Australia Institute slams population ponzi


By Leith van Onselen

Chief economist at The Australia Institute, Dr Richard Denniss, has given a masterful interview on Sydney’s 2UE Radio, explaining in no uncertain terms why the drive towards a “Big Australia” is destroying Australian living standards:

“Since the Sydney Olympics, Australia’s population has grown by the population of Sydney. Australia is one of the fastest growing countries in the developed world and our infrastructure isn’t keeping up. It isn’t keeping up now and hasn’t kept up for the last 10 years, and it’s not budgeted to keep up in the next 10.”

“What politicians are doing is every year they announce record spending on this and a new that, but what they don’t point out is that on a per person basis, per person we are spending less on health, per person we’ve got less access to transport, per person the reason the queues in the hospital keeps getting longer is because we are not building hospitals as fast as we are growing our population. They all know it, they just don’t say it”…

“If you were going to invite a hundred people to your house for a party, you would probably put the food and the chairs out before they arrive. But, what we have done for nearly 15 years now is we’ve significantly increased the rate of population growth and we are saying “we’ll build rail in the future… we’ll build the hospitals in the future”. Yes, there’s no doubt that any minister can rattle a list of things they are planning to build. What they don’t say is that given that our population’s gonna grow by around 400,000 people this year, we are not building nearly enough hospitals and schools and roads to keep up with that. So, yes, there’s always a big pipeline, but what they are not telling you is that per person, the amount of infrastructure is declining. Per person, the amount of spending on health is declining”…

“If you want to double your population – and that’s our plan – we want to double our population – you have to at least double your infrastructure to maintain people’s standard of living… We’re talking schools, we’re talking hospitals, we’re talking trains, we’re talking roads, we’re talking police”…

“Population growth costs a lot… If you double the number of citizens then you double the number of teachers and double the number of nurses. It’s pretty simple math. But of course, you don’t have to double them if you gradually plan to lower the number of services. If you are happy for us to gradually lower the number of services in our health system, our aged system, if you are happy for congestion to gradually get worse, if you are happy for the amount of green space per person to decline, then you can do what we do. But the trick is at the moment is every budget – and all governments do this – every budget the minister says “I’m spending a record amount on health”. Well, of course you are, we’ve got a bigger population than we’ve ever had before. Every year has to be a record. But, their own data shows that on a per person basis, it’s just not keeping up”.

Brilliant. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Little by little, Australia’s economists are coming out of the woodwork to publicly warn that high immigration is not an economic bonanza, and is in fact far more likely to damage Australian productivity and living standards.

If all we are doing is growing for growth’s sake, pushing against infrastructure bottlenecks, diluting our fixed endowment of minerals resources, and failing to raise the living standards of the existing population, where is the benefit?


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About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.