In June 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard famously said: “Australia should not hurtle down the track towards a big population.” She was distancing herself from her predecessor Kevin Rudd who had famously said on ABC TVs 7.30 Report that he believed in a “Big Australia”, of 36 million by 2050.

It's getting a bit squashy

Ms Gillard then indicated she would be putting the brakes on immigration. “We need to stop, take a breath and develop policies for a sustainable Australia.” Bravo Julia, we said at the time.

Figures just released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tor the year ending March 2012, however, suggest that we are indeed hurtling down the track to a Big Australia.

The overall population growth rate of 1.5 per cent is up from 1.4 per cent. The increase is largely due to a rise in net overseas migration, 197,200 people -18 per cent higher than that for March 2011.

So much for “putting the brakes on immigration.”

Australia’s population increased by 331,200 people in one year to reach 22.6 million people in March – the 23 million milestone will be reached later this year. This was the figure that the Academy of Science agreed in 1994 was a safe upper limit for Australia’s population. Given we are now growing by a million people every three years, we will only be enjoying that ‘safe upper limit’ until 2015.

But we have probably exceeded it already. The State of Environment report that was tabled in the Australian Parliament last December, painted a bleak picture and cited population growth as a driver of environmental decline.

While its authors said the situation could be turned around, there is little indication, with the possible exception of the clean energy package, that we are doing so. If population growth is a driver of environmental decline, the latest figures from ABS suggest we are putting the foot on the accelerator, rather than the brake.

A growth rate of 1.5 per cent is very high by OECD standards. Few countries are over 1 per cent and most are below, some with virtually zero population growth. If you look at the world rankings, apart from oil rich states, the highest population growth rate countries are also the poorest: Niger, Uganda, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Timor-Leste. It’s not a good direction to be heading.

Australia may have iron ore, coal and natural gas resources, the exports of which are making us temporarily rich. But if we keep growing at 1.5 per cent, we will double the population to 45 million by 2060 and will have passed that 36 million figure well before mid-century.

Will there be minerals to export then to maintain our population? Probably not. Solar energy is expected to have parity with coal by 2020 so coal-importing countries are unlikely to want much after that. Let us hope so for the sake of the atmosphere at least. Australian coal exports are helping to cook the planet.

The US author Richard Heinberg is touring Australia at the moment, speaking to his latest book: The End of Growth. He warns that the combined effect of higher oil prices, the debt bubble and climate change are bringing an end to economic growth as we know it.

Energy alone may cause it to end with production of conventional oil supplies peaking around 2005. Supplies are only being maintained by expensive unconventional oil such as from tar sands, ultra-deep water and from ‘tight’ oil that requires fracking.

Some analysts predict oil prices will double to $200/barrel by 2020. Given the Global Financial Crisis was partly precipitated by oil prices of $147/barrel, we can expect the economy to go into a tailspin with a doubling of price.

It is climate change, however, that is the most worrying. With trend lines suggesting the Arctic will be ice free as early as September 2015, positive feedback mechanisms will be set off causing further warming. We are likely to go to 3.5o C. warming at least, which will wipe out agriculture from much of the Australian mainland.

Even without the converging crises of debt bubbles bursting, peak oil and climate change, however, the simple fact remains that if more and more people are to be provided for in this country, whether migrant or native-born, money has to be spent on infrastructure.

Assuming schools, buses, trains and hospitals have to be replaced every 50 years on average, it means two per cent of the value of all infrastructure must be allocated from income each year just to
maintain infrastructure for a stable non-growing population.

There is an infrastructure backlog right now that manifests itself in inflated housing prices, congested roads and long waiting times. Add a third of a million people every year and it all gets just that much harder to deal with it.

We are entering a period of uncertainty. The future will not be like the past. We need to keep our doors open a little to welcome the most desperate people in need of refuge, but we simply cannot sustain net migration levels of nearly 200,000.

We have to adopt policies “for a sustainable Australia” as Julia Gillard once said but, on the population front at least, we are going in the wrong direction.

