Home > Economics - General > How many Australians ?

How many Australians ?

April 6th, 2010

I’ve been meaning, for a while, to write a post about Australia’s population, and the announcement that a new position of Minister for Population has been created is a good place to start. It takes some of the edge off what would have been my first complaint, namely that policy decisions implying a large increase in population have been taken without any real public debate. This has been a bipartisan process, driven by increases in net overseas migration which took off under Howard (reaching about 200 000 a year) and have continued under Rudd (reaching nearly 300 000).

However, the figures are distorted by the increase in numbers of overseas students arriving here. According to demographer Peter MacDonald, the long-run intake is around 180 000, and hasn’t changed nearly as much as the net arrivals figure would suggest. However, a substantial number of overseas students are seeking permanent residence from the outset. Gaming the system in this respect had become a more or less overt racket, until recent policy changes, and it remains to be seen if these policy changes are effective. Leaving aside such manipulation, a significant number of people who arrive here as students are likely to seek to remain in Australia for one reason or another, for example because they meet and marry an Australian resident, or simply because they make lots of friends and like the place.

The consensus has broken down, now that the Opposition is promising a cut in migration and doing a little rewriting of history in the process, as with Senator Scott Morrison’s disingenuous reference to an average intake of 125 000 under the Coalition, an average that conceals a rising trend.

For practical purposes, population policy in Australia means immigration policy (as Madonna King points out here, the fact that Tony Burke is combining the population portfolio with agriculture, fisheries and forestry, rather than with immigration, makes very little sense). Unfortunately, there are few issues surrounded by more misconceptions, on both sides, than immigration.

One hardy perennial, put forward by Wayne Swan recently is that migration will offset the changes in the population age structure caused by the facts that Australians are living longer (aka population aging), and that our fertility rate is no longer high enough to drive population growth (that’s been true since the 1970s). His own department knows better, saying “While there are undoubted benefits in maintaining net overseas migration, migration cannot stop the ageing of our population”. More importantly, the whole notion of a population aging “problem” is a furphy. The fact that we are living longer implied financial problems for the government when the eligibility age for the old age pension was fixed (65 for men, 60 for women). But now that the pension age is increasing in line with increased life expectancy, this problem has been solved. Some analogous points apply with respect to self-funded retirement. Especially with lower rates of return on investment, increased life expectancy that most people will have to work longer to afford a comfortable retirement. But presumably not many of us would want to die younger in order to save on superannuation contributions.

Another claim, put forward by Peter MacDonald here, is that we need more migrants to avoid ” a severe risk of a spiral of wage inflation and interest rate rises”, associated with the mining boom. The mining boom is a phenomenon of the last decade. It may perhaps last another decade, but the current driver, the massive movement of Chinese from the countryside to the cities, can’t go on much longer than that. Responding to such medium term events with policies that will produce a permanent increase in our population makes very little sense.

On the other side of the debate, there’s a fair bit of confusion about the impact of migration policy on greenhouse gas emissions and emissions trading. In the long run, it seems clear that the only sustainable option is for a ‘contract and converge’ agreement in which everyone in the world has the same emissions entitlement per person. In this context, international migration makes a difference. In the short run, migration from countries with low emissions per person to countries like Australia with high emissions, obviously makes it harder to reduce global emissions. It’s important to remember though that a lot of our ‘excess’ emissions come from carbon-intensive industries like aluminium smelting rather than from a high-emission lifestyle. Changing migration won’t have much, if any, effect on the size of these industries.

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  1. Bemused
    April 6th, 2010 at 14:56 | #1

    Scott Morrison is not a Senator, he is the Member for Cook, home of the Cronulla riots as may befit his increasingly strident scare-mongering about a relative handful of asylum seekers arriving by boat.

    JQ is right about a solution to the aging population being found in increased retirement age. The major obstacle to this is the pernicious age discrimination in the workforce, something which Elizabeth Broderick frequently comments on.

    A related issue driving immigration is the ‘skills shortage’. This is better seen as an unwillingness to train coupled with a desire for cheap[er] labour.

  2. gerard
    April 6th, 2010 at 15:02 | #2

    Under Howard it was decided that universities should get their money from international student fees rather than the government. Hence the huge rise in international students, our third biggest “export”.

