What Australia needs to do to manage population growth

  • Scott Morrison Prime Minister, Member for Cook

We need to carefully manage and control population growth to protect the quality of life enjoyed by all Australians.

This means working to avoid congestion in our major cities while supporting the growth of regional areas, where it is important to maintain and expand service delivery and create more jobs.

It has to work in Melbourne as well as Darwin, in Rockhampton as well as Bunbury.

We’re a big country and the population management issues are different across the country.

In our major cities, Australians are asking if the costs are outweighing the benefits. And there are benefits. A growing population creates jobs; young, skilled workers help slow the impact of an ageing population, boosting participation and productivity.

Our challenge is to get growth where it’s wanted and needed and to manage it better where there are stresses and strains.

This means we need a new approach.

That’s why at today’s (Wednesday) Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in Adelaide, l’ll be setting about working with states and territories to better manage our population growth and to get our immigration settings right. Population planning and management is a shared challenge.

While the Federal Government is responsible for our immigration settings, it is state and territory governments that are responsible for planning the housing, schools, hospitals roads and public transport.

In the past decade, Australia’s population increased by 3.8 million people – over two-thirds of this in Sydney, Melbourne and southeast Queensland. Around 42 per cent of population growth has occurred naturally, with migration accounting for the remaining 58 per cent.

The previous model of a top-down single, national migration number determined by Canberra is no longer fit for purpose.

Our current migration program is expected to add up to 1 per cent to annual average GDP growth over the next 30 years.

At the same time, the economic and lifestyle challenges (particularly congestion, housing and housing affordability) of population growth in our capital cities cannot be swept under the carpet.

To get the balance right, we need a new, “bottom-up” approach to population management.

Since our current permanent intake is almost 30,000 a year below our cap, I anticipate this will lead to a reduction in our current migration settings as we move into next year.

But we must do our homework first to make sure this is implemented in a way that does not disadvantage those states and regions looking for greater population growth, particularly in regional areas.

According to the Regional Australia Institute, there are around 46,000 job vacancies in regional Australia.

That’s why our government is looking at ways to encourage more migrants to smaller cities and regions that want faster growth.

I will be saying three things to my state and territory colleagues this week.

First, let’s break this challenge down to better understand the drivers of growth in particular locations. The pressure points are inevitably local and varied.

Second, we need to understand the impacts in this challenge. We need to consider everything from our investment in infrastructure and services to migration laws.

Third, come forward with your data and plans so we can put in place an enduring national framework that takes in the perspectives of all parts of the country.

As we have this debate, we must not forget this debate is not a debate about migrants or race but the rate of growth in our biggest cities. It’s about better matching population growth with infrastructure and services.

My focus is on keeping our economy strong so we can continue to guarantee the essential services and infrastructure Australians rely on while seeking to manage population growth by adopting well targeted, responsible, and sustainable immigration policies.

Originally published in The Daily Telegraph.

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