Josh Gordon reports in today’s Age that “Daniel Andrews has conceded Labor lost government because it failed to meet community expectations as Melbourne’s runaway population growth ‘got away from us’.”
He reports that the Victorian Labor Opposition Leader has told The Age that a failure to properly manage Victoria’s strong population growth contributed to Labor’s defeat at last year’s state election, as services failed to keep pace with Melbourne’s expansion. “We just couldn’t keep up”, he said.
Daniel Andrews acknowledgement and understanding of the problem and its role in Labor’s election defeat is good news. I raised the need to curb Melbourne’s runaway population growth at ALP State Conference and in detailed submissions to the State Government concerning Melbourne’s Urban Growth Boundary, the future of the Edgars Creek Parkland, and the Kodak site. Unfortunately the previous State Government dismissed concerns about Melbourne’s population growth and in so doing got out of touch with voters.
Daniel Andrews statement that “We just couldn’t keep up” is true, but should not be regarded as a sign of failure. No governments or councils successfully manage growth at this pace – the problems are the same in Sydney, South-East Queensland, California, and every other urban centre experiencing rapid population growth. It is not that the State Government was lazy or incompetent – in my dealings with them I found them to be extremely hard-working and conscientious. It is simply that the infrastructure task of a rapidly growing big city is incapable of being successfully managed. There is no sign that the Baillieu Government will have any more success at making housing affordable, reducing crime, containing the cost of living, tackling traffic congestion etc.
Victorian Labor can successfully win back voters by action on three fronts: -
· Planning. Restore planning powers to the local communities. Get rid of planning appeals to VCAT, and let Councils do what residents want, not what property developers want.
· Cost of living. Peg electricity prices in particular (and possibly gas, water and Council rates) to the amount by which pensions rise. Electricity prices in Melbourne have doubled in the past decade, and risen by over 50% in real terms. This should stop. Electricity companies should be required to recover the costs of new infrastructure from the property developers who are the beneficiaries of it.
· Big Australia. Victoria Labor should distance itself from the high migration policies of the past decade which have fuelled Melbourne’s rapid population growth. While business lobbies for high skilled migration on the basis that workers are needed in Western Australia, in reality Melbourne remains a major destination for migrants, keeping unemployment in Broadmeadows, for example, above 15%. We should stop boasting about Melbourne’s growth rate, and aim to stabilise Melbourne’s population.