Issues Magazine

Planning for Population Growth

By Graham Bradley

Well-planned growth of Australia’s population is in the best interests of the nation.

Australia needs to continue to increase its population if we want to maintain, let alone improve, our standard of living. But gaining support from citizens concerned about clogged roads, strained services, pollution and social cohesion means governments across the country have to plan better for growth. And they have to communicate why population growth is important and how it can be accommodated.

Business supports well-planned population growth. Such growth contributes to the skills and innovation needed to improve productivity. It also offsets the effects of Australia’s ageing population and the related loss of skills necessary to ensure prosperity. Ignoring these issues will have implications for Australia’s living standards. As the population ages, the size of our workforce drops and governments have less revenue to fund health care and pensions, as well as education, defence and other public services

The Business Council of Australia believes there is a persuasive argument for a well-planned and open approach to population growth. This must include agreement on the level of growth we need and better planning for our cities and towns to manage growth to reassure citizens that living standards will be protected and enhanced.

The BCA argues that while the populations of our economic competitors across the world grow, driving our competitors’ productivity, we cannot afford to stand still. Our concerns about filling skills shortages, building our workforce and making our economy more sustainable have been echoed in the 2010 Intergenerational Report.

This report, released by the Federal government, addresses public concerns that more people will put more pressure on infrastructure, services and the environment, and could challenge social cohesion. Again, the report reinforces the BCA’s message that if we plan for population growth well, we will reap all the advantages and avoid the disadvantages.

When it comes to the effect on the environment, it isn’t population size that’s the issue but how well our natural assets are managed. Long-term planning for the development of regions, towns and cities, catchments and natural resources will allow us to protect the environment while addressing the needs of a larger population.

No one would deny there are challenges in a larger population. We are convinced, however, that managed growth is in Australia’s best interests and is necessary and achievable.

The first step is for the Federal government to take a leadership role and seek agreement with state and local governments on a national growth policy. The next step is for them to integrate planning of urban centres and infrastructure, including roads, public transport, water and electricity supply, as well as schools and hospitals. We must make better use of the infrastructure we have and speed up reforms already under way for our freight, road, water, telecommunications and electricity sectors.

Without the right policies, Australians can’t be expected to support population growth. But standing still while the rest of the world grows is not a sustainable option.

This is an edited extract of an article published in The Australian on 31 March 2010. See www.bca.com.au