Populate and Perish, Councils Told

Populate and perish, councils told

Brisbane Times
March 24, 2010 – 3:23PM

Queensland councillors have been urged to demand immigration cuts in order to preserve the “Australian way of life”.

Former NSW premier Bob Carr today led calls for a national policy on population growth, saying measures needed to be taken to save Queensland's coastline environment from further damage.

Speaking at the Local Government and Infrastructure Planning Symposium in Brisbane today, Mr Carr said Australia's population needed to be “stabilised”.

The population in South-East Queensland is expected to increase from 2.8 million to 4.4 million people by 2031.

Mr Carr told local councillors it was their responsibility to lobby the federal government to cap Australia's population at 28 million.

This could be achieved by halving current immigration levels to allow no more than 120,000 people into the country per year, he said.

“The only population policy we have got at this time is 'more, and more and more',” Mr Carr said.

“The continent is too fragile, our rainfall too erratic, our rivers too stressed to go on increasing the population as if there were no tomorrow.”

More than 55,000 foreigners are expected to move to Queensland this year.

Mr Carr questioned Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's belief in a “big Australia”, that would house a population of 35 million by 2049.

“The people who advocate a higher and higher population for Australia, with these ambitious immigration levels, are really [talking] about packing millions more people into the narrow, fertile, coastal strip.

“I want to save a lot of the coast.”

The idea to cap immigration drew criticism from some Queensland regional councillors who feared for the long-term survival of their towns.

But Mr Carr said population growth, fuelled by an unprecedented immigration rate, was not the panacea to their woes.

“It's very, very difficult to get Australians to move to rural areas. Migrants live in big cities.

“It's not about spreading population across the continent – we can't do that – our country is too dry. Population growth means bigger cities and more urban sprawl and more urban consolidation.”

He said overall increased GDP did not translate into improved per capita GDP.

Sunshine Coast Mayor Bob Abbot said an increase in population did not necessarily equate to more jobs.

“In the great south-east … population growth rate is about two and a half times the job creation rate,” he said.

“We can't create jobs quick enough in our communities for those people that are coming in. It's not sustainable.”

Cr Abbot said a national population policy was necessary to direct future infrastructure projects across all states.

“We've got no idea where we're going. We need a population policy in Australia that's clear and concise about why we need [population growth], where people are going, and how it's going to happen.”

But forum facilitator and demographer Bernard Salt told reporters it was unrealistic to put a cap on population in the face of “a tsunami of Baby Boomers retiring”.

“Unless Generation X and Generation Y are happy to pay more tax, what we require are more taxpayers,” Mr Salt said.

He said that required planning and willingness to compromise.

“I don't think it's an option, realistically, to effectively put a cap on population.

“We have built our economy over 60 years … on the basis of population growth.

“You just cannot go cold turkey and stop growth dead.”

Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry said migration levels should be returned to mid-1990s levels.

“Population growth is like a big ship,” Mr Henry said. “It takes a long time to turn around, and we've got to start that discussion today.”

Mr Carr also had advice for Premier Anna Bligh ahead of the population growth summit to be held next week.

“The last poll showed that 60 per cent of Australians think that immigration levels are currently too high – that's a message premier's should not ignore,” he said.