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«Speakers: John Daley, CEO, Grattan Institute Michael Barlow, Director, Grattan Institute AUDIO: This is a podcast from Grattan Institute. JOHN DALEY: ...»

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Regional Growth Patterns: Evidence from the Latest Census

A serious distortion is emerging in government policy toward regional Australia. Slow-growing

areas are receiving an undue share of funding — money that fails to produce the economic

growth it is explicitly designed to achieve — while fast-growing areas are missing out.

At this public seminar, Grattan CEO John Daley and Urbis Director Michael Barlow discussed

patterns in Australian regional growth as revealed in the 2011 Census, and why government policy is failing to keep up with the rapid growth in coastal and capital city satellite regions, often leaving their residents without the services they need.

Speakers: John Daley, CEO, Grattan Institute Michael Barlow, Director, Grattan Institute AUDIO: This is a podcast from Grattan Institute.

JOHN DALEY: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is John Daley. I’m the Chief Executive of Grattan Institute, and it’s my very great pleasure to welcome you here this evening.

I’d like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which this event is taking place, and also acknowledge any Elders, past and present. With me is Michael Barlow from Urbis. Michael is an urban planner and advisor. He advises both governments and developers and investors. He has done a huge range of projects over his 30-year professional life, the largest of which was the Framework Plan for the Emirate of Dubai. As well as a number of local projects, things such as advising the Gandel Group on a large number of shopping centres, as well as the casino which sits on the South Bank of the Yarra.

Urbis is an affiliate of Grattan Institute, and as such we’ve worked quite a lot with Michael and his team. One of the things that they really bring to the table is a very integrated approach to thinking about planning. It’s not just about housing, it’s not just about development, it’s also about transport, it’s also about services, and amenities. You’ve got to get all of this stuff right at once. Then the other thing that we certainly noticed as we’ve been working with them is a blend of what’s in the community’s interest as well as what is ultimately going to be commercially developable. I think one of the things that at Grattan Institute we really focus on is that much of the time the right answer to a lot of policy outcomes requires us to understand both what is going to make economic sense as well as what’s going to be in the public interest.

Most of Michael’s work and Urbis’ work has been on cities, but as the title would suggest we’re not going to talk about cities today. Two-thirds of Australia’s population lives in large capital cities, but implicitly one-third does not. Urbis has recently released a paper looking at Australia’s growth outside of capital cities and in particular looking at the most recent census and analysing what it says and what it all means. That talks to the Grattan Institute work that we published in May 2011, Investing in Regions: Making a Difference, that looked at the numbers that were then available from the bureau of statistics as well as looking at some of the policy implications of this in terms of the way that we look after our regions. So those are two of the things that we will doubtless talk about tonight. But what we’re hoping to do is at least ask and hopefully some of the time answer a couple of questions. Firstly, what’s growing in Australia? Where are populations, dwellings and so on growing? What parts are not growing? Why? And why not? Is the housing stock keeping up with this growth? And of course very importantly from a policy perspective, are the services and amenities that we want to see as a community keeping up with this growth. That’s the scope for tonight and what we might do, Michael, is start with what Urbis has done. That required you to look at the 2011 census and at the risk of starting on a slightly wonkish note, that was a little bit more complicated this year.

MICHAEL BARLOW: Absolutely, John, and thank you. Good evening to all of you. The most interesting thing was that the ABS decided they were going to recut the way that we measure Regional Growth Patterns: Evidence from the Latest Census – a Grattan event Melbourne 27 November 2012 – Edited transcript, transcribed by audio.net.au p.1 the areas, the way that we collect our statistics. Previously we used to have collected districted and then SLAs which are local government areas and so forth, up to metropolitan areas. They were basically based around political boundaries. They said well this isn’t working for us anymore because so much of what we do doesn’t pay any heed to political boundaries. So they then defined a new set of collective districts called mesh blocks which are very, very small, maybe only about 10 or 15 properties, and they build up from that. It gives us the ability to now look at places in far more detail and with greater refinement. We have these things called statistical areas and they’re called one, two, three, four, and they keep growing up, building on each other. I won’t try and explain how they’re put together at the present time, but suffice to say that when we started this process we had to then go back and re-cut what had previously been done so that we could get comparable figures between 2006 and 2011. That explains why some of the figures that we have are in fact surprising. We have thrown out a few that we just looked at and said that just doesn’t make sense, because we just couldn’t cut the figures to be truly comparable. But in the end was we defined about 170 what we called Urbis regional areas.

Those areas are varying in size from about 3,000 to half a million people. Now we didn’t do that so we could compare region A with region B, we did it to understand how each of these definable collections of either population or activity or geographical area could be analysed to see what had changed over the last five years.

JOHN DALEY: So you have a list of 180 towns or cities, and they’re comparable. I guess one of the key things I understood out of the work was the way that you’ve tried to put numbers around what we would colloquially think of as a town.

–  –  –

JOHN DALEY: So lots of people more or less all in the same place and then a gap to, if you like the next town. So that’s what you’ve tried to construct. You’ve looked in particular at the population and dwelling shifts in those areas. How did you group them up?

MICHAEL BARLOW: When we started out we actually just defined these areas firstly, and then we started looking for trends to say well, were these areas demonstrating similar trends?

Most interesting thing for us, is that we came to a not dissimilar conclusion to the one that you had in your original report which was that we’ve called the metro hinterland; the area within one and a half hours drive of the centre of a metropolis. John called it satellite cities. Then you had your coastal cities, and then you had your inland cities and so forth. We found the same gradation occurring again, and we found most surprisingly that the most significant growth in regional Australia was in fact in that area basically around our five mainland capital cities. You often hear government talk around regional development, if you’re like me you suddenly think it’s the far north-west or Far North Queensland and so forth, when in fact regional development and regional growth is occurring nearly on our doorstep.

