Growing communities straining, ‘overlooked by government’, report finds

A new report has highlighted economic, mental health and infrastructure issues for some of the nation’s largest growth areas, with an advocacy group calling for the creation of a dedicated minister.

The National Growth Areas Alliance (NGAA), representing the interests of 5.2 million residents of outer metropolitan growth areas, published new findings based on 80,000 interviews this week. 

The NGO reported that since the pandemic, one in five (21%) outer suburbs residents said they were living in a ‘financial survival mode’. 

More than half (51%) of survey respondents said they were struggling to pay at least one bill — the figure growing to 64% for those respondents aged under 40 years.

NGAA CEO Bronwen Clark said report findings showed the government consistently overlooked communities and areas that were well placed to support the recovery of the Australian economy.

“Our outer suburbs are home to the most essential workers and faced the strictest lockdowns,” Clark said.

“These are the communities that saw us through the pandemic and to date governments have failed to understand their needs. 

“Now, governments must join the dots between high COVID rates, high outbreak risk factors and the lag in social infrastructure in fast-growing outer suburbs,” she said. 

According to the NGAA, the number of 5.2 million residents who comprise the population of outer suburbs in Australia is growing at twice the national average. This burgeoning development and the acute issues the growing populations faced were sufficient reasons to appoint a minister who is responsible for growth areas, Clark said.

“COVID-19 has shown that Australia’s economic prosperity depends heavily on our vast growth areas workforce.

“It’s now critical that a minister for growth areas be appointed to lead an urgent national response to growth area inequities and COVID-19 recovery,” Clark said.

The NGAA argues that one of the top priorities for a new minister of growth areas should be to create local industry hubs that would generate jobs for available workforces. Doing so would relieve traffic of those driving into work in the CBD, and also help to alleviate mental health issues among residents of these areas, the advocacy group added.

​​“The outer suburbs are home to a big workforce that commutes into CBDs while their local economies are well placed for strong economic and jobs growth,” Clark said. 

The report found that people living in growth areas were more likely to feel stressed (by an additional 3%), frustrated (by 2%) and anxious (by 2%) than the national averages.

Clark also noted that less than half of the residents in growth areas reported accessing mental health support in the last year, with 46% reporting that they sought help compared with 52% of the national average.

“This is fuelled by a lack of mental health services, with caseloads of some growth area providers being twice the national average. Government must step up with funding for these vital services,” she said.


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