humble comment

Creating debt for the future, 82 years since the completion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

On the 19 March it will be 82 years since the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened. Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge was a grand feat in Australian history. Apart from being an essential item of infrastructure it was also for many years the iconic emblem of Sydney. The building was commenced in 1924 and was completed in 1932. During this time, the financial crash on Wall St, in October 1928, brought the world into the severe financial disaster known as the Great Depression.


“The Great Depression (1929–32) was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. For many people this period began before the market crash in prices and lasted until the Second World War (1939-1945).”[1]


Construction of the Bridge continued during the depression epitomising the national courage and confidence in our future at that time. It is disturbing to contrast the leadership and industry in Australia then compared to today. ‘The final cost of the bridge was £10,057,170 and 7 shillings and 9 pence – that is around $500 million in today’s money. The final repayment of the original loan taken out by the New South Wales government to finance the bridge was made in 1988.’[2]


From 2013 figures, Australia has a modest National debt in relation to GDP. ‘By 2014, every other country on the chart has a debt-to-GDP ratio between 1.25 and 5.6 times bigger than Australia’s. The chart’s ”best” performers, Germany and Switzerland, are cutting debt but, relative to GDP, still owe significantly more than Australia does. Commonwealth debt is equal to about 10 months’ revenue – most mortgage holders can only dream of such a burden.’[3]


Thus today, when we have one of the lowest national debts in the world, our leaders restrictions on developmental spending give rise to weekly announcements of mass sackings, while claiming we must not create debt for our children and grandchildren.


We should consider how Sydney would be if the people responsible for building the Sydney Harbour Bridge had instead made nervous announcements about the debt they were handing on to their grand children. How would those grandchildren feel today if they had to wait for the ferry to get to work in the city each morning, or get to the airport to fly to Canberra?


Many Federal Ministers live in the Northern suburbs of Sydney. The Treasurer’s electorate is North Sydney. The Prime Minister enjoys his residence across the harbour at Kirribilli House. If they give the convenience of the Sydney Harbour Bridge a thought, they may well thank their ancestors who had the courage to go into debt for the future of Australia.


As Sydney-siders causally accept the convenience of the Bridge whenever they go to and from the northern suburbs, we should question the decisions of the current government. It is shameful for our nation, and our people, that politicians choose to restrict our employment and potential growth to score political points and strive to shore up their personal power with scaremongering about Australian debt rather than invest in the infrastructure that we and future generations need so badly and which we could easily afford.