Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wednesday Forum: Overcoming division

I spend a fair bit of time researching New England's history. Division is one constant theme, division between towns and regions.

The Northern Tablelands' towns fought each other over the best location of the railway to the coast. The end result was no railway.

Towns fought each other over the location of facilities. The end result was poorer facilities.

Regions such as the Tablelands or Northern Rivers regarded each other's problems as separate even where particular activities or facilities actually depended on achieving a greater mass, one that could only be achieved through combined action.

Politicians and political parties have played off these divisions. In a world where power depends upon enough individual seats to gain a majority, they gave something here, took something there, all driven by the need to be in power. Today it is called the marginal seats approach, but it's not new.

Charting New England's relative and in some cases absolute decline over the last fifty years, I keep seeing things that could have been addressed by cooperative action, but failed in the absence of that action.

What do you think might be done to encourage unity on common problems? I have my own ideas, but would like to hear your views before putting pen to paper. 


nellibell49 said...

Having just done the Armidale - Bellingen drive, there is surely need for cooperation.
Bus only 3 times a week at $50 each way and rather hectic as well as odd times. Coming back in son's car we faced the shambles of Dorrigo Mountain.
Old issue I know and it seems in even further decline to me. Even to the matter of public toilets on the way. esp now that Ebor Servo had their doors locked.

nellibell49 said...

The three councils involved in this distance plus RTA can surely find some common points.

I can see quite a lot of the problems but , as usual, not the remedies.

Another recent issue for us was an emergency dental situation for one of the little children who was injured at an Armidale School and had to go to Tamworth for treatment. No dentist available at Armidale that day or for follow-ups. Public transport was not available either.

On a positive note, the self- help programme of Narcotics Anonymous just held a Unity Day which involved Armidale, Bellingen, Coffs Coast and Clarence. Bravo, Guys.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Lynne, good points that deal with practicalties.

Jim Belshaw said...

In a comment on Plaxo, Neil Davidson wrote:

"Hi Jim
Long time no see! I've half-written responses to your blog previously, but never finished or pressed the button for various reasons (there are not sufficient characters for a start! This response is in two parts - I hope!).

As you know, I'm not a New England resident nor am I familiar with the specifics of the issues of which you speak--but I am familiar with the general paucity of collaborative efforts that go beyond merely collaborating with like-minded individuals in your own clique/ region/ organisation in order to out-compete someone else - generally to the mutual disadvantage of the participants and the 'system' at whichever scale you draw the competitive boundaries.

It appears that for some (many?) the competitive spirit is dampened only when they have destroyed the others' opportunity, despite the collateral damage to themselves--it reminds me of a wonderful quote about the Cold War, where (according to Wikipedia) "Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy in which a full-scale use of nuclear weapons by two opposing sides would effectively result in the destruction of both the attacker and the defender, becoming thus a war that has no victory nor any armistice but only total destruction. It is based on the theory of deterrence according to which the deployment of strong weapons is essential to threaten the enemy in order to prevent the use of the very same weapons".

Part two to follow. Neil Davidson"

Jim Belshaw said...

Neil's comment continues:

"Part-two (second time lucky?)
Hi again Jim,

following my previous post:
Instead of 'divide and conquer', what if we actually considered what a working regional system under a peak oil, peak water, climate instability, global financial collapse style but collective regional resilience model might look like? What if people actually got together to discuss what each could bring, not what each would get? What if people deliberately set out to develop collaborative and collective mutual advantage, rather than independent MAD-style 'advantage'?

It strikes me that if there are individuals that are interested (but perhaps can't admit it openly, for fear of showing their less-than-combative colours to their 'comrades'!) perhaps there is an opportunity to look at how to develop the capability and maturity to collaborate and innovate in the face of some pretty mutually assuredly destructive and compounding future threats. Sooner or later it is those within our regions that we will be turning to - not those potential investors to whom we competitively bid for contributions from outside our regional systems.

The vagaries of the existing process should forewarn us that when we need them most it is unlikely that we will receive any assistance from them - my bet would be on building local collaborative and interdependent trust, capacity, capability and maturity.

Kind regards

Neil Davidson"

Jim Belshaw said...

That's a very interesting contribution, Neil. I hadn't thought of the application of the MAD concept.

It seems to me that we are actually setting up a system where the regions in general are actually going to be king hit if some of the worst case scenarios come to pass.

In theory, greater numbers in many regional areas makes sense because of closeness to food, water while getting better utilisation of infrastructure.

In practice, the centralisation of services in the name of immediate efficiency increases regional dependence upon motor transport. But what happens if fuel prices go through the roof?

If you look at Lynne's point re the current costs of Bellingen-Armidale public transport, you can see that there is already a problem. The distance is roughly equivalent to Sydney-Newcastle, yet the cost is already more than six times the subsidised Sydney-Newcastle rail cost.

The idea of discussions about sustainable regions, the contrast between this and MAD, is worth pursuing.

Mark said...

On a beauracratic government level, there are government departments that are broken up into regions that include the "Northern/New England/Norhern Tablelands-coast" such as NSW Police and Hunter-New England Health. These beauracracies have many workers who see Macquarie St as an enemy. Also, these workers, represented by unions, may start a campaign against Macquarie St. Unions are quite hostile towards the current govt.

There is also the common issue of coal seam gas extraction and the wholesale coal exploration on the Liverpool Plains. This is an easy unifying issue.

Transport, health, education and law enforcement are other common issues.

The newly introduced Metropolitan Transport tax grab on every NSW resident who owns a car is directly subsidising Sydney projects. An easy unifying issue.

Yes, divide and rule can be exploited with the examples above however, if we were to petition each LGA and each state member with similar demands irrespective of their political allegiances, this would at the very least show that the region, as a whole is united in their stand for a better deal collectively.

Sorry for going off track a bit Jim, it's a bit of a habit I know..

Jim Belshaw said...

Mark, never apologise for going off-track. After all, I do it all the time! In any case, you weren't off track.

The NSW regional state subdivisons both divide and unite. They show the continuing geographic unity of New England. Map them, and the area comes out clearly. But they also divide because they involve units centered on Sydney, breaking internal coordination.

The gas seam one is actually difficult because there are people in New England who support the activity. Transport, health, education and law enforcement are common issues with common concerns.

I hadn't thought of the Metropolitan Transport tax. I susepct that you are right.

Rob Cannon said...

The most common way to unite the people of this region is MONEY. Show them what is gathered by both levels of Govt. and how and where it is (not) being spent and they will gather around to change things. To see the grabs for money by the state govt. so that they can fix up the mess in Sydney is harming this area a lot.

Jim Belshaw said...

I think that you are right Rob in the sense that this then unites. I want to go further than this, putting forward suggestions that show why unity is important.