Mark Latham demolishes Australia’s population ponzi

By Leith van Onselen

Former Labor leader, Mark Latham, gave a stirring speech yesterday at the Sustainable Australia party’s community forum, “Housing Affordability: An Honest Debate”, which was held in Sydney.

In the speech, Latham argued logically against the mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policies endorsed by all of the major parties, which are making ordinary Australians worse-off and pushing-up the cost of housing in the big cities.

Below are some of the key quotes:

“I don’t think you need to be John Maynard Keynes to work out that if you lower the demand for housing by cutting the immigration program, you do something to stabilise the price of housing or even bring it down. It’s a simple proposition… Year 11 economics: the first thing they learn about is supply and demand….

What we get in Australia at the moment in the great debate about housing affordability is only half the story. Because just about the entire system… focuses on the supply-side. And there’s a big debate about how we can build more housing… But what about demand? Sydney has 80,000 extra residents per annum. Melbourne has 90,000. And it’s mainly fueled by Australia’s 200,000-plus immigration program each year. And per head of  population around the world, we run the biggest immigration program in the West. In the Western World, we have the biggest immigration program per capita.

So wouldn’t it just be plainly logical to put the demand for housing as part of the equation when considering affordability?

So why the cone of silence?…  Why doesn’t anyone talk about the common sense in bringing down the biggest immigration program to give some relief on housing prices and relief on home buyers?

Well, it’s a classic case of a convergence of vested interests… You’ve got the two main tribes of left and right agreeing they won’t discuss immigration, they won’t discuss a cut to population as a way of improving housing affordability. And then you’ve got more naked vested interests in the system.

You’ve got the left-wing attachment to open borders… they support Big Australia for that reason.

For the Labor and Liberal parties… a big migration program they weaponise for ethnic branch stacking…

The property and housing industries, of course, they want more people coming in as that’s more money as you build the houses and you develop the property.

Big retailers, they love Big Australia, as they get more people walking through the door to buy their goods – easy money. The financial sector, the home loans…  The big advertising industry of course… they make money out of it.

The Department of Treasury in Canberra is very much pro-immigration and a Big Australia… because it’s a good way for Australia to achieve economic growth… Australia’s had 25-years of economic growth. But the truth is, in recent times, Australia’s growth has been sustained by the big immigration program. It hasn’t been sustained by productivity and competitiveness… We sustain our GDP figures artificially. Per head of population we are not going so great… Politicians love the idea of artificially inflating GDP figures, so that also sustains the Big Australia, big immigration program ethos…

So you see right across the political system advocates… Just look at the supply-side of housing, don’t look at the immigration… But in the outer suburbs, all this urban sprawl and congestion has made life dysfunctional in terms of getting around… There’s housing estates popping out of the ground like mushrooms. They’re everywhere. So there’s lots of supply, but it’s not keeping up with the demand. The fact that we are adding 80,000 people to Sydney every year is being driven by immigration… The inner-city Big Australia advocates have no idea about how dysfunction life is becoming in the outer-suburbs… This is a big drain on economic efficiency [as well as] social efficiency…

For people in Western Sydney, quite frankly, you leave home in the dark, you get home in the dark, they don’t see their property in sunlight for most of the year. These traveling times are horrendous. And the supply-side fetish of ‘just build more housing estates’ is making Sydney dysfunctional…

So the more sensible thing to do is find an immigration program for the people who live here… Have a ‘nation-first’ immigration program for the benefit of the residents of Australia. And that program would be defined on a big cut from 200,000-plus to about 50,000 a year… which would be a wonderful stabilising influence on housing prices, stabilise some of the urban sprawl and inefficiency, it’s a logical solution.

But because of all these vested interests – it really is a collaboration – screwing over people in the suburbs, we don’t even hear this part of the political debate, which is a dreadful shame”…

Brilliantly said, and aligns perfectly with what this site has argued over many years. I also recommend that you watch the 15-minute speech in its entirety, as there are plenty more gems demolishing the Big Australia agenda.

