When government starts to decide who is going to live where, based on the decisions they make somewhere else, you know it will end in disaster.
The most recent example of this is a proposed policy where 'winning' towns are picked as 'regional' centres, thus depriving small communities of life, opportunities for their residents and the ability for them to successfully compete. Under a new plan from the WA Minister for Regional Development, Brendan Grylls, people should now leave smaller communities and be serviced at new hubs he and his fellow government meddlers have deemed approrpriate. Supertown plan floated to revive bush.
The only real outcome for smaller communities not on Mr Gryll's list of annointed towns is that their businesses will suffer as people leave to access these 'supertown's' services and that means doing their shopping and everything else there when they do. Ask anyone who lives within 150km of a town like Albany or Geraldton now what the effect on their town is from people shopping at a 'regional centre'.
If your town has a supermarket it will die or decline, if it has a butcher you can kiss that goodbye, if it has a half decent mix of retailers...say see ya! The same goes for local sporting clubs and community groups.
This is really old thinking and I wonder what the policy advisors have really learnt over the last few years or indeed, if they have kept abreast of where effective economic development is heading.
I can see the reasons this policy has been flagged. They are trying to decentralise away from the Perth metropolitan area and get people out into the regions. This is a good thing but from what I have seen so far, this is a policy very close to something the Chinese government would do.
This idea, as it stands at present, is just transferring centralisation to regional centres while ignoring the harder, but more effective decentralisation through relocalising.
True decentralisation is relocalisation. This would allow people to spread throughout the large number of small towns across Western Australia based on the community spirit and passion for enterprise that birthed towns like Albany and Geraldton. Instead of artificially placing infrastructure and government money in anointed communities, the government could save themselves money and failure by simply encouraging and supporting communities to build capacity themselves.
An obvious objection from those that develop policies such as this is that it is too expensive to spread government services throughout small communities. However, government is already realising that social enterprise is a better way to deliver many services that bureaucracies currently can't deliver well and are attempting to implement and encourage this. Why then, develop a policy that ignores the benefits that a social enterprise approach could offer small communities and base it on an old model that has stopped working?
Why not fund small communities with start-up capital to develop their own services that can run as sustainable social enterprises? Why not encourage small communities to develop locally owned enterprise opportunities that provide reasons for people to invest and live in a community? Why not allow communities to plug leaks in their local economy so they have more funds to pay for such services?
This plan, from what I can see, is merely another patronising attempt by government at market and social engineering. And that always fails.
In other words, why pick the towns? Let the towns pick themselves. Let the people re-engage themselves in civic life and entrepreneurism. Government intervention rarely works and the Ministers cheering of the government 'success' in towns in the Pilbara is like praising the AFL board for Collingwood Football Club’s premiership success.
The minister makes a good point though, that people won't want to live somewhere that doesn't have a "decent cafe'". However, he then assumes that government intervention by"[showering them] with new facilities and government services" to make sure these cafe's exist in certain communities but not others will benefit entire regions. If that were the case, Mt.Barker wouldn’t be on the list of possible supertowns because it would already be benefitting from being so close to Albany.
My experience is that government interference makes things worse and bureaucrats making the choice on what towns live and what towns die is bad policy. Any town not anointed by some policy think tank or highly decorated academic with no experience of the real world is going to suffer.
"Economic development is a “do-it-yourself” process that cannot be bought, sold, packaged, anticipated or centrally planned. Effective solutions...must not have any preconceived idea of what will work or not. Nothing can be done to help a region that does not have a creative economy of its own" (Jacobs 1984).