Attack of the population boosters

ScreenHunter_07 Mar. 19 12.02

By Leith van Onselen

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.

unconventionaleconomist[email protected]


Leith van Onselen


  1. ceteris paribus

    Totally agree.

    Australia is bereft of viable planning, environmental and infrastruture strategies to max out on population increase at this time.

  2. dumb_non_economist

    There is no explanation.

    Business wants an increase in immigration to save its arse. The infrastructure will NEVER follow the increase in population; gov hasn’t managed to get it right in the last 30 yrs and I’m not willing to let them have a go at getting it right over the next 30 yrs.

    Those with the means will never have to wallow in it like the average wage earner will.

    Tell them to stick their “Big Australia” where the sun don’t shine!

    • Fabian AlderseyMEMBER

      “Those with the means will never have to wallow in it like the average wage earner will.”

      Exactly. They’re conveniently removed from the negative impacts, and enjoy greater financial windfalls. Why wouldn’t they actively promote something which will make the majority worse off?

  3. +1 Leith

    “People power”? Really Chris?

    What a bizarrely unscientific growth strategy. Overload the existing infrastructure (drive down GDP per capita) and hope it results in growth.

    At best it is naive. At worst it is wilfully reckless.

    We measure, moniter and plan every part of our economy and businesses. Yet when is comes to one of the key (entirely controllable) levers in our economy we reef it violently one way and the other.

    How about we set our population growth at <1% (comparable to that of similar economies) and build our infrastucture to match.

    "The commodity prices that we see today are the world’s way of saying they are desperate for Australia to grow faster."

    WTF. I think Chris is hearing voices.
    We are going to have to shout extra loud.

    Me thinks the elite need a lesson in the real definition of "People Power".

    • It’s not naive it’s selfish in a way that should sicken the rest of the population dealing with packed schools, hospital waiting lists and a mind breaking commute.

      These guys are really showing the hallmarks of aristocratic self-centred behaviour.

  4. Population growth as a driver of economic growth is a ponzi, or sorts.

    The question should be asked that if a bigger population is advantageous, how much bigger is optimal? And over what period of time should we endeavour to hit this theoretical “target”?

    The overwhelming benefit of population growth are to those already holding the wealth. That is to say that if you hold assets/wealth and you can manipulate demand (via pop growth).

    I’m surprised he didn’t explicitly mention that the fear on policy-makers’ minds is that without population growth we could end up in the same boat as Japan. On the other hand, if this is our basis for population growth then we are merely deferring – and compounding – the inevitable troubles that come with an aged population.

    There are a few things we can do to alleviate these stresses, none of which will be popular. If we want to live longer – as seems to be the core of most ethicists belief structure – then we need to face the consequences.

  5. The explanation is that there is no logic – it is just industrial grade random spruik memes to shut down real debate on the issue of population growth and the fragility of our economy resulting from excessive debt.

    He is a busy boy.

    He was also on 576 with Fran Kelly this morning and pushing the line that interest rates should go down. Clearly he remains a big fan of the debt magic lamp.

    Don’t these guys get it – eventually the debt lamp geni will get irritated by the constant rubbing and refuse to deliver. He is already very unimpressed as the RBA have been finding out.

  6. What a tosser…

    1. Our deaths double over the next few decades as along term reflection of the baby boom which inevitably leads to a death bust. This will cause our natural growth to drop to perhaps zero or even negative.

    2. An ageing, conservative, dull nation will not elect or support any party that wants to double or treble our NOM to compensate for 1.

    3. We are at approx 22 million with approx 1 million temp visa holders here.

    • A baby will be born tonight that will take us up to 23 million mark.

      Odds on that the kid will be called Millie or Millsy.

      • More BS. We are 22 million and 1 million temp visa holders who have been counted, against OECD advice, in our official data.
        This 23 million is from the same ABS that got our numbers wrong by 300,000 compared to the actual Census 2011, right?

      • bolstroodMEMBER

        As a migrant who arrived herein 1958 when the population was 7 million I have seen the population more than triple in 55 years, thats pretty close to exponential growth. When is the country “full”?

  7. The demands of a growing population vs need for us to cap our total energy demands and reduce our carbon pollution, if we are serious about climate change need to be addressed.

    How do we do this? How do we avoid turning into a totally xenophobic bunch? If we are not already there.

    • You need to understand the growth per year levels. It is the over 65’s that will be swelling our real population numbers, not kids.

      Easy to get serious about CO2, go Thorium and tax the bejesus out of coal exports.

      Nothing xenophobic at all about wanting to stabilize or reduce our population, shite 48 countries are doing it now!

