Census shows we're anything by typical
By Alex Easton
THE idea that the Northern Rivers is one of the fastest growing parts of Australia has been exposed as a myth by new Census figures.
The new figures show regional growth in line with the national figure of 5.8 per cent. However, even bigger surprises were contained within local figures for some of the region's main communities.
Byron Bay, long perceived as one of the region's hot-spots, actually had a slight drop in population between the 2001 and 2006 censuses, while Ballina's growth rate, including Lennox Head and Tintenbar, clicked in at only 2.8 per cent, below the NSW average of 3.5 per cent.
Casino emerged as the Northern Rivers' boom town, growing 5.8 per cent between 2001 and 2006.
Byron Shire Mayor Jan Barham blamed the growth in holiday letting for Byron Bay's 0.14 per cent population drop, saying permanent residents were no longer able to stay in properties turned over to the tourist market.
Principal of Byron Bay First National real estate agency, Chris Hanley, attributed the lack of change in the town's population to the development moratorium, which was lifted last year but which he said stopped any real residential housing growth in the key areas of Suffolk Park, Byron Hills and Sunrise.
However, demographer Bernard Salt threw water over the Census figures, saying they did not give a reliable picture of population change in the region.
"I don't accept those coastal communities particularly Ballina haven't increased substantially over that time frame," Mr Salt said.
Mr Salt said the fact the Census was done over a single night in August meant it was exposed to heavy skewing from people who were out of the area at the time the Census was taken.
A more reliable measure of population change was the 'estimated residential population' index, variations of which were used as alternatives to Census data in Australia, New Zealand and the US, and which would show big growth along the Northern Rivers coast.
A delighted Richmond Valley mayor Charlie Cox said the figures proved the council's arguments that Casino was now a growth town.
"This is great news for us," Cr Cox said.
"It backs up what we've been saying: That there's great potential around here."
Cr Cox said jobs growth in Casino, combined with its comparative affordability and the rural lifestyle it offered was helping to pull new residents in from the coast.
That growth would only accelerate as Casino continued to grow with new industries and developments lining up to get into the town.
However, if growth along the coast was slow now, it was unlikely to remain so for long, he said.
Cr Cox said improvements to the Pacific Highway meant Queenslanders were already venturing as far south as Evans Head for day trips.
As the upgrades continued those day-trippers would begin moving to the Northern Rivers coastal towns with the intention of commuting to work in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast.