Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Population: Regional settlement a fake solution

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Since becoming prime minister, Scott Morrison has resurrected the Coalition’s plans for the mandatory regional settlement of new migrants.

The plan, which was first put forward by Turnbull, has been hailed as a possible solution to ease problems like traffic congestion, crowded public transport and overstretched services in cities like Melbourne and Sydney.

The idea being to decentralise population growth into smaller regional centres.

The proposal would force new immigrants to live in a regional area for a five year period, with the government assuming that after this time they will have roots in the area and not want to move away to a bigger city.

As well as being an infringement of basic human rights, this attempt to deal with the demands of a growing population is nothing more than an attempt to relinquish responsibility for providing adequate services in our growing city centres.

Diverting attention away from the real problems is the tried and tested method of this government. We see a similar situation with refugees where the government is quick to blame migrants for all sorts of problems.

Never have we heard them put the blame for our problems on big business or their own policies. According to them, someone else is always at fault!

The idea that services are strained in the big cities purely due to overpopulation is farcical. The real issue is that governments have failed to invest in expanded services and infrastructure.

Generally, experts can quite accurately calculate trends in population growth. The fact that successive federal and state governments have failed to act on this lies in the conscious decision to starve public services of funding.

When they have overseen investment in services or infrastructure it has mostly been in a way that boosts the coffers of their corporate backers.

It is only necessary to look at Melbourne’s public transport system for an example. 40 years ago the services were more or less adequate, but in the last 10 years Melbourne’s population has grown by a million.

In that time hardly any new train stations have been built and the projects that are underway are public-private partnerships that will be a boon for big developers.

The real issue boils down to planning, not overpopulation. Capitalist governments, just like the corporations they represent, have a short-term focus.

The idea of shipping people off to regional areas is problematic from a number of points of view. While regional cities are often touted as safer, cleaner and cheaper than the big cities, the reality is often different.

Official unemployment in Bendigo, Victoria for example currently sits at 7.55%, compared to Melbourne at 4.78%. It’s true that some regional areas have slightly more affordable housing, but many smaller towns also suffer from a lack of jobs and services.

Access to emergency care for example, particularly emergency specialist care, can be scant or non-existent. Educational options often require significant travel in smaller areas, and generally public transport is poor and infrequent. Buses run every 20 minutes at best.

It’s really no surprise then that 87% of new migrants choose to reside in metropolitan areas.

If Morrison was genuine about attracting people to settle in regional areas, he would put forward a plan – not to force people into an area they don’t want to live, but to ensure that all areas are well serviced and offered good secure jobs.

But this is obviously not his agenda!

Any new arrivals to Australia, whether migrants or refugees, must have the right to decide where they want to live. It’s obvious that people will prefer to live in an area with better services, access, housing and employment.

These issues could be addressed easily, in both the major cities and the regions, on the basis of a socialist plan. With a focus on removing the profit motive and expanding the public sector, adequate services and infrastructure could be provided.

A public works program that built new schools, hospitals, childcare centres, public transport and homes would create tens of thousands of good jobs. It could be paid for by increasing taxes on big business and the super-rich.

This is the alternative to underfunded services, traffic snarls, overcrowding and scapegoating migrants.

By Denise Dudley


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