      We certainly can grow our GDP while our population peaks and then declines however we will need the housing bubble to crash first.

      I am now convinced a quick crash, even with the initial pain that may spread to the wider economy, is better than a slow deflate. Our dollar would crash and retail, construction, manufacturing etc would be far better off after a quick detox. It is the ‘housing crash we need to have’ in order for capital to more to actual productive works.

    • dumb_non_economist

      Being anti “Big Australia” doesn’t make me xenophobic or anti immigration, I just don’t accept the rationale behind it.

      Growth via (large) immigration increases is just a lazy “I don’t know what else to do” approach. Not only that, it will not solve our problems, but just push them further down the track, and guess what, the salvation will be to increase immigration, again!

      And no, I don’t know the answers.

  8. The UK has grown it population remarkably over the last 50 years…and where has it got it? Not a place I’d suggest Australia would like to be.

  9. For all the adoring worshippers of the squidian M. Turnbull, note the timely comment of reader Flawse yesterday:

    At a gathering I attended Malcolm Turnbull said “You can’t stop immigration. That is just stupid. Without immigration you will have no growth!”

    “Population growth” is just another euphemism for “Keeping the FIRE sector barons living in the manner to which they have become accustomed”.

    Economics is easy to understand, once you adopt the world view of the Merchants of Debt (and their schools of remora) –

    • Good post, except for the flawse quote, which I can’t read.

      Blockquote doesn’t work too well on this site. Better to put quotes in italic script.

  10. “I do not get it”?, with Western Australia having only a population of around 2.5 million people and the city of London 8.2 million what is the issue with having “Big Australia”, what is wrong with extending (infrastructure)the house as the family grows!.

    • Because most of them just end up in the capital cities.

      Sydney is actually second to only London in terms of population amongst the cities of Europe.

      So, I think we’ve taken our fair share, and then some, and then some more, and some more after that.

      Fine, extend the infrastructure, put in the underground trains, build a whole heap of unit towers and townhouses…

      But I know they won’t. They simply will not. The rich will just get richer, and the rest of us will suffer like hell. It’s bad enough as it is.

      • Hyperbole…..

        Sydney comes in 80th in the world with not only London but also Paris, Madrid, Milano ahead…. The difference with Europe is the number of small medium sized cities which Australia could encourage more.

    • It wasn’t that long ago that Brisbane’s water levels were at 17% and Melbourne was on drastic water saving measures.

      Australia is either drought, fire or flood.

      We live on a very large desert island with a fragile ecosystem. It simply can’t sustainably support a large population without massive clever infrastructure investment.

      And I’m afraid we are all out of clever.

  11. Chris Richardson is a typical immigration-supporting elite. What is he prepared to sacrific, personally, for the immigrants? Nothing.
    He is so rich he intends to outbid poorer people for whatever he wants. Je deteste le scum de la terre (pardon my French).

  12. > Can someone please explain to me the logic in Richardson’s argument?

    Damn it! … He’s using the Chewbacca defense!

  13. Leith/Mods

    I don’t know if you are aware but the whole MB site is running extremely slowly.
    I commented on this post about an hour ago and it has not shown up.

    • Sorry Patrick – your post got stuck in spam. Its not a site speed issue, just a tight filter (has to be, because of so much traffic=bots). Oh and I was on lunch.

  14. How would the suggested Economics Ethical code apply to this clown? He is clearly proposing something that will hurt the country. He should lose his job for ignoring the simple consideration for GDP/capita.

  15. notsofastMEMBER

    Australia’s $760 Billion net foreign debt is a gun to our head which means we need to continue to have high immigration for decades to come.

    Wake up and smell the roses grown during the Howard and Costello years. But just to show I am non partisan, the roses appear to have been carefully selected and then planted during the Hawk and Keating years.

    • yebbut. Providing the infrastructure is just going to increase the debt.

      How about we wait until the infrastructure catches up a bit with where we are at the moment before we increase the population and need even more infrastructure.

      Sure, over the long term more arrivals might well pay for the infrastructure needed to support them, but in the meantime we would need some massive capital from somewhere (your and my pockets I suspect) to fund it.

  16. “People Power”? Really Chris?

    I think you need a lesson in what “People Power” really means.

  17. Chris Richardson is a paid-for economics mercenary.

    He doesn’t want higher taxes, but wants higher population and wants the government to build everything. How do you do that? The following article linked today explains what shills like Chris do for a living .. Get the government to commission a report to study the feasibility of building something… with no hope of ever raising the money to actually build it.

    • How about a full disclosure requirement from those our national braodcaster puts forward as experts?

      Lets have a full list of Mr Richardson’s corporate and government clients?

