ABC Radio Adelaide Mornings - Interview with Deb Tribe

Deb Tribe: Well, Adelaide is an amazing place to live. We all think it's an easy city in which to live, but it's been estimated that in the next 30 years or so, our national population will increase by over 11 million people, with the majority occurring in five major cities including Adelaide. But we all know that liveability and sustainability are what makes a city a great place to live in, so they are essential in the planning.

How do you increase population without creating difficulties for the people who live in the cities like us here in Adelaide?

I'm pleased to welcome to the studio federal Minister for Cities, Urban infrastructure and Population Alan Tudge. Thank you very much for coming to the studio.

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] G’day, Deb.

Deb Tribe: Now, you're not here for today's COAG meeting - you’re actually about to fly out on a plane. What have you been here for?

Alan Tudge: So, this morning I was here with Prime Minister and the Premier and we were announcing the fact that the space agency is going to be right here in Adelaide and we're also signing the City Deal memorandum of understanding, and what that deal will do is an agreement between the two levels of government for the development of the Lot Fourteen precinct, the old hospital site, as well-

Deb Tribe: I was down there watching it being demolished a few months back.

Alan Tudge: Yes. Right, right. So there’s still some buildings which are coming down and it’s going to be just a brilliant precinct in the near future and a real hub for innovation, which is what the vision is. And through that, it'll be a job creator; it’ll be a place for training; and we just hope it'll be a real stimulator of the economy for South Australia.

Deb Tribe: Quite unique to have a site of that size …

Alan Tudge: Exactly.

Deb Tribe: … in the middle of a city …

Alan Tudge: It really is.

Deb Tribe: … and on what is already a cultural boulevard.

Alan Tudge: It really is, with these beautiful buildings there which are being restored as well; and the space agency will be based there. There will also be a new museum put there, just right opposite the Botanical Gardens, and it’s just a magnificent seven-hectare site.

So, the vision of that is an innovation and entrepreneur precinct. I think it’s fantastic. It’ll end up being the best in the country when it's completed and a real stimulator for jobs of the future.

Deb Tribe: How much of that site is going to be devoted specifically to the Australian Space Agency?

Alan Tudge: Well, that's a good question. I don't know the answer to that. It’ll just be one component of it. There’s all number of other components, though, to the overall site. There's also going to be a new Indigenous museum, art gallery built on the site as well, facing into the Botanical Gardens.

So, it is going to be a magnificent site, which won't just be for the Adelaide headquarters as such, Adelaide CBD - it will really make a difference for the whole of the state because it will foster innovation, and at the end of the day, innovation drives jobs growth and drives the economy.

Deb Tribe: Well, look, we are going to return to space in just a few moments, with some of our space entrepreneurs already occupying sites in Adelaide to find out their reaction to having the announcement this morning. I'm sure it will be very positive.

Alan Tudge: It's such an exciting morning for Adelaide in terms of announcing that space agency. It’s a $41 million direct investment from the federal government into Adelaide, but more importantly, it really places Adelaide at the heart of space in Australia. And it already has a significant industry here, but it means it’ll turbocharge that industry and we hope that’ll end up with thousands more jobs over the years ahead.

Deb Tribe: Well, look, I'd like to look at the issue of population now, if you wouldn't mind, Minister, because I'm a big visitor to Sydney and to Melbourne.

Alan Tudge: Yeah.

Deb Tribe: Melbourne, I used to drive to often and found it really easy to navigate my way around. Not so much anymore. Very difficult to do so.

Alan Tudge: That’s exactly right.

Deb Tribe: Adelaide is a relatively easy city to live in with its current population. We- that's one of the things that people that live here are most happy about. How much bigger do you want us to become?

Alan Tudge: The question is how you manage the growth. And I'm from Melbourne and I know exactly what you're saying because 10 years ago the roads used to move in Melbourne and now they’re very congested, and people are telling us that loudly and clearly.

And so- there's a lot of benefits to being a larger city like Melbourne because you have more opportunities, particularly for young people. And so there’s benefits of growing, but the question is how you manage that growth; and what we want to ensure is that as Adelaide grows and as South Australia grows, you have the infrastructure and the services and the housing approvals all aligned with that growth.

And that's why we're bringing this concept to COAG today, because we control the major population growth at the federal level, being the migration lever, but the states and territories are largely responsible for the infrastructure, the services, the housing approvals, and we have to make sure they’re aligned, and that's what the discussion today is about.

Deb Tribe: We have seen ad hoc developments occurring here in Adelaide, certainly - I'm sure you’ve had them in Melbourne - where you'll have a parcel of land that becomes available; a developer decides to put housing on it but there isn't a forethought given to the roads in and out, to schools, to green spaces, all of the above. Is it about trying to get some synergy between the three layers of government so that there are aims that they are all working towards?