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    • Ironside says:

      03:10pm | 28/09/12

      Oh come on you don’t mean to tell me that Gillard said something popular to get the media and opposition to drop a topic and then did the complete opposite? She wouldn’t do that surely?

    • Super D says:

      03:13pm | 28/09/12

      But that was said before the election so doesn’t count. Don’t make the mistake of confusing a vote grabbing exercise with an actual policy.

    • St. Michael says:

      03:21pm | 28/09/12

      “We are entering a period of uncertainty. The future will not be like the past.”

      And yet you claim with Cassandrian certainty the likelihood of doom for the planet despite the fact your predictions for disaster rest entirely on the past.

      Reverend Malthus would like to talk to you.

    • AdamC says:

      03:43pm | 28/09/12

      For how many centuries does a theory have to be wrong for people to start accepting that the word is not heading for catastrophe?

    • St. Michael says:

      05:25pm | 28/09/12

      Let me finish reading the Book of Revelations, and I’ll get back to you. wink

    • St.JamestheUnbeliever says:

      06:23pm | 28/09/12

      St.Michael - the author probably doesn’t even know this view is hundreds of years old and has been rejected on numerous occasions on logical and factual grounds. I’m sure people who write this stuff think its new and insightful.

    • Dry Liberal says:

      03:32pm | 28/09/12

      I’m sick of this Xenophobia masquarading as Chicken-little doomsday-ism. Whenever this topic gets raised, we have all the negative-nellies coming out of their crank-hovels to shake their heads and tut-tut about the “dire predicament” of having a larger population in our country.

      To put it into perspective, Australia is the least and most sparsely populated Continent on the planet. Australia, with a land area of 7,617,930 square kilometres, is positively empty with only 23 M ppl occupying it. In comparison, France, one of the most environmentally sustainable countries on Earth, has almost 3 times the population (64 M ppl), in less than one tenth the area (547,030 km2)!

      We ought to be proud our Country is growing healthily like it is! What these negative-nellie chicken-little dooms-day shrieksters inexplicably fail to understand is that every new addition to our population adds net potential to our wealth and power.

      While the author laments that population growth necessitates new infrastructure to be built, I rejoice about it! Because see possibilities, I’m a big-picture type of thinker.

      So we’ll have bigger cities… Awesome! Now we can justify cool public transport infrastructure like subways and high-speed rail links between our 5 major capital cities.

      So we’ll have more migrant workers… Awesome! Now we can undertake big projects like the Snowy river hydro scheme again, perhaps a network of Dams in the tropical north and a series of pipes running inland into the interior to create a huge inland sea and irrigate the desert.

      I long for the day when Australia is a real world power, 50 Million strong, a real player on the world stage, and certainly in our region. Our closest neighbour has like 250 Million people for God’s sake! On archipelago of a handful of tiny islands! I hardly see how a little bit of healthy growth in the most sparsely populated habitable continent on Earth is really such a disaster…

    • pete says:

      03:34pm | 28/09/12

      Written and authorised by Woolworths, Westfarmers, The Big Four Banks, Harvey Norman and property developers & real estate agents everywhere.

    • Babylon says:

      03:48pm | 28/09/12

      Thats because most of Australia is uninhabitable.

      Consider those areas of habitation and you will see crushing issues of infrastructure, health care stretched to the limit, housing shortage, urban sprawl concreting over flood plains and valuable Farmland.

      The Age reported last year we received 341,000 new people, but that oddly enough 222,000 were just ‘sitting there’ even though they were eligible for work or unemployment benefits.

      Like the UK, would you have 2 year waiting list for operations? And an 8 month waiting list for a Consultant appointment? Would you advocate chronic inner city crime and 40 percent of our GDP going to Benefits? Are you in favour of building on valuable farmland at a rate of 1 house every 7 minutes?

      Now that the Gillard Government has destroyed the Mining Boom and some experts are forecasting recession for Australia in 2013, the Big Australia is a suicide mission of mammoth proportions.

