National Population Plan reaction

Peak industry bodies have welcomed the Federal Government’s National Population Plan, saying it will help the nation’s cities and regions be better prepared for social and economic growth.

The National Population Plan, announced on 23 September, aims to build on the recent creation of a new Centre for Population Growth, and changes to the migration program.

The expanded plan includes the following key elements:

  • Lower permanent migration from 190,000 to 160,300 this year, and cap it at 160,000 over the next four years
  • Put in place incentives for new arrivals to go to regional centres and smaller cities. Incentives include 23,000 places for two new regional skilled visas within the 160,000 permanent migration cap that require people to live and work outside the big cities for three years before being eligible for full permanent residency
  • Create incentives for international students to consider going to universities in regional areas and smaller cities
  • Plan to build fast rail connections between the big capitals and their respective regional centres and allocate $2 billion to get the first fast rail connection from Melbourne to Geelong built as quickly as possible
  • Ensure that direct government economic development policy would boost jobs in smaller cities and regions
  • Build more congestion busting infrastructure thanks to the investment in transport infrastructure of over $100 billion over the next ten years
  • Ensure better population planning with the states by putting two mechanisms in place. City Deals, for better planning across the three levels of government, and a National Population and Planning Framework to link up the policy responsibilities that each level of government has so we can better manage our growth into the future

The Urban Development Institute of Australia’s (UDIA) National Executive Director, Connie Kirk, has praised the initiative.

“Immigration and population growth have been an essential ingredient of the modern Australian story, adding to the nation’s collective prosperity,” Ms Kirk said.

“Our population will keep growing so we need to stay ahead of the task of understanding its implications.

“A clear national plan that includes rolling short and long-term forecasts, maps settlement patterns and informs land use, housing, infrastructure and service delivery is crucial.

“We can also use the opportunity to open a stronger dialogue with the community around the trajectory and consequences of change that can create stronger, more prosperous cities and regions.”

Ms Kirk said that a major plus of the plan was that it leans on the states to help inform settlement patterns and then structures the migration and visa program to meet workforce needs.

“This should means the states are better placed to deliver on the land use, infrastructure and housing needed to sustain known rates of growth,” she said.

“Migrants have always brought skills, workforce capability, wages, tax revenue, diversity and improved productivity to the table.

“The new National Population Plan shows a willingness to harness these assets and tie them to a population policy framework that enhances the national economy.”

Population is one of UDIA’s key policy platforms and was included in the National Policy priorities for the Federal Government, launched in June 2019.

A new approach to population

The Housing Industry Association (HIA) has also put its support behind the Federal Government’s intention to take a new approach to population planning.

Dr Harley Dale, HIA Executive Director – Skills and Industry Development, welcomed the Population Plan’s focus on underpinning Australia’s economic growth and ensuring that Australia’s cities and regions are prepared for the future.

“Population growth has always been a fundamental part of Australia’s economic and social development. It is a sensible step to have an overarching assessment of that growth through a national approach,” he said.

Dr Dale said that the Government’s plan to establish a new Centre for Population within Treasury has the potential to better track and report on our population growth.

“Australia enjoys a relatively fast rate of population growth. There are also extensive economic benefits to a healthy immigration intake, particularly in terms of ensuring we have adequate working age population against a backdrop of Australia’s ageing population.

“What we lack is a sufficient understanding of our growing and dynamic population and an ability to accurately project population growth paths. The undershooting of our overall population growth projections highlights the need for closer oversight of what is a critical issue in the future planning for Australian cities and regions.”

Dr Dale said the Federal Government’s commitment to prepare an annual Population Statement, commencing in 2020, also represents a positive step forward.

“Having a centralised location for assessment and analysis of population-related matters makes a great deal of sense. It should lead to better informed policy decision making and more accurate forecasting of population growth and the flow-on effects for both metropolitan and regional areas of Australia,” he said.

“Our population growth directly links to our housing needs. It is pleasing to see that the annual population plan will incorporate assessment of population data against other key inputs such as housing approvals.

“Understanding the key linkages between population and housing demand and supply will be crucial to a successful plan. Without a clear picture for both the short and the long term, it is extremely difficult for the industry to predict where our cities and regions will grow and to prepare to meet that demand.

“HIA notes that the Population Centre is set to collaborate with academics and think tanks. It will be important for the Centre to also engage with industry and business to incorporate an ‘on the ground’ view into population analysis and policy.”

View the National Population Plan here.

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