We must take control of our future: PM

One of Ms Gillard’s first actions after replacing Kevin Rudd was to reject his notion that Australia’s population was set to hit 36 million by 2050.

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Ms Gillard on Sunday repeated her comments that Australia should not “hurtle down the track” towards a big population.

“As prime minister I will lead a strong and responsible government to take control of our nation’s future,” she said.

“My position on our nation’s future sustainability is plain and clear.

“I do not believe in the idea of a big Australia, an Australia where we push all the policy levers into top gear to drive population growth as high as it can be.”

PM thrives for ‘sustainable’ Australia

The nation’s goal should not be a big Australia but a “sustainable” Australia that “preserves our quality of life and respects our environment”.

“One of the things Australians often say when we’ve spent a few days in a crowded, congested city in Europe or the United States: it’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

“Friends, I will not allow Australia to ever become a country of which it is said: it’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”

Abbott questions Gillard’s commitment

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said he was also in favour of a policy of “sustainable” population growth but has questioned Ms Gillard’s commitment on the issue.

Mr Abbott said Ms Gillard’s position was about an election fix.

“It does look like a panicked change in policy with an election in the offing and she hasn’t changed anything in practice,” Mr Abbott told Sky News.

Mr Abbott wants the Productivity Commission to provide annual advice on the infrastructure needs for sustaining population growth.

Abbott silent on population

But he would not nominate a population level he believed would be appropriate for Australia.

“What I completely reject is that we should just take for granted that we’re going to bring in 180,000 or 300,000, which are the current figures, year-in year-out come what may, until 2050 and beyond.”

But Sustainable Population Minister Tony Burke said Mr Abbott’s view on population was too focused on productivity and ignored other key issues.

“It’s not just about constant economic growth driven by property prices continuing to soar,” Mr Burke told ABC Television.

“It’s about making sure we do have a sustainable Australia.”

Mr Burke said there were other issues central to sustainability other than economic growth and productivity.

“The air you breathe, the parkland you have, the congestion in the traffic – all of those issues are real issues and if you’re only looking at productivity rather than sustainability you’ll miss half the equation.”

Labor to improve affordable housing

Meanwhile Labor has promised to provide $200 million funding for local councils in regional areas in an effort to boost stocks of affordable housing.

It is estimated that up to 15,000 new homes would be built in regional cities over the next three years under the initiative.

Infrastructure projects could include connecting roads, extensions to drains and sewerage pipes or community facilities such as parks and community centres.

However, regional cities will have to compete for the funds with about 15 expected to to be successful, receiving about $15 million each.

Labor has listed just over 40 cities across Australia that would be eligible for the funds.

To secure funding, participating councils would need to put forward proposals, potentially in partnership with the private sector, for infrastructure projects that help deliver affordable housing.