      I noticed you used the Old UK Labour ‘discussion crush card’ of racism “Xenophobia” . Do you realise that the Labour Party has recently apologised for crushing debate on Border Control and national security as racist? Do you know that the second biggest issue for all Britons of any colour is Immigration? Do you understand that One Third of the migrants coming into Australia are white?

      Some 64 percent of the UK want to leave, emigrate because it’s so overcrowded and poor life quality. Would you deliver this misery on all Australians who’ve come here for a better life?

      Of course not.

      No dis-respect to you’re grasp of Geography.

    • Ironside says:

      04:03pm | 28/09/12

      mate using people per square kilometer as a measure of sustainable population fails on so many levels that its just not funny. By that measure Antarctica could sustain a similar population to the united states. There are vast tracks of Australia that are for all intents an purposes uninhabitable, and because of that all of our water is concentrated in a relatively small area. Even discounting man made infrastructure Australia only has a finite amount of potable water and suitable farmland and this more than anything else puts a hard limit on our sustainable maximum population advances in technology will increase that maximum but you will never be able to sustain a significantly larger population.

    • Cynicised says:

      04:09pm | 28/09/12

      Why is it sparsely populated? Could that have something to do with the fact that 2/3rds of it is freaking desert, with an intermittent and unstable water supply? Not forgetting little things like friable soils unsuitable for agriculture in vast areas. Then there’s the massive distances which need to be covered which lack infrastructure, because no-one is prepared to spend the development money on an uncertain outcome. We cannot force immigrants to settle our remote areas, so most of them gravitate to the cities. Bigger and bigger cities aren’t going to make this a more pleasant place to live in the future.

      Big Australia is dumb and short-sighted. Why do we  need to be a “big player” in the world? As far as I can tell, vast economies and vast populations like America’s  only lead to more problems, more exploitation and depletion of natural resources and more habitat destruction. Ours is an ancient continent with a delicate ecological balance. I would hate to have to explain to my grandchildren why all the koalas are gone (which isn’t far from the truth already.)

    • Mayday says:

      04:09pm | 28/09/12

      “It is quality rather than quantity that matters.” ? Seneca.

    • sam says:

      04:11pm | 28/09/12

      What an incredibly immature and abhorrent perspective. You must be trolling.

    • Get rid of both parties says:

      04:24pm | 28/09/12

      @pete.

      Clever post.

      Populating Australia’s the dumbest thing any country has ever done in the history of humans.

      This Punch is far too important to be put up late on a long WE Friday.

      Please start or restart next week. This is THE most important discussion in Australia.

    • Tigger says:

      05:10pm | 28/09/12

      You’re seriously kidding yourself if you think that we will ever build infrastructure on the scale of the Snowy Mountains dam, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the rail network again. Will - not - happen. The age of infrastructure is over. Politicians just fiddle at the edges nowadays. Those huge cities you dream of will have to struggle by with basically the same roads and public transport they already have.

      Public building for the future is something we will never see again.

    • Brian says:

      06:34pm | 28/09/12

      Its funny that Australians love living in the city because of the ‘life’ of the place. Yet when city slickers start to feel a bit crowded they think the whole world is crowded. FFS there are only 3 people for every square km in the country yet there is a pic with the caption ‘Its getting a bit squashy’  You only have to get a few ks out of the city before people regard you as ‘living in the sticks’

    • Tonto says:

      06:40pm | 28/09/12

      Tigger

      NBN

      You were saying?

    • TChong says:

      03:34pm | 28/09/12

      22+ million does sound a hell of a lot, Sydney with 3 mil does at times seems to be straining the tack welding, but both seem insignificant when compared to China ,and India, where cities like Shanghai or Kalkata   have aprox the same number as our entire population, in 1 city.

      We can feed ourselves if we had to, by nationalising arable land from mining leases ( which in the hunter valley, and liverpool plains )covers many of thousands of hectares,as well as overseas interests( like cubbie station) , and commonwealth land.
      Failing that , I’m off to Broken Hill with me XB Cobra, shotgun and blue cattle dog.

