Great potential for population growth beyond the Great Dividing Range

July 22, 2010

Bingara was given a big mention in a recent issue of The Land arising out of Warialda’s efforts to attract settlers to the town.

Columnist, Jennifer Marohasy contacted Gwydir Shire Council’s General Manager, Max Eastcott to ask him how he thought places like Warialda would welcome newcomers and whether he thought country people would be averse to suggestions of an increasing population for Australia.

Part of his response was incorporated into her article entitled “Think big: rural areas have room” which appeared in the July 8 issue.

The article said “Australia’s new Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has explained that she is not in favour of a “big Australia”, at least in part because residents of Western Sydney don’t believe there is much extra capacity in Australia. “That’s Ms Gillard’s opinion, or perhaps a snippet from Labor party polling. In fact, I doubt Ms Gillard has ever spent much time in Western Sydney. And it is my experience that the further west you travel the more likely Australians are to welcome new residents.

“Consider Warialda and Bingara in the North West. These towns are crying out for people and could double in size without the need for investment in significant new water, sewerage and other infrastructure because existing services were designed with a redundant capacity which has widened with the slow movement of people away from the area.

“The shire’s General Manager, Max Eastcott, would like to see the new Prime Minister commission a study of the redundant capacity that exists right across rural Australia. He believes the figure would shock many people. It is Mr Eastcott’s opinion that the gradual shift of the population to cities has created the illusion that his is an impoverished area – but it is not.” 

Ms Marohasy went on to say that “Instead of Ms Gillard reinforcing stereotypes and always appealing to “working Australians” as though we are best defined by the length of the hours we spend at work, I suggest a new more optimistic, holistic and realistic dialogue that includes all the potential lying not just west of Sydney but west of the Great Dividing Range.”

What Ms Marohasy did not include in the article are Mr Eastcott’s view that “I believe Warialda and Bingara could both double in size (1200 to 2000) without the need to heavily invest in infrastructure. Of course additional housing stock would be required.

The gradual shift of the population has created an illusion that the rural areas are impoverished. Of course, this quite nonsensical in many respects. If you allow for seasonal variations due to drought etc the rural community is far more productive now but it requires a different mix of employment types.

For example both Warialda and Bingara need tradesmen (Plumbers, Electricians, Builders) with the limited supply of existing tradesmen simply creating a vehicle for genuine super profits.

Employment opportunities will be seen, perhaps, as a hindrance but increasing populations do create their own levels of increased employment in the service and public sectors.

How do we make any substantial movement of people to the bush happen? It really only requires political will.  Each family that can be relocated from Sydney to a rural community, for example, would result in a substantial infrastructure saving dividend for the State/Federal Governments. 

A percentage of this nominal saving could be allocated to provide incentives and to promote widely the potential of moving.  Also the onerous planning requirements that may be relevant for Sydney and coastal communities could be relaxed west of the Dividing Range – one rule does not fit all – especially making rezonings to promote industrial development easier and less time consuming.

The Federal Government could offer distinct tax advantages to residents and immigrants who choose to relocate to a rural area.  The State Government could eliminate payroll tax for firms operating west of the Divide, electricity could be subsidized and so on.

It doesn’t take much to create an incentive based program – only imagination.”    The city press has not picked up the story as yet.