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Population Issues for Sydney and NSW : policy frameworks and responses

Population Issues for Sydney and NSW : policy frameworks and responses

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Population Issues for Sydney and NSW : policy frameworks and responses by Elsa Koleth

Population growth has been an issue of national concern at various points in Australia's history, and has long been an important issue for NSW and Sydney, the most populous State and city in the country respectively. Population issues were recently propelled to the centre of public debate following the publication of the Federal Treasury's 2010 Intergenerational Report. Considerable debate about issues and priorities in managing population growth in Australia followed the Report's projection that the national population would reach 35.9 million by 2050. Recent studies suggest that population growth is a subject which is attracting more intense public concern.

This briefing paper provides an overview of:

    key pieces of data concerning population growth and the ageing of the population, nationally and in NSW;
    key government reports and initiatives responding to issues presented by population growth at the Federal, NSW and inter-governmental levels;
    responses to the national Sustainable Population Strategy and the National Urban Planning Policy, and
    recent public debate and academic commentary in relation to population issues.

Population statistics: The Australian population has been growing annually at an average rate of 1.6% since the 1960s, reaching a recent peak of over 2% in 2007-08 (a rate not seen since the 1960s), before declining to a rate of 1.5% growth in the year to December 2010. Australia had an estimated resident population (ERP) of 22,477,400 at 31 December 2010. In the same period the ERP of NSW reached 7,272,158. At 30 June 2010, the ERP of Sydney was 4,575,532.

Based on trends in fertility, life expectancy at birth, net overseas migration, and net interstate migration, as at 2008 the ABS projects that, on median projections, Australia's estimated population could reach 35.5 million people by 2056. By the same measure, the NSW population is projected to reach 10.2 million people by 2056, while Sydney alone is projected to reach a population of approximately 6.98 million people in that time. [2.3]

The main factors contributing to population growth in recent years in Australia, as in NSW, are net overseas migration (the number of arrivals in the country less the number of departures - NOM) and natural increase (births minus deaths). Despite having among the lowest population growth rates (1.2%) of all Australian States and Territories in the 12 months prior to December 2010, NSW had the largest population increase (in terms of numerical increase) of all Australian States.

In that period, NOM contributed to 58% of the State's population growth, while natural increase contributed to 40%. NSW also lost 11,200 people to neighbouring States as a result of interstate migration in that time—the largest net loss among States and Territories. The NSW Department of Planning notes that interstate migration has a significant impact on population redistribution in Australia. Unlike Queensland and Western Australia, which experienced net interstate gains, over the past decade NSW has had an average net interstate migration loss of 24,000 people. However, in the twelve months prior to March 2010, NSW experienced its lowest interstate loss since 31 March 1998.

In recent years losses to interstate migration experienced by Sydney have been significantly offset by the numbers of international migrants settling in the city. Sydney, Perth and Melbourne are the cities which contain the highest share of Australia's migrant population (based on Productivity Commission figures, between 2001 and 2006 Melbourne attracted more international migrants than Sydney). NSW was the intended State of residence of 30%, or 42,267, of the 140,610 people who migrated to Australia on a permanent basis in 2009-2010. However, between 2006 and 2009 the key factor contributing to the growth in NOM in NSW was temporary migration—primarily international students. [2.1.2]

Regional differences: Population growth rates vary across NSW. Between 2006 and 2009 the fastest growth rates were experienced in the Sydney and Richmond-Tweed statistical divisions (SDs) at an average growth rate of 1.7% per year. At the same time the Far West of NSW was the only statistical division to have experienced average annual population decline of -0.3% since 2006. [2.1.2]

The NSW Department of Planning reports that future population growth in NSW is projected to be strongest in South Western Sydney (113% increase between 2006 and 2036) and North Western Sydney (52%), parts of Central Sydney (60%), the South Coast (42%), the Sydney-Canberra Corridor (42%) and the Illawarra (22%). Growth is also projected for a number of regional centres, including Albury, Bathurst, Coffs Harbour, Dubbo, Griffith, Port Macquarie, Tamworth and Wagga Wagga. At the same time, a number of areas with populations under 5000, largely located in remote parts of the State, are projected to experience a fall in population over the next 15 years. As a result of having a faster projected population growth rate than the rest of NSW, Sydney is projected to increase its share of the State's population from 62.8% in 2006 to 66% in 2036. [2.3]

Population ageing: In recent years, the issue of population growth has increasingly been considered in the context of the ageing of the population, which has been identified as one of the most significant demographic challenges facing the country. In 2008 the NSW Government reported that the number of people in NSW aged over 65 was projected to increase from 0.9 million in 2006 to 2.4 million by 2051, with those aged over 65 to outnumber children aged below 15 years by 2018.