    But most foreign students don’t just want to study here. In order to bait the maximum number of international students, they need the promise of potential permanent residency, which can be attained on getting a certain number of ‘points’. Part of the points comes from the degree they have, and the number of points depends on the subject that they study. For some reason, it is accounting that brings in the most points, not engineering, pharmacy or whatever.

    Hence any accounting course in an Australian university, especially at the postgrad level, will be made up 90% of Chinese international students. But is Australia facing some dire shortage of accountants, or is the whole thing just a rigged up tertiary sector cash cow? Unfortunately for the Chinese students who pay enough on their degree to buy a nice house back home, the degrees they are getting are mostly worthless paper, except as trophies for when they return to China.

    Getting PR requires having some type of employment lined up – but most employers only hire people who already have PR. Because there are so many Chinese accounting students, most of whom don’t yet have permanent residency and have relatively poor English skills*, employers treat their job applications as spam. If they are LUCKY they might get a job as a cleaner or waitstaff. Tough luck if you are actually a top accounting student with perfect English and a Chinese name – better change your name if you want an interview.

    *Now when I say “relatively poor English skills”, their English is still much better than Kevin Rudd’s Chinese, and of course they have to pass the IELTS language test. But an employer would rather have a native Australian student with a GPA of 4 than a Chinese student with a GPA of 7, purely for the language factor. Bear in mind that the average Aussie has never attempted to learn more than five words of any foreign language, but still feels entitled to regard people whose English is less than fluent as somehow mentally defective.

  3. April 6th, 2010 at 16:16 | #3

    John, you raise some interesting points.

    I don’t find any fault with having population separate from immigration. The issues surrounding population management relate more to resources, environment and infrastructure capacity issues than to the more micro-approach of the immigration portfolio. I concede that projections will be needed from immigration or more likely foreign affairs as to where the pressure points are likely to be in the future (eg in terms of refugees).

    I’m not sure whether Burke will be able to put aside his personal religious beliefs or not. We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t envy him the task he’s taken on. This is another issue that involves questions that challenge on all sorts of levels – religion, morality, personal bigotries, environment, responsibility for people within and outside our shores etc etc.

    My personal view is that we need to limit our population for as long as we can, but not stop altogether the flow of immigrants. We need to keep ‘fresh blood’ coming in to the country or we stagnate in isolation. We also need to be prepared for the expected increase in pressure to accept more people displaced as a result of rising sea levels, climate change, wars etc within the next few decades.

    We need to be careful with policies like baby bonuses and parental leave payments etc that we don’t get a surge in the birth rate. A slow decline is what’s needed.

  4. Bemused
    April 6th, 2010 at 16:22 | #4

    Possum Comitatus provides an excellent analysis of the components of ‘net arrivals’ here http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/2010/04/06/net-arrivals-cheap-populism-and-export-destruction/

  5. April 6th, 2010 at 16:31 | #5

    Do you think we’ll really get anything approaching a public debate on the topic?

    We have a situation where the strongest supporters of high immigration and an expanded population are numerically small in number but politically powerful, hence they’d prefer that no such debate occurred and governments quietly kept setting high immigration numbers on a year-to-year basis.

  6. April 6th, 2010 at 16:49 | #6

    I find it a little curious that most of this debate has been focused on immigration rather than breeding.

  7. Bemused
    April 6th, 2010 at 16:50 | #7

    Robert Merkel, are immigration numbers in fact high?
    I too thought they were, but the ‘Net Settler Movement’ is currently running below the average since 1976 according to the graph put together by Possum Comitatus.
    This is the true measure of the number of people moving permanently to Australia. It seems to have been around 60,000 last year.
    The big surge has been in ‘Net Long Term Visitor Movement’ i.e. mainly students, at around 200,000!

  8. Hermit
    April 6th, 2010 at 17:03 | #8

    The notion of equal entitlement to emissions is fraught with political and logistic difficulties. It is unlikely that Australians will accept a reduced entitlement to match that of the Chinese and Indians. A knee jerk reaction is to suggest those countries have too many people. Even Lord Stern suggests that China’s emissions essentially benefit 300m people in that country with the other billion left out in the cold. The logistic angle is that there may soon not be enough coal to go round in any case. Mind you we’re doing our best to raise global emissions even if the odd coral reef gets crunched by coal ships.

    Taken to another level we could have equal entitlement to water, parkland, meat, personal transport and so on. This might require the world government feared by Sarah Palin et al. Populations would be relocated or culled so it all evens out. Therefore I suggest equal entitlement won’t get us far. A better approach might be that we all put in a matching effort towards global goals like 350 ppm though the details need to be worked out.

