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Australia’s population debate

August 22, 2012 • News

Below is a transcript from an interview that Professor Ian Lowe, Griffith University in Brisbane, gave recently. He is President of the Australian Conservation Foundation and authored the book Bigger or Better. You can listen to the audio of Lowe’s interview at the link which follows. The interview is excellent and demonstrates appropriate rebuttals to a slew of arguments often trotted out by pro-growth interests.

Australia’s population debate

Robyn Williams: I arrived in Australia 48 years ago this month. I arrived by boat for 10 quid. It wasn’t exactly leaky, but the Castel Felice, a converted troop carrier with the buoyancy of a brick and the cuisine of a remand home, was no castle of happiness.

On landing I was surprised to find so few people. And apart from Australians there were quite a lot of Greeks and Italians. I was also surprised to find these immigrants were held in contempt in some quarters. And I thought those countries had helped invent civilisation. There was also one Sikh and he became a friend.

Well, times change. This week it’s more on migrants and population. And this is Professor Ian Lowe in Brisbane, author of Bigger or Better –  Australia’s Population Debate. Ian:

Ian Lowe: The decisions being taken now about our population are literally determining what Australia will look like in 2050.  So we should be making informed choices about our future.

I was provoked to write a book about the population debate when Kevin Rudd calmly told Kerry O’Brien that he believed in ‘a big Australia’.  Rudd was Prime Minister at the time, and his off-hand comment created a storm.  One insider said ‘the focus groups went ballistic’.  The fundamental reason is that most of us live in or around our major cities.  We accurately perceive that our quality of life has steadily declined as urban populations have grown.  Successive state of the environment reports show that all the important environmental indicators are getting worse as a direct result of the increasing demands of our growing population. In fact population growth is a serious environmental threat on the fringes of our cities as well as driving increasing greenhouse gas production.

The water has been muddied by widespread misconceptions.  I often hear such statements as ‘we aren’t replacing ourselves’, ‘our population would decline if we didn’t bring in migrants’, ‘our ageing society is a problem’, ‘we need migrants to fund the pensions of older Australians’, or ‘population growth is good for the economy’.  So I set out to identify some facts that could inform the debate.

First of all we don’t have a problem replacing ourselves.  Each year about 100,000 Australians die and about 250,000 babies are born, so the population would grow by about 150,000 a year or about 400 a day if there were no migration.  Yet there is still a widespread perception that we aren’t replacing ourselves.  The confusion arises from the decline in the birth rate since reliable contraception became available. Where Australian women often had four of five children 50 years ago, the average number of children per adult woman is now about 1.9 but the number of adult women is still increasing rapidly as a result of the past birth rate and migration, so there is still a large so-called natural increase, births minus deaths.

To read the full transcript, please click here:

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