The Australian Bureau of Statistics' failure to get its estimate of the ACT's population right is a lot more serious than just a simple rounding error.
Data from the 2021 census has revealed the bureau missed the mark by a whopping five per cent, or almost 21,000 people. 454,499 people call Canberra home; not the 430,000 odd the federal government has been giving us credit for. To put that into perspective, the discrepancy is almost equivalent to the population of Armidale (24,500).
The ramifications of this mistake are widespread and far reaching. First of all, it means the ACT has been receiving five per cent less of the GST take than what is actually entitled to. That, coupled with the well known indifference of the former Coalition government to investing in this city, means Canberrans have been short-changed at least twice over.
It is understood that the loss in GST revenue alone has cost the ACT hundreds of millions of dollars over a five-year period.
The error has also flowed through to the projections used by the ACT government in its planning for new schools, hospitals, transport networks, and other community infrastructure. The government also says it has contributed to a miscalculation in the demand for new housing.
While the ACT government should not be let off the hook over its failure to better manage land release over many years, certainly a miscount of people arriving into the territory doesn't help an already dire situation.
The proof of this is not hard to find with 7400 prospective buyers registering to take part in a recent land ballot for just 51 blocks. That's odds of 145 to one.
And, equally importantly given the ongoing debate over territory rights and voluntary assisted dying, there is also the issue of representation in the Senate and, a bit further down the track, in the lower house.
In addition to seeking redress for the underpayment of GST Chief Minister Andrew Barr has indicated it "may be appropriate" for a "modest increase" in the number of territory senators from two to four.
While still far short of Tasmania's representation of 12 senators for a population of 557,571, that would be lot closer to the principle of "one vote, one value" espoused by the Prime Minister and which is the cornerstone of any functioning democracy.
Under the current legislation the ACT won't be eligible to get extra senators until the population reaches the point at which an argument can be made for doubling the number of lower house members from three to six. That is going to be a very long time coming.
An increase in the number of senators, as suggested by Mr Barr, would also have the benefit of ensuring the more than one in five Canberrans who voted for the Liberals at the May 21 election would have representation in Federal Parliament. It would also benefit the Greens who would likely have the numbers to snatch a fourth Senate spot.
And, best of all, Canberra would finally have some serious clout at the federal level, especially if there is a significant crossbench controlling the balance of power.
While Mr Barr is going to face an uphill battle in trying to induce Treasurer Jim Chalmers to cough up some of the revenue this city has missed out on, the Chief Minister has indicated he will be giving it a go.
The trouble is that with a cost of living crisis, the mother of all budget deficits and national debts, and an energy emergency, the new government has an empty cookie jar, not a magic pudding.
The only good news in this mess is that the ABS, which has neither explained or expressed regret for its error, has now updated its population estimate to reflect the true state of affairs.
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