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Being serious about cities

By Syd Hickman - posted Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Both the Liberals and the ALP are now promising a greater Commonwealth Government involvement in improving the lives of city dwellers. But to have any real effect the Turnbull Government's Minister for Cities will have to do more than provide funds for infrastructure and public transport.

In addition, the Commonwealth should review its own land use in cities, take some of the political heat for decisions with big social impacts, and be prepared to make its own policy decisions that will project long into the future.

The most obvious issues around Commonwealth land concern Defence bases. For example, Sydney has the huge Holsworthy base, used for many decades as an artillery range and for various other purposes. Plans to move all these functions out of the city have been discussed for at least thirty years. The usual argument against doing anything is that decontaminating the site would be prohibitively expensive so let's just keep polluting it.


But that argument was also used in the case of the enormous munitions factory site at St. Marys, and that release for residential and park land has been a great success. It's time to get serious on Holsworthy, and other smaller bases.

In Perth the SAS base sits on prime beachfront land in Swanbourne. A few kilometres in from the coast and on the rail line between Perth CBD and Fremantle, sits the Karrakatta base. Both should have their future urgently reviewed in terms of long term planning for the city and the Defence force.

Other states have similar opportunities. A brave government could even look at the Navy's Garden Island Dockyard in Sydney now that half the fleet is in Western Australia.

State governments have to make big decisions regarding their own land use, but the Commonwealth can help. The most obvious policy option is to move state housing from inner city areas to locations further from the centre. The current locations were chosen because the inner city had many slums, meaning the land was cheap, the people going into the new housing already lived nearby, and there were casual low-skilled jobs available in the surrounding area of factories and warehouses.

Now the land is expensive, there are no jobs for the residents, and the buildings are in need of massive renewal. The NSW Government has made a start moving people out of million dollar houses in the Rocks area, selling the properties and using the money for more state housing. But that is a tiny contribution compared to the potential of the Redfern/Waterloo area. Again, all States have similar possibilities.

The Greens and others oppose such changes, apparently in the belief that welfare housing should be handed down through generations of families and that moving house is too great a trauma for tenants to endure. They ignore the fact that the existing tenants generally do not work but low-income people who do work in the city have to travel for hours every day on trains to get to their jobs.


Such huge transfers of people on Commonwealth benefits, and the rebuilding of thousands of dwellings, would all happen more quickly and smoothly with Commonwealth participation.

Then there is a range of other issues involving land use of various types. Again taking Sydney as the example, an area on the coast north of Botany Bay is greatly underutilized. It has Long Bay Gaol, a huge rifle range and four golf courses adjacent to each other. A century ago it was probably considered low value real estate because the coastline is largely made up of cliffs and it's more than ten kilometres from the city. Now it is obviously highly valuable as it is only a few kilometres from the airport and Port Botany.

The State Government has an eye on one of the golf courses but the entire area should be replanned, with Commonwealth involvement in finding a new home for the rifle range and possibly the prison, and in developing a completely new transport infrastructure. As with any change there would be strenuous opposition, and the State may well cave in unless the Commonwealth stood beside it and held its hand. The long-term payoff would be huge.

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About the Author

Syd Hickman has worked as a school teacher, soldier, Commonwealth and State public servant, on the staff of a Premier, as chief of Staff to a Federal Minister and leader of the Opposition, and has survived for more than a decade in the small business world.

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All articles by Syd Hickman

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