Consulting the States

I first learned of this when I received a telephone call from Mike Codd, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, inviting me to meet with him. I went to the meeting with some trepidation, to discover that Howe had suggested to Hawke, and Hawke had agreed, that I be asked to call on each of the State Premiers and open up informal discussions with them about their likely response to a Commonwealth urban initiative and their suggestions about what form it might take.

Codd would clear the proposal with the other two relevant Departmental Secretaries — Tony Blunn, Secretary of the Department of Territories (within which the National Capital Planning Authority was located) and Stuart Hamilton, Secretary of Howe’s Department of Health, Housing and Community Development.

I accepted the proposal with enthusiasm, and proceeded to plan the process, which would be opened up by a letter from Prime Minister Hawke to each Premier requesting their assistance and cooperation. Howe and I agreed that I would be accompanied to these meetings with a member of his advisory staff, Onella Staggoll.

So, during the latter months of 1990 we set out to win the cooperation of State Premiers in preparing an urban and regional initiative for Australia in which they would participate as a partner with the Commonwealth.

We provided State Premiers with some outline indications of the types on investments that might attract Commonwealth attention and the broad purpose of the Commonwealth’s interest, but otherwise not a great deal of detail was given for obvious political reasons — notably there was as yet no Commonwealth commitment to a program and the Government didn’t want speculative leaks to the media about the potential initiatives.

Our reception was mixed.

Premier Greiner of New South Wales was perfectly happy to receive funds from the Commonwealth provided he got to spend them on his project priorities with no strings attached. He wasn’t particularly interested in a partnership.

Premier Kirner of Victoria was similarly inclined in relation to receiving money, but with a potentially more sympathetic view of partnering with her Labor Party colleagues from Canberra. She had several ‘pet projects’ to advance, none of which met the general criteria we advanced (closing Swanston Street in Melbourne’s CBD was a key priority for Premier Kirner).

Premier Lawrence of Western Australia did not meet us but sent her senior staff to do so. They expressed political suspicion about the Commonwealth’s motives but saw a number of initiatives of value in Perth — especially redevelopment in and around Fremantle,

In Queensland we met with the effervescent Deputy-Premier Tom Burns on behalf of Premier Goss, and the powerful Mayor of Brisbane, Jim Soorley. Both had suggestions and ideas, a number of them (notably the redevelopment of some of inner Brisbane’s run-down neighbourhoods) very consistent with the objectives we were then forming and testing.

Premier Bannon in South Australia also had his office and government officials meet with us and expressed an interest in addressing the social problems of Elizabeth in Adelaide, a rapidly declining area of former car-industry-worker housing that had become a welfare-housing nightmare for his Government.

This initial round of meetings also enabled us to invite each of the States (and later the Territories) to submit a list of proposals to the Commonwealth, in writing, as a guide to what they might be interested in undertaking in a partnership, given the general criteria we spelled out — area-based, multiple outcomes, capital investment, demonstration effect, with inner urban, outer urban and regional projects all to be considered. A couple of weeks were provided for these initial responses.