  9. Robert Merkel
    April 6th, 2010 at 18:14 | #9

    Bemused, I could be mistaken, but my anecdotal impression was a large proportion of those students end up staying in Australia.

  10. iain
    April 6th, 2010 at 18:20 | #10

    Bemused – do you (or anyone else) know what percentage of the Net Long Term Visitors over the past 5-10 years will (or have) turned into Net Settlers?

    Also what is this percentage actually projected to be over the coming decade or so?

    What will it take for an influential majority opinion to emerge on a “correct” population figure for Australia?

  11. Alice
    April 6th, 2010 at 18:54 | #11

    Might I add that overseas students seeking to live here are part of a governm,ent distortion that gives nmore points on an immigration application fror some forms of education over others….

    Welcome to the modern university where accounting reigns supreme as the biggest foreign student export earner….and where whole faculties in other fields have been shut down or a starving for funds..

    Market meets knowledge in modern Australian universities. Hey student – do you want to learn? Then go away. Hey student – do you want to learn accounting? Thats OK then.

    Sausage factories and a monumental joke. Not even well taught – only well and easily marked…to pass. Cant get jobs though. Too many of them now and practising accountants complain new grads dont know what a “ute” is and cant communicate with tradies.

    Government distortion par excellance. Shame it ruined the universities.

  12. Salient Green
    April 6th, 2010 at 19:04 | #12

    Not only are mining companies milking Australian resources without fair reward to Australians but they are milking other sectors both here and abroad for skilled labour, poaching their needs with bloated profits the lazy way rather than do their own training. Both are failures of government policy and I know there is a move to increase taxes on resource profits but it wouldn’t be hard to replace skilled migration with domestic training as it should have been done.

    I know I should take the appointment of a Population Minister as a positive sign that the Labor government is starting to listen but my BS meter is going crazy. ABC Canberra on tuesday morning interviewed Bob Carr on population who is a new, to me anyway, heavyweight against population growth and he made some very good points including some new ones refuting some of the economic arguments put forward by growth fetishists.

    However, ‘environment’ was only mentioned once. Sure, carrying capacity was out there but that does not necessarily mean the same thing as protecting the environment. There seems to be no sense of priority for protecting and preserving the natural world except at the end of a long list of other priorities. There seems to be a cancer in these people’s thinking that we should be able to destroy the natural world until it bites us rather than preserving it for it’s uniqueness and the right of our children to all it’s wonders undiminished.

    The other argument I have often heard to support population growth is to “improve our standard of living”. This one boils my blood. It totally ignores Quality of Life as well as the environmental problems with increasing wealth. Do these advocates of greed envisage all Australian’s having a second home on the coast and a 7metre boat alongside the caravan and cars in the garage of the 400m2 home?

  13. April 6th, 2010 at 19:07 | #13

    Great post John, however what I’m noticing is how the debate/discussion in the popular press and “around the water cooler” seems to conflate immigration and “boat people”. There seems to be little difference in the public’s imagination between the tiny numbers of refugess attempting to enter Australia and immigration as an issue generally.

  14. Bemused
    April 6th, 2010 at 19:21 | #14

    Robert Merkel and Iain,
    I am sorry I cannot really assist with that as I have not done the hard work. It would appear that Possum Comitatus has done the work and I suggest you review what he has written and post your questions there if they have not already been answered.
    The way I read it, any students who got PR would then have moved to the Net Settler numbers but maybe I am making an assumption.
    In any event, the surge in Net Long Term Visitors occurred under Howard.

  15. Alice
    April 6th, 2010 at 19:58 | #15

    @Salient Green
    I wouldnt mind so much Salient if they had the jobs for new immigrants…but they dont…unemployment counted properly to include those who work part time or casually (and want more work) is 7% plus – not as bad as the US 10% but still not good.

    Couple that with free market economics over the past twenty five to thirty years which wiped out manufacturing in Australia. Would someone mind reassuring me that all these new immigrants are going to find jobs digging up coal (because thats all the industry that seems to matter to governments in Australia – that or wiping dishes for cash).

    Add to that dysfunctional state governments who are privatising every known form of public sector employment and then add to that opposition parties who are advocating the ultimate flexible labour force under workchoices to the scarce (large) employers left.

