The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Tony Burke

Tony Burke

Minister for Population

3 April 2010 - 14 September 2010

Transcript of 28/04/2010

NO.014

Interview with Steve Price

Melbourne Talk Radio

28 June 2010

SUBJECTS: Sustainable Population

STEVE PRICE:

I'm sure we'll have a discussion about this, how many people is enough in Australia? Is the population where it's headed, too many? The new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, made that pretty clear yesterday, talking to Laurie Oakes on the Sunday program.

[Replay]

JULIA GILLARD:

I don't believe in a big Australia, I don't believe in simply hurtling down a track to a 36 million, or 40 million population, and I think if you talk to the people of Western Sydney or Western Melbourne, or the Gold Coast growth corridor in Queensland, people would look at you and say, where will these people go? At the same time, we've got communities around the country crying out for more workers, for more people, more arms and legs, to get vital work done.

[Replay ends]

PRICE:

But how do you move populations around? Well that's the job of the Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, who's on the line, and was listening to that. Morning to you, minister.

TONY BURKE:

G'day, Steve.

PRICE:

Has your job changed, with the change at the top?

BURKE:

In terms of the nuts and bolts of where I was at, so far I don't have to actually undo anything that I've done, because we were just kicking off the community consultation. But I think that consultation now will take a very different path, because people know what the starting point of the government is under Julia Gillard.

I remember talking to people about it and every conversation would begin with, well, we don't think you guys are willing to listen at all to some of the congestion problems, or some of the sustainability problems that we see out there. No matter how many times I tried to say well, we're, you know, in genuine consultation, they'd say yeah, but you've already decided you want to be a big Australia, you've already decided you want this number of people. I think the PM has now set a very different tone as a starting point of those discussions.

PRICE:

To be fair to Kevin Rudd, I don't think he ever actually said that he'd be happy for 40 million, did he?

BURKE:

No, no, no, but in terms of the community...

PRICE:

And he did appoint you to the job, so I mean he was obviously very mindful that the government had to be seen to be actively getting involved in the debate, and do something about it.

BURKE:

Yeah, yeah, and I'm not, you know, I'm not engaging in criticism of Kevin. The thing that we now have is the clearest message you could possibly have, that what matters isn't trying to get to some big figure. The starting point of what matters is that your population is sustainable. Also Julia acknowledging very directly the importance of getting the right outcome for the different parts of Australia.

What you're seeing there in Melbourne, and the demands and pressures on infrastructure are very different to what I find, for example, when I meet with people from the Pilbara, who are saying we desperately need more people, to be able to keep projects going.

PRICE:

So these comments are from the heart, from the new Prime Minister, this is not just, is it minister, about politics, and about suring up some of those seats in outer suburban Melbourne and Sydney that you might be under pressure with, when you look back say at that result - the state result in Penrith the other weekend?

BURKE:

Oh, these are views that Julia Gillard's held for a very long time. But now she's able to advance them with the authority of being Prime Minister of Australia and that does make a difference to the consultation we engage in as we head towards developing the full strategy for early next year.

PRICE:

So how do you control population, I mean you either do it by encouraging people to have less children, or you cut back on immigration, or you do both?

BURKE:

Yeah, there's limits on what you can do with affecting natural growth. Immigration, you're right, there's more that can be done there. But let's not forget though Steve that you've also got the issue of people moving within Australia. A whole lot of the congestion in different parts of the country is internal migration of Australians, moving from one part of the country to another. A whole lot of the challenges that we have in regional Australian areas, with my agriculture hat on, I'm out there a lot, is about depopulation of areas where we still have great infrastructure, great services available, and looking at what is it that's causing people to leave those areas?

PRICE:

Well, that's the point I was going to make to you, because unlike most of us, because of your Agriculture Ministry job, you get out to rural Australia more than most people. There are so many fantastic places out there, that are just crying out for more people, how does the government make it attractive for Australians to go there? I mean I think immediately, when I think of this, of where my mother-in-law lives, in Wangaratta in North Eastern Victoria...

BURKE:

Oh, a great place, yes.

PRICE:

...one of the great parts of Australia, but they need more people there.

BURKE:

This is where I think we've got to be careful not to draw a really simple city/country divide because there's areas like Wangaratta where that's absolutely right. There's also some areas where they've had to look, during the drought, at trucking in water because they simply do not have the carrying capacity for the number of people who are already there.

So there are many country areas that desperately want more people, there are some where it would be irresponsible to be trying to put more people there, and I think the old 1970's decentralisation agenda, where it was just, let's get people out of cities, and into country areas, we're going to have to develop something a bit more sophisticated than that.

PRICE:

I'd like our audience view on this, 131 873, do you think Australia can cope with a larger population?

Are you going to get serious as a government though, and make it easier for people to live, you know, two hours out of the capital cities, by introducing proper fast transport?

BURKE:

These are issues which are certainly being looked at, as we develop this...

PRICE:

Is this part of your brief?

BURKE:

It is. We've got to work through how we engage with the different levels of government on it as well, not all the levers are at the federal level, some are at state level, some of the urban planning issues are at Local Government level. I've been meeting with mayors about this as well and just working out how we can do it in a really cooperative way.

PRICE:

I mean the example here is a Bendigo, Ballarat example, and in Sydney it's Goulburn. I mean you know that those places, young people could go and buy houses cheaper, so they could get a foot into the housing market and still work in the city if they could get there quickly by public transport.

BURKE:

Yeah, Goulburn is one of the areas where water supply has been very relevant...

PRICE:

That's true.

BURKE:

...so I've got some reservations there. There's another thing Steve that we're having to work through and I'm trying to get some research done on this as well. The question that you've raised there goes to the link between where you live and where you work. Now as broadband gets rolled out across the country, it won't be everybody, obviously, but it'll be an increasing number of people who only need to go to their central workplace every couple of weeks. So some of these issues, the old situation of everyone every morning having to commute at the exact same time of day all heading into major cities, whether that's what our work will look like, as broadband goes out around the nation...

PRICE:

That's a great point, I'd love you to come in and take some calls with us, next time you're in Melbourne, if you get time.

BURKE:

I'd love to do that, Steve.

PRICE:

Good on you, nice to talk to you again, Tony, thanks. Tony Burke there, Minister for Sustainable Population.