    • George says:

      03:34pm | 28/09/12

      We certainly are, and have been for a long time. It will never end whilst people continue to put Liberal, Labor and the Greens in charge.

    • Bob the builder says:

      03:34pm | 28/09/12

      We don’t have a lack of energy. The whole mississippi valley has energy under the ground. Science and the price of oil were key now it has been solved. The environment will suffer we will adjust. Immigration will only change if the labor party goes back to the white australia policy, and I doubt that it will. We will be a country of 40 million plus in my lifetime. The environment will be worse but stuff will be cheaper as we will have a market big enough for people to compete in. All the immigrants that come will help our society and make us a part of the asian century. Jenny’s views are just those of the old european centric generation. Europe isn’t the centre of the world anymore no one cares about it and its ideas. So more over environmentalists get with the new asian century.

    • PittTheYounger says:

      03:36pm | 28/09/12

      “Solar energy is expected to have parity with coal by 2020”

      I’ll believe that when i see it!

    • andrew says:

      03:38pm | 28/09/12

      “Solar energy is expected to have parity with coal by 2020” - I highly doubt that. Can you provide a source please Jenny. Nuclear maybe but all the NIMBY’s are paranoid about that one.

      “Some analysts predict oil prices will double to $200/barrel by 2020.” Yes and some analysts were claiming we would be paying $2 a litre for petrol by christmas, and that was about 2005. It might happen, but it would take a combination of circumstances such as a weak US dollar, reduced output by the OPEC and probably a war in the middle east.

      The argument for a Big Australia is purely an economical one - by taking in vast numbers of young skilled migrants we can increase tax revenue to offset our ageing population. Of course the downside to this is that in 40 years time they will be retiring and we’ll have the same problems again, but simply on a larger scale.

      I disagree with the article’s sentiment that the primary argument against a Big Australia is to protect the environment, personally I don’t think anything Australia does will have a noticeable impact on climate change. I would suggest though that not all of us want to live in large cities in small high rise apartments, or the alternative commute on congested toll ways or public transport for an hour each way to get to work. Then when we get to the weekend some us us appreciate being able to go to a beach that does not resemble Bondi on a hot summers day, and may also like to have bushland nearby for recreations such as mountain biking or 4WD.

    • Blazes says:

      03:38pm | 28/09/12

      Immigration is only a small part of the broader demographic/social/population picture in Australia. The Government’s 2010 Intergenerational Report predicts that, at current fertility rates, the proportion of Australians over 65, which is 10% today, will grow to more than 20% by 2050. This would mean that the proportion of people of working age would fall, hurting economic growth and creating a fiscal gap. The report also says that as a result of ageing and the associated health/pension costs, Government revenue is projected to be 3% less than expenditure.

      Experts on population and family policy, like Jessica Brown, argue that only high fertility can slow the inevitable ageing of our population.

      The latest estimates of our fertility rate are around 1.9, well below the replacement rate of 2.1. To deal with our demographic problem, we need more children.

      Go forth and multiply!

    • Gregg says:

      03:49pm | 28/09/12

      I just love your optimism Jenny and on a Friday too.
      Oh well, grass should still be green for the grand finals and up at Mount Panorama for next weekend or slightly less green there.

    • Gregg says:

      04:09pm | 28/09/12

      @Dry Liberal,
      It’s Friday so go and have a drink!, quite a few in fact.
      ” To put it into perspective, Australia is the least and most sparsely populated Continent on the planet. Australia, with a land area of 7,617,930 square kilometres, is positively empty with only 23 M ppl occupying it. In comparison, France, one of the most environmentally sustainable countries on Earth, has almost 3 times the population (64 M ppl), in less than one tenth the area (547,030 km2)! “
      And you need to consider rainfall and the irregularity of it too.

      ” We ought to be proud our Country is growing healthily like it is! What these negative-nellie chicken-little dooms-day shrieksters inexplicably fail to understand is that every new addition to our population adds net potential to our wealth and power. “
      And potential it may only be too without the country having a sustainable employment situation for then many more on welfare will just cripple the country more than is happening already.

