Small light in peo­ple boom gloom

Pilbara News - - News - Tom Zaun­mayr and Sophia Con­stan­tine

An am­bi­tious plan to grow the Pil­bara pop­u­la­tion to more than 120,000 by 2035 is seem­ing far­fetched af­ter 2016 Cen­sus data re­vealed all but one lo­cal gov­ern­ment area is in de­cline.

The Shire of Ash­bur­ton was the one shin­ing light in an oth­er­wise lack­lus­tre pop­u­la­tion snap­shot for a re­gion hit hard by eco­nomic un­cer­tainty in the past three years.

Since 2011, Ash­bur­ton’s pop­u­la­tion has ex­ploded by about 3000 to 13,026.

That is in con­trast to the small Pil­bara-wide de­cline from 59,896 in 2011 to 59,559 in 2016.

WA Na­tion­als deputy leader Jac­qui Boy­dell said a fo­cus on get­ting re­source in­dus­try de­vel­op­ment right out of Onslow was lur­ing peo­ple to the Ash­bur­ton re­gion.

In 2009, the State Gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced the Pil­bara Cities plan, along with a push to grow the City of Kar­ratha and Town of Port Hed­land’s pop­u­la­tion to 50,000 each, and New­man’s to 15,000, by 2035.

While the 2016 Cen­sus re­sult showed the re­gion was far from the mass ex­o­dus some naysay­ers had been preach­ing, it did high­light how far it was from the Pil­bara Cities pop­u­la­tion goal.

A to­tal of 21,473 peo­ple were recorded in the City of Kar­ratha, down 1426 from 2011.

Pil­bara MLA Kevin Michel said the re­gion needed a strong fo­cus on grow­ing in­dus­tries other than min­ing to reach the Pil­bara Cities goal.

“I think if we keep push­ing in­dus­try and start di­ver­si­fy­ing into agri­cul­ture and tourism , it is a pos­si­bil­ity.

“Hope­fully for New­man, we can present Kar­i­jini bet­ter, but they re­ally have to look else­where be­yond min­ing.”

City of Kar­ratha Mayor Peter Long said the Pil­bara’s im­por­tance to the na­tional econ­omy would en­sure it con­tin­ued to grow.

“The amount of cars parked out­side the shop­ping cen­tre any day of the week th­ese days is what we used to only see at Christ­mas time,” he said. “I think we will reach 50,000. Whether it’s by 2035 or 2050, I don’t know.

“We are going to be im­por­tant to the na­tion for the next 100 years at least and steady growth is bet­ter for us than the con­struc­tion boom and bust.”

Mr Long said the pol­icy to push de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion and in­creas­ing the de­fence pres­ence in the Pil­bara could help the re­gion.

Ms Boy­dell said de­spite the small de­cline, the re­sult was proof of the suc­cess of Roy­al­ties for Re­gions in­vest­ment in the Pil­bara.

“Going back to 2008 . . . there were peo­ple com­ing here for short­term itin­er­ant em­ploy­ment seeking a quick buck, never con­sid­er­ing it as a com­mu­nity they wanted to ded­i­cate fam­ily to,” she said.

“The in­ten­tion of Pil­bara Cities was to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where fam­i­lies and young peo­ple . . . want to live.

In the Town of Port Hed­land, 14,469 res­i­dents were recorded, down from 15,046 in 2011.

Mayor Camilo Blanco said he was happy with the re­sults.

“Our ac­tual pop­u­la­tion will be more than the Cen­sus has in­di­cated,” he said. “It shows we’re not los­ing our pop­u­la­tion as every­one seems to think we are.”

Of more con­cern is the East Pil­bara and New­man.

New­man’s pop­u­la­tion has shrunk by 38 per cent to 4567 since 2011, and the East Pil­bara is down from 11,950 to 10,591.

Mr Michel said he would travel to New­man at the end of the month to talk with BHP, schools and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment to dis­cuss how the town can move for­ward.

Pic­ture: Tom Zaun­mayr

The City of Kar­ratha at night with the Leisure­plex lit up be­neath the hills in the fore­ground.

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