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Home > The Herald campaigns for Sydney as East Berlin ........."Cities for People ... Not Planners"
Editorial Comment: TheHerald campaigns for Sydney as
New City is struck by the increasingly narrow focus of the
Fairfax newspapers, beholden to a white-collar, professional,
inner-suburban market segment. Hence our apprehension on learning of
the Sydney Morning Herald's 'Campaign for Sydney'.
Our fears were quickly realised.
Apparently Sydney's problems ("The Sydney Horror Show") are
reducible to the prospect of environmental catastrophe. "Sydney is a
sprawling, gridlocked, polluted mess", blared the opening headline
on 30 May. It is hardly reasonable to fling accusations of greed at
a socio-economically diverse city like Sydney, but the Herald's urban affairs writers were not deterred. "Sydney cannot continue
living, consuming and travelling in the same greedy, unsustainable
way", wailed Darren Goodsir and Tim Dick as they raged against the
While the campaign proceeded to lay
out a series of impeccably Green-Left positions on issues ranging
from public transport to water resources, the target of the Herald's anger was soon unmasked: greedy suburban consumers who
underwrite the capitalist economy.
The Herald, together with
its preferred inner-city demographic, is obsessed by the subject of
public transport, particularly rail. This comes as no surprise. ABS
analysis of the 2001 census found "inner-city suburbs, with ready
access to various forms of public transport, also showed very high
incidence of this method of transport" (Sydney: A Social Atlas,
ABS, 2002). But if you thought the logical conclusion should be
greater attention to the under-serviced west, think again. At least
seven of the campaign's fourteen days were devoted to transport
infrastructure, but the Herald endorsed just two major
projects for the deprived outer western suburbs – extension of the
north-west line to Rouse Hill and the south-west line to Leppington.
Now consider what the Herald has in mind for the inner city: a new underground "heavy rail" line
from Central to four new city stations and onto a second cross-harbour
tunnel to St Leonards; another heavy line from Sydenham to Randwick,
Kingsford, NSW University and Bondi Junction; a new "metro-rail"
line from the north shore to the city, and to Haymarket, Glebe,
Sydney University, Newtown, Enmore and Sydenham; yet another
metro-rail line from Drummoyne to Balmain, Pyrmont and eventually on
to Maroubra; and a network of "light-rail" lines radiating from the
CBD to the inner-west through Lilyfield to Burwood and east down
Oxford Street to Surry Hills, Paddington and again to Bondi
Junction. The latter, incidentally, is a big tick for Clover Moore's
$1.6 billion yuppie carousel.
There's more. Along with a free set
of steak-knives, inner-city trendoids get two very long tunnels (on
the M4 East route) starting at the Anzac Bridge and Marrickville to
swallow noisy freight trucks from the ports.
Too much is never enough for the Herald's favourite people.
The campaign argued for upgraded
transport infrastructure on environmental grounds. Commuters must be
lured away from their cars to reduce polluting exhaust emissions.
That this problem should warrant a public transport bonanza for the
inner city goes without saying. Yet many of the Herald's assumptions about car and public transport use are flawed.
According to the NSW Transport and
Population Data Centre (TPDC), a number of social, economic and
demographic factors are contributing to the rise in private vehicle
use ("car mania", as the Herald calls it). These include the
growing number of female caregivers in part-time and casual
employment, improvements in labour force participation, the
expanding cohort of people aged over fifty-five, rising disposable
incomes and economic prosperity (Car Travel in Sydney: Changes in
the Last Decade, TPDC, March 2005). Whether better transport
services can outweigh these factors is open to question.
Further, the Herald's methods of paying for the bonanza are inconsistent with the
objective of attracting more commuters to trains. Public transport
and rail in particular have long been a drain on state treasuries.
