We’ve land to spare, but it’s got to be out there
There are plenty of vast, empty spaces on this continent and many Australians The Punch spoke to last week would like to see them filled.
In a survey The Punch ran testing Australians’ thoughts on population growth, the majority of respondents were open to the idea of building a new major city somewhere on the continent to relieve population pressure on other cities.
They were resolute about its ideal location: anywhere but near Sydney and Melbourne. John, 20, from Cronulla agreed with many survey respondents that Australia’s next Canberra, if built, should go somewhere on the country’s Western coast: “It should be somewhere between Perth and Broome.”
Many others said it should be in the Australian desert. Marifel, 23, of Darlinghurst, said: “I think [the new city] should go somewhere inland, in the middle of the country.”
Some even voted to try again with Canberra. “Build over it, or put [the new city] somewhere in the ACT,” said Daniel, 32, from Emu Heights.
Others were more sceptical. Many who rejected the idea came from regional centres and had seen their towns languish before moving away.
Oliver, 21, living in Potts Point, said the federal government should fix the cities Australia already has before building a new one.
Terry, 60, from Toowoomba in Queensland said Australia could grow its regional centres into major cities by encouraging people to move there. “You could grow Ballarat. Regional cities could be grown more,” he said.
The idea of building a new desert city appealed to people’s imaginations. But one respondent said it’s already been given a foreboding test run in another important forum: “Bad things happen when cities are built in deserts,” said Camilla, 20, from Rockdale. “In science fiction movies they’re usually taken over by robots.”
The Punch asked picnickers in Hyde Park where people should come from as Australia’s population grew. The question often drew a long, surprised pause. “As in, which country? You want me to choose a country?” said Chelsea, 23, from Bondi.
She answered the question like it was a no-brainer: “Anywhere,” she said.
Most respondents gave the question short shrift. Race didn’t count in their concerns about population growth. Richard, 51, from Yarrawarrah said: “I’m not fussed really, as long as they’re fully screened before.”
Angela, 21, from Redfern, said refugees should be Australia’s main source of immigration: “Countries that need it. Places where there are civil wars.” Terry from Toowoomba agreed: “Why not?” he said.
“Bring in people from disadvantaged nations,” said Kathy, 36, from Bondi.
But a few respondents were convinced Australia’s population growth should be driven only by its birth rate. Jessica, 21, from Concord said immigration-driven population growth could lead to greater tensions between different ethnic groups.
Almost everyone surveyed said population growth poses a problem for Australia. Just what worried them about it depended on how old they were, and how long they’d been living in Australia.
Many people cited one thing when asked what problem Australia faces from population growth: infrastructure.
Stress on the health system, housing shortages, housing affordability, transport, traffic, congestion. Mike, 60, of Ulladulla, identified a more fundamental problem: “A lack of vision from the government. A lack of planning for new infrastructure.”
Richard from Yarrawarra agreed: “There’s a lack of government will to build things.”
Then there’s the environment, missing from Australia’s political stage in recent months. The Punch’s survey respondents were strikingly unconcerned about the effect Australia’s population growth could have on its carbon emissions. Climate change is MIA in Australia’s population debate.
But some respondents thought Australia’s environment will struggle to cope with the projected 2050 population of 36 million. Cathy, 56, from Pymble said: “Environmentally it’ll have problems with pollution and water shortages.”
Andrew, 56, from Northbridge, said population growth in Australia is ecologically unsustainable. “The soil is too fragile, and the land is too dry,” he said.
Residents who’d moved to Australia recently were more concerned that population growth could lead to job shortages. Young people had similar worries.
Another age split was obvious over the ideal location of population growth in Australia. Regional centres were the most popular choice. But young people were more likely to pick state capitals as the best location. Some said regional centres were boring and lacked employment.
And many respondents who said regional centres were a better location for growth doubted people would move there. “It should happen in regional centres, but it’s not going to,” said Gabe, 23, from Pymble.
Most people The Punch spoke to around Sydney city last week weren’t overly concerned about population growth. Frank, 50, of Newtown said: “There is no problem with it. People will just adapt.” He said Australia should grow to more than 36 million people by 2050. “There’s plenty of room to grow,” he said.
Over half the respondents said Australia’s population should continue to grow. They were open to a bigger Australia. How open they were depended on whether or not they’d been stuck in a traffic jam on their way to the city that morning.
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