Boldly growing Tasmania’s population is an imperative

Tasmania has never been cooler! Tourists are flocking here in record numbers, net interstate migration is positive, and our population is growing at its fastest annual growth rate in six years (increasing by 0.6 per cent from March 2016 to March 2017).  This rate is only slightly less than the 0.7 per cent average growth needed to hit the Government’s target of 650,000 people by 2050.

However, this population increase is not uniform across the State. Reflecting economic circumstances it is predominately driven by the South, with population declines in the North West.

Net interstate migration has been almost consistently positive since 2015 after being negative for almost five years. Further, the size of overseas migration, which is over twice the size of interstate migration, is currently at a seven year high. These are a great set of numbers for Tasmania – or are they?

ABS data from the 2016 Census shows Tasmania’s population is, as is well reported, older than the average Australian population and with the largest increase in median age between 2006 and 2016 (up from 38.9 to 42.0 years).

Our aged population brings opportunity as well as challenges. Recently we have seen an increase in the labour force participation rate of older Tasmanians. Over 50s also spend differently to the rest of the community, are wealthy in historic terms, are living longer and will require healthcare. Some businesses will embrace this and prosper from opportunities in residential aged care, preventable health and wellness, luxury retirement, and retirement experiences.

However, while our population has grown from around 446,000 in 1986 to close to 520,000 now, we actually have less 15 to 34 year olds than we did in 1986. Not just a few less, but 22,000 less.

This demographic anomaly is a legacy of the 1990s. Starting in 1991 at the time of Australia’s last recession and ending in 2000, the 15-34 age bracket fell by almost 25,000. During this time, thousands of young people left the State to seek opportunities elsewhere. Fewer 15-34s growing older is also why Tasmania’s 35-44 age cohort started to decline in 1998 – and is still falling today.

Fewer younger people means not only less workers, but fewer people raising new ideas, challenging the norm, taking risks and developing into entrepreneurs.

So this decline in workers in these age brackets is of more concern than the aged population.

However, there is good news. The 25-34 age bracket has been increasing for the past 10 years. Accelerating and capitalising on this positive trend by attracting younger, skilled migrants can deliver benefits for the economic growth drivers of participation, productivity and population.

We want young families to come to, or back to, Tasmania. We believe Tasmania should aggressively target families in NSW, Victoria and overseas to relocate here.

People from NSW are not only visiting here in droves (up 13% to 30 June 2017), they have an increased willingness to move as evidenced by NSW having negative net interstate migration. Opportunities also exist with Victorians (442,000 of whom visited Tasmanian to 30 June 2017) as Victoria is becoming increasingly overcrowded with its population growing in one week the equivalent of Tasmania’s annual growth.

To attract them here we need to address our housing challenges, improve education outcomes, undertake urban planning, and sell the benefits of Tasmania – lifestyle, clean, green, and safe. Our lifestyle is enviable so let’s aggressively target young families in these two states who spend their life in traffic and who can’t afford to live near the city.

Let’s also be bold with international students and overseas migration. You do not have to look too far in Tasmania to hear about international students staying or investing here, or wonderful migrant success story like Josef Chromy or DeBruyn’s transport. People who moved here, worked hard and now employ hundreds of Tasmanians and generate substantial economic activity in the state.

To fully understand just who we should be targeting, we need to consider the future of work and what industries will be the backbone of our economy. We should target these growth industries – agribusiness, education, tourism, healthcare, professional and IT, renewable energy and creative industries. We should also target people in roles where we currently have a skills shortage such as construction workers, nurses and chefs.

When we grow our population we also need to ensure our strategy considers how disadvantaged Tasmanians can benefit from the growth, rather than just ending up under more duress (e.g. through higher housing or rental costs).

We need to address the current housing issues, enhance education outcomes and undertake infrastructure planning to enable Tasmania to be bold and really shift the dial on smart migration of working families in Victoria, NSW and overseas to Tasmania in sectors of need and future growth.

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