THE Australian Government has released the nation's first ever dedicated sustainable population strategy, setting out the framework for a sustainable Australia.
The strategy, 'Sustainable Australia - Sustainable Communities', outlines key directions to help ensure future 'population change' is compatible with the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of the nation. It was launched by Sustainability, Population and Communities Minister Tony Burke last Friday.
The strategy avoids focusing solely on population growth and does not set a target population for the country, stating that targets are typically arbitrary and impossible to deliver in practice.
"In addition, setting such a target has the potential to distract attention from addressing the challenges presented by other aspects of population change, including location, age and skill composition," the strategy states.
Instead, the strategy focuses on 'population change', stating that "population change is not only about the growth and overall size of our population, it is also about the needs and skills of our population, how we live, and importantly, where we live."
The central objective of the strategy is to provide the foundations for a more sustainable Australia by "managing the impacts of all aspects of our current population, closely monitoring migration levels, and using population projections for the short to medium term to plan and prepare for our population's needs in the future."
"Sustainable Australia - Sustainable Communities sets out the framework for improving the mix of services, job and skilled training opportunities and affordable housing, whilst boosting the liveability of our cities and regions to ensure they are places people want to live, work and build a future," said Mr Burke.
"The Government will deliver housing and targeted immigration to where there is a shortage of workers and promote efficient infrastructure and local jobs where there are congestion issues."
The government said it is supporting the strategy through $230 million of measures contained in the 2011-12 Budget, including:
- $100 million for a Suburban Jobs initiative to drive more job opportunities within easy reach of where people live in the outer suburbs of Australia's major capital cities;
- $61.4 million for a smart managed motorways trial to reduce motorway congestion;
- $20 million for a Liveable Cities program to invest in the development of urban renewal projects that aim to improve access to jobs and housing and enhance the liveability of cities;
- $29.2 million for a new Sustainable Regional Development initiative to support better sustainability planning in regions experiencing high growth through strategic assessments under national environmental law in up to seven additional regional and coastal growth areas;
- $11.5 million for a new Promoting Regional Living Program to support Australia's regions to market themselves as an alternative to living in a major capital city; and
- $10.1 million for a new Measuring Sustainability program to develop a set of sustainability indicators that can be factored in at a regional level to better inform decision makers.
"Our strategy is backed by more than $4.3 billion in investments in regional hospitals, health care, universities and roads to lift living standards outside the capitals, provide the best services and help regional communities reach their potential," Mr Burke said.
In addition, the 2011-12 Budget outlined 16,000 new places for skilled migrants through the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme, a 60 per cent increase on last year.
"It's important that new skilled migrants go to jobs and areas where they are needed most, particularly to meet the demands of the resource boom," Mr Burke said.
"This is the beginning of our agenda for more sustainable Australia. The Prime Minister will also begin a COAG process that asks state premiers to lead development of Commonwealth-state reforms that are of particular relevance to their jurisdiction whether it be demand for workers or addressing congestion."
The government said the population strategy has been informed by advice from three advisory panels, a sustainable population issues paper and a public consultation process.
The strategy was attacked by the Property Council of Australia, who said the strategy fails the credibility test and runs the risk of damaging Australia's long-term prosperity.
"This is not a detailed plan for managing population growth and to describe it as a policy or a strategy would be stretching credibility," Property Council CEO Peter Verwer said.
Mr Verwer added that the strategy "simply contains motherhood statements, previously announced initiatives and ongoing government programs."
"The Government appears to have ignored the recommendations of its own advisory panels, the ideas in its own discussion paper and its own rhetoric about housing affordability, skills and congestion challenges."
"The bottom line is that nothing will change as a result of this policy and it is a major disappointment," Mr Verwer said.
Caryn Kakas, Executive Director of the Residential Development Council, said that with population growth inevitable, the strategy fails to provide leadership in addressing housing affordability and supply issues.
"Without outlining the steps to tackle the obstacles - including planning delays, escalating development levies and land supply release – it remains impossible for affordable housing to be delivered," Ms Kakas said.
The population strategy, 'Sustainable Australia - Sustainable Communities' is available from the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities website at <http://www.environment.gov.au/>.