    Pardon me for thinking that some want higher immigration to drive down the price of wages and bully ordinary Australians simultaneously. Dont tell that its not big coal and big business and big mates politician pushing for this one as well?

    Yep – I love a bog Australia!

  16. Salient Green
    April 6th, 2010 at 20:49 | #16

    Alice, the issue of job creation by immigration was one that Bob Carr refuted. I wish I could remember all he said but it was certainly a phurphy as you have alluded to. When all the BS is pruned away you get to the real issues of keeping the price of labour low and increasing the profits of those who depend on Growth.

  17. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    April 6th, 2010 at 21:03 | #17

    In the short run, migration from countries with low emissions per person to countries like Australia with high emissions, obviously makes it harder to reduce global emissions.

    To be complete you would need to also look at what impact moving from a poor low emission country to a rich high emission country has on fertility and the associated future impacts or reduced global population.

    It takes some of the edge off what would have been my first complaint, namely that policy decisions implying a large increase in population have been taken without any real public debate.

    I think the policy debate would be better framed if we had an immigration tariff instead of an immigration quota and the debate was about the direct fiscal benefit from selling openings and the cost of corresponding trade offs.

  18. Chris Warren
    April 6th, 2010 at 22:09 | #18

    The real rationale for a pumped-up population was best expressed by Weekend Aust Fin Review’s “Smart Money Market” commentator, Paul Taylor, head of Australian Equities for some corporate. Nothing to do with refugees – its all about population growth being “one of the key underpinnings of Australia’s economic and corporate earnings growth” (AFR 1-5 April, p66).

    So there you have it – we get everlasting unsustainable population growth because we have a unsustainable economy. AFR may call this “Smart Money” but it looks more like dumb capitalism to me.

    Its just incredible that we are in this situation now since the ALP government already declared 20 years ago, that it was going to examine the major issues which flow from the increase in population through migration and natural increase. All pertinent matter were included – the economy, the environment – human service delivery – infrastructure – social equity – ecological sustainable development and international obligations.

    Under Hawke, Terms of Reference for quangos were disseminated, working parties were running, and reports, frameworks and issue papers flooded throughout the land. Hawkes quangos even noted that population would damage the climate and promised that the Commonwealth would plan for a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2005 compared to 1988 levels.

    All this rubbish, first in in 1975, and again in 1991, so why not give it all another go in 2010?

    Geez, how much can a koala bear? Its just the usual public relations exercise with no real impact but more dead files and reports in libraries and archives.

  19. April 6th, 2010 at 22:56 | #19

    Robert @9 “I could be mistaken, but my anecdotal impression was a large proportion of those students end up staying in Australia.”

    Many of them do, as do many of those who come here initially on 457 visas (temporary skilled workers). But if and when they do get a permanent visa, they are counted in that year’s statistics.

    One of the problems with this debate – (and I remain continually baffled by suggestions that there is “no debate” on this issue, because I have seen mountains of commentary on it over the years, often by people saying there is no debate) – is there is a huge array of statistics used (and misused) which can create confusion. Differences between permanent arrivals and long-term arrivals, how we count New Zealanders (many of who are in effect ‘permanently temporary’, how we measure departures from Australia etc.

    TerjeP@17 also raises the relevant point that while a person or family from a low emission country moving to an extremely high emission country such as Australia might mean increased global emissions in the short-term, there is also a strong likelihood that within a generation there would likely be far fewer children born than would have been the case if they had stayed in the poorer country.

    If we are genuinely concerned about reducing population growth, the biggest driver for reduced fertility is better educational and economic opportunities, especially for women and girls.

    (and that’s leaving aside the morality of saying people from lower emission countries (i.e. poorer and less wasteful countries) shouldn’t become here because we are too profligate.)

  20. Donald Oats
    April 6th, 2010 at 23:26 | #20

    Thanks to the baby bonus and other factors, Australia’s fertility rate is currently moderately high on the global scale. And, of course, children born in Australia tend to survive their early years better than many other countries. Anyway, I’ll leave it to others to figure out what constitutes a fair assessment of our population at a given time, and the net increase of population per annum (births – deaths, at its simplest – but it ain’t simple, no doubt).

    If one or both major parties decide that X million people by Y date is too much, my question is do they consider X million people acceptable at some date beyond Y, or is X simply too many people under any reasonable assessment? If X million people considered too many for Australia to have, the real question for the pollies is what strategies they would adopt to avoid a population of X?