Tomorrow, I will post Dr Cameron Murray’s speech to the community forum.


  1. boomengineeringMEMBER

    Didn’t like him much before but that video is changing my mind, good speech.

      • scootytootyMEMBER

        I think Domain saw how Ireland’s media was called out for egging on the housing bubble over there; so now they’re trying to spit out some bubble articles to point blood thirsty people to when everything goes pear shaped..

      • Perhaps the real-estate spruikers are realising that higher prices are slowly killing their business and that a ‘normalisation’ of prices would in fact lead to a return of higher transaction volumes … (you can only hope)

      • I dont understand why the papers have been trying to keep the market up for so long. The worse it’s doing the more people will advertise to try and sell their property’s.

        The longer a property is on the market, the more the owner has to spend on advertising. That has to be good for the news paper.

    • I read one of his books over a decade back – I thought it made him quiet likable and reasonable, whilst also being perhaps a little ahead of the curve. He was talking about how vested corporate and financial interests were ruining Australian parliament and how the public could see right through it in the early naughties.

      He was a middle class populist before populism really became a thing.

    • He has enough notoriety in the media (Sky News and 3AW radio) to be able to win a seat.

      If Malcolm Roberts, Jacqui Lambie, Pauline Hanson, can get elected, Mark Latham should be able to do so too.

  2. Latham made good points about the demand side of the housing affordability equation but unfortunately on the supply side he said that there was no issue with supply and that development the size of Canberra was happening between narellan and Penrith. But in the same speech declared that ‘urban sprawl’ was making travelling into the city (because all workers that live there apparently do) dysfunctional. Would that not suggest there is some dysfunction in supply (as has been well documented for many years on MB).

    I was there at the talk and it was also disappointing to hear from the first guest speaker from the FHB association. He set the tone for the calibre of his speech at the beginning when he said “home ownership had been part of the great Australian dream for hundreds of years”. Hmmm Australia has only existed for just over 200 odd years – I’m pretty sure that 200 odd years ago the great Australian dream was something more like escaping execution/prison in England and being able to scrape a living in the new colony… it’s much more likely that the great Australian dream’s genesis was post WW2 when the federal government made it a policy objective to make housing affordable to the masses.

    Then he went on to acknowledge that FHB grants were inflationary while then arguing for the introduction of a revamped FHB savings scheme – which like FHB grants merely give more money to a greater pool of potential buyers! How is that not inflationary when it will have the effect of Increasing demand?

  3. 200,000+ is wrong.
    June 2016
    “The preliminary estimate of net overseas migration (NOM) for the year ended 30 June 2016 (182,200 people) was 3.0%, or 5,300 people higher than the net overseas migration recorded for the year ended 30 June 2015 (176,900 people).”

    And it was…
    “Preliminary net overseas migration recorded for 2009 was 277,700 people, down from 301,200 people in 2008”

    Looks like a trend down to me.

    A NOM of 50K would see our population stabalise quite quickly.

      • Mark does not mention decade average. He clearly gives the impression that ‘each year’ meaning this and last year we were 200K+. It was not.

        I do not support big Australia, however I do support using and quoting the actual numbers to avoid any alarmist incorrect speech in the debate.

        As I have stated many times before, our natural growth may drop to zero, or even negative as the ‘death bust’ unfolds. 80 years after a baby boom comes a death bust. So the real question is will our NOM double or treble to compensate for this?

      • “Mark does not mention decade average. He clearly gives the impression that ‘each year’ meaning this and last year we were 200K+. It was not.”

        Again. Nice pedantry. It has averaged 215k over the past 10 years. Do you seriously expect Latham to spell out NOM each and every year just so he can meet your absurd standards of accuracy?

      • Spin it anyway you want, the fact remains that he did not clarify his number and gave the impression that we are ‘at’ 200K+ per year and in reality, we are not.

