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Population pressures pose problems -

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Population pressures pose problems

Simon Santow reported this story on Friday, October 23, 2009 12:30:00

SHANE MCLEOD: It's something of a perennial. Just how large a population can a country like
Australia sustain?

The Treasury is working on projections that the nation will grow by 60 percent by 2050 and much of
the growth will come on the East coast in the three cities that are already the largest.

The Prime Minister says his Government is on top of the planning and infrastructure issues that
would go with a population reaching 35 million people.

But the Opposition and some experts say Australia is ill-prepared.

Simon Santow reports.

SIMON SANTOW: Kevin Rudd says an extra 13 million people in Australia can only be good news.

KEVIN RUDD: I actually believe in a big Australia. I make no apology for that. I actually think
it's good news that our population is growing.

Contrast that with many countries in Europe where in fact it's heading in the reverse direction.

I think it's good for us. It's good for our national security long term. It's good in terms of what
we can sustain as a nation.

SIMON SANTOW: Speaking on the 7.30 Report last night the Prime Minister rejected any suggestions
the nation was ill-prepared to handle such a population increase.

KEVIN RUDD: Why do you think that we are now for the first time in this country's history taking
national leadership for the rollout of national infrastructure? A new national broadband network.

For the first time the Australian Government investing directly in urban rail projects. For the
first time the Australian Government taking a direct engagement with the planning of our cities and
also with for example the housing approval processes and land supply arrangements of the states and
territories of local government.

Why? National leadership is necessary to plan for the future of our population; a challenge which
has left languished before.

SIMON SANTOW: The Federal Opposition says it too backs more people in the wide brown land but
Liberal Leader Malcolm Turnbull says only if the necessary infrastructure work and planning takes
place ahead of the influx.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The great thing that is missing from Mr Rudd's enthusiasm is any coherent long
term plans for water. He has completely fumbled and mumbled with the enormous opportunity we left
him for the management of interstate water. He's failed to take up that challenge.

And of course as far as infrastructure is concerned we're seeing tens of billions of dollars being
spent ineffectively. Where is the long term planning for mass transit, for urban transport
infrastructure that is absolutely vital?

If Sydney is going to be a city with twice the population it will be impossible to live in unless
there is a coherent long term plan.

SIMON SANTOW: Mr Turnbull told NewsRadio this morning that Kevin Rudd has been all talk and no
action.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: The biggest resource challenge we have in terms of population in Australia is
water scarcity.

When we were in government we had a vision, not simply for the Federal Government taking over
interstate water, and we legislated for that, but we also set aside $10 billion to replumb rural
Australia so that we would have irrigation farming being conducted not with water being transported
through leaky open channels but through pipes so that we could produce more food and fibre with
less water.

What's Mr Rudd done in the two years he's been in government? Precious little.

SIMON SANTOW: Both sides argue that national leadership is the key to sustainable population
growth. Experts say that's been in short supply for generations and there's been nothing in recent
times to justify any optimism.

PATRICK TROY: There's a real danger if we go ahead with this, if we achieve this rate of population
increase and we don't have an associated level of investment in infrastructure - and that's a whole
range, it's not just the pipes and wires or the roads and rail tracks, it's the whole range of
social infrastructure as well - there's a real serious danger that we'll put our cities under even
more stress than they are at the moment.

SIMON SANTOW: Professor Patrick Troy is from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the
Australian National University.

He says Treasury's population predictions are open-ended and simple-minded calculations.

PATRICK TROY: Treasury have always assumed that the market will provide the solution; that is that
they create the demand, somehow magically the states will be able to respond by providing
infrastructure.

And they've been in a sense part of the architect of the crisis which we now see which is
manifested in all sorts of ways including in the massive increase in property pricing and you know
the lack of planning in that area as well.

SIMON SANTOW: So where in your view is infrastructure planning lacking at the moment?

PATRICK TROY: Basically the last 50 years we've actually had a situation where the states are
underfunded in terms of infrastructure development. And the Commonwealth has not really got down
and looked at these issues so there's been no Commonwealth funded research of any significance in
this area.

SHANE MCLEOD: Professor Patrick Troy from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at ANU
ending Simon Santow's report.