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Suddenly there’s this cataclysm. Buildings and population rise, interest rates and amenity fall. Suddenly everyone feels the raft will sink and Scott Morrison gets to play the hero by establishing a “powerful” population inquiry, already signalling he’ll reduce immigration. But is any of this what it seems? Beware, I say, the self-serving prophesy of doom.
Because actually, congestion isn’t about too many people, or even too little infrastructure. It’s about near-total absence of planning.
On Tuesday, Infrastructure Australia warned that Sydney and Melbourne would soon be crippled by congestion, costing the economy $38 billion a year unless we add $600 billion to the $130 billion of projects underway. Everyone who’s sat in an M5 logjam or stood in a crowded train nodded sagely. Oh yes, build more roads. Then the Reserve Bank joined the reflex call to 'infrastructcha' and at once I started getting the usual missives about population control being the elephant in the phone-box.
Days earlier, buyer’s agent Simon Pressley declared an Australia-wide real estate emergency. “It’s a bubonic plague!” he said. Any owner of any flat built in Australia in the last 20 years had contracted “real estate’s equivalent of the bubonic plague”. There was no vaccine and the only remedy was to sell “sooner rather than later”.
Altogether, it rang like catastrophe. And there’s some truth there. But it behoves us, especially with such doom-laden prophesies, to flip the rock, examine the motives.
Because they would say that, wouldn’t they? An infrastructure agency will talk up its own role, bolstering future budgets. As to the bank, RBA governor Philip Lowe argued not that we need extra infrastructure but that such spending "can boost the economy’s productivity". This doesn’t negate their advice, entirely, but does make it less than perfectly on point.
Of course, the two predictions are linked. Both Crippling City Congestion and Bubonic Plague Apartment Syndrome have resulted from the last decade’s wanton high-rise let-rippery throughout Australian cities. We’ve let too many shonks build too-flawed buildings too close together with too little oversight and too few services for far, far too long.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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