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Brisbane population growth debate: Do we build a fence?

We don’t often repeat material from other people on this blog, but the below notes from prominent Brisbane property commentator Michael Matusik are as topical as they come and deserve repeating as part of the ‘debate’.  The Government wants to debate the value of population growth to our city/state/nation, but unless we erect a big fence along Australia’s coastline how would we ever stop it?

Matusik Missive – Population debacle
10th March 2010

“I was involved in last week’s Great Growth Debate held by the PCA in Brisbane. This was held as a forerunner to the Queensland government’s own debate about the same subject, to be held at the end of this month. The PCA was hoping that the “pro” side of the debate would get a better airing if they ran their own shindig. The jury still remains out on that note.

In recent weeks, I have been asked on numerous occasions what I thought was the purpose of the government’s upcoming debate. My answers included – to distract and confuse the public; to been seen to be doing something; and to remove the sale of public assets off the media’s agenda for a while. I might have even said “bogan” public, which sounds harsh, but too many (and increasingly so) of our fellow citizens are not interested in any serious debate; readily swallow the spin and are more interested in what tattoo they are going to get next, rather than how the place is run. Get rid of compulsory voting if you ask me. But I digress.

As I said in my short presentation at the PCA gig the other day, it is a waste of time debating growth – it will continue to come. We need it, and even if we wanted to stop it (or even slow it down), we are largely helpless to do so. Even “planning for growth” is a waste of time – we have more plans that you can poke a stick at. What we should be debating is “how to accommodate growth”. We need implementation. Action is what is missing, and so too is political fortitude. Whilst I agree more with Mayor Pisasale’s ideals, I also admire Mayor Abbot, for at least he stands up for what he believes in and is prepared to be voted out come the next election if his constituents disagree.

What the market wants – and by, market, I mean residents, business, investors and the development community – is certainty. Strong leadership would have conducted this growth summit before the redrafting of the SEQ regional plan. The same would apply to the koala issue; ban the banning; potential changes to land tax and the sustainability declaration, to name just a few. Future planning matters should be dealt with in an organised way, such as the prescribed five year review of the regional plan.

But at almost every turn these days the Queensland government introduces a bill into Parliament, without adequately consulting the public. Sometimes, as in the sordid land tax case, previous decisions by the court are sought to be overturned. This uncertainty broadcasts loudly to potential investors in the state, to whom a stable legal system, with an observance of the rule of law, is a precondition to any investment. And many are not happy, Anna!

Back to accommodating population growth. I suggest the following measures:

Ø Decentralise the workforce out to major greenfield estates and beyond.

Ø Encourage more competition by forcing the major developers to release stock rather than drip feeding the market. They deny it, but that is exactly what they do.

Ø Get urbanisation to work by having minimum density targets, on a sliding distance scale, around our key pieces of infrastructure.

Ø Shorten, and make development approvals easier to get. ULDA gave themselves an approval in six months. That should be the benchmark now. Proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Ø Limit local resident involvement to architectural, land use and sometimes tenancy matters only and not in the overall quantum of a new urban development.

In order to do such, a strong top-down approach to planning is needed. This takes political guts. Bottom-up planning, where NIMBY-ism rules the roost, is not working.

Population growth is coming. We cannot stop it and I suspect that it will accelerate (in Australia at least) over coming decades rather than slow down.

Unfortunately, “development” today is a dirty word in Queensland. What is even more despicable is that the government does not appear to see land as a significant asset. Nor do they understand – well, at least it is not portrayed as such to the voting public – that value adding to our land (i.e. development) creates wealth, jobs and a more sound economic future for Queensland.

In the lead up to the government population growth summit at the end of March, I hope that these thoughts or similar get an airing. In my mind, it is vital that they do.”

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