      • So now I am a paying member I shall post a reply.
        I repeat about the dramatic fall in our predicted natural growth to come only becuase it seems to be either denied or totally ignored.

    • Philly SlimMEMBER

      Latham is probably including 457s, student visa’s and other dodgy visa categories. Are those counted in that 180k of yours?

    • Even if one accepts this obscure NOM annual data snapshot, and all the related negative issues or proxies it carries, which of the many visa categories or classes will be targetted and removed or cancelled to lower the NOM? What would be the knock on effect of such actions when no focus upon solutions but the only ‘problem’ of NOM and ‘immigrants’, you know ‘domino effect’?

      In the UK they too have been obsessing about the NOM, given as a reason to leave the EU, but conversely some Tories are now demanding that international students are removed from the NOM data, why? Because they are viewed as neither ‘immigrants’ nor long term settlers, with unclear relationship to population etc..

      All that focusing upon the NOM achieves, is wedging politicians into to doing something about ‘immigrants’, and allowing media to vent and bang on about them…..

      • Correct, the definition of NOM chnages form country to country and also here over time. The most recent chnage being 2006 as so no long term population growth chart is accurate when methodologies chnage.

        “Change in the methodology for estimating NOM and the recent decline
        However, it should be noted that in 2006, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) changed its methodology for estimating NOM, so that the figures before and after 2006-07 are not directly comparable. The new methodology has ‘relaxed’ the criteria for including a migrant in the NOM calculations, leading to higher estimates of NOM than previously. For example,NOM estimates in 2005-06 increased by 17 per cent (box 4.2). (Thus, if the new methodology were applied to NOM in both 2005-06 and 2006-07, the increase between the years would be 36 per cent, rather than 59 per cent.) ”

      • I doubt the NOM is understood by anyone, nor has it ever been officially explained, while basic statistics precludes any valid and reliable comparison with pre-2006 data. Still be fascinating to learn what any proposed ‘solution’ there would be to the ‘problem’ of NOM, when management and control is like juggling jelly….. multifaceted… confected problem looking for a draconian solution. Maybe it’s only the UN Population Council that knows and understands?

  4. reusachtigeMEMBER

    That guy doesn’t look like a property investor, if you know what I’m saying….

  5. “80% of that prior slowing in population growth reflects reduced net overseas migration, while the other 20% is due to slower ‘natural increase’. For net overseas migration, this has slowed from 238k to 177k annually between 2012 and 2015 (down 61k, & from 1.0% to 0.7% of the population), while Australia’s ‘natural increase’ has slowed from 163k to 149k between 2012 and 2015 (split relatively evenly between more deaths & less births).

    So what has driven this slowing in net overseas migration? Interestingly, it almost entirely reflects more Australian leaving than any fall in permanent migrant arrivals to Australia (Figure 3). Indeed, between 2012 and 2015, annual overseas arrivals have only slowed from 493k to 483k (only 0.04% of population growth), whereas Australian’s migrating overseas have risen from 256k to a record 306k between 2012 & 2015 (a more significant 0.21% of population growth).



    • Meanwhile, all official projections – the ABS, IGR, the Productivity Commission, and state governments – have Australia’s population growing strongly for decades to come. Seriously, who cares if NOM is 180,000-plus or 200,000-plus? Either way, it is way too high and ludicrous by historical (and international) standards.

      Sorry Willy Nilly, but I don’t believe your ‘death bust’ thesis somehow warrants never-ending mass immigration. How about slashing immigration now and ramping it back up if/when Australia’s population begins to fall courtesy of this so-called ‘death bust’?

      Your constant pedantry on this issue is nauseating, since you never look at the big picture. And you are not even a paying subscriber!

      • The IGR projected decreasing NOM.
        Where did I state that the falling natural growth will warrant an increased NOM?
        My position is a NOM of approx 48k to stabalise our population.
        It is just that the actual data and facts must beused to avoid alarmist positions which use inciorrect data.

        Perhaps you would prefer the Treasury NOM projections?

