Culture and Life
by Rob Gowland
The district where I live, the NSW Central Coast, has recently been in the news. Last week the ABC's 7.30 Report delved into a new report identifying Wyong Shire as the region in the State if not the country with the highest rate of child abuse, the highest divorce rate, the highest rate of unemployment, the highest percentage of single mothers and one of the highest rates of domestic violence. These statistics are not unrelated. The NSW Government has for years now been pursuing a policy of promoting the development of the Central Coast as a dormitory district for Sydney. The original concept had it as a dormitory district for both Sydney and Newcastle, but the economic collapse of Newcastle after BHP went offshore meant that the once prosperous industrial city of Newcastle actually itself became a dormitory suburb of Sydney. But people were still being encouraged to move to the Central Coast, where apparently there was plenty of fresh air, fishing, cheap housing, beaches and bowling clubs. What the Central Coast did not have, but which people were not told about, were jobs, facilities for youth, and adequate health care. This did not deter the developer friendly NSW Government, of course. Real estate agents and property developers stood to make a bundle and did, as stretch after stretch of rural land was divided up into "estates" with names designed to sell rather than reflect reality or local history. Tens of thousands of people were lured to the area by the prospect of an affordable house amidst "rural surroundings". Built by developers concerned to maximise profit rather than create a viable living community, the project homes on these estates are crowded so closely together that their eaves practically touch. The people may be living in the country but they have no backyard, no room for their children to play outside. With both partners often commuting to Sydney for work, marriages and relationships come under great strain: people are tired and stressed when they get home, and there is little to look forward to as even more people are moved into the area. Little wonder that the area produces the statistics I quoted at the beginning of this article. Efforts by the local population to stop the unbridled overdevelopment of the region run up against the State Government which sides with the developer lobby every time. Only a fortnight or so ago the Government "relieved" the Council of planning control, in order to allow a highly controversial and inappropriate high rise development to go ahead on the waterfront at the Entrance (to Tuggerah Lakes). That the foreshore should be dedicated public land, that no development should be allowed to alienate public access to the views of the Lakes, these considerations counted for nothing with the NSW Government. The Council had tried to put the interests of the community first. The property developer had the ear of the Minister. It was no contest, really. Not in NSW, at any rate. The people who move here quickly learn that they have been ripped off: the government has created a vast urban sprawl, a social crisis that creates more crises as relationships fail, families fall apart, anger and frustration turns to violence. The smart operators have made a mint out of the "development" of the area. But the overall social failure of the "dormitory suburb" concept has bred small scale would-be smart operators who are laying waste many traditional practices of the region. Local produce is still placed out the front of properties for sale to passing travellers (take your pick and leave the money in the tin provided). But now there are increasing thefts, of dozens of orchids from one of our neighbours' roadside stall, bags of oranges, tomatoes and dozens of eggs from another neighbour's stall. In the face of such mean-minded criminality, people tend to give up having stalls by the road. The result is a monetary loss to the battlers who had the stalls, and a loss of amenity for the rest of us, who used to patronise those stalls for fresh fruit and vegies, and eggs. The fault does not lie with the people in these Central Coast dormitory developments. Most are ordinary working or professional folk who are merely looking for decent living conditions. The fault lies with a government and a system that leaves the creation of those decent living conditions to profit-gouging property developers and real estate agents. But governments these days, whether Labor or Liberal, maintain that whatever social problems exist can be taken care of by the "private sector". Apparently, if enough people have a conscious need of some service (whether it is counselling, child care, youth clubs or supervised recreation), some entrepreneur will see the opportunity for making money and will supply the wanted "product" or service for a suitable fee. In other words the people must pay for the solution of their problems. And if the people are unable to pay enough money to satisfy the entrepreneurs the latter will go elsewhere. Too bad, but that's business. It is asking too much to expect our present bourgeois parties and capitalist governments to adopt the concept of planning the overall integrated development of not just housing but related employment, commuter travel, education and leisure facilities. This is the hall mark of socialist society, but it can also be undertaken by a progressive government espousing a pro-people program, the kind of government and the kind of program one would expect of a Government of People's Unity as advocated by the CPA.