How big is too big? 25 million and counting

August 13, 2018

 

Australia's population continues to increase, far ahead of schedule. In the late 1990s, even the highest growing predictions estimated our migrant population growth to accrue to perhaps 70,000 or 80,000 per year. Today, overseas migration accounts for 62% of our population growth, with a net of 240,000 additional migrants calling Australia home each year. Together with our natural increase, we are growing by almost 400,000 people each year.

 

  

Source: ABS Quarterly Demographic Statistics, Dec 2017 (released Jun 2018)

 

25 million, 33 years ahead of schedule

Adding a million people to our population in less than three years, we have reached the momentous population landmark of 25 million (earlier this month) an astounding 33 years ahead of schedule (based on ABS predictions in 1998 – see media release below). It wasn’t that we got it wrong once, twenty years ago. The 2002 Intergenerational report similarly estimated Australia would reach 25.3 million by 2042 – but this prediction was brought forward to 2027 just five years later. By 2010, government projections had us reaching 25.7 million a bit closer to reality, in 2020.

Our growth compared

Australia’s average annual growth rate of 1.6% places us ahead of most developed countries on the planet – including Canada (1%), the US (0.8%), the EU (0.3%), and even global population growth rates (1.1%).

 

As nearly all migrants to Australia (86%) settle in capital cities, our local communities are changing fast. Two in five Sydneysiders (39%) are now born outside of Australia, making Sydney more multicultural than New York (29%), Paris (22%) and Berlin (15%). Some suburbs in Sydney, for example, have up to three quarters of the population born overseas (i.e. Haymarket, 77%, Rhodes, 76%, and Harris Park, 72%). Areas in our inner-cities are home to communities where a substantial proportion of the population are comprised of recent migrants, such as in Sydney where more than two in five residents in Haymarket (46%), Chippendale (44%) and Ultimo (43%) have arrived since 2011.

 

Implications

Growth has led to great economic benefits at the macro level. We have enjoyed 27 years of consecutive economic growth – the longest period of recession-free growth that any developed country has experienced over these past three decades.

 

In many ways, we have successfully modelled migration to the rest of the world, and while sentiment towards population growth is mixed, our politicians (i.e. Deputy PM Michael McCormack) are again (I say again, as Rudd coined the term Big Australia nearly a decade ago) verbalising that growth is inevitable and trying to address negative public sentiment.

​Sydney and Melbourne are scrambling to keep up with the infrastructure demands of growth, but Brisbane is learning from some of the mistakes of its southerly neighbours and planning more strategically for its future. For example, through the additional runway which will open in 2020, Brisbane airport will soon have the same passenger capacities as Hong Kong and Singapore’s airports.

 

At the household level, Australians will continue to require more patience. Commute times have increased and what was once a manageable family outing on a Saturday morning in many of our capital cities has turned into a dreaded window of driving time. Wait times for public services have grown as our education, health, and community services are placed under pressure.

 

Yet densification will increase. By 2030, 70% of our planet will live in cities – and currently, two thirds of new housing approvals in our capital cities are for medium and high-density dwellings. Our expectations of home ownership are changing, as are our lifestyle expectations. Some Australians have simply had enough. The number of people moving out of NSW to pursue a lifestyle change in VIC, QLD, or another state has steadily grown, as more than 100,000 people leave NSW each year to live elsewhere.

 

Long-term change requires long-term thinking. Short-termism is an unfortunate biproduct of our political agendas and fast-paced social context. Yes - responding to population growth requires concentrated planning efforts at national, state, and local government levels – but it also requires a change in all of our thinking to respond to Australia’s new population reality.

-Eliane Miles

 

Watch Eliane Miles discuss population growth on The Drum with host Ellen Fanning, journalist Peter van Onselen, and City of Sydney councillor Craig Chung:

 

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