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Plan for future – but catch up first

25 September 2019

Planning for Australia’s future population, the Morrison Government’s strategy to ‘manage current challenges and develop long term plans' is a first step in the marathon of significant policy shifts required to address the needs of growth areas.

The populations of Australia’s designated growth areas have doubled in one generation. In that time towns have become suburbs, and suburbs have become cities on the outskirts of our capitals, wedged up against the invisible boundary between metropolitan and regional Australia.

This week the Federal Government, Opposition, State Governments and the Reserve Bank of Australia have responded to Australia’s rapid population growth: changes to skilled migration visas; commitments to nation-building infrastructure; calls for more investment in small and mid-sized transport projects; warnings of real damage to our quality of life if infrastructure investment does not keep pace with population growth.

Planning for Australia’s future population contains some important initiatives, yet they are skirting around the reality that 5 million people already live in Australia’s growth areas. From 2011-16, 35% of Australia’s total population growth was accommodated in just 6% of councils.

The undercurrent beneath the challenges we face is that we have not sufficiently projected population growth and therefore we have not sufficiently planned for it. Australia’s population reached 25 million in 2018 - years before the Government’s own Intergenerational Report projected it would. Different tiers of government use different sets of numbers to plan housing needs, transport capacity, demand for health and education services.

The result is evident – gridlocked traffic on suburban roads that were never designed to cope with the increased demand, public transport that arrives in a new suburb a decade after its residents, communities with lower access to educational, social and recreational facilities that many Australians take for granted.

Member Councils of the National Growth Areas Alliance need infrastructure investment that is commensurate with their actual population growth. Otherwise we will not only fail in planning for future populations, we will not even catch up with the needs of the five million people already living in growth areas.

 

About Growth Areas

Outer suburbs, and the towns and small cities that surround them, are an economic and cultural force to be reckoned with. We have a workforce of 2.21 million and another million young people from growth areas will be looking for work in the next decade. Jobs and small businesses are growing at double the national rate, but still not fast enough to keep pace population growth (around 140,000 people move to growth areas each year).

It can be difficult to conceptualise the impact of the pace of our population growth rate so let’s break it down and look particularly at what it means for local government.

It means that in Councils such as the City of Casey in Melbourne’s south east, 99 babies were born this week, and 379 new dwellings were certified for occupancy. It means that suburbs in Western Sydney contain 18 percent of student places in Greater Sydney despite containing 37 percent of all university students.

Australia is, in many ways, a suburban nation. Each year, around 140,000 people share the Australian experience of moving into a new house, in a new street, in a new suburb.

Collectively, we love it. We’re proud of our homes, proud of our neighbourhoods – but they are different to the new suburbs our parents or grandparents move in decades past. The quarter acre block is a distant memory, with new homes now built on 300m2 blocks that are 30, 40, even up to 60kms from the capital city.

Former outer suburbs have become bustling cities right before our eyes. High rise office and apartments, higher education campuses, health precincts are common place.

Member Councils of the NGAA are dealing with it all – adapting their central business areas to be city centres - with the expectations and challenges that encompasses. At the same time the literal green fields surrounding them are covered out with housing and shopping centres.

The opportunity to establish a policy foundation that embraces and celebrates growth areas is right here. We are making progress, but by the time new rail lines are built, a generation of young people will have not had access to public transport to get them to TAFE or Uni or their first job. While we extend freeways and take a decade to identify and fix those congestion pinch points, residents of growth areas will continue to be gridlocked, stuck in their cars instead of spending time with their children and loved ones, volunteering in their community or even joining a local sports club.

 

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