Poor cost recovery from rail services contributed to the fiscal
crisis of state governments in the late 1980s. Some governments "rationalised"
their rail networks and launched major road projects like Sydney's
orbital motorway. Of course, the NSW Government operates a
state-wide system. The state covers a large land mass with a
dispersed settlement pattern and low population density. Hence the
problem persists. Railcorp recovers only 27 per cent of running
costs, and a recent Productivity Commission report found that rail
corporations average a 21 per cent negative return on equity (Financial
Performance of Government Trading Enterprises 1999-00 to 2003-04,
The Herald thinks there's a
simple solution. Just raise fares and borrow more. "People will pay
more for good, fast services", wrote Goodsir and Joseph Kerr on 7
June. But developments cited in the TPDC report raise serious doubts
Goodsir and Kerr also float the
possibility of tax incentives for public transport users, a
regressive idea in equity terms since access to services is unequal
between the inner and outer suburbs (which the Herald's program would exacerbate).
South-west Sydney does have a
serious air quality problem, and the campaign rightly addressed this
on 30 May. However, the accompanying graphic and text, drawn from
Department of Environment data, suggest that reducing car use may
not be the answer. According to the graphic, vehicle emissions are
transported offshore by early morning air flows from the mountains.
At around midday northeast breezes carry the plume back across the
Sydney basin. By night this can be trapped in low-lying areas
adjacent to the Blue Mountains, such as the south-western suburbs.
Arguably, that region will always be subject to concentrated
emissions even if the original sources are diffuse.
For this reason, introduction of
world's best practice on vehicle emission controls, like Euro IV and
V standards, offers more hope of a solution. Many western cities
enjoy cleaner air today thanks to technological innovations. As the
"sceptical environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg points out, "the rich
world is dealing with many of its environmental problems because it
can afford to" (Australian Financial Review, 22 July 2005).
The Herald is none-too-keen
on technological solutions, however. Greedy suburban consumers are
let off the hook too easily. For instance, the proposed desalination
plant is subjected to a regular bucketing – "because it would
discourage water saving" – and "debating the merits of
uranium-derived power" is out of order. It's all about stomping on
This is why the environmental
movement resorts to creeping authoritarianism and the Herald tags along. On 4 June, Dick proposed the concept of "abuser pays".
In full punitive mode, he thought "abusers should pay for using more
energy, water or land, for creating more pollution and for insisting
on driving when public transport offers a viable alternative". If
the Herald has its way, Sydneysiders will be subjected to a
new category of offences: green crime. Perhaps "abusers" should be
declared "enemies of the people" and sentenced to detention. To make
matters worse, the paper wants to introduce a “democratic deficit”
into the city’s administration. The failure of local councils to
implement a city-wide agenda is properly noted, but Dick proceeds on
10 June to assert the state government can't be trusted either. He
conjures up "a half-way house" alternative, an unelected "Commission
for Sydney". The commissioners would be "independent" permanent
appointments. Abusers can run, but they can't hide.
At the same time, consumers are to
be bludgeoned with the weapon of higher charges. "Use less, pay
more" was the Orwellian headline on 13 June, but Matt Wade spelled
it out three days earlier. On 10 June he announced "inflation and
interest rates are low and stable, providing a solid economic
foundation for new public investment". Without acknowledging how
these benign conditions were achieved, Wade calls for "sensible" –
meaning higher – transport, water and power charges to pay for the Herald's extravagant plans. As he puts it, "when the right
price signals are sent to consumers, the infrastructure built to
serve them will be more likely to go in the right places and help to
deliver an economic rate of return". Wade stumbles into
pseudo-economics. Genuine price signals emerge from the interaction
of supply and demand. What Wade is pushing amounts to the imposition
of an arbitrary tariff to suppress demand. This is not so much a
"signal" as heavy-handed regulation with serious consequences for
living standards and economic activity.
Along with higher charges, Wade
recommends increased public borrowing to meet the campaign's "price
tag". But he seems to have missed something. Lower government sector
debt and lower state utility charges, thanks to difficult reforms
dismantling monopolies and cross-subsidies, have contributed to the
low interest and inflation rates that he celebrates. Talk about
slaughtering the golden goose.
