There has been strong political support from both Labor and the Country Liberal Party for the growth of our economy in the Northern Territory. In fact economic growth has been a consistent objective of decision-makers since the Northern Territory was first settled by Europeans.
The Urban Development Institute strongly supports economic growth and has welcomed initiatives by the current Government to stimulate the orderly and planned supply of new housing to meet demand. We also welcome the significant efforts being directed towards attracting new investments as part of a focus on developing the north. But we believe the adoption of a strategic approach to building our population should be a fundamental component of our growth plans.
The drivers of long-term economic output growth are often referred to as the ‘3Ps’ – population (the pool of potential workers), participation (those people in the labour force) and productivity (the amount of output per worker). Unfortunately our recent population growth has been disappointing and has certainly not reached the numbers which were expected.
At present the entire Northern Territory is home to around 1 percent of Australia’s 23,781,000 people. This percentage needs to grow if Darwin is to become the thriving capital of northern Australia; a larger population will facilitate the establishment of more and bigger companies here to help build trade and other business relationships. It will also enhance the potential to attract new investment.
UDIA (NT) supports a more strategic approach to population growth, with targets we can use to guide the pace of new development. We recognise that population growth is not only achieved through new economic projects; it can also be achieved through measures to reduce the population drain we experience in the NT, particularly through loss of retirees; or encouragement of new arrivals to settle here by providing financial incentives (for example providing free or heavily subsidised services to attract new residents).
A Population Strategy for Darwin and the Northern Territory could include:
- a comprehensive summary explaining why population growth is of fundamental importance to our economic growth;
- a review of measures which have been used to stimulate population growth in other parts of the world and an analysis of why they have succeeded or failed;
- aspirational targets for population growth;
- research programs to identify the issues we need to address and how best to address them;
- measures we can take, either in our own right and / or in partnership with the Federal Government and possibly Queensland and Western Australia, to strategically grow our population.
In his 2015 October Business Month address, renowned demographer Bernard Salt singled out the attraction of “Sea-changing Baby Boomers” (people born between 1946 and 1964) to retire here as our most significant opportunity for economic growth.
Retirement in the Northern Territory is already attractive to a proportion of the boomer generation both from Australia and from overseas, even without any specific promotion. Some of our advantages include a lifestyle and climate that are already appealing to many retirees, and our relative proximity to Asian tourist destinations. We also have lower costs for housing and fuel than we were experiencing a few years ago, although we will need to do more in these areas if we are to ensure our living costs are attractive to more “sea-changing” boomers.
Attracting retirees to the NT requires financial decision-makers to recognise the economic benefits a much larger percentage of seniors in our population will bring (such as direct investment in property, flow-on benefits to the NT economy through tax contributions, increased spending in the local economy, new jobs that will be generated to service the needs of an increased population of seniors citizens and other community benefits).
Attracting more people to live in the Territory requires greater investment in relevant infrastructure (potentially available through the Federal Government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility - NAIF). The NT Government also needs to work with the development industry to ensure there is a focus on place-making in our developments, thus ensuring housing is appealing to a wider range of people than is currently the case.
The development industry needs good information on future demand because of the long lead times involved in bringing developments where people will need to be housed to the market place. Poor data has been a major problem in the past and a Population Strategy developed with input from a range of relevant businesses and government would help to re-build confidence.
All Territorians will benefit from the improved infrastructure, better service provision and employment opportunities which will flow from an increased population. UDIA (NT) believes it is time to develop a comprehensive population strategy to guide our economic growth.