In the war against cyclical poverty and underinvestment in our poorest communities, the empowerment zone model is one that we should be seeking to implement. With proven results in some of the worst inner cities in the United States, there is a role for all levels of government to come together to help create real jobs in these communities.
The economics of these sorts of incentive zones is sound for rejuvenation of dilapidated urban areas. If we could see Council orientated cuts in commercial rates, residential rates and headworks charges with an expedited approval process for development with State Government based cuts in Land Tax and Payroll Tax; these communities could see tremendous economic gains.
One of these places where this sort of scheme should be rolled out in, is Nambour.
In 2012, the Sunshine Coast Region has the chance to take bold action to end the economic depression decades of bad policy has seen Nambour fall into. Ronald Reagan once said that “If your neighbor is unemployed it’s a recession; if you are unemployed it’s a depression”. Depending on whether you are unemployed in Nambour, coming out of school with no prospect of a local job or a business owner who is barely managing to stay afloat; our economy needs bold action, in the form of an incentive zone, stay afloat. In order to achieve this, the people of Nambour need to see three things: action for homeowners, action for businessowners and the political will to deliver it.
Firstly, Nambour homeowners need action to ease the cost of living. Ever since amalgamation, we have seen a Council using levies as quasi rate increases for the sake of a Mayoral press release about keeping rate rises down. What is needed as a part of the incentive zone is for home owners to receive rates discounts. With over 30% of Nambour residents being renters, we need to ensure we are doing all we can to ensure we move people into home ownership. Action is needed boost demand for local housing to stop the decay of our local housing market. If you are a first home buyer, you should receive an additional rebate on your rebates, on top of the rebates that the zone would provide. If you are building a new home, there should be no rates for the first year and receive the same rebates as those afforded to existing home owners. Finally, if you are simply moving to Nambour you should receive smaller rates rebates then first home buyers for the first four years.
Rebates of this nature will ensure that we are targeting incentives to bringing young people and construction work to our local area. The core of Nambour’s revival needs to be to not only bring people to live here but then provide them with jobs and transport to ensure we can stop the Brisbane brain drain.
Secondly, we need businesses to receive rebates. New businesses that start up in the zone should receive commercial rates rebates and deferment of headworks charges for the length of the zone’s existence. Businesses already inside the zone should receive a smaller rebate to keep them afloat during the tough times. Finally, we need an iron clad commitment that the Nambour Council Chambers will not leave our region. Whilst this is a plan to funnel private sector investment into an impoverished part of our region, we need the stimulation that the Council workers provide our CBD.
The equation is simple. If the Chambers go, Nambour is dead. Our regional leaders need the political will to accept this and to resist the temptation to chase ‘Champagne sipping’ waterfront votes in Maroochydore.
Finally what the Sunshine Coast region needs is the political will to execute this. There is an inherit danger in this proposal that once one area gets it, every other hinterland Councillor will want one. However, if we are going to restore Nambour to being the heart of the hinterland, we need Mayoral leadership to bring the post-2012 to action. I recognise the work of Mayoral aspirant Brett Winkler in putting a proposal similar to this into the public domain and I recognise the work of Kim Edwards in addressing some of the issues in regards to the CBD and parking fines near our hospital. However, with the growing regional opinion that Mark Jamieson, Michael Bloyce and Debbie Blumel are the front runners; these are the candidates that need to be convinced to take action.
With these proposals, in conjunction with State Government tax cuts on Payroll Tax, Land Tax and potentially other property taxes; this is one community that could be seen as a test case for the potential of such zones of investment for use in much poorer urban communities.
We need to embrace the model of private sector investment to advance poor neighbourhoods out of cyclical poverty. In the end, it’s the only way out for Nambour and the only way out for so many other parts of our state.
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