Soldier settlement schemes in the twenties and industry decentralisation in the seventies are two of the higher profile failures. Victoria successfully resettled thousands of mature long term unemployed in rural areas using housing grants that allowed welfare recipients to buy their own home. Unfortunately, their welfare payments support the local economy, rather than their industry.
In the long term, Australians – like humans everywhere – drift to the cities where the services are. Australia is one of the most urbanised nations in the world, partly because we exploited the land so recently we have no rural tradition holding people to the landscape. We also fail to understand the land.
This drift to the city is because our civilisation extracts resources from somewhere else to make cities comfortable and convenient. Fundamental as this principle is, the long term well being of civilisation, though, depends on reversing it.
We have to find ways to localise our economies. We have to build small self-sufficient communities based on housing with a much smaller footprint than our current MacMansions. The members of those communities have to be productive so they are independent of both the global economy and state taxes.
This project involves a pincer movement. On one hand, we need to ramp up the thirty year old movement to create ecologically-sound communities. We did not drop out, we simply saw the future earlier. On the other, we desperately need to help those stuck on the debt treadmill to unplug from the global slave-trade and adopt a sustainable lifestyle.
One way to do that is to help the people who fall off the treadmill by giving them the dignity of their own roof and a productive role. If we do this at a local level we might just avoid the traps of grand schemes hatched by boffins in the cube farms of Canberra. Of course, we have to understand the land to make that possible.