07/05/2009 - 00:00

Rough but ready north needs sprucing up

07/05/2009 - 00:00


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The temporary feel of the state’s north makes it less inviting than it could be for potential residents.

Rough but ready north needs sprucing up

Last week I upset the burghers of Perth by suggesting we give away control of the vast riches of the north.

This week, with some trepidation, I am going to step on the toes of the northerners.

Nevertheless, I have to ask: what is it about the harshness of the north that makes the man-made parts of it so unappealing?

Having just returned from travelling along the north west coast, I was again reminded of how unkempt the place is.

I am not talking about the huge ports and massive mines - somehow the scale of the industrial processing up there has its own beauty.

The part I am talking about is the towns and communities that infrequently dot the landscape.

Is it the impact of a brutal sun or the concern over cyclones that results in civic areas, architecture and gardens being so minimalist?

Is it the transient nature of the population or simply that everyone has been too busy these past few years to bother tarting the places up?

It's not that I think everywhere in the south is picturesque.

But the coastal route I took from Perth to Broome was a case of déjà vu from several trips I have made through the region, including one in the 1970s when the north was much more remote than it is today.

The isolated roadhouses remain the very same bunkers they were. Perhaps you expect that. Perhaps that's even quaint.

But even cities, with Coles open later and longer than I can find in Perth, have that temporary feel to them. Worse, it's the temporary that has become permanent. I think it's very uninviting, both to those drifting through, like me, and those considering living there.

In summary, it doesn't feel loved. No wonder the population demanded more royalties be spent - they just want to spruce the place up.

The list of Tidy Town award winners shows how the once dominant north west has relinquished this crown to the south, with Cue being the only remotely northish town to trouble the judges since 1993.

But Tidy Town is only a quaint indicator. What I am really speaking about is something deeper than that.

Apart from a few isolated suburban pockets, the Pilbara really did feel like an industrial precinct where little had been spent on the niceties.

If we are ever going to get a big permanent population to develop and grow in the north, the place will have to become more people friendly. And look more permanent.


Speaking of the north, it is heavily dependent on air services regulated by the state government.

That makes the fact that the government is looking at deregulating the state's regional air services all the more important.

At the moment two airlines, Skippers and Skywest, have been granted monopoly air services to certain destinations. The idea is that Skywest, for instance, has a monopoly on certain coastal routes, some of which are profitable and some of which are not, allowing it to balance out the net result without being hampered by competition on the more profitable routes.

Apparently the Department of Planning and Infrastructure has recommended total deregulation, though that is unofficial and the reasons for that speculated recommendation have not been released by the agency or Transport Minister Simon O'Brien.

That the government is looking into this matter has only become public through newspaper reports, which mention the deregulation recommendation but not why it was made.

The result is the voices opposing deregulation have got considerable airplay whereas we have not heard from those potentially seeking it.

What we've heard is the staggering number of airlines or charter operators that have failed, merged or been shelved in WA in the past 50 years.

We've also heard that certain political voices fear catastrophic consequences from deregulation, while others are concerned about a downgrading of services to their towns.

It is not a very balanced argument to have with the regulation agenda outlined while the potential reasons for change are hidden.

Which leaves me a little in the dark as to what the arguments for deregulation are, apart from the obvious one - that competition breeds stronger players and reduces prices for customers.

Much is made of the collapse of Ansett in September 2001 as a catalyst to issues in the WA market. That was a drastic time for aviation across the country, not just in WA where it then owned major regional player Skywest.

Of course, less is made of the fact that Ansett had enjoyed for years the benefits of a cosy regulated duopoly, which was meant to protect Australia's internal aviation market.

Instead it bred a fat, lazy and bloated sector which couldn't stand the heat of competition when exposed to it.

Less than a decade later, open competition has cut air ticket prices dramatically in face value, let alone real terms, for interstate travellers.

The intrastate market has changed dramatically too. The booming mining sector, which is still far more buoyant than in 2001, resulted in increased air traffic, destinations and aircraft operators.

Perhaps that provides the foundation for a more competitive market place rather than having false economy where the travellers to one town subsidise the travellers to another.

If the government wants to ensure a particular community gets good aviation services they ought to subsidise it directly and let us all know what the cost is.



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