Thursday, July 13, 2017
Australia's population should be just 15 million
Three academics have suggested Australia’s population is too big. Picture: Chris Hyde Source: Getty Images
THE optimal population size for Australia is just 15 million people.
That’s the opinion of environmental experts Peter Martin and James Ward from the University of South Australia, and Paul Sutton from the University of Denver.
In an article published in The Conversation, they suggest genuine progress in Australia peaked 40 years ago, and that while our population and economy have grown considerably in recent decades, our level of wellbeing has actually declined.
“In Australia, the stall point appears to be about 1974,” they wrote.
WHY AUSTRALIA’S PROGRESS HAS STALLED
Australia has the highest growth rate of the medium and large OECD countries. Picture: Eugene Hyland
Australia has the highest growth rate of the medium and large OECD countries. Picture: Eugene HylandSource:News Corp Australia
Rather than looking at Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is commonly used to gauge economic health, they opted to use a more alternative measure known as the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).
It factors in a range of things excluded from GDP calculations, like carbon dioxide emissions and water pollution to the value of household work and parenting, the quality of education, and even the prevalence of car crashes.
Based on their research, they said our “unnecessary, ideologically-driven growth” has come at “an immense and unjustifiable cost to our natural and social capital”.
Martin, Ward and Sutton argue it’s reaching a crunch point.
“(People) are often quick to say that it’s our consumption patterns, and not our population size, that really matter when we talk about environmental impact.
“But common sense, not to mention the laws of physics, says that size and scale matter, especially on a finite planet.”
HOW HIGH IS OUR POPULATION GROWTH REALLY?
If growth continues, there will be far fewer empty seats at sporting events. Picture: Mark Kolbe
If growth continues, there will be far fewer empty seats at sporting events. Picture: Mark KolbeSource:Getty Images
Australia is currently home to about 24.1 million people.
It has the highest rate of population growth of all the medium and large OECD countries, at a rate of about 1.7 per cent a year, and more than three quarters of the growth is in four cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
Australia’s growth is such Liz Allen, a demographer from the Australian National University, believes a formal population policy should be introduced.
“With birth rates low and deaths increasing, natural increase is no longer driving Australia’s population,” she said.
Immigration is increasingly relied on to offset the ageing of the workforce, and more than half of Australia’s population growth is from net overseas migration.
In fact, Australia has one of the highest proportions of overseas-born people in the world, about 26 per cent according to the last census.
DOWNSIDES TO RAPID POPULATION GROWTH
Rapid growth puts a lot of strain on infrastructure and urban environments. Picture: Nathan Dyer
Rapid growth puts a lot of strain on infrastructure and urban environments. Picture: Nathan DyerSource:News Corp Australia
Planning expert Glen Searle said Australia is “hostage to the growth machine” because developers and property owners have a vested interest in continued rapid population growth.
He said “urban planning for this rate of growth is often inadequate”, because it’s failing to protect high-value environments from development.
“Despite their expanding area, Australian cities have less green open space. In attempts to reduce the costs of new infrastructure to meet the needs of increasing populations, [the] average housing block size has been reduced,” he said.
He believes this is causing “heat islands” in cities that lack greenery and recreation space, and also expressed the poorer quality of new housing developments.
“Perhaps the shortcomings of planning resulting from the need to accommodate fast-growing populations could be mended with reduced growth,” he said.
BENEFITS OF A LARGER POPULATION
Growth gives many sectors a never-ending supply of new customers, which is good for the economy.
Growth gives many sectors a never-ending supply of new customers, which is good for the economy.Source:News Corp Australia
Australia’s ageing population will cause a significant burden on the health system in coming years, but Santosh Jatrana from Swinburne University of Technology argues this will be offset if it continues to welcome healthy workers.
Skilled migrants and their dependants typically go through a medical screening to ensure they meet minimum health requirements, and as such, she suggests they are often healthier than the average Australian.
“While an ageing population adds to the burden on the health system, an intake of migrants who are generally young and healthier than the average Australian, due to their selectivity, might help balance this out,” she says.
“So, in fact, increasing migration would be of benefit to Australia’s health.”
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE CITIES
Some of Australia’s planning woes could be eased by more regional migration. Picture: Jason Edwards
Some of Australia’s planning woes could be eased by more regional migration. Picture: Jason EdwardsSource:News Corp Australia
Ever since the end of World War II, people moving to Australia from overseas have overwhelmingly focused on large metropolitan centres.
It’s easy to see why — they have better access to employment, education and health services, and a better chance of finding communities of compatriots.
Emily Longstaff, who is currently studying a Ph.D at the Australian National University, says migrants can help stabilise declining regional populations.
Often, that means a corresponding economic boost — like the Victorian town of Nhill, which has employed more than 160 refugees to work in a local poultry farm.
GROWTH DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PAINFUL
Australia can learn from the experiences of densely-populated countries like Japan. Picture: iStock
Australia can learn from the experiences of densely-populated countries like Japan. Picture: iStockSource:Supplied
Australia’s population is still tiny compared to the rest of the world, and considering we have a lot of space to fill, we have plenty of time to plan ahead.
Brendan Barrett and Marco Amati, from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, say Australia can learn from cities like Tokyo to smooth the process.
Tokyo has a population of 38 million — almost 160 per cent of the entire population of Australia — but it’s consistently ranked one of the world’s most liveable cities.
The key, according to Barrett and Amati, is to plan early to minimises negatives like environmental pollution and disorganised urban sprawl as the population grows, and commit early to world-class public transport.