OpEd – Guardian Weekly

June 7, 2010 • Daily Email Recap

Thanks to Jenny Goldie for this OpEd, which was published in the Guardian Weekly.

While Gary Younge’s article on immigration made many valid points, nevertheless, it failed to address the bigger issue, which is population (An honest debate on immigrants, GW, 30.04.10).

National policy-makers first must determine what size population they want and what level of population growth, if any, they can sustain. Immigration is a mere sub-set of population – the others being fertility and mortality – and so immigration levels should be set in accordance with broader population policy. That is, of course, if their borders are not porous and illegal immigration can be controlled.

In Australia, all our environmental indicators except urban air quality are in decline suggesting we are already overpopulated with 22 million people at current standard of living. Our population growth rate of 2.1 per cent has left us struggling to maintain and supply infrastructure. Housing unaffordability is at record highs because demand exceeds supply by tens of thousands of housing units a year.

Immigration was just under 300,000 last year, nearly two-thirds total growth. Thanks to the baby bonus, fertility has crept back up to near-replacement at 2.0, and natural increase is still over 150,000 annually. If these trends continue, we will have doubled our population well before mid-century. Our island continent may be large, but it is semi-arid. We can expect to lose irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin by the end of the century under climate change. Peak oil – many say oil production peaked in 2008 – will mean higher oil prices, making food and fibre production and transport increasingly expensive.

Clearly, Australia’s immigration needs to be drastically cut and population stabilised. On the other hand, we need to keep our doors open to some extent to climate change refugees that are likely to reach our shores in coming decades. The question is: ‘How many?’ As the then head of the Refugee Council, Paul Cullen, said to me many years ago: ‘Do we take the first 50 million from Bangladesh – or the second?’

Jenny Goldie
Michelago NSW Australia

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