As part of LGiU Australia’s relationship with the National Growth Areas Alliance (NGAA), I got to attend the NGAA’s National Congress last week in Werribee, Victoria.
In Australia five million people, or twenty percent of the population, live in outer urban areas surrounding major cities that are growing at twice the rate of the national average. These are growth areas, and councils from these areas throughout the country are represented by NGA.
Growth areas in Australia are impacted by inadequate transport links, insufficient social infrastructure, and provision of health, education and other community facilities that has not kept pace with population growth.
The NGAA National Congress is an opportunity for growth area councils from around Australia to connect with each other but also to jointly call upon the federal government to act upon four priorities that have been identified in order to ensure the sustainable future of growth areas. The NGAA asks that the federal government:
- Designate a Minister for Growth Areas
- Plan and fund vital transformational infrastructure in growth areas
- Revitalise Australia’s economic engine room in the outer suburbs
- Support community recovery and resilience in growth areas
The theme for the Congress was unlocking the potential of growth areas. Central to many of the presentations was how growth areas have been disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with growth areas having higher infection rates, greater numbers of essential workers and larger migrant populations resulting in language barriers and lower health literacy.
Speakers also highlighted that the post-covid economy presents opportunities for growth areas. Due to there being fewer local job opportunities, growth area populations are underemployed for the skills they have. New trends in homeworking and hybrid working have the potential to address this if leveraged appropriately.
There was a lot of discussion around the political significance of growth areas. There’s been 216,000 new homes built in growth areas since the last federal election, and the voting behaviour of the resulting demographic change has not been tested. Growth areas are traditionally safe Labour seats and so have missed out on marginal-seat patronage spending on infrastructure, however there are federal elections year and this could look different if parties decide it makes electoral sense to invest in giving growth areas what they need to thrive.
If the questions directed at the speakers by councillors in the room are an indication of the major issues facing growth areas then it’s safe to say housing is at the top of the agenda. Other unsurprisingly hot topics included rate capping, overcoming federal/state roadblocks, and whether cities need CBDs to thrive in a post-pandemic world.
In his address, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure, Andrew Giles, spoke of looking to other countries to see how regions with similar socioeconomic characteristics are addressing some of these issues. At LGiU, with our global network of councils and other sector associates, we’re keen to explore policy innovations being implemented in growth areas internationally, and are excited to have the opportunity to work with NGAA on some future projects.