Population Minister speaks out on land release

30 June 2010

The federal Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, has spoken out on “urban sprawl”.

He explained the Prime Minister’s decision to add the word “sustainable” to his job title in this way: “There was a view that the Government didn’t understand that there are many parts of our cities in particular that are absolutely stretched in terms of current infrastructure and where people have been concerned about whether or not urban sprawl has any sort of limits.”

Mr Burke will be overseeing the development of a population strategy.

“The strategy itself is something that I was given a 12-month timeframe to put together [from April this year], and that 12-month timeframe remains unchanged,” Mr Burke said.

“Now the community consultation, we’ve set up … three panels to deal with that.

“A pro-growth group headed by Heather Ridout, a group focused on the sustainability issues headed by Bob Carr and Graham Hugo heading a group that deals with urban design.”

“The starting point for the community engagement in terms of big Australia versus rejecting the concept of big Australia and having sustainability as a core focus is a different emphasis, and there’s certainly some extra work that no doubt we are going to have to do in working through some of those issues of what urban sprawl means in environmental terms.

“There’s some interesting work, for example, that they’re doing in south-east Queensland where, as new housing estates are put in, work’s being done to not only limit impact on native habitat, but also to have to do some rehabilitation work.

“So there’s different jobs that are happening in a patchwork way around the country. We want to be able to bring some of that together.”

A full transcript of Mr Burke’s comments is available here.

In another series of public comments, Mr Burke observed that “it is true that endless urban sprawl carries an environmental footprint with it.”

It is true that if youre in an area where you cant get a seat on a bus, cant get a seat on a train, youre locked in gridlock in traffic, that you would ask the question that [the Prime Minister] posed … where on earth would you put extra people?

That needs to be balanced against those parts of Australia that are crying out for extra workers.

The audio of these comments by Mr Burke are here.

Further detail on the government’s position is available here.  The Urban Taskforce’s response is here.