19 October 2010

Get the Facts Before Decrying the Idea of a Big Australia

...methinks Bernard Salt needs to update a few of his own facts...there might be a plan, but its not a very good one. Tax base arguments are Ponzi demography, and merely delay the day of reckoning (by which time the consequences will be many times magnified) and the task of thinking of another way to meet societal needs without the need to keep growing.

Unmanaged growth, managed growth - none question the concept of whether more growth is desirable in the first place.

The concerns of the 'anti-growth' lobby - aka the 'pro quality of life' lobby - are not just about infrastructure. They go beyond cities, they go far beyond this country.

Reposted from The Australian, 7 October 2010

'FOR the next decade at least, we need to maintain an average annual population growth rate of 350,000, including net migration of 180,000.

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week confirm that in the year to March, population growth was 403,000, down from a record 457,000 one year earlier.

These figures compare with a growth rate during the 1990s of around 220,000 a year, including 100,000 migrants.

The reason why we need to ramp up the growth rate is to maintain our skills and tax base as baby boomers retire from 2011 onwards (when those born in 1946 turn 65).

This outlook for an elevated growth rate is the subject of heated debate.

Conservation groups argue that the migration rate should be reduced to 70,000 per year which, combined with natural increase, would result in annual growth of about 190,000.

Here is the nub of the argument: a Big Australia needs 350,000 per year whereas a Small Australia makes do with 190,000.

A recurring theme advanced by the Small Australia lobby is that we need a plan if we are to continue on the trajectory to a Big Australia.

The question is whether there are in fact plans to manage 350,000 additional residents per year. So pervasive is the assertion that "there is no plan" that it seems to have entered popular belief. But perhaps it's worthwhile to examine its veracity.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics published Population Projections in September 2008 that articulated the Big Australia vision.

The purpose of ABS projections is to inform government departments and business of possible future trajectories for the nation.

This document informed the assumptions used by Treasury in subsequent Intergenerational Reports that reiterated the Big Australia outlook.

Here are two plans published by federal government departments that outline the pathway to a Big Australia.

The existence of a "plan" gets no plainer than the publications of the ABS and Treasury.

But these are demographic and economic plans. What we mean when we say "there is no plan" is that there is no plan for the housing and urban form that underpins Big Australia.

Well, actually there is.

Before the release of the ABS's Big Australia document, strategic planning for Melbourne showed the city's population rising to about 4 million by 2030.

By the end of 2008, the Victorian government had released Melbourne @ Five Million, which plans for a bigger city by the mid 2030s.

The same goes for the South East Queensland Regional Plan, which was revamped earlier this year to accommodate a bigger population with new communities at Flagstone, Yarrabillba and Ripley Valley.

I might add that since September 2008, there has also been a revision to the strategic plan for Adelaide (February 2010). And Sydney's plan, Towards 2036, is currently being reviewed.
Less than three months ago, the Committee for Melbourne published a bold view of the city's form beyond 5 million.

Earlier this month in the Northern Territory, the Country Liberals published a discussion paper for Greater Darwin that imagines a city of 1 million residents, or eight times its current scale.

Darwin may not get to 1million residents in the 21st century, but surely it is a worthwhile exercise to at least think about a city's long-term direction. Far better than stamping your feet and repeating "there is no plan".

The fact is that there are a series of plans to take Australia towards 35 million. These plans stem from federal and state government departments and from special interest groups.

What I suspect the anti-growth lobby really means when it says "there is no plan" is that "there is no investment in the infrastructure required to support growth at this rate".

This is a different question and is one that I am sure state premiers would vehemently disagree with. The Victorian government, for example, is managing a $4.3 billion regional rail link to deliver new and upgraded railway lines to the city's booming west. Name a bigger single investment in public transportation infrastructure on the urban fringe.

I don't think the issue is so much with the trajectory to a Big Australia: with due care, 350,000 extra residents per year can be managed.

The problem is that the Big Australia debate has surfaced precisely at a time when the nation was undergoing hyper growth that scared the public into thinking that this was the way of the future.

Perhaps it's time to consider the facts. No one is suggesting recent hyper growth should be maintained into the future. And despite assertions to the contrary, there are demographic, economic and strategic plans in place to manage future growth.

I think the real issue is infrastructure funding on a grand scale (regardless of the odd success in places such as Melbourne's west).

But this funding will never receive the political will it needs until the nation galvanises behind a belief in a common future. And in order to achieve this end, it is important to understand exactly what is being proposed and the plans that are in place to help us get there.'

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