Australia’s population growth is under scrutiny.
BY ELIZABETH ALLEN
In the time it takes you to read this blog, Australia will have gained another person. That’s if you’re a quick reader and take one minute and 18 seconds from top to bottom.
If you’re slow, we may have another two people by the time you’ve finished.
According to figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), one person is born in Australia every one minute and 44 seconds; and we gain another resident through net migration every two minutes and 11 seconds.
Factor in one death every three minutes and 42 seconds and you have a population of 22,472,300.
At least that’s what the bureau’s population clock ticked over to today, about the same time as the bureau issued a media release headed: “Australia’s net overseas migration still dropping”.
The release said Australia gained almost 62,000 more people through net migration in the March quarter of this year – a dramatic drop of 37 per cent on the historic peak of 98,000 in the March quarter of last year.
This news will soothe those Australians hot under the collar about continued population growth.
But the ABS release went on to say that Australia’s population continued to grow – up by more than 403,000, or 1.8 per cent, in the year to March, and that 60 per cent of this growth came from overseas. The other 40 per cent came from the 303,500 babies born here, an increase of 3.1 per cent.
What you’ll make of this will depend on which side of the population fence you sit on.
Both Labor and the Coalition went to the election espousing a “sustainable Australia”, whatever that is.
But many of our leading economists, including CommSec’s Craig James, are unequivocal that Australia must continue to grow.
James says our recent population growth of 2.2 per cent is close to the fastest rate for any developed economy. But he also hopes the new Federal Government recognises the importance of maintaining the current population pace.
In the Red Book delivered to the incoming Gillard Government, Federal Treasury, explains why population growth is invitable and two-thirds of future growth is destined for capital cities.
Even if the level of net overseas migration is reduced to a fifth of its 2008-09 level – 60,000 (today’s figure) compared to 300,000 – Australia’s population is still likely to grow to about 29 million by 2050, Treasury says.
Treasury predicts much of our growth over the next 20 years will be in cities because people will be drawn there by economic opportunity and access to services.
Residents of some of our overstretched capitals may feel a need to laugh at this second point.
But Treasury also has some advice for our federal politicians, saying future population strategy has to be about investing in the right kinds of infrastructure and using existing infrastructure more efficiently.
Treasury goes on to suggest the development of a national urban policy reform agenda, focusing on reforming zoning laws, development approvals processes, strata title laws and development levies.
It also says the abolition of stamp duty on housing and commercial property would help ease urban pressures.
Property development industry group The Urban Taskforce is one organisation understandably buoyed by the Treasury analysis.
“The challenges our cities face are not insoluble and nor do they require an end to urban growth,” says taskforce chief executive Aaron Gadiel.
“Now is the time for the Federal Government to seize on this advice and make the changes necessary to re-invigorate our cities and prepare for future growth.”
Gadiel says state and local government should cooperate in the implementation of a national reform effort.
Here’s hoping they’re listening.
Elizabeth Allen is the deputy editor of Australian Property Investor magazine, www.apimagazine.com.au
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