Rural services and planning [was:Re: Reasons for BRI ISDN]
Thu, 14 Nov 1996 14:56:41 +1100 (EST)
On Wed, 13 Nov 1996, Jan Whitaker wrote:
> I've read that urbanisation is one of the problems that many countries are
> facing in that the toll on infrastructure as a result of overcrowding in
> cities has been drastic. Cities that come to mind are Mexico City,
> Bangkok, even Chicago and New York. Because of lost opportunities in the
> rural areas and little hope of recovered jobs, the younger generations
> come to the "big smoke" to try and do something with their lives.
All Australian cities seem to be headed in this direction (if not already
> The supposed promise of telecommunications development in some places has
> been the ability to do business and other life tasks remotely, from
> regional centres or even remote rural settings, thereby reducing the
> influx to the cities and pressures on sometimes an overburdened tax base
> that can't keep up...[not to mention all the social problems that develop
> when the bubble bursts because of a lack of opportunities once the rural
> youth arrive, but that's another story].
> Instead, it seems that Australian governments are missing the opportunity
> to build a proper infrastructure to do what Ian is talking about, attend
> to regional development. Is this the concern of the Commonwealth or the
> States? Do the policy makers understand that an investment in this
> connectivity AND putting it to use wisely [e.g. education and training
> programs on how to best use a modern communication system to its full
> advantage] can divert some of this dislocation before it becomes a
> problem? Victoria is one of the better places because there are efforts
> going on, at least in planning stages I believe, to put in some
> infrastructure on a state-wide basis. [It doesn't quite square with the
> closures of the social service offices and hospitals, but that's another
> story, too. As Postman would put it, it's an incongruance, but that
> appears to be a typical problem with our government officials nowadays.]
> And as was said, the economics don't add up for non-governmental
You are so right Jan.
Good communications and access to information are now a pre-requisite (not
an optional extra) to functioning in Australia's and the world's economy
- if we wish to compete with and as a developed nation and enjoy the
lifestyle which this implies.
Both of good communications and access to information are lacking in
rural/remote communities when compared to the metr areas.
In fact, I have argued frequently with various parts of the WA government
that high quality, affordable electronic communications will do more to
generate more diverse, stable and expanding rural economies than any other
effort (and certainly more than simply promoting more mining projects
which seems to be the WA answer). There is simply not enough depth to a
local economy that is based almost entirely about primary production (be
it agricultural or resource based) for it to be long term stable.
The provision of high quality, affordable communications should therefore
be a first stage to any discussion of rural/remote development. This would
allow knowledge based industries to relocate out of the metropolitan areas
- and provide the 'sine qua non' to attract new knowledge based industries
to such areas.
However, I have yet to see any government (state or federal - or even
overseas, such as the UK) make any real commitment to regional development
let alone grasp this critical point about Australia's economy: most new
growth will come from new (knowledge based) industries not traditional
industry which is capital intensive (labour non-intensive) such as
agricultural and resource development.
Unfortunately, there is a real catch in this situation given our electoral
system: at election time, there is (apparently) a need to 'buy votes'
(wether this is actually the case I cannot say - perhaps the sociologists
and psephologists on this list might like to comment). All sides of
politics therefore need to promise to spend money where the votes are -
and these are predominantly in the metropolitan areas.
Consider the federal electorate I have just left (Kalgoorlie - and we
won't mention that ...person... who is the federal member). This covers
well over 50% of the state's geography. Any federal government that wanted
to spend a billion dollars in a single electorate would have some problems
I suspect, as this would leave the coffers somewhat bare for other
So we have a self perpetuating system - not enough votes in rural
Australia to attract the attention of politicians ... so little government
spending of any real worth ... so reducing populations ... so reducing
attention of politicians...
It is my firm belief that the only way we will see any real commitment to
regional development is if it is totally bi-partisan. Removed from the
political vote buying agenda, there is the possibility of some real
longterm planning and good follow through.
For this to happen, the Australian population must accept non-trivial
expenditure on regional developnment as vital part of the expenditure
program of any government. I don't see that happening when the metro
population is so uninterested in and lacking of knowledge about life
outside their own suburb/city.
As a test of this, ask your friends and neighbours to name the
Australian port that has the highest tonnage throughput per annum - I will
be prepared to bet that they will nominate Sydney (or possibly Melbourne)
- not Port Hedland. When you tell them the corect answer, how many will
know where Port Hedland is? The Pilbara also generates more GNP per capita
than any other area of Australia...
The point here is that even for such a 'wealthy' area as the Pilbara,
there is still no real political attention to sustained, diverse economic
growth. Even the WA government's own regional development plan makes
little mention of communications as a critical factor to new
(non-resource based) economic activity. In fact, a recent report could
only mention tourism as an industry in which slow growth could be
> If we can fund sports stadia [MANY], Grand Prix [MANY], give tax
> consessions to casinos [MANY], surely the return from regional development
> and remote communications can be put higher on the list of priorities.
Ah - but this just strengthens my point - all this expenditure is
occurring where the votes are - and (by evidence of the last Victorian
election) seems to have done our steamed^h^h^h^h^h^h^h esteemed premier no
harm electorally at all.
There is about to be an election in WA - I suggest you look closely at the
promises made by both political parties and see how much attention is
payed to the non-Perth areas in terms of real expenditure promises. Of
this (small) portion of the pork barrel, how much will actually try to
change what is currently occurring in terms of rural decline by addressing
the real need for economic diversity in the regions?
But then, how many politicians have much scientific background - or even
any understanding of the new (they are not, but let's keep to the current
parlance) Information and communications technologies? Their knowledge of
non-metropolitan Australia is also woefully inadequate.
Robert Hart email@example.com
Voice: +61 (0)3 9735 3586 http://22.214.171.124/
InterWeft, 35 Summit Road, Lilydale, Victoria 3140, Australia
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