There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from knowing that the former South Australian treasurer for Mike Rann’s ALP government, Kevin Foley, is the now head of Foley Advisory - a consultancy firm for the development industry. A post-parliamentary career ‘advising’ developers (advising what exactly? How to assimilate development aspirations with government policy? How to cut re…) certainly seems to confirm criticisms that the Rann Government was resolutely pro-development industry. Maybe call this the ‘We told you so’ affectation.
In the 8th of April edition of the Sunday Mail, Foley asserted in his column that “[l]ike it or not, we need to embrace housing developments” and then went on to both defend his former (and the current) government’s “30-Year Plan” development agenda and lambasted those many people whom have criticised such policies, whom are abstracted to the affectionate title of “NIMBYs” (Not In My BackYard-ers). What is particularly interesting with this article, aside from being a brilliant example of sophistry with all its weasel words and ad hominem and straw-man fallacies, is its breathtaking conviction in what are really contingent outcomes and its ignorance of serious communal concerns.
Foley’s argument (and I say argument reluctantly) runs as thus: Adelaide’s population will, as a matter of fact, increase by 560,000 people in the space of the next 30 years; within metropolitan Adelaide, only 45% of that number can be accommodated within “traditional housing block subdivisions”, leaving 55% without access to such accommodation; as such, new accommodation facilities must be created; these facilities will need to be constructed wherever space permits (i.e. old commercial sites, “existing residential areas”, &c.); as such space is limited, we will therefore need to build upwards with high-rise housing facilities; additionally, with an aging population, these facilities must be situated close to public transport and healthcare facilities. Thus, though he doesn’t use the phrase, this is an argument for Transport Oriented Developments (or TODs for short). Anyone who rejects or even criticises such develops are either conservative snobs (the ‘NIMBYs’) or utopian “greenies” with fantasies of sustainability. Indeed, Foley asserts, “those who oppose such developments are short-sighted, naive and selfish.”
Things become especially interesting when in the second-to-last paragraph Foley states the following: “Population growth in our city is vital to maintain its fabric for jobs, vibrancy and, quite frankly, it’s unavoidable, so let’s deal with it.” After considerable time establishing that population growth is an inevitability and thus this kind of development a necessity, he then suggests that this in fact a contingent scenario - it does not have to the case as a matter of fact! This population growth isn’t a naturally occurring phenomenon but instead a deliberate consequence of government policy induced for economic concerns - ‘growth-fetishist’ concerns.
So what does this mean? It means that rather than investing in a stable and sustainable Adelaide, the ALP is committed to a program which necessitates continuous economic expansion and subsequently social and infrastructural alternations to facilitate that change. This is to the direct benefit of industries which require constant and growing consumption of their goods and services, for instance the development industry, and to the peripheral benefit of their employees. While this last fact will be used to argue that this will ultimately benefit society by structurally stimulating and necessitating demand (and hence “jobs” for the supply side of things), this only highlights the fragility of creating a socio-economic structure which depends entirely upon growth - infinite growth in a world AND state with finite resources and capacities. This should justifiably raise doubts amongst those not only concerned about what impacts this will have upon the environment, but those too concerned with irresponsible and wishful economic planning (for instance, planning an economy not with what we’ve got, but what we’re going to have get).
Additionally, while trying to characterise critics as conservative and snobbish NIMBYs, Foley further demonstrates his tendency to gloss-over and outright ignore valid communal concerns. Take the St Clair Recreation Park issue for example. The site is marked for the construction of TODs. Citizens of the area adjacent to the park (and many others not) have raised various criticisms of this decision, including (though not limited to) the decision to move the park to a site once contaminated by industrial pollution and concerns that this was due to offering favourable treatment to developers worried about land-values (many of these developers donate to the ALP and buy seats to its expensive dinners) over the interests and desires of the community; the influence of the ALP over local-governments and the subsequent violation of the ‘division of power’ and grass-roots politics; and the effect that this would have upon the existing community who would be further removed from the park. These are all valid concerns and by ignoring them and the many others like them (e.g. those raised by the Mt Barker, Woodville West (an area which already had public-housing facilities which were demolished and its citizens moved elsewhere!), Seaford Heights, Cheltenham Race Course, &c.), Foley’s ‘argument’ is not going to win anyone over. Such a vitriolic polemic will further reinforce the view of the Rann Government (and the current Government) being extremely arrogant and ‘out-of-touch’.
All of this is certainly revealing as to the extent that the pernicious ‘growth fetishist’ ideology has permeated the ALP. Indeed, this lens is so powerful that those looking through it can’t observe the long-term consequences of such a narrow view. And without recognising the irony, Foley has the gall to call his critics myopic.
Thomas A. Mackay