City to top 7m people
TIM COLEBATCHOctober 23, 2009
MELBOURNE'S population will grow to almost 7 million by 2049, federal Treasury has projected, doubling in the space of 50 years as an unending mining boom brings more and more migrants into Australia.
But revealing the figure yesterday, Treasury secretary Ken Henry voiced fears that Australia might be unable to handle another 13 million people by 2049 without serious environmental losses. ''With a population of 22 million, we haven't managed to find accommodation with the environment,'' Dr Henry told an audience in Brisbane.
''Our record has been poor, and in my view, we are not well placed to deal effectively with the environmental challenges posed by a population of 35 million.''
In a speech of outspoken frankness, optimism and gloom at the same time, Dr Henry argued that Australia was poised to ride a minerals boom that would last for decades, as India and China grew inexorably towards achieving Western standards of living.
But the Treasury chief, who is passionate about Australian wildlife and the bush, warned that the changes ahead ''will test the limits of sustainability: economic, social and environmental''.
He hit out at Australia's poor record in preserving biodiversity, singling out the commercial slaughter of kangaroos, saying almost 50 million had been killed in a decade, mostly to be added to pet food.
He also warned that for people occupying ''the driest inhabited continent on earth'', adapting to climate change and tackling its consequences could produce ''the largest structural adjustment in our economic history''.
Last night Prime Minister Kevin Rudd strongly disagreed with his Treasury chief on the merits of population growth, telling the 7.30 Report: ''I actually believe in a big Australia. I make no apology for that.
''I actually think it's good news that our population is growing,'' Mr Rudd said.
''I think it is good for us, it's good for our national security long term, it's good in terms of what we can sustain as a nation.''
The Age reported last month that Melbourne's population had surged past 4 million, with its growth running at 1800 a week - while Treasurer Wayne Swan revealed that Treasury projects Australia's population to grow from 22 million now to 35 million by 2049.
Dr Henry said yesterday that most of this growth would go into just four cities. ''On quite reasonable assumptions, we can imagine Sydney and Melbourne growing from 4½ and 4 million people today to cities of almost 7 million,'' he said. ''Brisbane, we think, will more than double in size to be 4 million people 40 years from now.
''How will Sydney cope with a 54 per cent increase in its population, Melbourne a 74 per cent increase, and Brisbane a 106 per cent increase?
''Surely not by continuing to expand their geographic footprints at the same rate as in the past several decades. Surely not by loading more cars and trucks onto road networks that can't cope with today's traffic. However our cities do cope, they will have to find ways of securing a sustainably higher level of investment in public infrastructure.''
Dr Henry, who chairs the Government's review of the tax system, has flagged that it will propose a congestion tax to try to reduce peak traffic.
Yesterday he also flagged that it will propose to help Australian manufacturing cope with what he sees as a long-term loss of resources to mining.
The main theme of his speech was that China and India have entered an era of rapid growth that will mean Australia's mining boom continues for decades - keeping the dollar at high levels, and drawing capital and workers from manufacturing, traditionally Victoria's main industry.
Dr Henry said Australia would need much greater investment to supply the boom and deal with its consequences, requiring decades of further borrowing.
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