52.3 Social justice and the centralisation of governance in the Australian metropolis; A case study of melbourne

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 11:15 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Marcus SPILLER , SGS Economics & Planning Pty Ltd, Melbourne, Australia
Notwithstanding Australia’s robust economic performance both prior and during the global financial crisis, the nation’s metropolitan areas have become forces of division rather than shared opportunity for ordinary citizens.  The prodigious, low density spread of the Australian metropolis is creating communities of divergent aspirations and diminished social mobility.  To a large degree, these patterns can be attributed to structural economic change, characterised by powerful centripetal tendencies within high value added, ‘knowledge intensive’ and globally linked industries.  However, reforms in metropolitan governance have also played a part.  As evidenced in Melbourne, most Australian cities have seen a steady centralisation of planning, infrastructure and development facilitation functions into State Governments, the only constitutionally recognised sphere of governance in Australia besides the Commonwealth (federal) government.  This has been driven both by a belief that State control would render urban planning more ‘democratically accountable’, and a national push to rid the Australian economy of unnecessary red tape.  The upshot is that metropolitan communities effectively have no voice for their collective will.  Many urban policy initiatives and investments that may have blunted or mitigated some of the socially adverse features of the modern economy have been foregone or implemented in a desultory manner.  Moreover, these foregone opportunities to foster a more compact and connected metropolis have, somewhat ironically, diminished human capital accumulation to the detriment of Australian productivity and competitiveness.  Reinstatement of a metropolitan governance forum, with its own democratic mandate and fiscal capacity, to operate separately from, but in co-operation with, State and local governments, is likely to be necessary if the trends in social division and lost productivity in the Australian city are to be reversed.