McPherson at a glance
If you walk through the streets of Robina and Varsity Lakes or flip through the glossy pages of development and investment brochures, what you’ll see is an area growing quickly, and trying to do it as glamorously as possible.
The streets are filled with funky new warehouse-style townhouses and New York-style loft apartments, multi-storey state-of-the-art office buildings and a bustling food and coffee scene.
There’s talk of de-centralising the Gold Coast’s current CBD (Southport); Robina and Varsity are top drawcards for businesses looking to set up shop. The suburbs are home to major shopping centre Robina Town Centre, the 27,000 seat Cbus Super Stadium, Robina Hospital, Bond University and major train stations.
Robina and Varsity Lakes are two of the largest and most central suburbs in the McPherson electorate, which takes in 230 sq km from the New South Wales border in the south to Clear Island Waters and Merrimac in the north. It also includes the southern part of the Gold Coast tourist strip (Coolangatta, Tugun, Currumbin, Elanora, Palm Beach and Burleigh Heads), and the hinterland areas of Mudgeeraba, Currumbin Valley and Tallebudgera Valley.
The safe coalition seat (won by 13% in 2013) has been held by Liberal National Party MP Karen Andrews since 2010 and has been a Liberal or LNP seat since 1972.
Tourism and small business are key employers in the region, as are health and education. The biggest employers are cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (5.5 per cent of the workforce), followed by school education (4.9 per cent), hospitals (3.5 per cent), accommodation (2.6 per cent) and supermarket and grocery stores (2.4 per cent).
Former Gold Coast city councillor Jan Grew said that while Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach (both based in the Moncrieff electorate) were more obviously associated with Gold Coast tourism, it remained a strong concern for McPherson residents.
“Tourism is important to the entire Gold Coast,” Ms Grew said.
“With Robina Town Centre as one of the major shopping centres in the city, that is an attraction for tourists. Bond University has many international students and their parents and family visit the Gold Coast to visit them and enjoy the tourism experience. With Cbus stadium we get a lot of visitors from outside the city coming to the games and events at the stadium.”
More recently, McPherson has also become a hub for the Coast’s emerging creative and technology-based industries and there are plans in place to capitalise on this momentum to diversify the workforce. Silicone Lakes, a non-profit incubator for start-ups and entrepreneurs, is based in Robina and co-working spaces for creatives have popped up in offices and warehouses in Varsity Lakes and nearby Burleigh Heads.
It’s an opportunity that some say could also encourage new kinds of tourism. Mudgeeraba councillor Glenn Tozer is campaigning for a Gold Coast science and technology centre, which he believes would build on interest in the region generated by the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“Celebrating the intellect of our great city is a pursuit I’m passionate about, and science and technology play a critical part,” he says on his website.
“Complementing our beaches and theme parks, a Gold Coast Science & Technology Centre could truly diversify the character of the city, embracing local science themes like the ocean, bushland and volcanic caldera that created the spectacular hinterland – all enveloped by the dome of our amazing night sky," he said.
And yet, amidst the opportunities offered by growth and development, some of the electorate’s residents are finding it harder to make ends meet, as population growth puts pressure on rental accommodation - particularly keenly felt by the region’s students, pensioners and casual workforce.
The Gold Coast has maintained rapid population growth, and while it’s good news for the economy the issue of housing affordability is one many residents feel keenly. Rental prices are rising, but income levels aren’t rising to match.
According to the 2011 Census Quickstats, there are 141,071 people living in the McPherson electorate. For these people, the median weekly income is substantially lower than the Queensland and Australian median, yet the median weekly rent is substantially higher.
Senior Property Manager at LJ Hooker Robina, Victoria Lawrence, finds that supply versus demand is definitely a factor within rental prices.
“On average we are receiving 40-60 email enquiries within 48-72 hours of listing on the internet,” Ms Lawrence said.
“I would think at the moment any suburbs with three to four bedroom homes from $400-750pw would be getting the same strong enquiry.”
Bond University student Shinae Haidley is currently in the process of applying for a rental and has been finding it frustrating.
“Properties are advertised and then taken down in the course of a few hours,” Miss Haidley said.
“The most stressful part has been trying to refresh real estate websites to ensure that you’re the first to show interest in any properties and if you aren’t quick, your application will miss out to somebody who was.”
Full-time students, in particular, are finding it hard to find places to rent, as they don’t earn the kind of money that these rentals are asking for. According to the Census results, approximately 6.32 per cent of the McPherson population are enrolled in a tertiary or technical institution.
“Anything south of Surfers Paradise will cost more than any property in more northern suburbs such as Coomera and Pimpama,” said Miss Haidley.
The Census data states that the suburbs with the highest rent are Bonogin, Currumbin Valley and Robina, but Varsity Lakes and Mudgeeraba aren’t too far behind. Renting is competitive in these suburbs and anything at a lower price is gone within days.
Ray White Robina employees, Property Management Assistant Katrina Key and Katy Bryan of Business Development, find that the suburb can definitely contribute to higher rent.
“Presentation, area and the amount of competition in the area are the main contributors,” said Ms Bryan.
The Gold Coast’s fundamental challenge is whether to plan primarily for residents, for tourists, or both. Being both a domestic and international destination, tourism is a major economic base for the Gold Coast, which has been developed with this in mind. Pressure on infrastructure and resources comes not only from population growth, but also from visitors.
Future Gold Coast’s Beyond the Horizon report states that in 1981 the Gold Coast was Australia’s ninth largest city, with a population of 177,000. By 2013, it had become the sixth largest city, with a population of 605,000. These population numbers are set to keep expanding but due to the Gold Coast’s linear form, there is limited land available for accommodating an increasing population; therefore much of this new growth will have to be located in infill development.
The report states that over a 20-year period (2011 to 2031), the Gold Coast has planned for 320,000 new residents but only 130,000 new dwellings, two thirds of which are infill developments.
Organisations like Horizon Housing are helping people within these high price suburbs through the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS). A government-funded program, NRAS helps to facilitate housing at a maximum of 80% of the market rent.
Horizon Housing’s goal is to ensure their clients are “paying no more than 30% of their income in repayments or rent”. This is particularly good for areas like Robina, where the median rent is a third of the median income.
Similarly, YMCA Housing Queensland currently has more than 10,000 people on assisted accommodation waiting lists across Queensland, with the demand increasing daily.
As affordable housing pushes lower-income residents to the city’s outer suburbs, there is an increasing need for residents to commute by car to work and school.
According to the book The Gold Coast Transformed, an academic survey of the city’s development by 13 Bond University environmental scientists and town planners, the separation of housing from employment and education locations has led to a car-dependant culture on the Gold Coast.
Bond University student Annika Schütz has experienced this firsthand.
“It took me around four months to find somewhere to live, before finally finding a place in Coolangatta,” she said.
Her sharehouse in Coolangatta requires a commute to university; however, the suburb was appealing to Ms Schütz due to the cheaper rental prices.
Income and employment
Unemployment - and under-employment - are also issues of concern in McPherson.
The McPherson unemployment rate is at 7.3 per cent, compared to the rest of Queensland at 6.1 per cent. Most of the suburbs within McPherson boast a reasonable unemployment rate, but Coolangatta has an 11.2 per cent unemployment rate.
Of those that are employed, many are in part-time or casual work. Only 54.3 per cent of McPherson residents work full-time (the Queensland rate of full-time employment is 60 per cent), and the part-time employment rate of 33.1 per cent is significantly higher than the state and national rate, which sit at just over 28 per cent.