      • “It is just that the actual data and facts must be used to avoid alarmist positions which use inciorrect data”.

        “Alarmist positions” – you mean like official state government projections of Sydney growing by 87,000 a year and Melbourne by 97,000 a year for decades to come? Yeah, that’s pretty damn alarming.

      • I study the ‘big picture’ and providing the actual numbers, data and facts in not be pedantic. It is being accurate.
        I did not realise there was a posting limit for non members?
        Does that mean I have unlimited posting rights as a member?

      • I like Latham but I think he is off track on this. He infers that NOM is “out of control”, but as pointed out by Willy Nilly, it has trended slowly down from 2012, almost in the opposite direction to the Sydney property boom. Sydney’s population growth in 2016 was 1.7%, only a fraction in front of Brisbane and Perth at 1.6%, yet no boom has occurred in those cities – why is that? He also ignores the fact that a drop off in population growth will impact on employment levels, probably with a disproportionate impact in his own heartland, but seems to be OK with that if it means less congestion on the roads. I think he can do better.

    • ” it almost entirely reflects more Australian leaving than ”

      and why are Australians leaving at record rates?

    • So Latham was talking about the last 10 years, here are the numbers:

      2006 146,700
      2007 232,700
      2008 277,400
      2009 299,800
      2010 196,100
      2011 180,400
      2012 229,500
      2013 227,200
      2014 189,800
      2015 168,100

      numbers are from here;
      If you plot it in a graph you will see it has gone up and down twice in the last decade – but all years in the last decade are higher than the two decades prior.

      • I did not hear Mark mention 10 years at all. Is there a point/time in the video above where he did?

      • Paul, perhaps he didn’t specifically mention 10 years and it’s just because I knew when he mentioned 200k PA it has only been the last 10 years when this average has existed.

        It’s an obvious response to the GFC, to ward of recession in Australia and keep the property bubble from popping. Believe it or not, I have a mortgage – but I’d rather end up in negative equity than watch us destroy our environment and standard of living over greed.

    • Time to ignore all nonsense comments that are clearly from vested interests – especially from non-members.

      • Well now I am a paying member and nope, not a vested interest, apart for being vested in the actual data and truth as the basis for any population debate. ( willy_nilly)_

  6. @Freddy. Absolutely unaffordable housing for the average person. And associated high cost of living, ripoffs across the board – eg high electricity prices, private health insurance premiums to the moon……while in many similar countries the converse is true.

    • Brian,

      I know the answer and know a few friends who have moved away from Sydney or left Australia permanently. I am a little confused as to Willy_Nilly playing down the effects of immigration when he/she knows that Australians are escaping at record rates.

  7. The pro-Brexit film on YouTube has 2-3 million views.

    I think that probably swayed some voters.

    SAP should put out a short video ranting against 457 visas and excessive immigration.

    GoPro cameras are fairly cheap and, coupled with a Rode microphone, should produce a good result.

  8. TailorTrashMEMBER

    Mark should get back in the game ………and “”ease the squeeze ” …………good to see someone stand up and clearly put an argument for what needs to be done …..
    …..dare say he has sensible ideas on many other issues too ……..

    • Ease the squeeze!


      Aussies vote for 3 word slogans and that is gold.

      “Stop mass immigration”
      “Ease the squeeze”
      “Raise our wages”

  9. Freddy,
    I realised your sarc in asking the question. I moved from just north of Sydney to country WA in 2011. Frustrated at the almost complete lack of serious policy action (federally) on so many issues, as others have pointed out here. Am seriously thinking of retiring to SEAsia (ex Singapore) when I turn 60. The cost of living there is 1/3 to 1/5 (usually) across the board.
    As for Willy_Nilly, he/she could be a troll. There are a few on this site whose posts defy logic.

  10. Don’t know why there isn’t reference to the last Labor leader who put average Australians at the top of his priorities – Gough Whitlam. When the shit hit the fan economically, he slashed immigration, for blindingly obvious economic reasons. Hard to call the man that got rid of the white Australia policy racist.