      • +10 A very good idea. Those “economists” who have very obvious conflicts of interest shouldn’t be invited to appear/talk on ABC.

        • I don’t mind them opining as long as we get full disclosure, that way we can make a fully informed assessment.

          • The biggest problem is that the interviewers are so hopeless at asking decent questions.

            The uncritical acceptance of anything an economist says reflects a lack of knowledge on the part of the interviewer.

            Regardless of one’s opinion on the importance of the level of household debt the failure to ask any questions regarding the implications of chronically low interest rates is unbelievable.

            We are sitting on a powder keg and the media just nods as ‘debt spruikers’ recommend that we just keep making it bigger.

            Debt increases the fragility of economy and the current extraordinarily low level of interest rates (considering unemployment is 5.4%) demonstrate just how reckless our accumulation of debt has been.

          • But why should we have taxpayer funded propaganda for these private, free market champions? As it is, these individuals are sucking off the government teat in their “advisory” role.

          • rob barrattMEMBER

            Precisely Mav
            When a statement appears nonsensical, look for the motive. Deloitte is a consultancy, I quote from their web site: “helps Government agencies access the full strength of our global capabilities “. The more government, the more work they get. [email protected]@@er the environment or quality of life.

          • ABC TV News just had an informative piece on the ticking population clock.
            Reference to the 1.7% growth rate outstripping UK, US and India amongst others. Dick Smith chipped in on sustainability.
            Our friendly “demographer” Bernard Salt also got a brief undisclosed run.

          • The interview, the ABC and this article appear to be evidence free with media (medium’s) preference for opinions and subjective views.

            Related there is a reason the Greens are very careful when they speak about population (growth) in Australia i.e. “How we live not how many” and not blaming foreigners for our perceived issues.

            This is because they are obviously aware of anti immigration and anti population memes ochestrated by a US anti immigration/anti population growth network (active in Oz).

            Further, “The Greening of Hate: An Environmentalist’s Essay” from Betsy Hartmann of Population & Development Program of Hampshire College:

            “The “keep them at home” refrain of the U.S. anti-immigrant movement assumes an automatic connection between immigration-related population growth and environmental degradation. But no such automatic connection exists. Take the issue of urban sprawl. In New England, where I live, sprawl has increased while population has decreased…. “Smart growth” advocates identify the main causes of sprawl as poor land-use planning, zoning regulations and tax laws — not population growth and immigration.

            In other words, it’s not so much the number of people that matters, but how they live. ….

            My encounter was just one small tip of the iceberg of an organized right-wing movement against immigrants that cloaks itself in green language to lure environmentalists into the fold.

            Its main claim is that immigration, by increasing U.S. population growth, drives environmental degradation, causing traffic congestion, urban sprawl, water shortages, forest loss, and greenhouse gas emissions, to name a few.

            When immigrants come to the U.S., the argument goes, they adopt American lifestyles and consumption patterns, so they should stay home in their poor countries…

            Typically, anti-immigrant groups move seamlessly from portraying immigrants as an environmental burden to painting them as an economic burden on taxpayers, schools, hospitals and other public services.”


            Be careful whose “data”, “facts”, “research” or “opinions” one is using round the BBQ when complaining about population growth and immigration as you may find that it comes straight from bigots in the US via their affiliates in Oz….

      • +1 The media just seems to constantly forget that these guys are overwhelmingly talking to their interests.

        It’s fair enough for them to give the commercial point of view, but it often masquerades as a balanced view point, and the journo’s just suck it up.

    • I seem to recall that Albanese was very unenthusiastic on the idea of high speed rail until very recently.

      Sounds like someone in the ogvernment figured out that ‘doing the vision’ thing would suck in a whole bunch of votes from the feel good brigade that loves ‘big picture’ concepts ‘bugger the cost’ and it would only cost $20M to get a report that made it sound vaguely plausible.

      Allows the govt to sound futuristic, moving forward, insert buzz phrase of choice in the lead up to the election and not actually deliver anything.

      By the way that work of science fiction was about 500 pages long so it worked out at $40,000 per page.

      Sweet work if you can get it.

      • That’s the problem. If there is nobody in the public sector who can do it, then the private sector charges whatever it likes, and there is no-one who actually has the technical background to understand whether it is good value for money or not.

        The end point of a lot of this is that in a year or few, some bright spark will point out to government the extent to which they are being ripped off (and this is an example), and suggest that it would be cheaper to employ public servants to do the work.

        And thus the cycle re-starts.

        Government got rid of the capability of being an ‘informed buyer’ of services years ago. Such are ‘efficiency dividends’. It is now quite unlikely that such informed buyer capacity could be built up without a lot of time and effort. It will only be when the full extent of the money being spent on everything (not just this) becomes clear, that something might be done.

