Population Minister Alan Tudge has suggested that Melbourne and Sydney are experiencing significant pressure from excessive population growth. He’s probably got a point, but his ‘solution’ — forcing immigrants to live in areas with less population pressure for at least five years after permanent residency is granted — demonstrates Tudge’s complete lack of knowledge of the subject matter he is responsible for implementing on behalf of the Australian Government.
That’s not to suggest for a minute that there are not any other places worth living in across Australia — there are thousands of them. Small towns do generally have a greater sense of community, and clearly if immigrants move into regional communities with lower levels of population growth, there is an increase in demand for goods and services in those communities. That’s not a bad thing, but according to former Border Force Commissioner Quaedvilieg, the proposal to link residency visas with residential locations is difficult to enforce, even if it is theoretically legal.
The Department of Home Affairs and Border Security produced a report in January 2014 that concluded
The migration program has been one tool with which governments have attempted to support regional development by helping to meet the skills needs of regional employers and of adding to the stock of residents living in regional areas. However, one of the key challenges in utilising the migration program to assist in regional development outcomes has been in ensuring that migrants who do settle in regional areas stay there over the long-term. But the extent to which migration-based interventions actually facilitate long-term regional retention remains unclear. In order to develop more effective policies and programs in this area, the academic literature suggests that it is therefore important to develop an understanding of the factors that contribute to regional retention.
Loosely translated — there is more work to be done than to just tell people they have to stay in an area for five years which isn’t necessarily the person’s first choice.
Tudge, like a lot of coalition politicians is taking population growth, in part caused by migration, and comparing it with the infrastructure difficulties that are encountered in Sydney and Melbourne (as well as other areas of Australia such as South East Queensland). The connection is to a large extent nonsensical.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 and photos of the bridge in the ‘good ole days’ show rail lines where they are now, tram lines on the other extremity and six traffic lanes in between. While the tram lines were converted to traffic lanes, the Harbour Bridge was constructed with plenty of room for future expansion. It’s the same with the Storey Bridge in Brisbane, opened in the 1940’s with six traffic lanes.
Fast forward a few decades and the Harbour Tunnel was constructed to relive pressure on the Harbour Bridge. It opened in 1992 and has two lanes in each direction. By 2008, the tunnel was being used by up to 90,000 vehicles a day. Brisbane’s ‘Clem7’ tunnelwhich runs close to the Storey Bridge is also a two lane each way tunnel and has never met the traffic expectations of the proponents since it opened in 2010, probably because the ‘time savings’ do not justify the toll charge. Brisbane’s Clem7 could have been constructed with three lanes each way for another $20million on the $3.2billion construction cost, but the decision was made not to do so.
And there is the problem in a sentence. If you are buying clothes for your 2-year-old child, there is always the temptation to buy the next size up, even if it costs a little more upfront as the child will grow into the item of clothing and your dollar will go further. The alternative is going back to the store of your choice within a few weeks because of a growth spurt. Likewise, we know that (in this case) South East Queensland is growing rapidly. While a road tunnel with two lanes in each direction comfortably handled the traffic flows at the time it was opened and probably will for some for some years to come, it will reach capacity quicker than the three-lane tunnel proposal. Back in the first half of the last century they knew that cities, like children, would grow and built accordingly.
There was no need to build the Harbour Bridge, the Storey Bridge, St Kilda Road or any number of other pieces of infrastructure constructed in the first half of the last century to the scale they did, but they did it anyway. However as these structures that were designed with room for growth do eventually reach their capacity, there is frequently a decade or so of political infighting and sledging before the solution commences construction so we are stuck in a perpetual cycle of catching up to current demand.
In Melbourne, clearly the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne is at capacity — they are building a companion tunnel only 40 or so years after the bridge opened as poor planning has made it the only direct connection between Melbourne’s CBD and the western suburbs. The tunnel to act as a companion to the Westgate Bridge was first mooted in 2006 — it will apparently open in 2022.
While it seems that a lot of recent immigrants have settled in Sydney and Melbourne, it is disingenuous at best to suggest that infrastructure capacity problems are solely caused by immigration — it’s more to do with politicians lacking the vision that their predecessors from a century ago obviously had. After all, it’s not only recent immigrants that live in Sydney, Melbourne and other parts of Australia that are growing faster than the average.
The Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison government has a long history of dog whistling to turn opinions against those who don’t look like them (generally middle-aged to elderly white men). First we had ‘stop the boats’, then the ‘gangs of African youths terrorising Melbourne’ and now the same people are being blamed for failures of politicians over the past 40 years to argue the case for additional capacity when expensive infrastructure is built. Because in the long term it’s cheaper to build it once with some growing room — just like the 2-year old’s new t-shirt.
It’s time to call Tudge’s thought bubble out for what it is — racism.
What do you think?
This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.
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