Transcript: ABC Darwin - Breakfast with Richard Margetson

Subjects: growing northern Australia

E&OE

RICHARD MARGETSON:

It's probably one of those things you love about life in the Top End. Most of Australia's population is somewhere else. We don't have to deal with them. But there are some serious consequences from that, that stem from so many people living in just the five major cities around Australia, not least of which is trillions of dollars of capital tied up in real estate. The Minister for Resources and Northern Australia spoke to the Sydney Institute last night and kind of pushed this notion of change, the idea that more people should be in regional centres, upping their population form those that it might be around 100,000. Now that sounds remarkably like us here in the Top End. The Minister joins me this morning. Matt Canavan, very good morning to you.

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Good morning Richard. How are you?

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

Very well thank you. Quite happy to not have 500,000 people around me.

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well that's a decision for the people of Darwin, for people in regional areas. But I certainly believe that where I'm from, so Rockhampton, we would love to have a city that is larger and more dynamic. That's why we - as all politicians from that region - are promoting growth and opportunity. Likewise in Townsville going through a tough time at the moment. And also I think your Northern Territory Government both Adam Giles previously, now Michael Gunner are very focused on supporting growth and opportunity. And with that will come population growth, not withstanding I understand in Darwin you have issues with availability of land and those things yourselves.

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

Yeah there's a few people that get away from those big cities, but this is tied up not necessarily with just wanting us to have more people around and kind of a more vibrant city, it's to do with actually releasing money into the economy. Now just explain to me quickly what the benefits of upping a population in a regional or northern regional place is for the wider Australian population?

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well I'm in Sydney obviously at the moment after speaking at the Sydney Institute and here in this place, this is a global city, there's a lot of Australians trying to live here and competing for land that pushes the price of land up, you know house prices here approaching $1 million on average, but it's a consequence of how concentrated our population is. And I suppose because this is all we know we just accept the fact that that's the way it goes. But most other countries in the world do not have as big a proportion of their population concentrated in their two top cities or indeed in their capital cities. So well over 50 per cent, well over half of Australia's population are in those top five mainland capital cities…

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

So if you release more of the population into regional centres that means that more of the population possibly have more options to get into the real estate market, maybe to buy cheaper housing?

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Exactly, exactly, house prices, land prices won't be bid up by as much. That will make housing more affordable. Obviously what you need though is a job opportunity for people. Why people come to Sydney and Melbourne of course is because that's where a lot of the particularly professional services jobs are, but if we had centres in other areas where there were major financial institutions, legal firms, administrative arms of government as well, you would attract people and you would take the pressure off places like Sydney and Melbourne.

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

So just put it into context for us here in Darwin. So we're roughly around 120,000 here or there, I mean and we're looking to grow towards 500,000. Part of developing the north has been talked about, you know, getting roads and infrastructure and those sorts of things, but jobs and something beyond that are required. How do you actually physically create that, without manipulating people to just say look we're going to move your office to the centre of Darwin?

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

What we can do as the Government is provide the basic infrastructure that's available for others and other businesses in particular to use and have available so that they can invest in and make money and make profit…

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

The speech you made for the Sydney Institute last night, is the idea that you would grow the north so that the benefits would be for those people in Sydney to get say better public transport because you need to subsidise that a little bit more, or...

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

No not per se, but certainly why we're investing in the north is because we see national benefits for it, because this is not simply a hand out to Northern Australia because we think you are good people...

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

[Laughs]

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

I personally live in Northern Australia, so I’d love to have handout of course. But why we're interested and why we're investing billions of dollars on behalf of the Commonwealth Government is because we think it will be good for the Commonwealth. There are a lot of opportunities in the north with agriculture, in the resources base of course, in tourism and in education and we're investing in all of those things…

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

Are you trying to balance the population out, not necessarily grow the population massively, you're trying to get people who are already here in Australia to move from say a Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane to come to the north and be part of the north, not necessarily growing the population in Australia exponentially?

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Exactly, exactly, that's what we're trying to achieve. Of course most likely our population will continue to grow as it is. That makes it even more important that we provide other opportunities and outlets for that growth.

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

The other kind of thing that struck me is that we've just been through a property boom and then it's kind of like softened off a little bit now and so housing is much more affordable. As you get more and more population you may well actually create heat in the real estate market and push these prices up, compared to the ones that are in Sydney of a million dollars per house.

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

No doubt. No doubt, and as I said earlier Darwin already often faces those pressures given its land or lack of land availability, although of course you're growing out towards Palmerston. Certainly you don't face the same pressures of course like a place like Sydney does. But remember this is not just about growing the capitals if you like of Northern Australia like Townsville, Cairns, Darwin et cetera. It's also about growing smaller towns and places. Well if our population was distributed like America's with the same proportion of spread among its cities, we right now even with just 24 million people, we would have 44 cities above 100,000 people, rather than only 16. Those are sizable cities like Darwin but not congested or overly busy if you like rat-races. We could have 44 of those right now if only we’d developed like America.

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

Yeah and perhaps developed more evenly geographically as well...

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Exactly.

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

...so achievable. It sounds like one of those things that you would say at the Sydney Institute because it sounds like- it sounds conceptual rather than real.

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well certainly speeches like this give me the opportunity a bit to explain in more depth why you're doing certain things, and I don't believe that we will create those 44 cities of over 100,000 people...

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

I've got a feeling that's not going to happen in my lifetime.

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

It's not going to happen. But I think it's important to stress and point out why we are investing billions of dollars in Northern Australia. They could rightly say, and some do that, why do we have a northern development agenda from a Commonwealth government? Shouldn't the Commonwealth government be a government for all Australians? Of course we should. But that's why it's important that we explain and take people with you about why you're doing certain things and why this is important for us…

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

And the ultimate benefit for us here in the Northern Territory, those people who are living in Darwin right now and think well 100,000's lovely, in fact that's one of the reasons I came. What's the real benefit for those people who are already part of that and then see potentially over long term, 400,000 more people here?

 

MINISTER CANAVAN:

Well look I mean I think wherever you are, whether you're Darwin, Townsville, Cairns, things do change over time and they would independent of what we do in Canberra, and Darwin's grown significantly. And there's perhaps some people since the 1970s since the day of Cyclone Tracy that they wished Darwin was smaller than it was and went back to what it was. But I can't recreate that, cities are organic and dynamic and they will change from time to time. What we can do though is by encouraging consistent growth right across the country ensure that there is lots of cities of different sizes and people have a choice.

 

RICHARD MARGETSON:

Thanks very much. Minister, nice to speak to you. As I say it's not one of those things that you think oh it will start 1 January 2017, but it is part of the developing the north conversation and it is a conversation that we're having continually. But whether or not we will see it achieved, I've got a feeling that you and I will be old and possibly in the grave by the time we see 500,000 people in Darwin.

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