Alan Tudge: Yeah. I think that's part of it. Certainly, the most important thing at the macro level is for us to be able to match what are the major population levers, being migration—and migration drives 60 per cent of the overall population growth—with the states and territories’ forward plans for infrastructure—hospitals, schools, and property approvals, and we need to make sure they’re aligned.

And in Sydney and Melbourne, part of the difficulties which we've had there is that the infrastructure hasn't kept pace with the population growth.

Now, those cities have been growing very, very rapidly and we actually want to just ease the pressure off those big cities. But South Australia, I mean, it has real opportunities to grow more and create more opportunities, particularly for young people so they don't feel as if they have to go over east in order to get further advancement in their career.

Deb Tribe: If we just return to immigration for a moment, because that's a big issue for us here in South Australia and decisions were taken about temporary visas, which had an impact on regional South Australia. You’ve been quoted as saying—tell me if this is right or wrong—that 87 per cent of skilled migrants go to Sydney and Melbourne.

We've heard that that's not actually the case—it's closer to 57 per cent. So, what do you see happening to South Australia in terms of immigration and how are you going to try and ensure that people do come to Adelaide and to South Australia?

Alan Tudge: Yeah. So this is what we're discussing - and I've had these discussions with Premier Marshall about this - as to how South Australia can, in essence, get its fair share.

You've got to grow the economy to start with so that the job opportunities are here, and that's what things like the space agency are about; the shipbuilding investments; the Defence investments and the like; and the economy is taking off in South Australia.

But second, then we want to support the growth aspirations with migration and- in a strategic, in a targeted way to support the jobs which are being created. We can do that. There’s some levers at our disposal to be able to assist in that effort and we're going to be investigating those and working with the State Government to implement it.

Deb Tribe: Okay. Look, we've had a couple of calls in. And now, Sam Duluk, Liberal Member for Waite, is on the line. Good morning to you.

Sam Duluk: Good morning, Deb. Good morning, Minister, and good morning to your listeners.

Deb Tribe: Now, you chair an inquiry into the benefits of migration to South Australia. You've got the federal Minister right here. What is it that you wanted to say?

Sam Duluk: Look - good morning, Minister, and great to have you back in Adelaide. And I think one of the important things that is coming through our inquiry that I'm chairing is one about appropriate planning, but it is about those federal levers around visas and priorities for South Australia.

And I think something that all the- everyone who’s given evidence before our inquiry - all the AHAs and the leading industry groups - want to see South Australia have a special migration zone and status that can prioritise our needs for skilled migrants, and just keen to get our Minister's view on that.

Alan Tudge: So, the answer is yes, we do want to work on that, and even as a part of the City Deal memorandum of understanding that the two leaders, the Premier and Prime Minister, signed today—part of it was about the development of Lot Fourteen as an entrepreneurial centre.

The second element was actually about putting in place better settings to grow the population, which might include things like special visas for South Australia or designated visas for particular areas where you need more people and have jobs which are available.

We see this in a lot of regional areas, actually. In fact, the data shows that there’s 46,000 job vacancies in the regions today in Australia.

Sam Duluk: And that's what our inquiry is finding as well. Areas such as Murray Bridge...

Alan Tudge: Yep.

Sam Duluk: … in the south east, through Naracoorte, up Port Augusta and Port Pirie way, there's a need for a lot of skilled workers there at abattoirs and that type of thing.

Alan Tudge: Absolutely. I've been hearing that feedback as well from- particularly from the abattoirs, particularly from some of the farms who can't get workers to do the job.

Deb Tribe: No, we know there’s a need, but how are we going to get those workers here?

Alan Tudge: Yeah. So, we're working on that. In fact, one of the tools at our disposal, which we can implement and we're working on, is what's called a Designated Area of Migration Agreement, which is basically a boutique arrangement which you might make with a particular geographical area.

We just did one in fact, signed it earlier this week, with western Victoria, and they've got many of the same issues as parts of South Australia have.

So, there’s a model there which we can utilise and we’re keen to explore that.

Deb Tribe: Thank you very much for the call. Look, if we can go to some of the texts that are coming through, and one issue that's being raised pretty much straight up is from Dave: with rainfall dropping, with global warming and successive governments developing prime agricultural land—forgive me, my screen has just refreshed—haven’t we already reached a sustainable population?

Alan Tudge: I'm not sure what he means by the question in terms of a sustainable population. So is that person suggesting …

Deb Tribe: [Talks over] I think it means …

Alan Tudge: … that we should not grow at all further?

