Monday, May 31, 2010

New State arguments 6 -sharing the benefits

This one has come up a little earlier than I expected.

Those arguing against self-government for New England used to say that new states offered no benefits. Alternatively, and at the same time, they argued that one place would benefit over another. This implies that self-government for New England must be a zero sum game; if one goes up, another must go down.

In 1967, those in Newcastle said that if Newcastle was not capital, Newcastle must suffer. Those further north who wanted decentralisation said that if the capital was in Newcastle, what's the point. We will simply have another Sydney. The first group was wrong, the second right.

Consider what would have happened in 1967 if we had self-government with Armidale as capital. Assume for the purposes of argument that state government activities were centralised in Armidale as in the current model. Armidale would now be bigger, as would the inland New England population. But would Newcastle be smaller or less developed? The answer is no. In fact, the opposite is true.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think that we can say that it is hard to identify a single thing that Newcastle would not have today, a single thing that would have been lost that was not already lost, with self-government. So no downside. On the other side, Newcastle's share of the vote, its position as New England's biggest city, would have brought benefits.

How do I know this? Well, its actually pretty self-evident.

Consider tourism. Instead of being Sydney's second cousin, a New England government would have promoted Newcastle and the Hunter as a major state tourism destination, not a sub-set of brand NSW. Or Newcastle airport. It would make no economic sense to grow Armidale airport as a major hub. It would make sense to grow Newcastle at the expense of Sydney. Similar arguments can be mounted across a range of Government activities.

However, the new staters did not stop there. They pointed to the fact that in many US states the capital was not the biggest place. Sensitive to arguments about the capital, they tried to argue for a Governmental system that would spread the benefits. From my current perspective, the arguments were not very sophisticated, but they were there.

I think that  one of the things that we have to do, and this has already been reflected in comments on this series, is to work out the systems we want that might give us the best result. This links to may last post, New State arguments 5 - the power of imagination. We are not bound to any structure.

Of course, all this depends in part on there being net benefits. I will pick this one up in my next post in this series.


Mark said...

Jim I agree. The notion of having the biggest city as the capital is what brings this new state discussion in the first place. I believe that having a new state capital on the coast is more of the same. We want something that will bring direct benefits for all of New England and having Armidale as a capital will bring obvious benefits inland where they are most needed.

Again, it isn't hard to see that Newcastle would still benefit more as the largest city. However, small town Australia focus on small issues and having Newcastle as the capital is exactly this. More to do with prestige than anything else. This is a hurdle that will need to overcome with facts. Somehow, the voters of the Lower Hunter will have to see benefits as the metropolitan area of New England without being the capital city. This is another challenge to any New England new state movement.

Greg said...

Good post Jim. I agree that I cannot think of anything that Newcastle has now that it would not have had as part of a New England state with Armidale as capital. And there is probably a whole lot that it has missed out on instead - along with the other cities and regions of the north. It could have been a natural rival to Sydney and "gateway to New England".

I also agree that we don't need to replicate another city centric state in which one city totally dominates and sucks the life out of the rest of the state. The whole point of a new state should be decentralisation.

The good news is that Newcastle is so disenchanted that it might be the city that leads the separation push this time around.

Greg said...

Mark, you need a big hook to sell the benefits. The promise of something so much better than we would otherwise have.

Such as guaranteed retention of a percentage of mining revenues to fund infrastructure eg. expansion of the airport into a genuine international terminal, complete with light rail to the CBD and city and suburban light rail network. A Newcastle Harbour bridge, or a fast train running from Newcastle to the Qld border. Or something else visionary that will transform Newcastle and New England.

If you were to nominate Australia's potential number 1 growth corridor you would probably pick the region between Sydney and Brisbane ie. New England.

Deliver that hook to grab the imagination and people won't care whether the capital is Newcastle, Armidale or anywhere else. The benefits will just be too obvious not to support it.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good points, both.

Mark said...

Absolutely Greg. After reading notes from "FIX OUR CITY" yesterday, you would almost guarantee a new movement beginning in the Hunter should Sydney knock back their proposals.

As far as a hook is concerned, I believe it would need to be something similar in size to the recent Hunter Expressway investment but the focus for all of New England. Maybe a railway of both types. A regeneration of the old line and stations to link major towns and cities in New England as this would be a great tourist drawcard. Another railway such as a dedicated fast line to link with Queensland.