  21. stockingrate
    April 6th, 2010 at 23:56 | #21

    Great post (and comments). Especially agree with the view that we should not grow the permanent population because of a temporary mining boom.

    The Australian economy is based upon natural resources. Our relatively high standard of living (and quality of life) is based mainly upon having a small number of people relative to those resources.

  22. April 7th, 2010 at 00:38 | #22

    On emissions, I am a fan of approaches that at least eventually lead to equal per-capita emission allocations. There are various ways that this could be done, for example Garnaut would like there to be equal per-capita emissions by 2050; some people in China would like there to be an equal per-capita allocations of all emissions since some historical year (e.g. 1900 or 1950).

    The problem is that it would be almost impossible to cooperation on how to allocate emissions rights between something like 190 countries. But it could be feasible to allocate emissions within smaller coalitions of countries, who may for example agree to converge their emissions allocations to a certain level by a certain date.

  23. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    April 7th, 2010 at 06:18 | #23

    An equal per capita allocation might be fair if it is focused on the consumption component of the economy but a lot of our economy and energy is occupied producing things for people in other countries. We have in effect loaned a slice of Australia to foreigners who consume energy on that patch extracting minerals and fuels for use in their homeland. Whilst some of this spills over via wages, royalties etc into domestic consumption not all of it does. A pure per capita allocation based on emissions from within a nations borders decided by population is too simplistic to be fair.

  24. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    April 7th, 2010 at 06:28 | #24

    When people say we need a real debate on some public policy issue what they generally mean is that they don’t like the current policy. For instance I think we need a real debate on the suitability of income tax within a liberal society. ;-)

  25. Alice
    April 7th, 2010 at 07:04 | #25

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    What does that comment have to do with the thread Terje? I cant help but notice all roads tend to lead to “no income tax within a libertarian society” for you. Thank goodness subscriptions are low. We have given the rich a spin with lower income taxes and it didnt work well..now its time for some real evidence at last instead of some people’s idea of Nirvana.

  26. robert (not from UK)
    April 7th, 2010 at 08:05 | #26

    Some of Bob Carr’s comments, urging a cutback in immigration, are here:

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/carr-wants-migrant-intake-cut-to-curb-growth-20100324-qwtv.html

    Mind you, I don’t remember Carr daring to talk like this during his 10 years as Premier …

  27. April 7th, 2010 at 09:07 | #27

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)

    Deabte is fine Terje, and personally I’d favour a greater reliance on more indirect methods of taxation/levying as in practice, evasion is more difficult, and collection costs tend to be lower.

    That said I believe a mix is needed and whatever the starting point is, it should be sharply progressive. Clearly, if one relied too heavily on indirect measures, an illicit economy would develop and then we’d have to spend significantly more on compliance.

    So a progressive income tax, along with something on capital-appreciating assets is needed. Why anyone ought to be earning more than 50 times what any other full time worker in the same economy is earning is something I find hard to understand. It’s not necessary, not just and not even efficient.

  28. April 7th, 2010 at 09:10 | #28

    stockingrate :
    Great post (and comments). Especially agree with the view that we should not grow the permanent population because of a temporary mining boom.
    The Australian economy is based upon natural resources. Our relatively high standard of living (and quality of life) is based mainly upon having a small number of people relative to those resources.

    I tend to agree with this, as a short term boom can make people believe that it remain the key trend. The Dot.com and GFC boom and bust saw people fall for this elementary lapse in logic and/or foresight. The tendency to project the current state onto a future seems to be a cognitive bias almost anyone can fall for.

    My question is how many models are being considered, and what external factors need to be considered. Let’s assume a >2 degree warmer world by 2030 (via CSIRO report). What does that do to our ability to produce the necessary energy/resources to support a population. And how does how population policies reflect the potential for large scale population displacement if climatic condition in the Pacific and SE Asia worsen? Though not a certainty, in terms of probabilities this is a likely outcome.

  29. Michael
    April 7th, 2010 at 09:12 | #29

    @gerard
    Spot on.

    IMHO the debate back-to-front. Instead of focusing mainly on immigration as a cause of population growth we should focus on the lack of emigration. If we could get more Australians to move overseas then we could stabilise the population, increase the diversity and create better international links. After returning to the country after spending 10 years away I was saddened by how clueless many Australians were about the rest of the world and how unjustifiably “proud” Australians were after Howard’s small minded nationalism. Why do we need to “keep” and train all the unemployable young locals, why not give them a grant to leave so they can find something useful to do in the world. Many Australians had no choice except to go overseas in the late 90′s to get any useful work experience because of the stultifying local employment scene after the recession, what’s so special about todays youth and do we really need them all?

