There’s a surprisingly simple way of ending the malaise in Australian politics. Turn off the fast forward button. Everything is happening too quickly: leadership changes, internal party squabbling and a turbo-charged 24/7 media cycle, hungry for publicity stunts and scandals. Everything is on fast forward, except the thing that would actually help the Australian people: policy changes in immigration, education, energy and human rights law.
Australia has entered an era of complacency. GDP has grown, notionally, for 27 consecutive years but two-thirds of annual growth now comes from Big Australia immigration, bringing extra people, their assets and bank accounts into the country. It’s a crude, simplistic, unproductive policy that does nothing to increase GDP per capita. The nation has the appearance of being better off while, in reality, people are struggling with sluggish wages growth, unaffordable housing and overcrowded cities – three by-products of big immigration.
I left parliament in 2005. Since then the country has churned through seven Prime Ministers: Howard, Rudd, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison; while in my home state of NSW there have been seven Premiers: Carr, Iemma, Rees, Keneally, O’Farrell, Baird and Berejiklian. With the rise of major party machine politics – the natural-born restlessness of faction bosses to flex their muscles and show their supporters they have command of the numbers – leadership has become a revolving door. Meanwhile, the policy challenges facing the nation continue to bank up. You can feel the pressure on the dam wall. The bursting point is getting closer, making a major political correction in Australia more likely. Our governments are deteriorating faster, rapidly losing contact with the electorate and any sense of sound public administration. Look at the situation in NSW. It took 14 years for the previous Labor government (1995-2011) to become totally self-serving and out-of-touch. Yet the O’Farrell/Baird/Berejiklian government has been able to do it in half the time. Let me give a local example of what this means in practice. Last week I met with residents of Kelvin Park, a pocket of land in semi-rural Bringelly, west of Liverpool. Without any consultation by the NSW government, 300 households have been advised of future land use proposals for their properties, as part of the development of nearby Badgerys Creek Airport and its surrounding commercial and residential districts. To cut a long story short: they are copping it in the neck. In one of the most bizarre town planning ideas I have ever seen, the government wants to turn their neighbourhood into a water park, a cross between Venice and Disneyland. Their land use is being frozen under a ‘non-urban’ zoning. We hear a lot of talk about land rights in Australia. These residents are losing the most basic right to their land: flexible use and a fair resale value into the future. How is this happening? To deal with the airport’s development, the Berejiklian government has created a new, all-powerful authority, bearing the grandiose name of ‘Western Sydney Aerotropolis’.
Who thinks of this nonsense? All they needed was some commonsense town planning. Instead, the Aerotropolis, over-staffed with faceless, arrogant bureaucrats, has gone over-the-top with land use plans that are simply unachievable. Kelvin Park is bordered by South Creek. It’s not a river, it’s not an estuary – it’s a creek. At the moment, given the dry conditions, it is best described as a trickle. Yet the fantasists working for the state government think they can turn it into a major waterway. The Aerotropolis wants to develop a ‘network of waterways to create greater environmental, social and amenity benefits’, including yachting and other water sports. In a special dose of global warming hype, the waterways are supposedly needed to ‘contribute to urban cooling’ in western Sydney. The residents of Kelvin Park would prefer to turn on their air conditioning, instead of losing large tracts of their properties for the development of the new WaterWorld. New South Wales hasn’t got enough water to service its farm stock and crops, without worrying about limited flows in South Creek. A realistic planning approach would have taken the one-in-100 year flood areas either side of the creek, creating a 200-metre wide bushland and recreational corridor. Instead, the Aerotropolis airheads have decreed a waterway width that could carry the Queen Mary, a corridor one kilometre across at its narrowest point and two kilometres at its broadest extreme. Properties well outside the flood zone, some of them on substantial slopes and hills, have been included in the restricted non-urban zone. It’s a planning mess, a jumble of inconsistent, incongruous zoning proposals. Naturally, the residents are distressed at being treated this way, as pawns in a game of bureaucratic arrogance and town planning fantasy. It has been another rushed process, another example of government’s malfunctioning fast forward button. From the same people who brought NSW the greyhound ban, unwanted council amalgamations, George Street light rail, crazy lockout laws and its anti-fishing marine park plan comes the latest horror story: the WaterWorld Aerotropolis. This is the modern trend in government. The more public officials interfere in people’s lives, the more misery they create. Richard Nixon had it right. One day in the Oval Office he received a memo from inside his administration advising of another planning stuff-up, another failed project. Along the bottom of the document the President wrote by hand, ‘Government doesn’t work’.
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