With more disenchantment, someone will come up with that hook. At the moment here in Newcastle, it is what the Hunter Development Corp is proposing and the FIX OUR CITY are supporting. The pot is simmering.

There has to be a "hook" that can unite everyone somehow that puts regional rivalries aside.

Jim Belshaw said...

Mark, you have the germ of a very cluey idea here. I need to think it through, but why not re-open some of the old train lines as part of an integrated development strategy? And build some new ones as well!

It comes back, I think, not just to politics but the dynamics of regional development. Take, for example, the Dorrigo line. That would have to one of the greatest potential tourist routes in Australia.

Mark said...

One way of "uniting" the regions Jim. Intra-New State and interstate tourism from something that would otherwise rot away. The old line to Merriwa reminds me of this. We have some beautiful scenery and this is the best, untapped way of exploring it. Imagine a ride on a train as it winds around hills of the Gloucester area sipping a shiraz watching the world go by. It cannot get much better for those who have fond memories of rail. A truly untapped tourism trap. Whether mum and dad in the suburbs see this as the hook, maybe not but it's something that has potential.

Greg said...

"Sharing the benefits" is a good thread. At the heart of the issue is decentralisation. If that is the case then why does there even have to be a "Rome" as state capital? Why not a legislative capital - Armidale and a number of decentralised administrative centres where decisions are made at a regional level on regional issues?

Newcastle (Hunter/Manning), Tamworth (Tablelands), Port Macquarie (Hastings), Coffs Harbour (Mid Coast) and Ballina (Northern Rivers) could all be regional administrative centres. This would give each region a strong voice and control of their own administrative affairs rather than having a dominant remote capital making poor regional decisions (or worse - no decisions at all) without any understanding of regional views and issues. Intra regional decisions (eg. public transport, local schools, hospitals, regional development and planning etc.) would be made at the regional level.

I don't know where local councils would fit in - perhaps they would need to be amalgamated and re-constituted to form the basis of the regional administrations?

Armidale, as the site of the legislature, takes the overall responsibility for state matters on the Federal stage (eg. to co-ordinate regional issues and put the case for federal funding). Armidale also would be in charge of identifying, developing and operating inter regional services, eg. state wide fast rail and any residual matters not specifically deemed the responsibility of the regional administrative centres.

Everyone gets what they ultimately want - decentralisaion, recognition of local issues and a say in how their regions are administered and how revenue is spent. Collectively, we get a presence at the national level and an ability to promote the north as never before.

Could that work?

Jim Belshaw said...

Greg, the relationship between regions and local government has become complicated because of the absence of real regions.

The original idea was local councils for very specifically local matters, then a regional focus with the state providing coordination on top. Since then, the regions have atrophied, while local councils have become bigger.

In thinking about the best relationship between the parts, I think that there are some technical issues that need to be thought through.

I would also be cautious about putting the Manning and Hunter together. They are different. I will try to put some ideas down as part of the issues series.

Mark, still thinking about your points and also keeping in touch with the sharing the benefits theme, tourism promotion along with investment in supporting infrastructure is one of the things that New England could do to differentiate itself from the rest of Australia. There is just so much stuff to promote that is presently ignored.

Greg said...

Jim, personally I don't care where the capital is - as long as everyone gets a fair deal.

However in 1967 the referendum was defeated due to the No vote in Newcastle. Times have changed, maybe the situation of the capital would no longer be an issue, but I would hate to finally get another shot only to see it go the same way.

We can't let that happen so we need to have answers before the questions are asked.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark said...

Internet and Laptop PCs.....
I think the one big selling point for the Hunter Valley is that it is being ripped off. A movement will need facts and figures from hard to get statistics so that the voter can make an informed decision. If people can see obvious benefits with most relevant questions answered in a clear and logical way, I'm sure people will see it the way we do.

Jim Belshaw said...

Greg, I wasn't being in any way critical, just the opposite. You raised good issues. I was just trying to think through.

Agreed Mark re facts and figures.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Jim if I seemed a bit narky - didn't intend it that way, though re-reading that last post it does seem a bit like that.

What is the mood further north? Is it just Newcastle that is bubbling with discontent or is the sentiment repeated elsewhere too?

Greg said...

I am having a shocker - could have sworn that I put my name to that last post!

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Greg. I knew that it was you! I was just concerned that we not misunderstand. The mood is strongest in Newcastle. There is an enormous amount of discontent, but it's not yet focused.