Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hooked On Fish - Part 4

You Have Been Conned - This Is Not Really About Fish! 

     Australia has been run on the basis of a "Dotocracy" since its earliest beginnings.  To some extent, it has been a good thing in that we have developed quaint differences between the States which, overall, has fostered a healthy competitiveness.  Where would we be without the Sheffield Shield cricket or State of Origin Rugby League?

     There have been occasions, however, when the Dotocracy fought against us.  

     Some readers may recall the stoush in the early 1900's over the site for a National Capital which resulted in a land-locked island in the middle of NSW, now known as Canberra (not a criticism - I live there and love it).  At the time of formation, and for many years after, Canberra was a hard place to get to, a hard place to live in, a hard place to communicate with and, therefore, hard to do business in.

     Readers may also recall the railway gauge issue that dogged rail travel in this country for most of the 20th century.  This was an excellent example of Dotocracy working at its best.  NSW decided on a gauge of 1435mm; Victoria and South Australia 1600mm; Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia (with parts of South Australia) 1067mm.  By 1917, a person wishing to travel from Perth to Brisbane was required to change trains six times (an interesting read is A History of Rail in Australia).

     So, let's get back to the topic and think about joining some dots.

     In Hooked On Fish, Parts 1-3, we explored some of the issues around Australian aquaculture, particularly land based aquaculture.  We coined the phrase "Dotocracy" to demonstrate that, regardless of the amount of good work being done, efforts were fragmented.  The dots were not being joined and, as a consequence, opportunities were being missed.

     However, the issue goes far beyond the development of aquaculture, for its own sake.  We live in a country whose greatest natural resource is land.  We sent and encouraged people, from the earliest times, to explore and exploit this resource.  They did so with enthusiasm and developed agricultural enterprises, built regional cities, towns and villages.  They established forms of communication, appropriate to the technology of the day.  They tapped into resources such as water and timber.  They discovered and exploited the mineral wealth which continues to underwrite our ongoing economic prosperity.  They fought the disasters - fire, flood, dust and drought -  that confronted them on a regular basis.  They hung on and survived, often times by their fingernails, because they had to and because they had learned to love their place in the world.  

     In return, we sometimes sent a visiting Prime Minister or Premier; we handed out a few grants and prepared reports; we built a few arterial roads and we turned a promising rail network into a nostalgic anachronistic member of the "what might have been" club.  We encouraged them to tap into the rivers, the streams and the underground water basins and to plant and grow, plant and grow, plant and grow!  And now that the water is not what it used to be, now that rural enterprises use a fraction of the staff they used to, now that these towns and villages and lifestyles that we read about in "Henry Lawson" and "Banjo Patterson" are fading, our answer is to tell them they must stop using the water, they must pull out their orchards, they must stop milking their cows and "maybe you shouldn't be there!"  Meanwhile, the rest of us, the great majority who have the majority of votes, cling like limpets on a rock to the comfort and connivance of the big cities on the coast!

     Of course, its not all doom and gloom.  We just have to learn to join the dots, and that brings us back to fish, kind of!

     In the early 1970's, the Commonwealth Government of the day implimented a policy of "Regional Growth Centres".  The policy identified focus points such as Bathurst/Orange (NSW) and Albury/Wodonga (NSW/Victoria).   To an extent, there has been some long term success with this concept, although handicapped with dubious communications through a lack of rail, road and telecommunication infrastructure for the first 2-3 decades.  At no time since this policy was introduced has anything other than lip service been paid to the notion that the concept could be developed as a deliberate and aggressive strategy to ease the pressure on big city expansion, at the same time as rejuvenating our rural and regional communities.  Like the question of aquaculture, lots of dots but no lines to join them.

     The forecasts for population growth indicate that, without a policy shift, that growth will occur in our major coastal cities.  This need not be a threat.  It is, in fact, an opportunity to drive the decentralisation agenda in a much more aggressive and targeted manner.  Of course, the "no growth" brigade have been out in force on this topic. In truth, the "no growth" brigade have no argument.  If you don't grow you die.  Its that simple.  We have to learn to cope and deal with an ever increasing world population, to which we in Australia will contribute a tiny portion.

     The forecasts for climate change and its consequences for agricultural production generally indicate a long term shift is required in the manner we approach traditional agriculture and food production.  The preceding fishy tales provide an illustration of how significant intensive and integrated food production enterprises can be developed, using a fraction of the water compared with traditional methods, impacting on much smaller areas of land and potentially offering many more employment opportunities.

     This series of articles is really about the development and implementation of good policy, with particular emphasis on encouraging the survival of regional Australia.  If sound policy is developed, fully recognising the connectivity between cities, country towns, transport, communication, food production, good health, lifestyle, employment, water availability and consumption, etc, then we might just start to join the dots and escape from the clutches of Dotocracy.
     Perhaps, after all, it could start with a good feed of fish!

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