the framework to have the right plans delivered.
Wild ideas in a federal Opposition discussion paper leaked this week, which included suggestions such as moving federal public servants to Darwin, Cairns and Karratha to boost regional economies, show the limit of current thinking.
While not policy, the discussion paper’s contents miss the mark. They have been largely criticised and will be left behind as the election campaign moves forward.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott says a Coalition government would consider personal tax rebates of up to $10,000 to lure workers to northern Australia. Some of those already working in the north earn big money, generously paid by mining companies because of the isolation of the work place.
While every regional area wants more jobs, a bigger population and better services, these won’t be provided with tax breaks alone.
One of Australia’s biggest problems is the concentration of the population. Most Australians live in capital cities and other major centres along the eastern seaboard.
There are no concrete policies at a state or federal level to build major regional centres. Tamworth, for example, would be an ideal location to become a major hub in regional NSW.
The federal and state governments, however, don’t have a shared plan. How do you build a regional centre’s population to well over 100,000 people?
NSW has Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong as its only major cities. West of the Great Dividing Range there is no centre with a population with more than 80,000 people.
If Mr Abbott and others are serious about regional communities they need to apply some big thinking.
Where are the grand visions to lessen the pressure on major cities, which consume so much government money, and move some of the populace into regional communities?
Governments preoccupied with their longevity are afraid to develop grand plans.
Since the Snowy Mountains Scheme there has been only one major project and that is the rollout of the National Broadband Network. While this provides valuable infrastructure it
won’t be enough to trigger a boom in regional areas.
We have had summits to talk about taxation and the 2020 talkfest more recently, but regional Australia never moves beyond an agenda item.
China has built major regional cities from the ground up, but in Australia it’s all too hard. Instead we are stuck with small thinking which delivers for today and not tomorrow.