Are communities merely collections of highly parochial individuals?


We were recently debating collaboration at the regional level. A very interesting contribution was made by Bob Neville, a community consultant from the NSW Northern Tablelands, as follows:

“The challenge we have is that Aussies are generally very independent in their outlook – even to the death. I recall one time during a severe drought, when farmers and businesses were dying like flies. One bright spark had the idea of pulling together, pooling resources and equipment. A great plan was formulated and people were rallied behind it. Just as all of this was about to begin, it rained – and everybody IMMEDIATELY lost interest and went back to their independent ways.”

Bob continues “I tried to encourage them to keep it going, but to no avail…a change of mindset is the first step. The same is true for struggling businesses in regional communities. Many are struggling to survive – how do they find time or clarity of mind to get their position into perspective? The challenge is that communities are merely collections of highly parochial INDIVIDUALS. But the mindset here is that communities rarely work together, except in times of severe disaster. There is no one simple solution, but it’s worthy of serious focus.

Identifying the problem

Well, it’s hard to disagree with Bob, and from our experience part of the answer lies in better identifying the quantum of a problem and then explaining it. For example, the Greens have a patchy track record in this area and lose credibility as a result.

Another example is the social costs of bored youths. There is much anecdotal evidence, but little cost-benefit analysis, of how sports facilities can help kids get healthy, let off steam and develop self-worth. Could be a role for a university to take the lead here? We could even build a case for poker machine profits to flow to such infrastructure, rather than the pockets of investors!

Identifying the solution

The other part of the answer lies with a practical solution.
For example, three years ago the federal government’s High Speed Train consultants arrived at $114 billion as the likely construction costs to link Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane over 30 years. That was never a practical solution. But government advisers are now talking about a staged solution, starting with a Sydney-Canberra leg of $23 billion over 17 years. This could be a very practical solution if the feds, NSW and ACT governments, councils, institutional investors and developers could agree on a funding cocktail.

Another example is the $614 million for light rail between Gungahlin and Civic here in Canberra. While the Greens are leading the charge, most Canberrans are choking on their scotch and sodas. The general consensus is that we simply avoid the 15 minutes of heavy traffic at peak hours. Indeed, Infrastructure Australia doubts whether the territory has enough traffic congestion to warrant federal funding for both light rail or rapid buses!

In any case, the solution has to be a staged approach – the best cost-benefit arguably lies on the Civic – Manuka – Kingston route (5km). The benefits include easy access for Manuka Oval patrons, activity to soften the Stalinist features of the Parliamentary Triangle, and smart transport for the many apartment dwellers in this area.

Getting back to Bob Neville’s point about parochialism, I suspect he is right. We will not collaborate unless someone properly explains the problem and provides a sensible solution. One without the other is not enough.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: