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Is the Premier reading my stuff?

By Ross Elliott - posted Friday, 24 May 2024

After many years of applauding runaway population growth, Premier Miles recently called for a slowdown in immigration numbers under the Labor Albanese Government, at least to a pace we can manage. He doubled down on that by linking rampant population growth to congestion. This was labelled an "outrageous" claim, which is unfair. I happen to be (for once) in furious agreement.

Where did he get these ideas from I wonder? Maybe it was this article from September 2022 which pointed out that a housing shortage was only one symptom of rapid growth. Water, hospitals, schools even energy ought to be just as much a worry. Or this article from February 2023 which argued that the idea of population growth being something we can't control is plain wrong. We can stop people coming to Australia by simply not inviting them. Population growth and immigration are directly linked. Then there was this article from August 2023 which showed that our rates of population growth – the speed at which we are trying to grow – is well in excess of developed economies but on par with third world ones. Or this one from January 2024 which pointed to the adverse consequences of very rapid population growth.

In terms of congestion, the link between population growth and traffic was highlighted in this yarn from July 2022 which warned that we don't have a plan for the 1 million more cars that will follow population growth into south east Queensland. This article from September 2023 looked at the great urban mobility challenge and this article from December 2023 pointed out the futility of looking to heavy commuter rail as a congestion buster because we no longer have a heavily centralised economy (most people don't work where trains take them).


There are many more, but that'll do. Should I take some credit?

I doubt it, but just in case he's reading this, here's an idea. The solution to much of this lies in our suburbs and regions. Yes we need to slow growth to a speed we can manage. But we also need to think more about where that growth can go.

Our budgets and growth priorities are all out of kilter. We have run-down older legacy industrial precincts which, by some absurd notion, some argue need to be preserved so that they can continue to store boxes or caravans instead or workers or residents. Why not convert them into mixed use live-work-play precincts? Jobs and social infrastructure closer to where people live. It's not hard. Older precincts where industry has left for very good reasons are the obvious choice.

Then there are the high growth regions. Even if we slow growth to a manageable pace, regions like Moreton, Logan or Ipswich are not blessed with legacy infrastructure which is underutilised. There isn't much already below the ground by way of services in a cow paddock. Nor are they the focus for enhanced job and social infrastructure plans. Instead, they are grossly underfunded relative to the prosperous inner city, for which there seems no end to the largesse. How about instead of consigning these regions to poor dormitory status where residents will need to commute great distances to access work or social infrastructure, we instead match budgets to growth projections?

Then there are the regions. Why would anyone at family formation stage move to a regional city which has been notorious for not even having a maternity unit? Why would a business locate in such a place where attracting a qualified workforce is a huge challenge simply because it doesn't measure up in terms of amenity or quality of life. Education and health are undercapitalised in many of our regional cities. Without considerable investment in social infrastructure and placemaking, they will continue to struggle to attract capital, talent or enterprise.

There is one graph which says it all. Twelve years' worth of state budgets show a continued pattern of spending that is focussed in the city centre, while high growth areas and regional cities do not fare anywhere near as well. There is nothing wrong with investing in the inner city but spending across the state could be more equitable – and more focussed on aligning capital investment with suburban renewal and regional development strategy.


All the population growth being pumped into one place – which is what is happening now – is never going to work. The symptoms of this are becoming obvious.



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About the Author

Ross Elliott is an industry consultant and business advisor, currently working with property economists Macroplan and engineers Calibre, among others.

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