Griffith has the opportunity to help ease Sydney’s congestion burden, but it will need to shake off old ideas about life in the bush.
The Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee will soon hold an inquiry into moving government agencies from Canberra to regional areas like the western Riverina.
It comes after the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation moved 21 jobs to Wagga, a move local governments are keen to replicate in the area.
Council general manager Brett Stonestreet said Griffith had the size and capacity to take on more public servants, but generations of leaders had overlooked regional areas.
“For decades they haven’t looked at the long-term population spread of the nation,” Mr Stonestreet said.
“The downside of those policies has been increased congestion in Sydney, less affordable housing, a need for costly transport infrastructure… they’re not making any new dirt up there.
“Regional areas can help relieve the impact of metropolitan congestion, we can even deal with our own waste without having to find an empty tin mine.”
Mr Stonestreet’s reference to the failed Ardlethan dump proposal highlighted some of Sydney’s biggest problems: The city of five million needs to export its waste because land is at a premium. Urban sprawl has sent commuters up to 100km away from the CBD, with the average travel time in excess of five hours per week. The median house price has also jumped, up to more than $1 million.
Meanwhile, Griffith’s median house price is $300,000, while commuters typically spend five to 10 minutes in morning traffic. The city’s water and waste facilities are under-utilised and recent economic growth is leading to more confidence in the property market.
However, the perception of a lack of services and opportunities in regional areas – perceptions that often prove to be false – have kept potential workers and families on the coast.
“There’s a negative perception west of the Great Dividing Range,” Mr Stonestreet said.
“We need to do more to break down that perception.”
Riverina radiologist Nick Stephenson said he had heard of surgeons belittling country areas, but they were filled with opportunities for growth.
“We’re now a regional capital for medical services with about 100 specialists and we’re starting to draw young doctors naturally because of that,” Dr Stephenson said.
Former Griffith MP Michael McCormack said decentralisation is good for regional communities and good for the economy.
“Regional Australia deserves the benefits of public sector employment just as much as any capital city,” he said.
Submissions to the inquiry close on March 9.
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