Page 3248 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 23 August 2017

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Population growth

Debate resumed.

MR STEEL (Murrumbidgee) (3.46): I rise to speak in support of Mr Pettersson’s motion today. The government is investing in the health, education, transport and infrastructure needs of our growing city, to harness the opportunities and to manage the challenges that come with this growth.

The latest population data from last year reflects that Canberra is no longer a country town, but a city of 406,000 people. Canberrans should expect even more growth in our population into the future, with recent statistics forecasting that Canberra will be growing at a rate of around 6,000 people a year by 2021.

The birth rate is the key driver, with international migration and interstate migration also contributing. These are things that we cannot and should not stop. People want to live here because we are a livable city. I have had to remind Woden Community Council on a couple of occasions—Ms Le Couteur was there as well—that we do not want to adopt a one-child policy to reduce the birth rate, and nor could we in our human rights jurisdiction. We also do not have the power to secede from the commonwealth to stop interstate migration even if we wanted to. Of course, we also have a responsibility, as a good international citizen, to settle our share of refugees. So our population growth is here to stay.

I am glad to say that we are in a situation of strong growth, both economically and in terms of population, rather than in a position of stagnation. We know from economic history that decreasing national population tends to increase the influence of capital accumulated in previous generations, and that would create its own problems for increasing inequality in our society.

As I said in my maiden speech in the Assembly, growth brings significant challenges but also new opportunities for our city. For Canberra to remain livable, we have to change. It is the role of government to plan for change with a policy response that reflects a considered level of foresight by thinking far into the future and asking sometimes the difficult questions such as “How can I make this place better, not just for me but for future generations to come?”

The election last year provided an opportunity to look forward. The overall theme from the election was that Canberra is growing. All of the major policy debates were about managing growth: the demands on our health system, the congestion on our roads, transport infrastructure for a bigger city, and planning and land development issues. I am pleased that this Labor government has a vision to address these issues that was endorsed at the election. We are stepping up to meet the long-term challenges in population growth and demographic transitions, and investing in the future through the budget.

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