San José State University
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

Australian Regional Policy and
The Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme

The Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme
in Southeastern Australia

Australia lacks water in the vast, low-lying interior, but the eastern rim of highlands, the Great Dividing Range, has plentiful rainfall. Unfortunately the rivers of the highlands flow eastward into the Pacific Ocean unused. The Snowy Mountains Scheme reverses the flow of two of these rivers with tunnels cut down and back through the Great Dividing Range to the basins of the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers. Because of the difference in altitude between the intake in the highlands and the outlet in the interior the Scheme generates enough electricity to pay for the operating costs and the nearly one billion dollars of construction costs. The Snowy Mountains Authority, modeled on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) of the U.S., was created in 1949 by the Australian Federal Government to supervise the planning, construction, and financing of the projects. The Scheme involved sixteen dams, seven power plants, fifty miles of aquaducts, and ninety miles of tunnels to be built over a thirty year period. The water supplied to the Murray and Murrumbidgee River. is valuable not only for irrigation but also to maintain the water level in the rivers for transportation. These rivers flow northwestward before turning south to the ocean. In the past they were the only means of transporting goods to and from the interior. The interior's water problem is not just a low average rainfall. The rain fall is highly variable and this makes farming risky. The reserve water of the Snowy Mountains Scheme provides insurance for the farmers against their crops being wiped out by an absence of rain late in the season. This protection result in more investment in agriculture in the interior than there would be otherwise. The hydroelectric system is especially valuable because it is located in the southeastern Australia where it provides supplemental peak-load power for the urban centers of Sydney, Melbourne, and the Australian capital of Canberra. Without the Snowy Mountains Scheme the power systems of these cities would have to start up and close down thermal power plants twice each day, a very wasteful operation. Instead Snowy Mountains' nearly four thousand megawatts of power can be turned on or off costlessly. The Snowy Mountains Scheme is one of the world's largest and best water diversion project. It was efficiently executed and provides benefits in excess of its costs by correcting an unfortunate distribution of water and cultivable land.

Regional Policy in Australia

Concern about regional disparities has never been an important element of Australian political life. Differences in income between the urban and rural population have been relatively small because the rural areas have been settled from the urban areas so there was relatively little difference between the rural and urban populations in terms of income and culture.

General the frontier in Australia has been a "big man's frontier" in which only the well financed could attempt to settle. In contrast, in the U.S. and Brazil the frontier has often been a "little man's frontier" in which the nearly destitute could and did settle.

During and after World War II the Australian Labour Party (ALP) government under Curtin and Chifley sought to create a planned socialist economy, which naturally involved regional planning. Before any significant amount of ALP program could be implemented the ALP lost the 1949 election to a coalition party under Robert Menzies. TheMenzies government eliminated regional planning from government policy and it did not arise again for twenty years. There was a feeling that the cities of Sydney and Melbourne were too big. This sentiment affects policy in the form of trying to direct growth to any city other than Sydney and Melbourne. After 1965 Australian policy makers adopted the concept of growth poles and tried to cencentrate policy measures to promoting growth in a limited number of promising cities. In 1972 another Labour Party government came into power under Whitlam. Whitlam enunciated policy objectives of promoting equality and decentralizing government decision-making, particlarly of involving the general population in this process. A Department of Urban and Regional Development (DURD) was created in 1972. The Federal government promoted programs of fiscal assistance to the states. The Whitlam government was in power only until 1975 but during that time public expenditures increased significantly. The members of DURD became like missionary zealots for radical reorientation of the government and this, along with other concerns about the Whitlam government, was raising doubts in the general population.

A chance event brought a drastic change in government. The Senator from Queensland, who was a member of Whitlam's Labour Party, died. The Governor of Queensland appointed a replacement who was not of Whitlam's Party. The Liberal coalition then had a majority in the Senate. The Governor General then dismissed the Whitlam government and appointed Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister in the interim until new elections could be held. Fraser's Liberal-National-Country coalition party won both houses in the election. Fraser formulated a conservative policy which included:

The grants for Urban and Regional Development were cut from a total of $$408 million to $251 million. The Department of Urban and Regional Development was replaced by the new Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development. Spending for growth centers was cut by more than two thirds, from $64 million to $19 million.

Later when the Labour Party won the election of 1984, the policies of the Fraser government were not changed and Prime Minister Hawke may have been more effective at implementing the conservative policies of the Fraser government than the Fraser government itself.

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