Don’t leave population growth to treasurers, says Stokes
Mr Stokes, who will expand on his views in an address to The Sydney Morning Herald’s Population Summit on Monday, observes that predictions about population growth in Sydney and NSW are almost always wrong, mostly because they cannot anticipate federal immigration policies.
“What is clear is that decisions by the federal government about immigration have profound impacts on the size and distribution of population that the states are left to plan for – without knowing how many people will rely on public services into the future,” Mr Stokes writes.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, along with his state counterparts, have said they would work towards a national population framework by the end of the year. While Mr Stokes said this was heartening, he also suggested treasurers and treasuries should not have exclusive carriage of the issue.
“From a treasury perspective, population growth is just another term for economic productivity. Strategic planning takes a broader view of the complexity of human settlements, so that the economy exists to serve the population, rather than the population being increased to serve the economy,” Mr Stokes writes.
The idea of a national settlement strategy is not new. In the early 1970s, the Whitlam government had a perspective of fostering the economic development of the nation’s regions as part of such a strategy.
More recently, the Planning Institute of Australia called for a national settlement strategy last year. The commonwealth parliamentary standing committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities also proposed a settlement strategy last year arguing a national perspective was needed to “set out a vision of what our cities could and should look like over the next 50 years and provide a pathway to achieving that vision”.
Proposals for a national settlement strategy come amid the rapid growth in population, and particularly in the major cities like Sydney and Melbourne. For instance, the population of greater Sydney increased by more than 1.1 million people between 2001 and 2018.
Mr Stokes suggested a settlement strategy could include common planning information and assumptions, as well as common methods for collecting information about population growth.
“Australian jurisdictions with stagnant or ageing population growth are clearly going to choose different planning policies than communities experiencing congestion and rapid urban change, but while different places might choose divergent growth strategies, we should all proceed from consistent spatial boundaries and baselines of information,” he writes.