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Bigger or Better?

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Would you rather be 30% wealthier retaining the liveability of your area or 38% wealthier with much more crowding?

By Ian Lowe

A number of commentators and interest groups extol the need to increase Australia’s population, but how well do their arguments stand up to scrutiny?

Ian Lowe is Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University and president of the Australian Conservation Foundation. His new book, Bigger or Better? Australia’s Population Debate, is published by University of Queensland Press.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

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”. His off-hand comment created a storm. One insider admitted: “The focus groups went ballistic”.

The fundamental reason is that most of us living in or around our major cities accurately perceive that our quality of life has steadily declined as urban populations have grown. And all the important environmental indicators are getting worse as a direct result of the increasing demands of our growing population.

The water has been muddied by widespread misconceptions that “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”, and “population growth is good for the economy”. 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 150,000 per year, or about 400 per day, if there was no migration. The birth rate has increased since the Howard government offered financial incentives to have more children, but the so-called “natural increase” – births minus deaths – has never been less than 100,000 a year for several...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.