        Hint: Don’t hold your breath. you will probably turn blue and die first.

        I suspect that Albaneasy’s love affair with a high speed train might have something to do with the fact that Wilton Airport is a non-starter, leaving Badgery’s Creek as the last location standing…unless there is a high speed train from Canbra to Sydney.

        And we all know how much the ALP loves Badgery’s Creek Airport.

  18. English people used to be great, conquered half of the world brought prosperity and civilization everywhere, then they suddenly become ashamed of it and now trying to make up by letting people from their ex-territories in. There is nothing wrong with a nation being patriotic and mildly xenophobic.

    • aiecquest you are so full of it. You say below “Most anti pop and anti immigration advocates have genuine concerns” and then this rant calls anyone with genuine concrens KKK. You slag Australia and Australians off at every turn yet you are happy to stick your snout in the trough selling PR to this country to foriegn students.

      • In a past life i worked in a top tier firm that also provided migration services. And i can confirm categorically that the major reason for people embarking down student and 457 visas is the prospect of a pathway to future permanent residence. For 457’s the only exception to this i ever saw was truly high skilled in the large corporate/medical/academic sector, and really this was actually pretty rare.

        When universities sell courses to foreign students, the vast majority of what they are really selling is future permanent residence. People can make of that what they will, but that is the way the system works right now! This is the way consecutive liberal and labor governments have chosen to help fund the university sector.

        This is not necessarily a bad thing, but again the lack of government and party honesty on this is mind-numbing! As is the way this ties in with population growth and infrastructure limits.

        • Proof of this was when they tightened the rules the numbers plummetted. Same thing happened in the UK. Anything deliberately dishonest is a bad thing. What annoys me about aiecquest is that he has his snout buried in this trough and flings around racist accusations at anyone who questions his business model or questions the wisdom of importing people beyond our and our country’s ability to cope. Notice the very nasty comment above. He also obviously has a very low opinion of Australians but is happy to suckle at the teat of what we have built.

      • Another ridiculous rant where you fling around racist accusations. The evidence that you fling around racist accusations to attain your objectives is in every one of your posts. This is a well worn tactic of globalists to shut down any debate about their nation destroying policies.

        The greens have been hijacked by a multitude of self interested minorities and rarely even mention the environment anymore. BTW, they also have a high immigration policy.

      • WHen you mentioned the offshoot of the US teatards springing up here, I knew Corey Bernardi had something to do with it.

        Problem with these social conservatives cum free marketeers is that their twin ideologies are contradictory to each other :). They want “Australian culture” (whatever that means) to be preserved, but also want to deliver increasing numbers of consumers to their capitalist overlords.

        Anyway, since you live in New England, whatever you do, vote for Tony Windsor 🙂

    • Have you lost your meds or something? What a ridiculous paranoid rant. Anyone concerned about the direction this country is taking with regard to immigration is a white supremicist? Anyone concerned about population driven environmental degredation is a subversive eugenicist?

      • No, but many people in Australia seem to need medication when anything “foreign” related is raised 🙂

        Till anti pop/immn types can produce clear research and evidence showing direct causal links for their opinions and claims, I will remain sceptical.

        Australia and media seems to be research, fact and policy free zone……. however, I am open to clear evidence (but not like what Sustainable Population Australia serves up e.g. policy based on a book, weblinks to reports that include no reference to any relationship between immn/popn and negative outcomes, but that’s what happens, asssuming no one checks references).

        Much of the related research and statistics is purposely distorted and/or confused to support negative position, in addition to outright rubbish.

      • aiecquest, you are correct. There is no need to build any more infrastructure to cope with the influx of immigrants.
        The existing infrastructure has an infinite capacity to absorb and service the immigrants. There is no evidence it doesn’t, right?
        There is no evidence of rising prices, no evidence of congestion, no evidence of any shortage.

      • I am not claiming immigration or population growth impacts infrastructure etc. directly because I am not aware of any research findings making such a direct causal link, locally or internationally?

        Subjective correlations can be made, but for nay issue there are multiple to infinite correlations possible from above 0 to 1….

        If there is no clear evidence that immigration etc. are responsible for all these supposed environmental, infrastructure, societal woes, etc., then what is all the passionate noise about?

        It’s also a boon for the RE industry in e.g. Melbourne, who can claim “high population growth” (meaning get in now before you miss out), yet prices are either stagnant or falling, and stock on market has doubled in few years?

        As others have mentioned here in the past, do they not teach clear thinking and media analysis anymore at school or university? (one episode of Frontline is more enlightening about media and critical thinking, but little progress in 20 years).