  30. derrida derider
    April 7th, 2010 at 11:44 | #30

    It’s true that migration – at least at anything less than absolutely massive levels – is no answer to population aging. But then population aging in Australia is massively overblown as a “problem” – for a variety of reasons the issues here are just not the same as those in continental Europe. But then again, raising the pension age in Australia does amazingly little either way to affect these problems, such as they are.

    The real question is how many Australians do we want? I reckon we can certainly sustain a far larger population than we have, but only at the cost of them having a Hong-Kong lifestyle. Measured GDP per capita will be higher than at present (cram us together and we’ll trade with each other a lot more), but all the things that matter for human welfare that aren’t measured in GDP will be worse than at present. A crap environment, big city neuroses everywhere, little real individual freedom and autonomy because we’ll all be so interdependent, etc.

    Then again, ceasing inward immigration would mean we become, once again, an insular and backward people at the arse-end of the planet. The way we can culturally square this population circle, though, is to aim at low net migration but large gross migration flows. That is, encourage Australians to piss off elsewhere. mind you, I can’t see that program being an election winner.

  31. Chris Warren
    April 7th, 2010 at 11:50 | #31

    @Michael

    Anyone born in Australia, or granted permanent residency, should have every right to make a decent livelihood in Australia.

    Age is not a relevant issue.

    Emigration assisted the UK in the past, and many Third world countries benefit by expatriates remitting income back home.

    So we should encourage Australians to gain international experience but not so as to question;

    “do we really need them all?”

  32. Michael
    April 7th, 2010 at 12:05 | #32

    derrida derider :
    I reckon we can certainly sustain a far larger population than we have, but only at the cost of them having a Hong-Kong lifestyle. Measured GDP per capita will be higher than at present (cram us together and we’ll trade with each other a lot more), but all the things that matter for human welfare that aren’t measured in GDP will be worse than at present. A crap environment, big city neuroses everywhere, little real individual freedom and autonomy because we’ll all be so interdependent, etc.

    Having lived in a “shoebox” in Hong Kong I can say that the benefits of compact cities can almost outweigh the costs (poor air quality tips the scales). Some things to keep in mind about Hong Kong are that the density is partly a product of the hilly landscape and shoreline. It’s densely packed but you don’t have to travel far to be away from the metropolis. In fact you can probably get out of the city faster than in any Australian capital city. There is a great deal of convenience and freedom – and all the consequent externalities too. It’s not a lifestyle that suits everyone, but either is the featureless suburban sprawl that Australian’s are forced into. Why can’t we have less urban sprawl and more density in the inner and middle suburbs? Could that be more sustainable than less population living in low density sprawl?

  33. Michael
    April 7th, 2010 at 12:21 | #33

    Chris Warren :
    @Michael
    Anyone born in Australia, or granted permanent residency, should have every right to make a decent livelihood in Australia.

    I’m fine with that, but the current economic policy doesn’t address this seriously. If we had some kind of workable full employment policy then I would support it. But we could also have a policy to reduce Australia’s per capita emissions.

    Age is not a relevant issue.

    Not according to your screed on gen x/y ;-) but trollery aside you are right, age isn’t relevant – bogans of all ages and classes should be encouraged to leave.

  34. Michael
    April 7th, 2010 at 12:36 | #34

    “bogans of all ages and classes should be encouraged to leave.” I should stress that I mean that in the nicest possible way – it would do them good to expand their horizons and free them of the oppressive small mindedness they are indoctrainated with thanks to what passes for the media these days.

  35. Sam
    April 7th, 2010 at 13:16 | #35

    There are many environmental issues besides climate change and water though. There’s a clear link between population pressure and biodiversity loss. Australia has some of the most unique flora and fauna in the world, as well as the most rapid loss of those species.

  36. Sam
    April 7th, 2010 at 13:28 | #36

    Also, it’s not at all clear that population growth even correlates with GDP per capita growth. Have a look at the graph on this page. Certainly employers benefit, as do rent-seekers who own fixed resources, but I’m not sure we ought to privilege their economic concerns over the unemployed.

