Turnbull rings in a user-pays revolution

The Coalition's fibre-to-the-node policy signals the start of a new era in which communities will have to substantially assist governments in funding better infrastructure and services.

Malcolm Turnbull’s national broadband policy has a significant feature that highlights an important and growing change in Australia – communities and individuals are going to have to pay if they want better infrastructure or services.

Under the Turnbull plan rather than having high speed broadband passing my home I may have to pay to bring high-speed broadband to my home from the nearby ‘node’.

And of course that will be much more economic if others in the street or in the local community join in the payment.

If the Coalition wins the September election a large number of communities, including my own, will pay for this service because they want it.

This is a trend that is going to gather momentum because governments simply do not have the taxation revenue or borrowing capacity to fund everything communities want. More and more communities will have to take their own actions, to fund all or part of what they need.

On thinking about this, I realised that I am involved in about five areas where either myself or my local community have taken action to fund infrastructure or services. I invite you to add to the number with your experiences, but here is my list:

– The big institutions didn’t provide the service I required in superannuation so since 1978 I have had my own self-managed superannuation fund. The self-managed funds movement now provides 50 per cent of superannuation pensions and is going to grow even faster (A self-managed super hero for corporate Australia, April 10). In time they will fund community infrastructure.

– In two communities where I live banks shut their doors so the community subscribed capital to open a Bendigo Bank.

– In Anglesea, Victoria there was no government money to erect a modern fire station and there was an opportunity to educate the 30,000 children who attend local camps each year about fire. So the volunteer fire fighters and people like myself mobilised the Anglesea community and raised more than $400,000 (aided by the local Bendigo bank) and the state government matched it on a three-for-one basis. The fire and education station is almost complete. In my view many communities wanting facilities in the future will have to follow the Anglesea model and provide 20 to 25 per cent of the funding.

– The current Victorian coalition government has extended the “Anglesea principle” (which was actually established by the previous ALP government) into the funding of new kindergartens. Our daughter’s community is co-funding, with the state government, a not for profit Montessori kindergarten that enrolls three year olds. (Most government kindergarten investment is directed to four-year-old starts).

– Private schools are a long-term illustration of the trend and the movement is growing because many people want a different education for their children to that provided by the state and are prepared to pay the extra money. I have been on the board of a private school for 40 years.

– Solar panels are illustration of where families have moved into the power generation business because either they wanted non-carbon power or because they wanted to insulate themselves from power price rises. I am among the solar panel brigade.

Let me finish this commentary with a more controversial idea. Most of us fund toll roads (by paying tolls), which improves our ability to move around big cities. But I also travel on suburban and country trains and realise that the fares do not cover the cost of running the service let alone the increasing capital costs. Self-managed superannuation funds would be happy to invest in rolling stock and tracks but the fares must be increased to service the capital cost.

I fully understand that makes it harder for low-income people to travel but the current system means they can’t enjoy the best facilities.

This is a debate communities need to have. Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN plan may accelerate it.

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