Population an election issue

27 July 2010

The Federal Government and the Opposition seem to be in a bidding war to see who can promise a lower level of immigration.

The Liberal/National parties have released a policy to reduce net overseas migration from 299,000 in 2008-09 to 170,000 per year by the end of their first term.

The Coalition says that this will be consistent with Australia’s historic rate of population growth of 1.4 per cent a year, on average, over the last 40 years. If the 170,000 immigration figure had been used in 2009-2009 it would have delivered a 1.5 per cent increase in population growth, instead of the 2.1 per cent population growth we actually saw.

Whilst the Coalition’s promised immigration figure would see a sharp drop in the level of immigration, when compared with the levels seen since 2006, a 1.4 per cent annual increase would represent an increase above the levels we saw from 2002 to 2005.

The Federal Government Intergenerational Report projection for a population of 36 million people by 2050 assumed a long-term annual immigration take of 180,000 people. Under this scenario, the growth rate averaged 1.2 over the next 40 years. If the Coalition stands by the 1.4 per cent rate of growth (for more than eight years or so), the actual net overseas migration could be expected to rise above the levels anticipated by the Intergenerational Report.

Labor has implicitly endorsed a lower net overseas migration figure than the Opposition – trumpeting BIS Shrapnel projection that the immigration take will fall to 145,000 people by the end of 2011-12, based on the government’s current policy settings.

The Liberal/National parties new policy says the long-term answer for sustainable population growth lies in:

  • investing in our capacity for growth ? in our services, our infrastructure, the management of our environment and the like; and
  • improving the dispersal of our population to meet the needs of underpopulated areas that could benefit from higher levels of growth.

It criticises Labor’s recent advocacy for an “improved” spread of population across the country.

The Opposition policy says that “While this is a worthy objective, it is not a substitute for dealing with the level of immigration intake”.

“Efforts to disperse our population over more than six decades have had only modest success,” the policy says.

“Even where dispersal strategies are successful, they need to be supported by clear overall population and immigration policies.”

The Urban Taskforce has been very active in the population debate and will remain so.