  37. Peter T
    April 7th, 2010 at 16:31 | #37

    I notice that a lot of comments tend to treat people (migrants and others) as if they were interchangeable parts – all the same except for the quantity. A lot of social issues – and this includes issues of how the environment is regarded and treated – revolve around how people inter-act. And this is largely a product of time spent together. A population drawn from all over, thrown together as a labour force, is not going to have much in the way of political or social networks (that’s why, in the 19th century, plantation labour pools were built this way in Malaysia, Hawaii, East Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and other places).

    If we think population and migration are related to sustainability, we have to think about rates of change, where people come from, how they settle here, and whether the economy can be pushed towards more environmentally friendly settlement patterns.

  38. April 7th, 2010 at 20:43 | #38

    Peter T :
    … A population drawn from all over, thrown together as a labour force, is not going to have much in the way of political or social networks (that’s why, in the 19th century, plantation labour pools were built this way in Malaysia, Hawaii, East Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and other places).

    Leaving aside the minor point that there was no Malaysia in the 19th century (it was Malaya proper, Sarawak, Brunei, and British North Borneo, each under a different system of association with the British Empire), and the major one that outside groups weren’t brought in there or in East Africa for plantation labour but for other roles, that wasn’t actually why it was done. There were quite other reasons, even though it did have an effect. But that effect wasn’t always helpful to those who brought the workers in, since it meant communal tensions (often between Muslims and Hindus from India).

  39. Michael
    April 7th, 2010 at 21:13 | #39

    Peter T :
    A population drawn from all over, thrown together as a labour force, is not going to have much in the way of political or social networks (that’s why, in the 19th century, plantation labour pools were built this way in Malaysia, Hawaii, East Africa, Fiji, Mauritius and other places).

    I would have thought that modern communications technologies and globalisation might have reduced the homogeneity of people from the same cultural group. I’m not sure how much useful or worthwhile culture I share with a lot of “true blue” Australian’s as you might call them. Plenty of them show virtually no regard for the fragile environment – in fact as a commuter cyclist I would encounter a multitude everyday.

  40. Peter T
    April 7th, 2010 at 22:08 | #40

    PM Lawrence

    Read Malaysia as a typo. Indians were brought into peninsula Malaya as rubber plantation labour.

    My point is that elites who feel able to detach themselves from the larger society (whether as imperialists or through cultural migration -eg where upper classes identify more with some foreign model) have a record of using migration, among other things, to weaken social solidaity among their inferiors. This may be unconscious, but it works for them, if not for the larger society.

    Michael – my point is less about homogeneity than about the ability to maintain political discourse. This is a relative rather than absolute value, but it can weaken to the point that democracy is simply impossible.

  41. Michael
    April 7th, 2010 at 22:22 | #41

    @Peter T
    I can see your point as it relates to Malaya and maybe even to modern South East Asian economies that rely on large transient temporary migrants. Is there a contemporary analogue of this in a developed country? Just trying to work exactly where you are coming from.

  42. Peter T
    April 8th, 2010 at 11:34 | #42

    Michael

    In modern countries, one good example is Latin American migrants in the US (and stoushes over language, unionisation, migration policy, residence rights, schools….). I think this was also an element in UK migration policy since the 50s. And a glance at the stats for wage share of income in the US suggests it is an effective strategy.

    My point is that migration can be an element in class struggles as much as globalisation is. Typically, elites who want to avoid issues of distribution find large-scale immigration of compliant foreigners convenient. If the migrants are too different in outlook, the result in the longer run is a series of clashes over how the country is run, for whom, and on what principles (Malaysia and Fiji are two good examples, but there are many others). The clash of cultural principles makes it difficult to reach and sustain the kinds of ongoing compromises on which democracy rests.

  43. April 13th, 2010 at 13:41 | #43

    Pr Q said:

    It takes some of the edge off what would have been my first complaint, namely that policy decisions implying a large increase in population have been taken without any real public debate.

    Its been a sleeper, not for any want of activity on my part. I have been banging on about the immigration-driven population boom for seven long years now. Most elaborately about eight months ago in this long-winded post, on this very blog. For my troubles I got nothing but flack. Now, finally the rest of the punditariat wakes up.

    FTR I am neither pro- or con- high immigration in any absolutist sense. It all depends on the ethical, economical and ecological circumstances. But I dont like seeing the issue brushed under the carpet, with whistle-blowers censured and censored.

    Its probably sounds a tad spiteful and vindictive but I reckon I earned the right to boast “I told you so”.

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