JOHN DALEY: One category you had was essentially what you called urban hinterlands, what we called satellites. What else did you find? How else did you classify them?

MICHAEL BARLOW: Well then we started looking at the coastal areas, although we didn’t classify them. We’ll talk a little bit further about the variation of development in our regions around our coast and it’s significantly different between east and west. We also looked at the inland areas, but only for a short period of time because unfortunately what we found with our inland areas is that growth is either static, very low, or in fact declining. A classic example is Broken Hill, out in western New South Wales. It was one of the largest towns, if not cities, in Australia in the early part of the last century, and today it has about 18,000 people and is still declining, notwithstanding that it has some connection to the resources industry. We’ll explore some of the reasons as to why that’s occurring. We found that right across our rural hinterlands, down to townships of about 150 persons, they are not growing. I’d have to say given the way our economy is going, they will not grow into the future either.

JOHN DALEY: In fact I think the Victorian government has certainly done work looking at rural areas, so places smaller than 3,000, and most of those kinds of areas around Victoria are either shrinking or essentially flat. I guess in many ways that just reflects the fact that the major economic driver of these areas is essentially agriculture. The good news is that Australian Regional Growth Patterns: Evidence from the Latest Census – a Grattan event Melbourne 27 November 2012 – Edited transcript, transcribed by audio.net.au p.2 agriculture is improving and its productivity in particular is improving quite quickly, around 2% a year. It’s been doing that year in, year out for over 30 or 40 years but of course the flip side of improving agricultural productivity is that it means you need fewer people per hectare. And that’s why these rural areas are shrinking. Shall we have a look at the maps, Michael?

MICHAEL BARLOW: I’ve looked at the five major capital cities where we have had at least a century and a half of growth and economic activity. In Brisbane what you’ll see is that the drive time extends mainly down through the Gold Coast area nearly to the border at Tweed.

JOHN DALEY: So the drive time is the bit in blue, is that right?

MICHAEL BARLOW: The blue part is one and a half hour drive time from that big blue dot, the centre of Brisbane. We’ve chosen drive time rather than a distance because drive time we think is a far more accurate indicator of accessibility. You’ll see as we go through these various maps that geography, transport systems and so forth are highly influential in that accessibility.

And that’s how people are making their decisions about location. It’s about the time that they need to take to get to somewhere else. So with Brisbane what we found was that most of the Gold Coast is within that one and a half hour drive time and the southern part of Sunshine Coast up to Caloundra and so forth was also included. If you were to include the greater Brisbane area, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast you now have a conurbation of three million people. So Brisbane has just over two million, and that’s what gets compared when we go into the boasting stakes about ‘how big is your city’. But Brisbane has got this very unusual growth pattern that we don’t find elsewhere in Australia, with the Gold Coast, which is at half a million already. It’s surprising to think that that was probably only about two or three thousand people back in the ‘40s. So it’s massive, massive growth, and the Gold Coast is highly connected into the economy of Brisbane. If it wasn’t for some forest between those two cities that was put in place to preserve some koala habitat, they would have run into each other by now and be considered one conurbation.

Now looking at Adelaide you’ll see that Adelaide has quite a different transportation linkage.

Those who are familiar with Adelaide will know that Victor Harbour’s the preferred weekender location, and it’s within one and a half hour’s drive and it’s just fantastic. You don’t get that too many other places. It also goes all the way out to Murray Bridge, and Murray Bridge used to be, many, many years ago, the last staging point before you arrived into Adelaide proper. Now it’s entirely accessible. However, Adelaide, unlike the other four mainland cities we’re talking about, is growing but it’s growing at a far slower rate than the other four.

Perth is very unusual and we will come back to this later on. In 2006, those of you familiar with a place called Mandurah know that it was an outlying part of Perth that was very difficult to get to.

I’m sure it was about a good two-hour drive. Over the last 15 years Mandurah has gone from being a small town of about 10,000 persons to 85,000. There’s now a freeway that connects it to the centre of Perth and there’s always a railway. That has significantly accelerated the growth of Mandurah, so much so that the ABS now consider it to be part of greater Perth and do not look upon it as a separate entity anymore.

JOHN DALEY: Do you want to talk about the other bits a little bit further south?

MICHAEL BARLOW: The areas further south are very interesting. Bunbury is now your next outlier. You can see it’s a bit over two hour’s drive down south from the centre of Perth. But Bunbury is growing significantly, as is Busselton, which is another good half an hour, threequarters of an hour by car. Margaret River is another half to three-quarters of an hour further south again. With the significant growth that Busselton and Bunbury are experiencing the government is now needing to look at the infrastructure it brings to that location, whereas 10 years ago they wouldn’t have thought it was necessary.

JOHN DALEY: So the overall pattern is quite consistent with the work that we did in Game changers based on the previous census. Essentially areas – what we called satellites, what you’re calling urban peripheries – are growing faster indeed than the capital cities themselves.

The coastal areas also tending to grow very fast, and inland areas tending to grow quite slowly.

Regional Growth Patterns: Evidence from the Latest Census – a Grattan event Melbourne 27 November 2012 – Edited transcript, transcribed by audio.net.au p.3 MICHAEL BARLOW: That’s right.

JOHN DALEY: It sounds like not much has changed from the last census.

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