27 Jul 2010

Sustainability, population and Australia's future

Creating a sustainable future for Australia is much more complex than haggling over immigration numbers, writes Geoff Gallop.

Much is being said in this election campaign about "sustainability". It is an important concept developed to guide public policy away from "the economic growth at all costs" mentality that had dominated post-war thinking about the future of the country.
However, the real test will come in our regions, particularly in an opportunity state like Western Australia. We have already seen growth in cities like greater Bunbury and Geraldton-Greenough. Today they have populations of 64,000 and 37,000 respectively. Serious investment in infrastructure in Bunbury in the 1980s and Geraldton in the 2000s has facilitated population growth. Why wouldn't such cities aspire to the size and status of a Wollongong (284,000) or Newcastle (141,000)? Are we thinking about how this can be done? Are we planning for it now?

Merely by raising the question one gets a sense of the size of the challenge involved. That, of course, is what this debate boils down to. To gain from population growth (and immigration) Australia is going to have to devote more time and resources to the responsibilities involved. If those costs are shared fairly across the community and across the levels of government, an Australia that is bigger but also better, greener and fairer can be realised. It is precisely what is meant by sustainability- a strong economy, a fair society and a clean environment.
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Bunbury has the largest population in Western Australia outside of Perth.

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