Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Go south young man - to Lake Macquarie!

I have often complained about the application of mechanistic rules in public policy. I have also complained about the absence of effective regional development policies.

The decision by the new Sydney Government to pay $7,000 to assist up to 40,000 families to relocate to regional areas is a move that I support. However, if a story is the Newcastle Herald is to be believed, the plan has some very odd elements based upon mechanistic rules.

The core need is to shift families from Sydney. The Government has added in Newcastle and Wollongong to this list. This has created some bizarre results.

Both Wollongong and Newcastle are growing more slowly than Sydney, below the state average. This led the recent Grattan Report (here and here) to explicitly identify Newcastle as a slow growth area deserving of reduced resources.

Now we have the situation where people are to be paid to relocate from Newcastle not to Armidale or Tamworth but to Lake Macquarie just to the south, one of the fastest growing areas in the current state of NSW.

This is not a shot at Lake Macquarie, another part of southern New England, just a comment on the apparent idiocy of the criteria. Why not limit eligible applicants just to Sydney?

There is a broader issue that I will come back to in a later post. This is just another example of the way in which Sydney policies fragment New England.


Greg said...

Jim, I totally disagree with this policy. I understand that the aim is to encourage people to move from Sydney to regional NSW and I support this aim. However, the method to achieve it is madness and has been tried and proven to be an abject failure in Qld.

The vast majority of people who will take up the incentive will be retirees who are already considering their options. These are not the new residents that most regional areas need. Regional areas need young families with children who contribute to the social fabric and economic activity and cause less of a strain on already stretched public infrastructure (eg. health care). I have nothing against retirees, but we want our regional communities to be vibrant places with a strong future, not retirement homes where the main industry is aged care.

Young working families will not relocate without having jobs to go to. If their employment is in Sydney, $7000 will not be an incentive to relocate to a regional area.

If the government is serious about encouraging people to relocate from Sydney, it should lead the way by relocating government departments. Employees and support industries will follow. Others will be encouraged to remain in the area rather than going to Sydney for employment. Add in the multiplier effect (people need food, clothing, housing, education etc.) and even more indirect jobs would be created providing more incentive still for regional growth.

Now to the point of the article. Newcastle LGA has been struggling to grow for many years with most of the growth being in the immediately adjacent LGA's, especially Lake Macquarie and Maitland. With poor public transport servicing Newcastle's outer metropolitan areas, this has caused it's own problems (eg. growing traffic congestion along with ever increasing urban sprawl and inner city decline). There has been a concerted effort in Newcastle to try to reverse this trend. How can it be good policy that effectively encourages people to do the opposite of what everyone agrees is desirable?

Greater Newcastle is a rather fragmented place - 550,000 people spread over 5 LGA's with the physically small Newcastle City Council area having just 150,000 of those residents. Some suburbs are even shared between LGA's. Adamstown Heights, New Lambton Heights and Rankin Park are all shared between Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. Kotara is in Newcastle while Kotara South is in Lake Macquarie. Black Hill is shared between Newcastle and Cessnock and there are many neighbouring suburbs in different LGA's (eg Thornton and Beresfield, Cardiff and New Lambton, Charlestown and Kotara and so on). To call Newcastle City Council area metropolitan and the immediately adjacent council areas regional is plainly absurd.

It just highlights how little the government and bureaucrats in Sydney understand the north.

Jim Belshaw said...

Greg, you captured the problems pretty well here. Like you. I despair a little. Talking from my own experience, the hearts of many public servants are in the right place, but their knowledge of the detail of NSW is very poor. That, of course, is part of the reason why we want our own state!

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Brendan Murphy said...

Wow - there is so much to offer for people to visit and stay in Lake Macquarie - no wonder it is growing so fast!