        Bring on the Australian version of the Guardian…

      • What an amusing exchange.

        There are two forces poisoning the well of public opinion regarding migration.

        1. KKK nutters (that seem to be thin on the ground downunder)

        2. Those who deny that migration has an impact at all and accuse anyone who raises concerns about the impact and whether policies are in place to manage it as being racist KKK. In their minds the country is riven with racists even though an enormous proportion of the population (or their patents) were born over seas.


        If your are serious about your obsessions you should support an international random lottery for selection of migrants. Rather than the selling of citizen to the affluent and intelligent.

        But you dont.

  19. Chris is no doubt loaded, his kids go to or have probably finished at their private schools and he lives in a nice pad close to the city he lives in.

    His views on population are about as valuable as the views of my goldfish. Of course a bigger population ponzi benefits the wealthy middle class economists, as does importing the worlds financial repression, so his asset prices rise.

    This guy obviously cares jack-sh&t about the rest of the people in this country.

  20. This is a bit disingenuous – the infrastructure burden depends on the no of people not a visa classification.

    The debate on this site has been balanced on the whole and most are just saying they want growth that is sustainable and balanced with infrastructure that supports the whole community.

    At the moment we have vested interest lobbying the politicians because they get all the benefits of population growth with none of the cost.

  21. ? Then surely there is clear evidence available of how infrastructure is being burdened by “immigrants” in Australia, or is it just another meme accepted as true i.e. personal opinion (which makes up much of the Oz media)?

    • Infrastructure is being burdened by growth, and this not a ‘meme’ for hipsters to muse about over an expresso, and this does include the number of people that the population is growing by.

      Do a search on schooling or childcare in the major metro’s and you might get a feel for it. Pollution of our urban amenity has increased massively over the last decade as growth without solutions for waste reaps its outcomes.

      These are real and quantifiable – you are just giving opinions.

    • Where do you live? Dubbo?

      It takes a half hour to get from one set of lights to the next in peak hour, a few hundred metres, near where I live.

      Isn’t your job to act as an intermediary for overseas students?

    • Then surely there is clear evidence available of how infrastructure is being burdened by “immigrants” in Australia

      Infrastructure is burdened by PEOPLE – both locally born and immigrant have the same effect. The problem is that govt invites in many immigrants and builds little infrastructure. The result is obvious.
      There are two obvious solutions:
      1) More infrastructure to match immgration + locals
      2) Cut immigration to match infrastructure.

        • It is just commonsense that more people overload a fixed size of resource.

          What would be evidence to you? Do you require an expert with a qualification to spell it out to you?

          • So why not count our international tourists as well in our official population, using your logic?

  22. Add this to the list of the key issues the major parties will just not talk about honestly.

    The major parties refuse to talk about population and growth and how this impacts peoples lives – these guys and gals are just patsies for the lobbyists that buy the decision rights to their party room.

  23. Time to close the gates. It’s ruining nz as well, part of the reason I am in aus is to save money so I can compete with foreigners back home. We have a great life aus/nz. It’s our sovereign right to be selfish and maintain a lifestyle the envy of the world. Lets keep it that way.

    • Damned straight. It just so happened that Britain won history during the last few hundred years. There were no shortage of contenders. It could have been Spain, Russia, Portugal, Holland, Italy, any number of countries.

      That we should be quite proud of, and we should protect it, and not give in to the PC Marxist nutters, nor the ethically vacuous neoliberal rent seekers.

    • Looked promising but ultimately fell short. Lots of motherhood statements and little specifics.

      Some points if note:

      1.Bernard Salt’s opening frank admission (@~7.00) that the current high immigration levels are primarily designed to provide demand for the building industry. The more analysis of this issue, the more NOM appears to be nothing more than a “demand tap” for vested business interests.

      2. Amanda Vanstone’s startling admission (@~35.30) that the destabilising surge in NOM in the late 70’s/early 80’s “..wasn’t monitored, wasn’t checked..”

      3.One of the most interesting exchanges was John Hewson v Vanstone on the Howard dog-whistle.

      4. Although his heart is in the right place, surely there is a better advocate for sustainable pop growth than Dick Smith. I think Dick even recognises this and would be more than happy to hand over the baton.

        • It is a anti Rupert rant at best. DS is deluded…

          We will grow at perhaps 2 million per decade over the next 4 decades and it is very likely we will not get to 30 million before we peak and then start our decline. Our deaths double over the next few decades and our natural growth drops to perhaps zero or even negative.

          Can you see an ageing nation where 50% of the voters are above 45, will vote to double otr treble our NOM?

          Mad as batpoo….