OPINION: Making the lives of every Australian count

OPINION: Every five years on a Tuesday in August, all of us pause to reflect on our way of life and collectively come up with a snapshot of what it means to be an Australian.

Privacy issues of the 2016 Census aside, there’s one thing for sure: when the numbers are crunched, we’ll see an increasing number of Australians calling the outer suburbs home.

Five million of us already live here: from Penrith in Western Sydney to Wanneroo in northern Perth. In just 15 years – that will have grown by half again to 7.5 million people.

These areas are absorbing a disproportionately large share of the national growth – twice as much as other suburbs – according to the last Census.

There are other significant trends in outer suburbs. There is a larger share of new immigrants – especially humanitarian migrants – and a much younger population, including dependent children and young people.

These population changes are entirely anticipated, so it’s regrettable that there has been such neglect towards these areas by our political leaders.

And yet there’s a simple solution: a national fund for fast-growing outer suburbs, which would give them the attention they deserve and would benefit the nation through jobs and economic growth.

Rural and regional areas have particular infrastructure and investment needs – and have funds earmarked for just that purpose. But the outer suburbs are facing massive population growth and therefore major infrastructure needs: yet so far investment has been totally inadequate.

If we can recognise the challenges in Tamworth are similar to those in Geraldton in the West, why can’t we see that there are issues that all outer suburbs across the country face – and fund them accordingly?

We know that outer suburbs are already hurting with residents facing nightmare commutes with congested roads and inadequate public transport. Poor access to health facilities adds to the crisis.

Our research shows there’s a $50 billion dollar backlog in infrastructure for these areas. And that’s without taking into account the growth that is to come in the next few years.

Giving residents and businesses in the outer suburbs the same opportunities and access to infrastructure as other Australians is not only a matter of fairness, it is also a matter of common sense.

Other research carried out for the National Growth Areas Alliance tells us that investment would create jobs, provide greater tax revenues and permanently boost national GDP by billions of dollars annually.

In addition to strong economic arguments, a serious investment in these areas will provide much needed social cohesion. No-one wants to run the risk of cities where there is division and inequity: we only need to look at what happened with Brexit in the UK and the rise of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy in the US for that.

Residents and businesses in fast-growing outer suburbs deserve better. For their communities to flourish and benefit the country as a whole, a national fund is urgently needed.

Let’s not wait until the next Census rolls around to make the life of every Australian count equally.

By Ruth Spielman, Executive Officer, National Growth Areas Alliance