      ” While the author laments that population growth necessitates new infrastructure to be built, I rejoice about it! Because see possibilities, I’m a big-picture type of thinker. “
      And so big picture type guy, where do you think the income for the nation will come from long term?

      ” So we’ll have bigger cities… Awesome! Now we can justify cool public transport infrastructure like subways and high-speed rail links between our 5 major capital cities. “
      Awesome, cities clogged and polluted more than they are already.
      Where will the money come from for developing infrastructure?

      ” healthy growth in the most sparsely populated habitable continent on Earth is really such a disaster…”
      Just in case you haven’t checked an atlas or google earth, Australia is also the driest inhabited continent with somewhere about 80% inhabitable, half of that which is only marginally so.

      Dams in the north will be OK for some of the year and there is a very high evaporation factor at other times and then costs of pumping what is available will not be so cheap.

      If we are to get serious about forever increasing populations and new type Snowy schemes, we also need to be serious about telling people where they will decentralise to and having many people accept that they may have to work for lower wages and I cannot see that happening anytime too soon.

      You need to put some research and planning into your pipe dream.

    • Troy Flynn says:

      04:11pm | 28/09/12

      “I long for the day when Australia is a real world power, 50 Million strong, a real player on the world stage, and certainly in our region. Our closest neighbour has like 250 Million people for God’s sake! On archipelago of a handful of tiny islands! I hardly see how a little bit of healthy growth in the most sparsely populated habitable continent on Earth is really such a disaster…”

      And how many of those 250 million people live below the poverty line? 12.5% in 2011 according to the world bank. That’s 31.25 million people. I’m sure those people are happy trying to live on less than a dollar a day.

    • Babylon says:

      04:32pm | 28/09/12

      Ed Balls UK Labor MP

      “Labour’s immigration policy had led to the British worker having to accept lower pay and worse conditions.”

      Ed Balls admitted that the people of Britain have every right to say: ‘But look what it’s doing to my community, my child’s prospects, our housing queues.’ And to say it without a Labour Prime Minister dismissing them as bigoted. Another Labour leader, Andy Burnham, also claimed Labour was ‘in denial’ over immigration.

      It’s too late for the UK Labour Party to say sorry, like they have done. Unlike a Labor Government deficit, you cannot reverse Mass Immigration.

      Ordinary Britons, many of them former immigrants themselves, find themselves in competition with recent arrivals on every level., for example, having a Baby on the NHS.

      Pakistani youths in Oldham have gone as far as to ring immigration officers to complain they have been sacked and their job given to the more recent arrival and cheaper resource from Karachi.

      As for the White Britons, a Left-leaning think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research said opponents of Labour’s immigration policy were ‘nasty, stupid and backward’.

      Labour was able to push 4 million immigrants through UK borders, swiping any objections with an accusation of racism, even though the majority of migrants were white from Eastern europe?

      Ironically, the benefits of Labours massive glut of desperate cheap labour in Britain is the upper classes, whom now could afford services formally out of their reach, cleaners, gardeners etc and the Big Employers that could now indulge in taking liberties with their threatened resources.

      The easiest way to enter Australia is through a 457 Visa or a Student visa. In response to 45,000 jobs created by the Mining boom in WA, the Government signed in 18,000 migrants on temporary 457 visas to take those jobs. Students can get signed in for up to 5 years on pointless VoC courses.

      The UK Labour Party argued that mass immigration was needed to pay for pensions and that there were other economic benefits. But an independent report showed that the benefit of immigration to the UK nation was only 58 pence per week per person, because migrants themselves needed pensions, services, housing and new infrastructure.

      Tim Colebatch reported in the Age (July 13 2012), that in one year Australia received 341,000 new arrivals of working age, but that 222,000 are just ‘sitting there’, nether registered unemployed or working. In that same year, only 104,000 jobs were created.

      Let us learn from the UK and instigate controlled immigration, what goes out can come in.

