Working paper

Advocacy and resistance : the question of a post-war Commonwealth government role in community facilities, town planning and regional planning, 1939-52

URP Working Paper No. 9
Urban planning Public sector Australia
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This paper is concerned with the only attempt, prior to the 1970s era of DURD, to establish a significant role on the part of the Commonwealth government in urban and regional planning in Australia. Previous commentators on the period concerned - the 1940s - have contrasted the Commonwealth Housing Commission of 1943-44, in a context on post-war reconstruction fervour, with the demise of any Commonwealth role from the early 1950s to the early 1970s. These commentators have attributed this outcome to the general swing to the right in the late 1940s. The paper looks at three areas ofCHC recommendations - community facilities, town planning and regional planning- and attributes the demise of Commission recommendations to an even more entrenched set of bureaucratic and political factors taking effect as early as 194445. The paper documents the consistent gap between the CHC radical proposals and the more circumscribed follow-up efforts of the CHC's auspice body, the Department of Post-War Reconstruction. Most of these differences are seen to relate to the scale and pre-conditions of Commonwealth financial assistance to State and Local government, with the Commission pre-figuring a more financially generous but centralist role for the Commonwealth. The paper also documents the stark gulf between the Department's advocacy and its achievements. In the case of community facilities and town planning the DPWR's advocacy efforts, which began in earnest in early-1944, had virtually petered out by late 1945. In the case of regional planning, debate within the government went on longer and did result in some significant commonwealth initiatives in the late 1940s (though even these were more in the nature of major public works than regional planning enterprises). The paper suggests that outcomes in this area were more tangible than in the first two because regional planning was perceived to have strategic-military value. The paper presents four major reasons for the failure of the Commonwealth Housing Commission's agenda to take hold. The first, and least important, was a certain weakness in DPWR's operations in the policy-making process, this weakness stemming from bureaucratic inexperience on the part of some of DPWR's recruits from ouitside the Public Service. The second factor was the consistent signal from Chifley, as Treasurer and (up to March 1945) Minister for Post-War Reconstruction, that 'newer' ventures in planning had to take a lower priority than housing - both in terms of financial and physical resources and even bureaucratic energies. The third, somewhat related factor was the unrelenting opposition of Treasury officials to the entry of the Commonwealth into new fields of activity. A key aspect of the paper is its highlighting of the often misleading arguments and devious tactics of Treasury in its tussle with DPWR. Finally, the paper points to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of State governments generally for a Commonwealth entry into fields associated with State and Local Government and the strong antagonism of some non-Labor administrations in particular. The paper thus presents a microcosm of many of the same issues and conflicts that were to surround the DURD venture in the 1970s.

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