L. Neil Smith's
Number 216, March 24, 2003

Shucks and Aw!

Local Gummint? What Was It For, Again?

by Christopher Biggs

Special to TLE

I live in Brisbane, state capital of of Queensland, halfway up the right-hand side of Australia. Imagine a miniature Los Angeles of around 2 million people: sprawling low-density living, long commutes on crowded freeways, lousy public transport, and crazy, crazy government.

Let's examine why I'm paying the Brisbane City Council $1600 a year to exercise their pathological obsession with which species of tree I plant in the backyard of my 3-bedroom house occupying 1/10 acre of suburbia.

Law enforcement? Since policing is a state-level responsibility, the council heavies deal with little other than litter-bugs and parking tickets. Since street parking is being devoured by road-widening and bus-lanes, the CBD relies on scores of private-sector multi-level parking garages; public parking spaces are statistically nonexistent. Suburban businesses and shopping malls are required by law to provide off-street car-parking in proportion to their floor area, so street parking is second-choice at best (and generally infested with coin-operated parking meters anyway).

Water? Water is charged by volume as an extra on top of my rates. For as long as I can remember, it's actually been ILLEGAL to have a household rainwater tank. Recently this prohibition was repealed. Translation: water demand is outstripping supply, and the council doesn't want to build another treatment plant. Better privatized.

Roads? All the new major road projects are toll funded, so I'm paying for those anyway. Suburban roads on new residential areas are constructed by the developers (i.e. paid for by the residents), why not continue the private maintenance? Businesses are charged by area ("inspection fees") for the signage on their shop-fronts, so commercial street maintenance is essentially advertiser funded. The council is pants-wettingly eager to implement London's "Congestion Charging" model. Sea- and Airports? Already privatized.

Public transport? Trains are a state government monopoly. The extensive tram network was ripped up by the city council in the 1970s. Buses are (badly) run by the council; official policy encourages widespread use of public transport; yet ticket prices doubled over the decade of the 1990s, and the popular unlimited-trip monthly tickets were discontinued because people were using them too much(!), replaced by inconvenient swipe-card tickets (only available in stores, not on buses) which are good for only 10 trips. Better privatized.

Public works? How does half a billion dollars for a new football stadium (which I'll never use) sound? Bread and Circuses! Ditto a concert venue, art gallery, swimming pools, and various other sporting facilities? Why is the government involved in these services at all? Did I mention that sport is Australia's official National Diversion? (Oh, and it's user-pays for most of those facilities anyway).

Parklands? Most parks in Brisbane are in fact flood channels that are not suitable for anything else. The land value is minimal, and many of them are already maintained by local volunteer groups. Privatize 'em. Heck, plant 'em with shady timber species and turn a profit, while saving on the cost of artificial shade now being retrofitted to playgrounds to replace the ozone layer.

Libraries? Brisbane has one of the best public library systems in the world — a service for which I'd happily pay. In fact I already DO pay, since I usually reserve books via the library's WWW site, and have them delivered to my nearest branch library, for which I pay a "service fee".

Sewerage? Useful, but over-designed. Storm-water is best separated from bodily waste, and bodily waste is best handled in a decentralised fashion. Before there were sewers, private sector septic-tank pumping companies handled whatever waste couldn't be processed by a subterranean septic system. Oh, and it's still illegal to re-process your own "grey water" as garden irrigation.

Electricity? It's being privatized anyway. Phones ditto.

Zoning control? Who needs it? And besides, a fat enough brown-paper envelope will get any project approved. If the city council were at least EFFICIENTLY corrupt, their zoning control would be self-funding. Oh, and don't forget about $3000 worth of "title search" fees every time a property changes hands.

Garbage collection? I sort my recyclables into a separate multi-compartment bin, and gift them to the council. I can take ONE car-load of rubbish to the city dump each quarter. If I take a trailer, truck or station-wagon I have to pay commercial rates. Seems I'm already paying (in cash, and in kind) for garbage.

Regulation of tree planting, tree felling, tree pruning, roof colour, pet species and numbers, business signage, lawn mowing, fence height, licensing and charging for every possible kind of business (believe it or not, there's a "Skin Penetration License"), and all the other matters into which the local gummint sticks its beak? Scratch the lot, and good riddance to it!

Local government is a totalitarian nightmare.


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