      We are heading for hard economic times now, we need to instigate controls and consolidate the good we’ve got.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1361670/UK-immigration-Labours-secret-reports-stayed-long.html

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2162970/Ed-Miliband-Labour-leader-admits-talking-immigration-isnt-racist.html

    • Lance says:

      04:39pm | 28/09/12

      I am more concerned about the type of immigration, and where we are taking people from.  In Australia we embrace secularism (the separation of religion and government), though an increasing number of people migrating to Australia come from countries where secularism is a dirty word… mostly Islamic countries. The problem is that a lot of these people bring their problems and hatreds with them, as we can see with the recent Sydney riots. 

      The issue isn’t HOW many we are letting in, it’s WHO we are letting in. France has shown us that once the Muslim population reaches around 10% in a non-muslim country that things can get ugly. We may be looking at our future when we look at France and all the problems they are experiencing. I would like to think of a future Australia as still being a tolerant and relatively peaceful nation decades down the track.

    • Gordon says:

      04:47pm | 28/09/12

      Well Jenny, you may be right, and when Tasmania becomes the most succesful state in the Commonwealth, subsidising the rest of us from the output of the central department of public eco-sustainable photovoltaic ecotourism, I will be the first to admit that turning an erstwhile forward-looking optimistic country into a frightened nimbyish little nook was a good idea.  I recommend a visit to China as an antidote to your feelings of the world hurtling to some abyss.

    • Super D says:

      04:48pm | 28/09/12

      If we are prepared to build nuclear reactors and a lot of desalination plants there is no reason why the population couldn’t be 200m. I mean it wouldn’t be very nice for most people but lets not pretend it isn’t possible.

    • Babylon says:

      04:50pm | 28/09/12

      I’ve always held that the Gillard Government is a clone in every respect of the UK Labour Government under Blair and Brown. Currently we are at UK year 2004 in the policy calendar.

      I’m expecting an announcement that Mass Immigration adds millions to the economy and is necessary for pensions, as they did in the UK, only for that flawed report to be shot down after it was too late.

      The only major inquiry ever conducted in the UK was carried out by the Select Committee on Economic Affairs of the House of Lords in 2007/08. In April 2008 they reported that “We have found no evidence for the argument, made by the government, business and many others, that net immigration - immigration minus emigration - generates significant economic benefits for the existing UK population.”

      The Components of UK Labours mass immigration were:
      1. Economic Migration
      2. Family Reunion
      3. Asylum
      4. Students

      Sound familiar?

      The UK Labour Parties policy of Mass Immigration has lowered wages, reduced standards of living and created unemployment and social issues.

      That there is no benefit to Mass Immigration is born out by the fact that 25 percent of Britain’s want to emigrate, citing Australia as the preferred destination. The main reason for leaving is poor living standards.

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-398856/One-young-Britons-want-emigrate.html

      Of course there should be immigration. I am quite happy to see faces in Australia change. Perhaps even choosing specific countries like China or India to recruit immigrants from, but going for talent and using a Balance Immigration approach of what is going out can come in.

    • Get rid of both parties says:

      06:39pm | 28/09/12

      Can we do this article again next week?

    • off centre says:

      07:26pm | 28/09/12

      Agreed. This needs to be a national topic of debate!

    • Michael S says:

      07:20pm | 28/09/12

      Big business and property developers gain from high immigration. And because that’s who donates to political parties, we have high immigration.

      The rest of us don’t see any benefits from population growth, and indeed our quality of life is being eroded. The price of housing, whether renting or buying, has tripled in real terms in the last 25 years; while our roads and public transport is hopelessly over-congested. And we’re in big trouble when the next drought comes.

      But of course, anyone who supports anything other than unlimited, unfettered immigration of anyone and everyone is a racist bigot.

    • Nev Norton says:

      07:38pm | 28/09/12

      I wouldn’t worry to much about a high population, food is the natural constraint, and one that I didn’t see mentioned in any other posts.
      That could be because we take our food supply for granted.
      Australia will suffer food shortages in the future, nothing surer.
      In the next twenty years much of our food and fibre production will be destined offshore, principally to China. The seeds are being sown right now in the name of Foreign investment. Even with seafood we already import 72%.

 

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