While all regions in NSW will undergo population ageing, its extent will vary across different regions of the State. Coastal regions are expected to experience the largest percentage increase in people aged between 65-84 and over 85 years, with the Mid-North Coast, Nowra Bomaderry, and Illawarra statistical areas projected to experience the greatest increases. The ABS attributes this trend partly to 'sea change' and 'tree change' movements as older people move away from employment centres in their retirement. At the same time it is projected that the population of Sydney will be younger than the overall population of NSW, with people aged over 65 comprising 18% of Sydney's population by 2036, as compared to 21% of the NSW population. The areas of Sydney currently with the highest proportion of people aged 0-4 years are Auburn (8.2%), Blacktown (9.0%), Camden (9.3%) and Liverpool (9.0%). [2.2.2]

Government reports and policy statements: Issues to do with population cut across several policy areas and all levels of government. In the course of developing policies over recent years, the NSW and Federal Governments have used formal consultative processes to engage experts, stakeholders and the general public on a range of issues related to population growth.

Commonwealth Government: The Federal Government responded to issues raised by population growth by undertaking to develop Australia's first national population strategy. The 'Sustainable Population Strategy' was developed and released in conjunction with Australia's first National Urban Policy in May 2011. The Federal Sustainable Population Strategy is focused on managing population growth by attempting to balance economic and community imperatives with environmental concerns, with the aim of achieving economic prosperity, liveable communities and environmental sustainability. A focus on regional development is a key element of the Strategy. Both the Sustainable Population Strategy and the National Urban Policy recognise that responding to issues presented by population growth depends on effective intergovernmental cooperation between Federal, State and local governments. [3.1.2][3.1.3]

The Sustainable Population Strategy met with criticism from a number of stakeholders for lacking detail and failing to set targets. In contrast, the National Urban Policy met with a more positive response with the majority of stakeholders welcoming the release of the policy as an important step in achieving greater planning and coordination for urban areas. [3.1.2][3.1.3]

State and local governments: In several key areas, including urban planning and infrastructure provision, the primary responsibility for policy, program implementation and service delivery rests with State and local governments. Local government associations, such as the Australian Local Government Association, the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors and the National Growth Areas Alliance have expressed their support for the development of a national population strategy and a national urban policy. While recognising that local governments are most directly involved with local communities, these bodies also emphasise the importance of collaboration between Commonwealth, State and local Governments in dealing with population change. [3.2.3]

A number of NSW Government policies directly address issues raised by population growth, including the State Plan and the Metropolitan Plan for Sydney, released by the Kenneally Government in December 2010.

At this early stage, the O'Farrell Government has focused on pursuing decentralisation and regional development as a means to alleviate pressures exerted by population growth in Sydney. This policy direction finds an echo in the strong focus on regional development in the Federal Sustainable Population Strategy. [3.3]

One of the key mechanisms for directing migration to regional areas is the implementation of State Migration Plans, which take the form of MOUs between the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship and respective State and Territory Governments. State Migration Plans allow States and Territories to sponsor applicants under a range of occupations nominated under the Plan to fill skills shortages in their local labour markets. They are intended to provide State and Territory Governments with a greater level of flexibility to address specific skills shortages and local labour market needs within their jurisdiction in a targeted way. The NSW State Migration Plan came into effect in March 2011. [3.3.3]

Issues in the population debate: Debates about population are complex and many sided. The key issues presented by population growth include:

    the role and management of immigration;
    the environmental impact, particularly on natural resources and biodiversity;
    pressures on infrastructure, particularly housing and transport;
    the relationship between economic prosperity and population growth; and
    the impact of growth on communities and quality of life.

The Scanlon Foundation Survey 2010 found that there had been a substantial shift in public attitudes towards population growth and immigration as compared to previous years. The Survey found that 51% of respondents considered that a projected population of 36 million in 2050 was 'too high', while 42% felt it was 'about right' or 'too low'. The Survey also registered a high level of negative sentiment towards the adequacy of government infrastructure provision for future population growth. Respondents in NSW registered the highest level of negative sentiment with 59% viewing infrastructure provision as poor. The 2010 Survey also noted a marked shift in attitudes to immigration, with those who felt that the immigration intake was too high increasing from 37% in 2009 to 47% in 2010. Nevertheless, the Survey found that, although there was heightened public concern about population growth, in the view of respondents other issues warranted greater concern, such as the economy, employment, and environment. [4]

A number of commentators, as well as a parliamentary inquiry, have supported the introduction of a national population policy. This support for a planning oriented population policy echoes the views of the National Population Council. As far back as 1992 it advised that, as population issues have implications for several areas of service delivery and policy making, they needed to be incorporated into national planning processes. [4]

Population growth is likely to continue for the foreseeable future with much of that growth projected to occur in Sydney and in NSW. It remains to be seen how effective efforts at coordinating national responses to the issues presented by population growth will be in delivering sound policy outcomes. [5]