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Deputy Prime Minister says immigration is not a major influence on the growth of cities; supports Senator Childs in the battle to have him replaced by a senior union official

ELLEN FANNING: The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Housing, Brian Howe, claims immigration is not a major influence on the growth of Australian cities. The New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr, says the number of immigrants settling in Sydney has to be reduced because the city is already bursting at the seams, but Brian Howe thinks Sydney will have no trouble accommodating the present immigration level. And the Deputy Prime Minister is also supporting embattled Senator Bruce Childs against the Prime Minister's moves to have Senator Childs dropped from the Senate in favour of a senior vice-president of the ACTU, George Campbell.

Mr Howe spoke to A.M.'s David Burgess in Sydney, just a few moments ago.

BRIAN HOWE: Well, I think certainly we need to look at all of the pressures for growth, but of course we're in a period in which there's rather slower rate of growth in terms of migration, and I'm not sure that migration is the major pressure, really, that's occurring. Nor do I think that the most serious pressures, the most rapid growth is actually occurring in Sydney. I think that's occurring in south-east Queensland and the pressures there, together with the north coast of course, will really need to be addressed and involve quite significant problems.

DAVID BURGESS: So, perhaps has Premier Carr got things a little wrong here? Perhaps he shouldn't have actually brought up immigration in relation to city planning?

BRIAN HOWE: Well, I think historically that Australian cities have grown as a result of migration; so that is one of the pressures. I think in Sydney at the moment it's not the most important pressure. I think what we're seeing is household change, so that much smaller households and, of course, that means a lot more pressure in terms of urban development. We have to find houses for all those people. A lot of those houses are in environmentally sensitive areas. They're on the fringe. They create pressures in terms of urban planning and, particularly, the provision of infrastructure.

DAVID BURGESS: Well, with immigration, it definitely is one of the pressures - obviously, you've said it's not the main pressure - but still is there a need perhaps for a national debate because some cities like Sydney definitely are suffering from urban sprawl?

BRIAN HOWE: Well, I think we've got to have a population policy so that we're aware of the growth rates in terms of our population. We've certainly got to look at distribution in population in Australia. We put enormous pressure on the coast land, and that's why the Commonwealth Government is about to announce a coastal management policy, with significant resources going in to seeking to manage the pressures that exist on the coast because of Australians' preference to live very close to the seaboard.

DAVID BURGESS: Well, as Deputy Prime Minister, are you perhaps a bit concerned that the New South Wales Premier has brought up this immigration issue? A lot of ethnic community leaders seem to be quite concerned about it. Is it as perhaps as damaging for the Government? Some ethnic community leaders have said that perhaps Mr Carr's comments could be as divisive in the community as John Howard's comments back in 1988 about Asian immigration?

BRIAN HOWE: No, I think what he's pointed to is population pressure, and I think that is a pressure; but I think in Australia it's more to do with the number of households. When you look at the way that Australians are increasingly living - 50 per cent of Australians are now living in one or two person households. So, the old days of the suburban bungalow, in many ways, are somewhat past.

DAVID BURGESS: On another issue, do you support the Prime Minister's moves to actually have the Left's convener in the Senate, Senator Bruce Childs, dumped in favour of the union official, George Campbell?

BRIAN HOWE: Well, I think that's very much a matter for the State branch.

DAVID BURGESS: So, it's not a matter for the Prime Minister? He does seem to have become involved.

BRIAN HOWE: Well, I gather the Prime Minister may have expressed some views about New South Wales, and of course he's a New South Welshman and a member of the State branch, but primarily it's a matter for the State branch what happens in terms of the preselection.

DAVID BURGESS: And do you support Senator Childs staying in that position?

BRIAN HOWE: Well, very much so. I think Senator Childs has played an extremely important role in the parliamentary party. He's been an extraordinarily active Senator, particularly outside of Sydney, as someone representing rural New South Wales. He's been extremely active in terms of Senate committees, and in terms of the national picture, Senator Childs plays a very important role.

DAVID BURGESS: So, perhaps you might prefer that the Prime Minister kept out of this one?

BRIAN HOWE: No, I think the Prime Minister has got a right to a view. I think if it was in Victoria, I would be expressing a view as a member of the State branch. After all, we've got preselections in that State, and I'm not unknown in terms of expressing views about that.

DAVID BURGESS: But you'd predict the Prime Minister will get rolled on this one? You don't think George Campbell will get up?

BRIAN HOWE: I think that the State branch will make its own decision, and I think that's as it should be.

ELLEN FANNING: The Deputy Prime Minister, Brian Howe, and he was speaking in Sydney this morning with reporter David Burgess.