Deb Tribe: I'm assuming that that is what the question says.

Alan Tudge: Right. I mean, that's- a couple of things. A) We're going to grow because people are still having babies and people are still getting older, and that's a good thing on both counts. So you’d have natural growth in any case, and that's about 40 per cent of the overall population growth. And second, though, migration is absolutely critical for Australia, and it's critical in terms of filling skills shortages, which we don't have.

It's critical, actually, in ensuring that we've always got a good working age population so that we don't age overall, because you very quickly find that if you're not immigrating younger people into the country, the overall population gets older and then economically that puts the country in a very poor place because you're obviously- you have fewer workers generating tax to pay for the services you need in old age.

Deb Tribe: One of the big issues here in South Australia is water of course. We're at the end of the Murray-Darling Basin system. Greg from North Haven has called through on that issue. Good morning, Greg.

Caller Greg: Yes, good morning. Thanks, Minister. Yeah, I think the previous questioner was asking about the provision of sustainable quality freshwater for current future generations in South Australia and throughout the whole of Australia.

So, when I hear of an Infrastructure Australia sort of funding projects, it’s often about roads, but in terms of quality freshwater for drinking and for agriculture et cetera—plus in that context, the climate change with evaporation and salinity even for our underground aquifers—we have some big issues to address here, Minister.

Alan Tudge: Listen, in terms of the water challenges, absolutely, and that gets taken into account as well. So, what we've asked the premiers and the chief ministers to do is to inform us from the ground up, if you like, as to what the population plans are for their respective states and territories, taking into account all of the infrastructure that they have presently and have planned to be built into the future—that might include water infrastructure.

And then, as much as possible, we can set our migration settings based on the aggregate of those plans, and that way we can get a much closer alignment between what the carrying capacity is of the nation versus what our migration settings might be at the national level.

Deb Tribe: There are obviously concerns in relation to population coming through on the text line. Ray echoes what was said by Greg in relation to water. Steve says Sydney and Melbourne are vile, overcrowded, sprawling messes and are sobering examples of the end result of an economic system based on exponential growth - it disappeared again, let me find it - we need to think outside the square.

We live in a finite space with finite resources. We can't grow, grow, grow forever. Is there a limit?

Is there a limit—you're looking at 11 million people in the next 30 years; at least 250,000 people here and additional in Adelaide in that time, or dwellings at least—is there a limit to sustainability?

Alan Tudge: The question is how do you manage your growth and I think-

Deb Tribe: [Interrupts] But is there a limit?

Alan Tudge: When you- you've got to look forward at least sort of 10 or 20 years into the future and that's what we want to do the forward planning for. And over the next 10 or 20 years, inevitably, Australia is going to grow. It's going to grow on a natural basis, in any case, because people have babies, we’re all getting older.

Deb Tribe: [Talks over] But is there a time that we should be worried, Minister? Is there a time that we say: actually, we are now encroaching into our arable land? We are now creating cities that are unliveable. We're going from the most liveable cities in the world to the most unliveable. Is there a time- is that time going to come?

Alan Tudge: Well, we still have, I think, four out of the top 10 most liveable cities in the world. Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide's one of those, and Perth and- so we're a long way from having the least liveable cities in the world.

And as long as we plan our growth and we ensure that we've got the infrastructure; we've got the sustainability; we've got the water; we've got the schools; we've got the hospitals; we've got the housing approvals to match the growth, then I think we can get bigger, and there are real advantages also to growing as well.

Deb Tribe: The planning is the issue. I'm getting- I can’t read you …

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] That absolutely-

Deb Tribe: … everything I'm getting on the text line here, but it's talking about, for example, one of the areas that we've got here in Mount Barker—one of the fastest growing populations in Australia—very little thought put into it. And it comes back to the siloing, doesn't it, of decision making. We've got health. We've got transport.

We've got all these different arms of government. We've got developers wanting to get- maximise their economic benefit from housing developments. How do you actually create a system whereby all of those things are put together to try and get the best outcome for the people living in the cities or living in the regional areas?

Alan Tudge: Yeah. I mean, I would say-

Deb Tribe: [Interrupts] What say do they have, actually?

Alan Tudge: Listen, I would say, overall in Australia, we do pretty well with our cities.

I mean, the fact that we've got four of the top 10 most liveable cities in the world, I think, is testament to that. But second, a lot of those very localised planning decisions are obviously not made by the federal government and we don't necessarily want the federal government intruding down at that very localised level—that has to be done by local councils and the state governments.