The campaign spared little sympathy
for the likely victims of its attack on economic development.
Sydney's most vulnerable people live beyond the Herald's horizon. "The highest concentrations of blue-collar workers occurred
in the western suburbs of Sydney, stretching from the Canterbury
region out to Blacktown in the west and to Campbelltown in the outer
south-west", according to the 2001 census. Of course, white-collar
workers are another matter. "Sydney is the nation's undisputed
white-collar capital", wrote Wade on 6 June. That's why Goodsir's
and Dick's 6 June blueprint for the city's development focuses on
"central Sydney and surrounds". Their plan is to "re-emphasise
regional dominance through upgrading transport access and
prioritising a clear growth path" [emphasis added]. For his part,
Wade wants to "invigorate Sydney's crucial white-collar jobs
market". Apparently, more consumption by inner-suburban white-collar
workers isn't such a problem.
Not for the Herald calls to
promote socio-economic diversity by attracting knowledge-intensive
jobs to western Sydney, as authoritative reports like FutureWest (Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils) and Sydney's
Economic Geography (SGS) recommend. The inner suburbs, including
the so-called global arc corridor, are Sydney's white-collar
heartland, and that's that.
Blue-collar and "pink-collar"
(female-dominated routine service industry) battlers can eat cake.
The Herald is strangely muted about persisting pockets of
high unemployment and family breakdown in the west. Don't mention Macquarie Fields. Suburban employment only
rated a mention in the environmental context of lowering car use. On
6 June Goodsir and Dick called for suburban jobs to be concentrated
in "centres" accessible by public transport. But as Bob Birrell and
Kevin O'Connor said of a similar concept in the Melbourne 2030 plan,
"enterprises in manufacturing, research, warehouse, transport and
related activities prefer land-extensive location where they can
link into road transport to the docks, airport or interstate" (TheAge, 22 March 2005).
The Herald's ideas would
damage Sydney's suburban economy in this and other ways. Having
hiked transport, water and power charges, for instance, the paper
takes the knife to affordable housing as well. The campaign casually
endorses "anti-sprawl" restrictions on the release of land for
residential development, resulting in upward pressure on house
prices. Other pro-environment measures like the Building
Sustainability Index (BASIX) rules (partly warranted) and developer
infrastructure levies will add to construction costs in the new
"green-field" suburbs ($65,000 per lot!). If increased government
borrowing feeds into higher interest rates, there's more bad news
for the mortgage-belt.
End result: the inner-city reaps a
jobs and public transport windfall while the rest of the city pays
in higher prices, charges, levies and potentially higher interest
rates. Not a bad deal for the Herald's readership.
It is easier to disdain
outer-suburban workers if they are subjected to negative
stereotypes. Emotive phrases like "energy guzzling McMansions" do
the trick. Interestingly, that sneering term is rarely applied to
the eastern suburbs or the north shore. Perhaps the Herald thinks westies are too uncouth to deserve nice houses. This
anti-suburban prejudice veered to the absurd on 3 June, when
Elizabeth Farrelly was trotted out for a rant. Posing as the
supernanny of Sydney journalism, Farrelly called past tolerance of
suburbanisation "total -indulgence parenting". In other words, people
who choose to live in the suburbs are infantile. The whole debate
about elite snobbery seems to have passed her by. She goes on to
advance this remarkable theory of suburban development: "From the
viewpoint of the power elites, dispersing the indigent of
Chippendale and Surry Hills to the 'burbs not only reduced the
likelihood of insurrection but also bulldozed a path for lucrative
inner-city redevelopment". Does this sound a bit loopy? Perhaps, but
Farrelly is the Herald's architecture and urban planning
All of this adds up to a particular
vision: a favoured echelon enjoys unearned privileges in the context
of wider political authoritarianism and economic stagnation.
Throughout, the Herald hankers for a "European-style city",
but the city it dreams of vanished in 1989, when the wall came down.
TNC August 2005 _______________________________________________________________________ Top/Home