IS it getting cramped in here?
Australia’s population passed the 25 million mark around 11pm on Tuesday, less than two and a half years after we hit 24 million.
We’re told the population is growing as quickly now as any time in our history and shows no sign of slowing.
On current trends, Australia can apparently expect a population of 40 million within 40 years, and it’s hard to imagine what that will look like.
Naturally, though, any talk of a growing population must be accompanied by a discussion on where all these new Australians will live.
Sydney and Melbourne currently carry most of the burden of a growing population but neither city can keep growing forever.
So what about the regions? Decentralisation has had a stuttering history in this state and, even now, seems to be wallowing in the too-hard basket in most instances.
The rare victories such as relocating the Central Mapping Authority (now Land Property Information Centre) to Bathurst in the 1970s and taking the Department of Primary Industries to Orange in the 1990s remain the exceptions, with most government departments and major businesses still headquartered in Sydney.
But if regional centres are to share the load of this nation’s rapidly increasing population then providing jobs for those people must be a priority. And decentralising public departments remains the best chance for governments to play a role in that.
In reality, though, jobs should be the easiest part of the population equation. What will be much more difficult to manage will be the impact on finite natural resources – whether in the city or the bush.
NSW is currently suffering through one of the worst droughts in recent memory, putting a massive strain on farms and farmers.
If Australia’s populations hits 40 million by 2058 and the trend towards a hotter, drier climate continues, we have to ask just where will we source the food to feed them all?
At the same time, people already living in regional centres must be part of the conversation about what they want their cities to look like in 40 years.
Do we want a Bathurst of 100,000 people or more? Could we sustain such a population and could we retain what makes our community great?
Is bigger always better?
It’s a question that must be asked and answered before it’s too late.