For anyone stuck in Perth traffic on the way to work today, or crammed in a Transperth train, or if you find yourself fighting for space on the oval at Auskick on Saturday or trying to find a carpark at the shopping centre, the current debate around Royalties for Regions (RfR) should hold more than a passing interest for you.
Congestion is often rated as one of the biggest political issues in the state, particularly in metropolitan Perth, and both Labor and Liberal parties have multi-billion dollar plans to invest in road and rail infrastructure to try to reduce it. Unfortunately, according to all the experts, we can’t build our way out of congestion.
As recently as last year, WA’s Auditor General noted that traffic congestion in Perth “…has become a major issue for Western Australia and its Government. However, there is no simple way to define the ‘problem’ or its causes, and nor is there any simple solution.”
While projects like new rail lines north and south from the city, new and longer Transperth trains, upgrades to Great Eastern Highway and our Freeways, the Gateway Project to the Airport and even the Forrest Highway may have improved the safety and efficiency of some key aspects of daily travel in metropolitan Perth, they certainly haven’t solved the day to day congestion grind.
This is why the RfR program is so critical for the future liveability of Perth. I believe that this billion dollar a year investment in liveability and service delivery for non-Perth areas can lead to a million people living in regional WA by 2035, and that this decentralisation of the population is a better economic and social strategy to deal with the congestion-inducing population growth of our capital city than more railways and wider roads.
Bunbury, Busselton and Margret River should lead the way, with above trend growth building on their proximity to Perth and beautiful natural environments.
Albany, Geraldton, Carnarvon and Kalgoorlie already have substantial regional population and economic bases. They can build on these to double their populations.
Seek.com indicates that Karratha and Port Hedland have the most jobs advertised in regional WA. The transition from ‘fly-in fly-out’ to residential living in the most substantial economic sector in the state bode well for their growth. It makes no sense commercially flying thousands of people to their work when thousands of people already live in the Pilbara, enjoying modern liveable cities and towns and a wonderful outdoor lifestyle.
The Kimberley is blessed with abundant water, fertile soils and spectacular landscapes. With its close proximity to our northern trading partners, thousands of workers will be needed to grow our agriculture and tourism sectors.
RfR has been investing heavily in our regions. With political will and understanding this investment will continue. Kill this investment off, as has been proposed by others in recent weeks, and Perth traffic will grind even more, no matter how many billions are poured into its infrastructure.
I recently spoke with someone who had moved from Karratha to the metro area. Her commute time to work had increased from 5 minutes to 75 minutes each way. An extra 140 minutes a day to invest in yourself, your family or your friends is an asset that cannot be measured in dollars. I think she will be back in the regions before too long, possibly taking up one of the almost 2000 jobs advertised this past Saturday. Better for her and one less car on the Freeway.
Capital cities are congested by their very nature, and excessive travel times are debilitating and wasteful from an economic and lifestyle perspective. A million people living in the regions by 2035 will have a far greater effect on your commute time than any infrastructure project, and RfR makes sure that this is possible!