We can’t keep the country running at two speeds
Today there will be thousands of Australians losing an hour of time with their kids for the privilege of sitting in traffic gridlock in our major cities. Somewhere else there will be an employer looking at a business, which could generate much more money if only a worker could be found.
The concept of Australia running at two speeds couldn’t be starker than it is with population. One group of Australians are flying at high speed to work at a mine while others may as well put the handbrake on.
Developing a sustainable population strategy means finding a way forward for both groups. So far a lot of the debate has dealt with national population figures and presumed all we need to do is arrive at a total number.
Business calls for a big figure. People living in congestion or seeing the local environment being cleared for new developments call for a smaller population and the debate goes nowhere.
The first question for Australia is not ‘How many?’ but “Where?’. So far we’ve had a number of policy levers which have been aimed at improving the spread of population to where it’s needed but they’ve hardly been a raging success.
You don’t have to go to a mining town in Western Australia to find evidence of the need for more workers to get major projects up and moving. Since I took on the agriculture, fisheries and forestry job, I’ve been told relentlessly how much harder it is becoming to find employees in regional Australia.
It’s impossible for most farmers or shopkeepers to compete with the mining industry for a labour force and many jobs remain vacant. This doesn’t mean we have a simple city v country divide or a simplistic old style decentralisation agenda.
The labour shortage challenges can be found as easily in Perth as the Darling Downs. And you’d be reluctant to embark on a campaign to encourage too many more people to live in those rural areas that have been looking at trucking in water in recent years.
So we need to find ways of identifying where there is a need for more people and then have policy levers that can help encourage the best local outcomes. The need business has for people must be tempered by the carrying capacity of different parts of Australia. And then the infrastructure needs to be planned.
While immigration is relevant to these discussions, the Liberal Party’s attempt to define population policy as being all about immigration misses the point.
Some of the biggest challenges of population pressure have almost nothing to do with immigration. The increasing congestion in the south east corner of Queensland is largely driven by people moving there from other parts of Australia.
Western Sydney is a similar story. The growth along the east coast from Kiama all the way to the Sunshine Coast is largely a story of retirees wanting to shift to the coast.
It’s also true that the Australian Bureau of Statistics adds to our population through the birth rate at the exact same pace that immigration adds to the figures. Even if there were no immigration at all, our population would keep growing.
Taking these differences into account is something we’ve never done in a co-ordinated way. It brings together almost every portfolio area and must interact with State and local government.
A sustainable population strategy can allow business to keep moving forward and traffic to start moving at all. It can allow Australians to imagine what they want their lives to look like in the decades to come, and governments to get on with the planning to make it happen.
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@mooks83 sophisticated response. Think the kids parents saw it differently
More class from 9's footy show, lampooning a baby that allegedly looks like Sterlo with a pic swiped from Facebook http://t.co/BGoYP6Pn68
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