Population growth inquiry up for discussion after Liberal senator airs concerns about infrastructure
Australia’s population is set to hit 25 million in August, and Liberal senator Dean Smith wants to start a discussion about how infrastructure is going to keep up with demand.
The West Australian senator has suggested a parliamentary committee could be the way to go in figuring out how to deal with Australia’s needs as the population grows faster than expected.
“Population issues are broader than immigration issues, but wherever you go across the country you can see different sorts of population challenges,” he told the local media.
“In regional communities you might see lack of population-growth opportunities, in our biggest cities you can see some of the real challenges of congestion and infrastructure deficits.”
Original forecasts predicted the nation would not hit the 25 million figure until 2042. Just seven years ago, the date was revised to 2027.
“So if the future projections around population growth are inaccurate … then how is that impacting on the infrastructure decisions, employment-opportunity decisions that we might be making as a country?” Senator Smith said.
As well as looking at how best to plan essential services and infrastructure, Senator Smith wants to examine the annual migration intake.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has agreed to talk to the WA senator about the idea of launching a parliamentary committee, but said the Government’s migration program was already tightly controlled.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton recently acknowledged the current cap of 190,000 people per year was regularly discussed within Government, while backbencher Tony Abbott and One Nation senator Pauline Hanson have both pushed for lowering that figure.
Last financial year, the number of permanent migrants coming into Australia fell to 163,000.
“We have worked very hard to restore integrity to the migration program … we’ve listened to the Australian public,” Mr Dutton said today.
Senator Smith said he supported a “moderate” drop in net overseas migration.
“I think the moderation is important because we need to give ourselves some time to breathe, pause and reflect to make sure the predictions are the best they can be. And if they’re not, let’s correct that,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he would discuss Senator Smith’s idea with his Labor colleagues but warned against the challenges presented by population growth being blamed solely on immigrants.
Senator Smith conceded there were problems with how people were currently discussing the issue of migration, but said there was a need for a measured, respectful debate.
“The critical point here is to maintain public confidence and public endorsement in our population-growth benefits. It’s important because we want to maintain social cohesion.”
Smith wants to see regions benefit from population growth.
One of Senator Smith’s biggest concerns is with where population growth is happening.
“We know that the population story across our country has not been uniform. The great bulk of our population growth is actually happening in our major cities,” he said.
Senator Smith said he would like to see regional areas benefit from population growth, without issues like congestion and crowding.
“As a senator from Perth, I’m interested to make sure that we get the benefits of population growth without having to pay the high price that perhaps Melbourne and Sydney commuters are having to pay,” he said. “I want to make sure that other cities are immune from some of the negative consequences of unbridled population growth that has been poorly predicted and poorly planned for.”
In New South Wales, a state-government-sponsored marketing program has seen nearly 4,000 people relocate to its biggest regional cities since 2010.
Evocities chairman Kevin Mack said governments needed to get on board to redistribute the growing population more efficiently.
“The challenge is for the Government to [answer]: ‘How do we provide attraction for people to move to the regions?’,” he told AM.
“We need affordable housing, we need a whole raft of infrastructure in the regions to cater for that demand and ultimately, unless you have the infrastructure to cater for the demand, you can’t service the industries.”