Monday, July 28, 2008

Premier John Brumby warns of dangers in growing too fast

John Ferguson

July 28, 2008 12:00am

JOHN Brumby has conceded Victoria's population growth is pushing its limits, thanks to the baby boom and immigration.

The Premier said pressures on the transport and health systems showed the need for caution.

In his strongest comments yet on the state's booming population, he said: "I think we are probably at the limits of growth."

In an interview marking his first year as premier, Mr Brumby told the Herald Sun that Victoria needed to keep an eye on its ageing population and plan for the future.

And he questioned the sustainability of high growth.

While stressing the strength of the state's multiculturalism and its value, he said immigration had doubled over five years and Victoria had attracted a quarter to a third of that intake.

"Plus, fertility rates are high. More women are having babies - that's a good thing. I think it's a sign that people are more comfortable about the future," he said.

"But I think we're at the limits; we've got pressures on our public transport system, we've got pressures, obviously, on our health system."


But the growth has driven unprecedented demand for services, and roads have become more clogged.

Mr Brumby stressed there would be no quick fix to the transport crisis.

Tolls are still high on the agenda for big-ticket road projects.

And Mr Brumby said it had been impossible to predict the problems facing public transport, particularly as a result of increased demand.

"No one could have (predicted it)," Mr Brumby said, "and nor could have anyone predicted the petrol prices.

"Four years ago, oil was $25 a barrel. It's $127 today, and was $150 last week. So you had growth in patronage of close to 13 per cent per annum for the last three years.

"In the 1990s, under the Kennett government, patronage fell. People wouldn't use the system. The two things coming together - the explosion in our population, the biggest population boom in our state's history, and a doubling of petrol prices - has seen enormous pressure.

"So I'm very conscious of the pressure on families, of the congestion."

Mr Brumby said the fallout from the increased population - which was a central plank of Labor's bid to make Victoria more prosperous after being elected in 1999 - was being addressed.

He also made it clear that roads would form a centrepiece of any transport package later this year, because of the extraordinary reliance on cars in the outer suburbs.

There would be short-, medium- and long-term responses to the Eddington report on easing east-west congestion in Melbourne and to broader transport issues.

Of big projects such as road or rail tunnels, he said: "You can still look at a number of years before you actually get a shovel in the ground."


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