Up until the late 1970s the Labor Party and the Country Party were advocates of decentralisation. There was a commonly held belief that Australia’s population should not be too concentrated in the capital cities.
In 1966 Gough Whitlam delivered a speech in which he said that decentralisation was necessary to cut down “the vast social costs of the urban sprawl”.
Whitlam went on to develop a vision for the development of Albury-Wodonga as a major inland centre – a vision which has largely been achieved.
Decentralisation went out of favour under the treasury portfolios of John Howard and Paul Keating, who were economic rationalists, and the demise of the Country Party and DLP as political heavyweights.
There has never been a more important time in Australian history for decentralisation to be put back on the policy agenda.
But apart from Brendon Grylls at a State level in WA, you hear very little about it. Grylls has advocated that a cut of mining royalties raised in regional areas should be invested in the regions.
Unfortunately, there seems to be an acceptance by Coalition and Labor governments at State and Federal levels that Australia will be a nation in which 80 per cent of the population lives in 20 per cent of the land mass.
There are sound reasons why this notion is wrong. These include defence, balanced development, the environment, transport and even economic rationalism.
It actually makes economic sense to house people in towns that already have infrastructure, rather than building new hospitals, schools, railway lines, sewerage systems, etc.
Which is why it’s disappointing that no State or Federal political leader has articulated a vision to ensure that Kalgoorlie-Boulder becomes the premier inland city in Australia.
It’s a grand vision we need to escape the mindset that fly-in, fly-out and labour shortages will continue to erode the city’s significance. We can either be defeatist or aggressive in shaping our future.
More than a century ago Kalgoorlie rivalled Perth for influence and prosperity. Why shouldn’t that era be revived given the wealth of our region today?
The simple answer is that vested interests elsewhere have more clout than we do. It’s a shame in some respects that the Federation referendum was ever carried in Western Australia, for if it hadn’t been, we would now have our own State based on Kalgoorlie-Boulder and an international border somewhere near Merredin.
What can be done? It needs a visionary approach from a powerful figure in either State or Federal politics. There is no short-term fix.
But if each government invested $100 million to develop Kalgoorlie-Boulder as Australia’s showcase inland regional city, we would see increased population, higher retention of people for longer timeframes and a wealthier nation.
What’s stopping it? Nothing but apathy.