Monday, June 28, 2010

Prime Minister Gillard says the city of Sydney is exploding. In fact it's growing more slowly than most.

New population statistics show a net 13,800 NSW residents pulled up stumps to move interstate over the past year, roughly the same as the number of Australians from all states who moved to Queensland.

The NSW exodus eclipses that of South Australia - the only other state to lose a significant number of locals - which parted with 3300 residents last year.

Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia gained both locals and immigrants with the three states recording Australia's fastest population growth rates of 2.13, 2.44 and 2.65 per cent.

By contrast NSW, South Australia and Tasmania grew a desultory 1.64, 1.32 and 0.89 per cent.

And despite Prime Minister Gillard's talk about population pressures on Western Sydney, the forecasts published by the Bureau of Statistics suggest the biggest pressures will be elsewhere.

By 2021 Queensland and Western Australia combined will be bigger than NSW.

By 2051 Brisbane and Perth combined will be bigger than Sydney...

But by then Sydney will be big indeed. According to the Bureau's "medium" projection Sydney will be a city of 6.7 million by the middle of this century, up from the present 4.5 million.

The high projection has Sydney passing 7.2 million residents, the low projection has it reaching 6.4 million.

By then the high projection shows Melbourne bigger than Sydney with 7.5 million people, and Brisbane and Perth combined far bigger with 4.5 million and 3.8 million.

NSW will get left behind partly because its own residents are leaving, partly because its traditionally high share of migrants is shrinking, and partly because with South Australia its population is having babies at the slowest rate on the mainland.

NSW is amongst the most aged of Australian populations with almost one million of its residents - 14 per cent - now aged 65 or over. Only South Australia and Tasmania, each with 15 per cent, have older populations.

Western Australia is the most youthful state, with only 11 per cent of its population aged 65 or over, and the Northern Territory by far the most youthful region with only 5 per cent of its population over 65.

The latest projections have Australia's population climbing from 22 million to a high between 30 million and 40 million in 2051 with a central projection of $34 million.

By then NSW will account for just 29 per cent of Australia's population, down from its present 33 per cent.

The ABS projection projection is lower than the figure of 36 million included in this year's International Report and the ABS figures suggest it may soon be lower still.

Australia's immigration rate fell last year and is set to fall further in response to changes in the rules governing foreign students and working visas.

Published in today's SMH


Local movements;population growth

NSW - 13,800 1.64%
Victoria + 1800 2.13%
Queensland + 13,500 2.44%
South Australia - 3300 1.32%
Western Australia + 2300 2.65%
Tasmania - 50 0.89%

ABS 3101.0, Net movements 2009

Julia Gillard's attempt to distance herself from predecessor Kevin Rudd on the question of population growth sits uneasily with the latest population statistics.

Released on Thursday as Ms Gillard took the prime ministership the ABS figures show population growth slowing sharply during 2009 with the growth rate slipping from from 2.16 to 1.99 per cent.

The December quarter increase of just 0.41 per cent is lower than at any time during the financial crisis.

The change reflects a lower birth rate as a mini baby boom eases and also lower immigration during the financial crisis. But recent government changes to the rules governing foreign students and working visas suggest the lower immigration rate might be here to stay.

The Bureau's central projection has Australia's population climbing from 22 million to 34 million by 2051, somewhat less than the 36 million projected in the intergenerational report greeted by Mr Rudd with the observation that he welcomed a "big Australia".

Prime Minister Gillard said yesterday population minister Tony Burke would henceforth be known as the "minister for sustainable population" and said she did not "believe in a big Australia".

"I am a migrant," she told the Nine network. "My parents came here at a time that the country was saying to the world we’ve got a population of around about 11 million, we want to build it up. The big focus then on populate or perish."

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle dismissed her stance as naive.

"I'm not sure how you stop Australia’s growth," he said. "It is a bit naive to say you are against a big Australia. If not a big Australia then what Australia?"

The former Opposition leader said high value industries such as biotechnology would help the city prosper, but that Australia needed "a larger and more educated population to grow more of those jobs".

The Committee for Melbourne said the city had to have a long term plan for growing the population, rather than pretend growth would not happen.

Chief executive Andrew MacLeod questioned whether the community was concerned about population as such or that Australia’s infrastructure could not cope with future numbers.

"No one in Australia supports mandatory controls for natural population size, so we need to recognise that growth would come even with no migration,’’ he said.

Greg Evans at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said while growing cities did place pressure on infrastructure it was also important that Australia be able import skilled workers.

The Australian Conservation Foundation supported the Prime Minister but said she now had to develop a strategy.

"A sensible population policy would set clear targets and plans for dramatically reducing greenhouse pollution, improving water and energy efficiency, stabilising the population in the long term and protecting key ecological assets," said spokesman Chuck Berger.

Former NSW premier Bob Carr said 80 per cent of Australians would agree that Australia needed "breathing space".

"Immigration has been run at levels that are simply too
ambitious," he said.

Monash University demographer Bob Birrell said the Prime Minister’s comments were a "huge departure" from Mr Rudd but questioned whether Ms Gillard was serious as the debate had to deal with immigration.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said "Kevin Rudd's big Australia was her big Australia for months" and asked "what is she actually going to do to make a difference?"

"I tell you what, if she wasn't wasting money on overpriced school halls we'd be able to have some of the decent infrastructure to actually cope with this increased population," he added.

The ABS figures show Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia to be the fastest-growing states with annual population increases of 2.1, 2.5 and 2.6 per cent. NSW, South Australia and Tasmania are the slowest-growing advancing by 1.6, 1.3 and 0.8 per cent. NSW and South Australia are actually losing locals to other states while Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia are gaining.

Published in today's Age

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