13/05/2020 - 16:01

What's not to love?

13/05/2020 - 16:01


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Some of the WA capital’s best attributes have become even clearer as we push through the COVID-19 challenge.

Perth's natural environment is a big part of its charm. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Some of the WA capital’s best attributes have become even clearer as we push through the COVID-19 challenge.

There are plenty of opinions about how the pandemic offers an opportunity to reset almost everything, from our economy and how we work, to our industrial relations policies and political conversations.

Of course, many of us have had ample time to ponder all manner of possibilities as we have endured isolation these past couple of months.

From my experience, however, an explosion of ideas results in a lot of noise rather than anything concrete.

Who can forget Kevin Rudd’s 2020 Summit?

The event was held in 2008, yet I can’t recall or find recorded any bright idea from that pageant that went on to become a substantive policy.

Here we are in 2020 and I think we owe the summit nothing.

That’s why I believe incoming governments are better off with just two or three clear ambitions to implement within their term.

A focus on a few major, well thought out plans will trump a lolly jar of concepts any day.

So with that in mind, I offer just one idea for the post-pandemic world, which, I hope, draws in some of what we have learned from the lockdown.

Value isolation

So let’s just underline what most people who have lived in Perth for a significant stretch of time understand – this place has most of what a great community needs.

Most of what is missing is because we don’t have the population to sustain it – a density that comes with a whole heap of unwanted problems.

Our isolation, the bane of so many for so long, has proved our strength.

Our spread-out city, with lots of open space, has been the perfect foil, thus far, for COVID-19.

Our natural amenities have proved resilient while artificial ones elsewhere have been forced to close.

Our medical sector has proved – admittedly untested to the degree of so many others – that it has the capacity to keep us as safe as anywhere.

Assuming we had to lock down to the extent we did (some in the community dispute the extent to which we have), few places have had it so good.

The resources sector, even though it is heavily reliant on air travel, has continued to operate almost unscathed by a pandemic that shut down most other industries anywhere it has hit.

Let’s celebrate

For once we are a global leader, so I believe we should capture what is good about this and focus on improving the best of what we have.

During the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to read the Committee for Perth and University of Western Australia’s joint FACTbase special report, ‘Perth as a Region of 2 Million People’.

It highlights concerns that a business-as-usual growth pattern, to a population of 3.5 million, will have major consequences in terms of amenity, affordability and congestion on roads and public transport.

It rightly argues that having a vibrant and strong city centre is vital.

But I do think fresh thinking is needed beyond pushing density in the centre at the expense of the fringe.

COVID-19 has made Perth the place to live.

We just need to adjust the urban dream to make sure it works for all those who now realise that working from home, walking the children to school each day, and accessing parks and beaches just down the road is what life is all about.

We need to make suburbia better, not rub it out or condemn those at the fringes to a more marginal life.

We need to create diversified education, industry and technology hubs closer to the fringes, allowing access to the important things that make up a good life.

Sure, put the higher amenity in the CBD, but let people live comfortably in the suburbs or, importantly, our major regional centres.

There has been much talk of us passing on the cost of the pandemic to the younger generation.

But for those who have watched governments, their agencies and property players pass on the cost of land development to younger generations, the passing forward of debt has been going on for at least a generation.

Young people building houses at the fringe ought to be welcomed.

They should not be squeezed into postage stamps, made to pay upfront for services they may not get for 20 years and then be trapped with a mortgage they can’t seem to get ahead of.

Their ambition is something we should nurture, and given it drives our economy, something we ought to better share the cost of.

I’m all for the quarter acre block, or least one with a back yard.

Let’s allow people to live how they have always wanted to, and with shops and jobs close by.

That will cost us, but if people can work from home, or be employed close by, it will be more functional than us trying to emulate Sydney or London.


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