Friday, March 12, 2010

Welcome to the Soviet Socialist Republic of New South Wales.

There’s no doubt that the severe housing shortage in Sydney needs to be addressed. The city is growing, with the population expected to reach 6 million before mid century, and all those people have to live somewhere. But the plan to create a Metropolitan Development Authority which would have the power to compulsorily resume private property only to be handed over to developers cannot be justified as long as alternative measures have not been fully explored. Just because the government has been complacent about opening up green field development sites, lazy in planning infrastructure and downright incompetent with public transport is no excuse to rob people of their property rights.

Before anyone has their home stolen from them in the name of urban renewal, the government must address those shortcomings by removing the red tape tangle which strangles development of new land releases. It needs to deliver infrastructure and transport services to where they are needed, in places where they were promised years ago, and where residents are still waiting. More needs to be done to channel population growth away from Sydney and into new regional growth centres, and not just big cities such as Newcastle, but towns further afield as well. If regional development is part of the solution to the challenge confronting Sydney, then everyone will benefit.

If the bulk of the growth in population is accommodated in Sydney, there is a very real risk that the demographic imbalance will leave regional centres even more drained of resources. As more and more people crowd into Sydney, they will need more and more of the government’s resources in the way of hospitals, schools, transport, police, and so on, leaving the regional areas more starved for services than ever. On the other hand, if migrants and even people born in the city could be encouraged to settle elsewhere the benefits would be enormous. The regional areas would enjoy the associated economic growth while the pressures in Sydney would be alleviated at least to some degree.

The insidious thing however, and the greatest danger, is the idea that Sydney’s growth problems can be solved by removing people’s rights. Property rights form the entire basis for a free enterprise society, and freehold title is supposed to mean something. It has always been the case that the government can resume land for a public purpose, but that does not include handing it over to a private developer who will make massive profits from it. That amounts to state sanctioned piracy, and no matter how many laws might be passed to make it legal it will remain unfair and unjust.

There may well be a public benefit in urban renewal, providing more housing for the community, but once we allow people’s rights to be eroded to achieve that aim, the question arises as to just where it will stop. Today it begins with urban property around transport hubs, tomorrow it could be your property. It is inconsistent to claim to serve the community by disadvantaging individual members of the community who have done nothing wrong. The purpose of the law is supposed to be to protect people’s rights, not to take them away.

Welcome to the Soviet Socialist Republic of New South Wales.

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