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Thursday, 21 February 2002
Page: 768

Mr JENKINS (5:48 PM) —Today there has been great mention of policies that we as members of the Labor Party took to the people in the election of November last year. One of the policies that I was very pleased that we put to the people was a population policy, where we saw the need for the establishment of an office of population, we saw the need for conducting a wide-ranging inquiry into what should be the optimum population of Australia. This is an area of policy that this place—whether as backbenchers or members of the executive— should be returning to. It is a very important and fundamental piece of public policy.

I am, therefore, very pleased that next Monday Premier Steve Bracks and the state of Victoria will be hosting a national population summit at the Regent Theatre, where over 500 people will come together to discuss the issues which surround the way in which we might set out a proper population policy. This has to be a wide-ranging debate, because there are so many facets to the way in which we would put in place a proper population policy.

I have mentioned at the periphery population policy on a number of occasions in this place. I was researching when I had actually done this and the first occasion was back in October 1989. The interesting thing about that first contribution was that it was actually in response, during the discussion of the appropriation bill of 1989-90, to the spokesperson for the then opposition on immigration matters, the honourable member for Dundas, Mr Ruddock. He said that what really disturbed him was the total lack of a population policy. I am concerned that he now seems to have gone a bit lukewarm on the idea of putting in place a population policy. He berated the then minister for immigration, Senator Ray, and quoted where Senator Ray had said in an interview that his intuitive guess was that the optimum population was about 25 million. Mr Ruddock then went on to say in his contribution to the debate that, without a change in the immigration program—this is back in 1989—he had seen studies that believed we would reach 25 million by about the turn of the century. We see by the facts that he was actually incorrect in that estimate.

I was then intrigued to see that, in the discussion about the summit, not only the Prime Minister but also Mr Ruddock were quoted as saying that they did not really see any need for the detailed debate. What was very interesting was that Mr Ruddock was quoted as saying that 25 million people was his best estimate of what could be achieved. He should realise that there is a need now—in the 21st century—to have a proper debate about how we would reach a figure, whether it be 25 million, 30 million or, as has been floated, 50 million people. But we must have that debate. We have to look at it in terms of what is sustainable in environmental terms, we have to look at the economics of it—what is sustainable in economic terms. We have to look at an optimum population in demographic terms. Will we have the right balance between people that are of work force age and older people? What will be the regional distribution? Will we see states such as Tasmania and South Australia being beneficiaries of a proper population policy which sees their states gaining some of those immigrants or will we see changes in the way that we see city centres?

At the end of the day, one of the great considerations is that, through proper planning, if we have an optimum population number, we can do it in a sustainable way both environmentally and economically, and we can assist other spheres of governance in the provision of infrastructure, as was mentioned by the member for Aston. In my electorate, two municipalities are fringe municipalities. They are the municipalities of Whittlesea and Nillumbik. They provide the homes for new people living in the metropolis of Melbourne, but they do so without assistance and infrastructure. Without this proper planning, we are not going to be able to assist bodies that need to put in place the proper infrastructure.

This is a wide debate. The forum on Monday is a very good first step. It is not going to be the end of the debate, but it is something in respect of which this government should show leadership and, if the government does not show leadership, this House as a parliament should show leadership by making sure that it is fully discussed. (Time expired)