Ross Gittins has a great column in the SMH yesterday about infrastructure (hospitals, schools, public transport etc), and why it is that the great services end up being provided for the people who can most afford it. I’m a great example – I live in a place where I have the choice of bus, train or ferry to the city, I have a major teaching hospital within five kilometres of my house, and some of the top schools in Sydney are within walking distance.
The point Ross Gittins makes is that the richest people live in suburbs like that because they are desirable suburbs. Their great facilities pushes up the prices in that suburb, rather than the services being provided because the rich people live there. So the government ends up providing great services to richer people because they can afford to live where the services are. If I were to downsize to a cheaper part of Sydney, I would be giving up a lot of that infrastructure.
And when an attempt is made to move the facilities to where the people actually need them (a prime example is hospitals out in the western suburbs where the majority of the people live) the articulate inner-suburbanites are very good at stopping any services moving out of their areas.
So even though public provision of services like health and education is an attempt to even the playing field, our government would have to be far more active than it is in providing services to the poorer areas and taking away services from the richer areas (after all you’ve got to pay for it some how) to make that happen.
Of course it’s not just an accident of purchasing power. In Sydney, public transport provision basically stopped being built at around the time of World War II, so you can tell exactly how old your suburb is by its transport provision. Train – pretty old, or on a major country line. Public bus – not quite as old, or else in a place that is impractical for trains. Private bus – occasional provision for commuters in new suburbs. Nothing at all – the last 30 years or so.
It is a shame we don’t occasionally have state governments with a bit of vision.