Our new Prime Minister has declared that Australia must embrace change, and that (initially at least) no ideas should be ruled out. So what ideas — beyond gay marriage, some sort of republic and a better-funded ABC — should we as a nation be considering? I think there are three ideas we need to pursue strongly — the 3Ds for short:
Dig: In the miserable economic aftermath of a mining and energy boom there seems little enthusiasm amongst the general public for yet more exploration and exploitation of Australia’s vast natural resources. However, our future as a nation will only be paved with gold if we bother to find it and dig it up. If we don’t dig here, that won’t prevent countries overseas digging and getting rich as a result. Further consider that, back in the nineteenth century, now-impoverished Mexico was then, with its vast new-found mineral wealth, one of the richest countries on the planet. Consider how Chile recently has backed its own mineral and resources sector to become one of the few bright economies of South America.
Indeed, whenever I am overseas, the foreigners I meet tend to sigh wistfully and say: “If only my country had the natural wealth that Australia has…”. And yet, here we all are, just sitting on it.
Yes, it is expensive to explore in Australia’s vast Outback and the ocean depths off our coasts. Yes, the current business case for many a prospective ore body or gas/oil deposit may be flimsy in the current market. And, yes, existing, old mines are closing down. But times change. New technologies continue to emerge that will make mineral extraction and refining cheaper. And we have the knowhow to build transport infrastructure to bring our remoter minerals to the world.
If we as a nation don’t start doing the necessary, wider exploration and infrastructure work now, the next mining boom while catch us unready to ride its wave to renewed prosperity. Instead, other nations will prosper while Australia falls further behind, struggling to pay its mounting debts.
2. Dam: Feeding the developing world’s burgeoning population has emerged as one of this century’s key priorities. Australia’s vast plains could sustain many more of the globe’s seven billion people if only we were to do a better job marshalling and distributing the water that falls so heavily on many parts of Australia.
It is a national tragedy that we don’t have dams all along the Great Dividing Range. Most of the rainfall on Australia’s Eastern seaboard runs quietly off into Tasman and Coral seas. The heaviest downpours quickly overflow the rivers onto coastal plains. Otherwise-productive farms, many riverside towns and even big cities such as Brisbane are flooded. Vital road and rail transport links are cut, sometimes for weeks.
Instead, much of the water that falls around our Great Dividing Range could be captured in a whole series of new dams, then stored and piped further inland to irrigate the farms that need it. Of course, some inland areas, such as the NSW Riverina, already have irrigation systems in place. But we need new systems feeding off new dams to provide the lifeblood of what one day will be a much larger, drought-resistant farming sector west of that Divide.
Future generations may judge the Greenies harshly who have obstructed any and every attempt to build a dam. Protection of the natural environment and preservation of endangered species were cited as reasons. Yet two generations after the Franklin was “saved” and the so-called environmental lobby became a majorpoliticalplayer, more than 80% of renewable energy – the energy to which the green movement swears we MUST turn – comes from hydro-electric schemes of the very kind greenies opposed!
3. De-centralise: Up and down Australia’s fertile coasts there is bountiful space for many more cities to be built. Again, greenies have opposed developing new coastal towns, let alone cities. Again, they have cited environmental protection as the reason.
Sadly, the truth is that we live in a world where millions struggle to find a peaceful, safe place to live, and hundreds of millions live in cities blighted by environmental degradation. Wouldn’t it be better for us to re-house such people in safe, well-designed new cities along Australia’s coast? For, it is near our jewelled coast where most Australians – new and old – will prefer to live.
Who wouldn’t prefer a sea breeze coming in through open windows, rather than sit listening to the drone of an air-conditioner in a room closed against the heat and dust? Who wouldn’t wish to swim or play at one of Australia’s magnificent and world-renowned beaches? And who wouldn’t wish to go boating or fishing on any one of hundreds of picturesque estuaries along our coast?
Australia’s antiquated state boundaries, necessarily during our colonial past, centralised much development in the capital cities, reached only slowly by sailing ships. Now is the time we should be considering both re-drawing the map and working out where Australians of the future will wish to live, in as much natural comfort, and with as much prospect of meaningful work, as they can.
Moving modern bureaucracy and the digital machinery of government out of our crowded cities makes sense. Placing such workplaces in new cities along our coasts will provide the basis for commerce, education and, above all, opportunity. It is crazy that we “re-settle” most new immigrants in the more deprived areas of cities, where those inspired to compete for a limited number of jobs find it hard to do so. Setting up new cities, and encouraging new enterprises to set up within them,will provide a much better future for all.