What's the point of decentralisation if everyone commutes to a capital city?
Decentralisation is back as word-du-jour with both the Liberal party in Victoria and now the Federal Liberals spruiking policies that will result in greater population growth in regional areas.
The Federal Government can pull a few strings in the visa and migration area and it too can choose to invest in projects that would stimulate regional town and city growth but for the most part, state governments - the level of government that owns crown land and has the Ministry which governs the use of all land within the jurisdiction - need to be on board as well.
Decentralisation is a noble agenda, spreading growth and the opportunities associated with it to a wider area ensures there's an equitable future for parts of Australia outside the capital cities. But what's the point if the infrastructure to support decentralisation is focused on long-distance commuting to the state capitals?
Likewise, the state Liberal opposition's policy of high(er) speed rail to regional cities & beyond is likely only going to cater for people in the centre of Melbourne; in fact, if the goal is to enable far more long-distance commutes, you'd need both the ALP and Liberal policies announced to ensure that regional city dwellers who work in metropolitan Melbourne don't need a car at the other end.
There are so many questions.
Questions that Regional Cities need to ask
One thing that is not clear is what type of growth the regional cities would take on. Will it be sprawl-tacular growth like on the fringes of Melbourne or will planning schemes be updated and incentives implemented to add density to the likes of Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and the Latrobe Valley? Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the state capitals?
Will existing populations in regional cities accept far higher population growth rates?
To what extent can existing electricity and water infrastructure cope with increased growth? Can any regional city put their hand up and say 'yes, we want the growth' or will there be some sanity in stopping regional city growth in areas that are more likely to succumb to drought over future decades?
Questions that need to be asked of Governments
What level of state aid from any level of government will be available to incentivise employers to either move or set up new operations in regional cities?
Will each regional city destined for higher growth receive local public transport upgrades to mitigate increased car traffic in the regional cities?
Will state capital cities see less infrastructure to transition them away from auto-dependency as a result of population growth shifting to regional cities?
If decentralisation is the direction voters want to take, incumbent or incoming governments need to drop the laziness associated with showering out the cash on transport links that aim merely to enable a far greater volume of long-distance commuting between the inner-cities of the state capitals to regional cities.
Regional cities should not become dormitory towns, they should have every resource required to encourage employment growth within their own boundaries to stem the flow of long-distance commuting to state capitals.
Otherwise, we'll be replicating sprawly growth at the fringe but on a much larger, more expensive, scale.
Lead image credit: Marcus Wong