The face of our future
STATE government statistics show Bundaberg’s population will soar 35% in the next 21 years — and the median age will skyrocket from 41 to 47.
But economic development officers and the Bundaberg Regional Council are fighting a battle to prepare infrastructure and prevent the area from becoming another of “God’s waiting rooms”.
“The key is not just accepting that we have an ageing population, but we have to work to change that figure and attract the demographic we need,” Bundaberg Region Futures Program consultant Neil McPhillips said.
“Regional areas lose a substantial amount of our youths to the major cities, and the people who are coming back aren’t looking for $30,000 jobs, they’re looking for $60,000 jobs. We need to create those highly skilled jobs.”
He said one key factor was the ability to attract industries to the region.
“The Bundaberg Regional Council has done that by pursuing manufacturing and aviation opportunities,” he said.
“For example, we’ve seen Bundaberg Technology Park and a number of other manufacturing facilities moving into the region.”
According to figures from the Department of Infrastructure and Planning, the Bundaberg region’s population is expected to hit 96,196 next year, before rising to 130,548 by 2031 — and many of those people will be retirees.
But Bundaberg Region Mayor Lorraine Pyefinch said she was not convinced the median age for Bundaberg residents would rise as predicted.
“In the past few years, our declining birthrate has turned around and more families have started moving into the region,” she said.
“I think if anything, Bundaberg appeals to families more than ever because it is a safe, affordable place with great schools and sporting facilities — why would you live in the city when you could live here?”
However, she admitted more needed to be done to attract and retain youthful workers.
“I’d like to see all three levels of government work together in regional areas to provide employment opportunities,” she said.
“Our focus is on attracting people aged 25 to 55 years old, particularly working families. The airport redevelopment is a big drawcard for families as it opens up the Bundaberg region, and is also good for job opportunities.”
Federal Member for Hinkler Paul Neville said the population changes should be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat.
He suggested Bundaberg had potential to become known as a region that was highly specialised in aged care, given the right educational infrastructure.
“We should have a chair of Gerontology based at the university here, and offer post-graduate qualifications in aged care nursing,” he said.
However, he was concerned the number of aged care beds was not keeping pace with the ageing population.
“In a recent three-year period, the Wide Bay had 250 (aged care) hostel and nursing home beds allocated. But during that period, there was not one major development build to utilise those beds,” Mr Neville said.
“Developers report that the local government planning requirements are onerous and it is getting harder and harder for them.
“That needs to be looked at because it is holding back all sorts of developments from nursing homes to shopping centres.”
Mr Neville stressed the need of gated communities for over 55s.