By William Bourke
Australia has a rich history of migration, with around 7 million permanent migrants calling Australia home in the 20th century alone. That’s 70,000 migrants per year – or a bumper ANZ Stadium crowd.
By the turn of the century, our population had reached 19 million and the Australian Bureau of Statistics had recently predicted we would reach about 25 million 2051. But now, over 30 years ahead of schedule, we are at that number. Why?
At the same time as cracking down on asylum seekers arriving by boat, John Howard cunningly increased overall annual permanent immigration from well under 100,000 per year to over 200,000 – around three times the 20th century average. We’re now feeling the impacts.
Given our fertility rate is just below two children per woman, immigration policy is our de facto population policy. Other than our humanitarian intake of under 20,000 per annum, immigration policy should of course be run for the benefit of Australian citizens. It should complement major policy objectives including secure jobs with wage rises, affordable housing, better urban planning and most importantly, a sustainable environment. But now, these public policy objectives are being made harder by too many people too soon.
The sad reality is that our record immigration intake is not for the benefit of everyday Australians or even the migrants themselves. It was really put in place to feed the ‘growth lobby’ of property developers, banks, retailers and other big business beneficiaries. It also helped John Howard – and all successive governments – to create the illusion of bigger jobs and GDP growth.
The cost of growth – most worryingly on our environment – have our scientists warning us loud and clear. But is any politician listening?
The latest federal government State of the Environment report, released last year, stated that Australia’s natural environment is being placed under acute strain from rapid population growth, and that it’s amongst the main drivers of environmental problems such as land-use change, habitat destruction, invasive species, and climate change.
There are few better policy solutions to help protect Australia’s environment than abandoning plans for a ‘big Australia’. We’re not just headed for 40 million by 2050. It’s 80 million by 2100, and so on.
When Julia Gillard took the Prime Ministership she immediately declared she does not believe in this big Australia and that the nation should not ”hurtle down the track towards a big population.” She added that we need to stop, take a breath and develop policies for a sustainable Australia. That means a population that our environment, our water, our soil, our roads and freeways, our busses, our trains and our services can sustain.
But Ms Gillard abandoned her very first promise to the Australian people and Labor buried the issue. This is despite being in government with The Greens, whose ongoing silence on the population issue is deafening.
Our annual intake has remained at around 200,000 per year, when returning it to the historic average of 70,000 seems prudent. I ask again. Even as we hurtle past 25 million, is any politician listening?
William Bourke is president of Sustainable Australia Party.