Where the federal government needs to be involved, though—which is what we've been discussing and what's on the COAG agenda today—is in relation to the population growth rates for each of those particular regions and what actually is manageable, because we, at the federal level, control the main lever - and that is migration as I was indicating before - and how do we ensure that we've got the right population growth in the right parts of Australia. Can we ease the pressure slightly off Melbourne and Sydney?

Can we grow in a strategic manner, South Australia, which is the aspiration certainly of the South Australian Government? And- but you've got to have the planning in order to be able to cope with that.

Deb Tribe: Do you believe in climate change? That’s a question on the text line.

Alan Tudge: Is that a question on the text line? The climate, of course, is changing, and human beings are making a contribution towards that.

Deb Tribe: Well, Minister, I don't know what time you have to leave, whether you can stay with us or not. Are you on a very tight time schedule to get to the airport?

Alan Tudge: [Talks over] I can keep going if you’ve got a few more questions.

Deb Tribe: Okay. It's 23 minutes past nine. With me is Alan Tudge, Federal member for Aston and Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and population. In just a moment, we’re going to get the response from Michael Bayliss, communications manager of Sustainable Population Australia.

Deb Tribe: In the studio with me this morning is the Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population, Alan Tudge. In just a moment, we'll hear from Sustainable Population Australia, but Martin from Clarendon has called in on 1300-222-891. Good morning, Martin.

Caller Martin: Oh, hello. Look, my concern is that migrants get old too, and then do we bring in more migrants? When does the Ponzi scheme end? This sounds very much to me like a PR piece for the growth lobbies who donate very, very heavily to political parties. My concern is that we're going to keep growing and one day, we’ll wake up and say: good God, we've wrecked the place.

Deb Tribe: Thanks very much for the call, Martin. I have to say that's being echoed on the text line, Minister. For example, Deb from Warradale has just sent in a text, saying today's infill in suburbs, tomorrow's slums—no backyard, no trees, no gardens, street trees cut down. My suburb is becoming a nightmare at the hands of developers building boxes.

Do the people of Adelaide really want it to become another Sydney or Melbourne?

So, how are you going to overcome that fact? I mean, people are raising legitimate issues.

Alan Tudge: Yeah, sure. So, in terms of appropriate developments, I mean, those are decisions for your local councils and for state governments, and you want to make sure you have good local planning and you need to be involved in your local council elections and get involved in that process …

Deb Tribe: [Talks over] But what-

Alan Tudge: … to ensure that you get that.

Deb Tribe: What are you asking the ministers at COAG to do today? Because doesn't there have to be a complete cooperation and synchronisation between the three tiers of government?

Alan Tudge: Well, that's exactly why we have put it on the COAG agenda as the number one item for discussion today. And as I said, we don't want to get involved in the sort of the microplanning.

The federal government doesn't want to be involved in determining what sort of housing developments you have in a particular suburb, but we do control the population growth lever, which is the migration growth lever.

Deb Tribe: But has anybody asked Australians what they want?

Alan Tudge: We’re having a pretty rigorous discussion at the moment in relation to migration, in relation to population, in relation to planning. This discussion …

Deb Tribe: [Talks over] I mean more about-

Alan Tudge: … is going on around Australia at the moment. It always becomes an election issue as well, so it's inevitably discussed as part of election cycles. Now …

Deb Tribe: But who-

Alan Tudge: … in terms of- I want to take it up this comment. This point to the person-

Deb Tribe: [Talks over] Who decides, though, what makes a place a good place to live though? Who makes that decision?

Alan Tudge: Well, these are-

Deb Tribe: What evidence-based research is there on that?

Alan Tudge: I mean, these- we live in a democracy here and we've got three levels of government, all of whom are accountable at election time. And we have a role at the federal level and we're placing population planning more squarely on the federal agenda.

Obviously, the state governments have a role, as do local councils, and so the people get a say at all three levels of governments in relation to these things. Sometimes you have political parties who are running, particularly on a: slowdown Australian growth or more public transport or no inappropriate development.

I've seen political parties particularly on those matters. I just want to pick up, though, and I- it was put and it wasn’t answered. The caller before was just saying: oh, we're just all part of the growth lobby. We've got money in our pockets. I mean, I find that offensive, to be honest, and particularly when the Prime Minister himself has actually said that the likely outcome of this process will be a slowdown in growth.

So, let's be clear about that. It will likely be a slowdown in the migration intake as a result of this process.

Deb Tribe: Okay. Well, Minister, we're getting an urgent hand waving from your colleague. You've got to get on a plane and get out of here, but thank you so much for coming to the studio this morning. Greatly appreciated.

Alan Tudge: A pleasure, Deb. Thanks.

Deb Tribe: Thank you. The Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population Alan Tudge, joining us in the studio.