Population growth is our reality; it’s time we turn it into our advantage

Population growth is our reality; it’s time we turn it into our advantage
Population growth is our reality; it’s time we turn it into our advantage


Opposition Leader Matthew Guy recently announced a Liberal National Coalition government would stop ‘urban claustrophobia’ if successful in November’s State Election.

The pledge comes after Premier Daniel Andrews announced the Labor government would build a massive suburban Rail Loop if re-elected.

Both election announcements are focused on population growth management, which is shaping up to be the hottest election issue across Victoria. 

Melbourne’s population crossed the 5 million mark in August; an incredible feat given it took over 17 decades to grow to 4 million. Now in less than one decade, we've gained an extra 1 million people. Victoria’s next government clearly has a tough task in delivering the housing and infrastructure we so desperately need right now, while also planning for the future.

There are divergent views on population growth, which is understandable considering some of our current growing pains. The facts tell us population growth is incredibly important to Victoria’s strong economy and job creation. But the challenges are real, and our communities are feeling the strain in their everyday lives.

We are at a fork in the road in our state’s history and with the Victorian State Election just two months away, the party in government after November 24, will have the important task of turning the realities of population growth into our advantage.

We heard last week that a Guy Government would establish a Population Commission, tasked with implementing population restrictions on suburbs where infrastructure and services aren’t keeping up with growth. The Commission would limit where migrants can settle, press pause on housing development in certain areas, and incentivise people to settle in regional Victoria rather than in Melbourne.

There is merit to the model of a Population Commission; we are certainly in need of a strategy to deliver the homes, services, infrastructure and amenities required to accommodate the growing population. But putting a cap on growth, even at a local level, is not the right answer.

Our growing pains are not the result of population growing too fast; but rather infrastructure delivery happening too slowly. The Coalition’s focus must shift from curbing population growth to delivering infrastructure more efficiently, so more people can have a choice on how and where they live and work.

If the Coalition’s proposal to cap growth is implemented, there is a real danger councils and state government will stall infrastructure provision simply to avoid accommodating new residents. If this happens, the Coalition’s policy would single handedly give rise to unnecessary development restrictions that will only serve to drive up house prices, and lock up the established areas for only the privileged to occupy. That shouldn’t sit well with any of us.

NSW under Bob Carr closed the doors to population growth and sent a clear message to business and the rest of the country that the city was shut. There were major economic consequences for that state for the better part of a decade. Sydney is now our most unaffordable housing market. Surely there are some lessons we can take from history.

On the other side of politics, the Andrews Labor Government has pledged to build a Suburban Rail Loop if re- elected in November. Cited as the biggest public transport project in Australian history, the Rail Loop looks to be the current government’s key population management delivery strategy. It’s a great initiative in principle, and it certainly offers a vision and long-term thinking about how Melbournians will get around our city.

But will it come soon enough, and be effective enough to solve our daily growing pains? Have we traded election cycle advantages, hero infrastructure projects and headline grabbing announcements for our ability to deliver basic, essential infrastructure?

We need to build more homes in the outer suburbs, faster than ever before, but without the right infrastructure to support these new and growing communities, people are not going to want to live there and nor should they have to. The Suburban Rail Loop grandiose in scale – will be a game changer. But it’s an ambitious long-term plan expected to take until 2050 to complete. In the meantime, we need a coordinated strategy to deliver the missing schools, roundabouts, road upgrades, bridges, community centres, transport options and services required now and as we continue to grow. A big-ticket item delivered in 30 years won’t be enough in silos.

Population growth is our reality and it’s radically changing what Victorians want and need. It presents both challenges and opportunities, and requires strong leadership to ensure we turn it into our advantage.

It’s critically important that we have a state government that will deliver a mix of measures to offer immediate relief to the very real growing pains our communities are experiencing, while also keeping their eye firmly focused on the long-game. We need leaders who will take our communities on a journey and deliver a strategy that embraces the benefits of population growth, while dealing with potential issues before they become big problems. We need balanced planning policies that enable, rather than discourage, all parts of Melbourne and Victoria to accommodate our population.

Ultimately, we need a government that will make responsible, educated and long-term decisions that will help all our new and existing residents enjoy all that Victoria has to offer.

Danni Addison is the Victorian CEO of the Urban Development Institute of Australia.

Victoria Population Growth

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