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70th Birthday for The Bridge

Today is the 70th anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932. Financial Demographics estimates there were 62,500 Australians born on opening day and that 39,300 of them are still living today. The construction cost of the Bridge was 6,250,000 pounds (about $390 million in today's dollars). Financing was underpinned by the Sydney Harbour Bridge Act of 1922. This levied two thirds of the cost to the Railways and one third by levy on lower North Shore councils up to 1939 and tolls on bridge traffic (recently increased to $3 - see our News item 18 January 2002).

The Bridge was born out of a catastrophic financial environment and high political drama. Australia was in financial crisis over 1930 to 1932. Export prices collapsed with the Great Depression and debt financing obligations brought pressure from the Bank of Engand to develop a financial plan. A national Plan was implemented on 10 June 1931, which included wages reduced by 20%, the currency devalued 30%, war pensions cut by 20% and age pensions by 12.5%.

Mr Jack Lang, the NSW premier, subsequently refused to go along with some aspects of the Plan and this threatened foreign financial relations for Australia. At the Bridge opening his ribbon cutting role was hijacked by the sword of Francis De Groot, a retired cavalry officer who was a member of the New Guard, an anti-Lang vigilante group. Mr Lang was sacked by Governor Sir Philip Game (effectively for attempting to default on foreign loan payments in breach of the NSW Audit Act), two months after the Bridge opened. This same fate befell Prime Minister Mr Gough Whitlam 45 years later becasue one of his ministers was attempting ot borrow large sums overseas without Loan Council approval.

Curiously, current foreign debt levels seem to attrach little comment these days just 10 years out from the 50% increase in age pensions liability when the longer living baby boomers retire. At September 2001 Australia's net external debt was $331 billion or 849 Harbour Bridges!

Posted Tuesday, 19 March 2002

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