Access Economics’ Chris Richardson has this morning put forward a strange case for significantly boosting the level of immigration into Australia. From the ABC’s AM radio program:
SIMON FRAZER: At 1.7 per cent, Australia has a world-beating population growth rate. But some observers still want more people, more quickly.
Chris Richardson, the director of Deloitte Access Economics, is one of them.
CHRIS RICHARDSON: We have actually wound back our population forecasts a little, and it is a shame. Australia really does need that people power at the moment…
Chris Richardson says the shift in public opinion sparked by that debate [Big Australia] should not be repeated.
CHRIS RICHARDSON: We were all so worried about “Big Australia” which in many ways was a failed infrastructure debate rather than anything else. We became as a nation less enthused about migrants. And you can still see that in the numbers and that is a mistake. The commodity prices that we see today are the world’s way of saying they are desperate for Australia to grow faster.
Can someone please explain to me the logic in Richardson’s argument?
The rate of population growth is inextricably linked to demands on Australia’s infrastructure. The higher the immigration intake, other things equal, the greater the strain on pre-existing infrastructure. While it is undeniably true that successive governments have done a poor job in updating and expanding Australia’s infrastructure stock, the strains that are currently being experienced have been worsened by Australia’s ramp-up in population since the mid-2000s.
Richardson’s second point about high commodity prices somehow justifying higher immigration is also nonsensical. As noted previously, Australia earns its way in the world mainly by selling its fixed mineral resources (e.g. iron ore, goal, and natural gas). More people means less resources per capita. A growing population also means that we must deplete our mineral resources faster, just to maintain a constant standard of living.
With improved policy settings and investment, Australia could probably support a substantially larger population. However, like many other Australians, I don’t hold much faith in our political class or policy making processes, which have time and again proven to be deficient in providing adequately for the pre-existing population (let also tens of millions more people), or that a substantially larger population would improve living standards anyway.
Population boosters like Chris Richardson need to put forward a better argued case if they are to convince Australians to willfully accept a “Big Australia”. Simply suggesting that population growth is desirable because it boosts the overall economy (whilst ignoring per capita GDP), whilst playing down any adverse impacts on livability, is not going to cut it.