Monday, February 28, 2011

Dispelling the Myth that a Growing Population Drives Prosperity

The release of the Sustainable Population Strategy Issues Paper in December last year was a welcome step forward in the national debate we need to have about Australia’s growing population, and I have responded with a detailed submission outlining my views on the issue and advancing my population reform strategy.

The Third Intergenerational Report, Australia to 2050: future challenges, projected that Australia’s population will reach 36 million by 2050. It is my view that this population projection for Australia is too high and unsustainable. If this is allowed to happen it will have devastating effects on our ability to tackle climate change and protect our unique wildlife and ecosystems. It would exacerbate the diseconomies of scale of overcrowded cities, transport congestion, declining water supplies and housing affordability. It will condemn many to long-term unemployment and underemployment as we flood our economy with overseas labour while neglecting our obligation to train young Australians.

I am of the strong belief that Australia must be moving to stabilise its population in order to secure its social, environmental and economic future. I have released a 14 Point Population Reform Paper plan to stabilise Australia’s population by 2050 which includes the net overseas migration rate being reduced to 70,000.

Unfortunately the Issues Paper by the Productivity and Prosperity Panel shows no understanding of the downside of a Big Australia, and trots out all the discredited old myths about the alleged advantages of population growth. They say it is a myth that Australia can avoid a bigger population.

It is nonsense to imply that we can never stabilise our population. Australia’s population increase is being driven by net overseas migration, and that is entirely a matter of government policy. Population growth is not inevitable.

It is time for the Australian Government and policy makers to take steps to stabilise the nation’s population.  We need better than the ‘she’ll be right’ growth fetish which is making an utter mockery of our obligation to give to our children a nation in as good a condition as the one our parents gave to us.


  1. The touted "prosperity" is an euphemism for a bigger economy. The wealth creation is for the business elite not for the general public. We have an increasingly polarized society of the increasing number of poor and the rich with privileges and government support. Governments are becoming patronised by the wealthy due to their financial support through policial donations. Prices are increasing, and families are suffering. Australia used to be rich back in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Population growth brings economic stress and poverty. What we need is a break from the addiction to growth - which will have some costs - to a stable, sustainable economy.

  2. On page 11 of the "issues paper" we see them touting crowded population densities of foreign cities and then crowing about how they can "cleverly" achieve high densities in Australia, without significant loss of biodiversity and so forth.

    But why create the crowding in the first place?

    I fear these folks may not be so "clever" after all. They fail to appreciate the crowded city really extends over a hugely greater area from which it draws resources... see: "A Scientist in the City" by James Trefil.

  3. Well said Milly. Thank goodness for you and Kelvin. Paul Keating said 20 years ago that property developers should be banned from making political donations. Retailers, and others married to growth economics should be added to the list. They corrupt the policy-making process. We are destroying the delicate Australian environment and choking our cities to make wicked people wealthy. It must stop now.

  4. I love the way they claim Australia can have X many more millions of people, invoking dirty, overcrowded strife-torn countries as proof.

    We have already moved into over-population and need to pull back as a matter of urgency.

    Very pleased to see how Kevin condemed the out of control skilled immigration scheme and middle-class welfare aimed at families... to avoid the racism finger-pointing, population criticism must be at ALL population growth measures, not just immigration.

  5. Perhaps, before population debates even begin, the first points to clarify are exactly what is an Australian "standard of living" and the role played by the distribution of "wealth" and its disparities.

  6. Mary raises an important point. The "distribution of wealth" deserves serious consideration. One should not underestimate the role that population plays in determining the distribution of wealth. Overpopulated nations with low per capita wealth are often terribly inequitable (eg Haiti). Paul Colinvaux "Fates of Nations" gives the best generalized analysis I know of. Has there been a serious analysis done for Australia?

    Of course it also possible for a wealthy nation to be inequitable when the psychopaths are in charge (eg Ghaddafi and Libya).