News of a recent low in the outer suburban housing market due to reduced cheapness of petrol shows Australia to be a country at the crossroads.
The very fact that statistics prove so well that public transit which would qualify as ecologically sound in Australia's fragile environment (one-or-two-minute rail or services at least to semi-rural areas) would make housing tremendously unaffordable, shows that the present fall in the cheapness of petrol is very likely to lead to overwhelming pressure from a stronger and stronger ultraconservative majority in the outer suburbs.
As the gap in house prices between areas with relatively better public transport and those with utterly disgraceful services keeps rising, pressure to make petrol cheaper again via abolition of taxes and removal of restrictions on refinery capacity is sure to increase. Historical trends of the cheapness of petrol in the United States suggest clear potential to make petrol as cheap in real terms as in 1998 (when I had my memorable argument with a rude Melbourne University ice cream salesman over whether petrol was cheap) and the only thing I can see stopping it is the fact that oil exploration in Australia today has been unusually ineffective at finding new deposits. What the low rate of discovery in Australia shows - aside from the fact that a geology which creates superabundance of many metals is unconductive to oil formation - is that Australia's submissive outer suburban population that seems never to protest over even crucial issues has permitted the road lobby to virtually become outright owners of Australia's transport system. This means nothing - no matter how ecologically essential - can be done that would lessen the wealth of the road lobby.
As I see it, the most likely possibel solution is the development of a fully unified rail transit netowrk to cover the entire continent, or at least that area covered by its major population centres of:
- the Swan Coastal Plain (Perth-Fremantle-Rockingham-Mandurah)
- the Gulf of St. Vincent (Adelaide)
- Port Phillip (Melbourne-Geelong-Ballarat)
- Central East Coast (from Woollongong to Bundaberg and inland to the Nandewars)
- the Wet Tropics from Townsville to Cairns
A single-gauge fully duplicated rail system covering these areas and land linking them, along with fast and more frequent road transport over routes between them, might offer genuine hope of more sustainable transport without the soraing property prices that have virtually destroyed Europe and East Asia. Real efforts to build a new, effective rural rail network have to take up all Federal and State transport expenditure so that people, no matter where they live, have some alternative to teh car. This may require specialised bus services that do not have fixed routes, but I hope and imagine that they could be vastly better than the dreadful TeleBus of outer Melbourne even in quite remotes regions.