    • drsmithyMEMBER

      Gough would be written off as a filthy commie these days. Too left-wing fringe to even be a Greens candidate.

  11. So, we seem to have defined ‘Small Australia’, without addressing the implications of that outcome regardless of whether people perceive such implications to be good or bad. What the hell is ‘Big Australia’ other than some size somebody wants it to be? Since Kevin Rudd walked away years ago from a stupid reference to that concept in the first place, nobody talks about that yet alone defines it.

    • It hasn’t been defined, Harley. However, Australia’s current immigration settings have us headed for a population of 40 million mid-century, with Sydney and Melbourne around 8 million each. Almost nobody that I know believes such a population increase to be sensible nor desirable. Our cities are barely functioning properly as is.

      In my view, Australia should lower immigration to the long-run average of 70k or less. This would see Australia hit about 32 million mid-century.

      Either way, we need a national population debate, policy and plan. At the moment we are blindly marching towards a Big Australia, with unwavering support from the unholy alliance of vested interests. This isn’t the way to run the country.

      • 32 million is still too much. why do we need more people here? why not an even lower target?

  12. Chirs Richardson on Sky News last week admitted in an interview that immigration was putting upward pressure on house prices. However he said it was other areas of policy that needed adjustment to deal with that and immigration should not be cut. Yet again, a member of the elite says high rates of immigration are fine as long as we put in place the policies to deal with it. The fact that for the last decade there has been a massive policy failure and no such policies to accomodate the large rate of immigration have been implemented does not deter him from saying that all will be fine in the future, we will devise the means, same tune as all the other advocates of the large immigration program.

  13. where the hell were you mark a few years ago??

    this is gold, and everyone would have voted for you

    could there be any way that he could make a comeback??

  14. The problem here is not the message but the messenger. Latham is widely loathed on the left these days, and most consider we dodged a bullet in 2004. What’s required is someone with credibility on the left to make the case for slowing population growth.

    • Exactly – Latham endorsing a cause is not likely to help it gain traction. Also, I doubt that anyone to the left of John Howard would actually consider Mark Latham to be left wing. Especially if you’re trying to win over current Greens voters, using Malcolm Roberts as your spokesman wouldn’t be any less effective.

      • Latham is still a person of influence on the public discourse. His intervention is good for the ‘everything issue’ of overpopulation.

      • My suspicion is that from Latham’s point of view this is more about rehabilitating his own brand than assisting the Sustainable Australia cause. My take was that he’d totally trashed any credibility he had in the events leading to his exit from the AFR. No doubt he’s retained a core group of fan boys, but they are likely to be of the FOWF way of thinking already, so aren’t the ones you’ve got to win over.

  15. Mark was there at the time, he just did a ‘Hewson’ except with a firmer handshake and updated suit. The Unconventional Economist is right, the key is a mature debate about population growth regardless of individual views. Interesting, though, that net overseas migration gets all the focus, but nobody talks about Victoria having the highest net interstate migration figures on record …

    • but nobody talks about Victoria having the highest net interstate migration figures on record …

      but note also the more persistent NSW exodus, which happened during the mining boom as well (in contrast with the new WA exodus, a post-mining boom phenomenon)

    • Don’t know the figures, but I suspect overseas immigration into Victoria is at least an order of magnitude greater than interstate migration.

      • At 65k, NOM into Victoria was just over 4x NIM into Victoria, at 16k, at last print (Jun ’16)

      • Thanks Robert, that’s interesting. I wonder how much of that is from Sydney, people escaping the (even more) unafforable housing and gridlock. If that’s the case, it’s a flow on effect of NOM. I worked with a couple of contractors a few years ago who flew down each week but were going to move their families down here because of house prices.

      • @Andrew,

        I don’t think Victoria’s NIM is a flow on directly from high NOM, as it was far lower only a few years ago when total Australian NOM was higher (but the extent to which it’s a consequence of Victoria’s mini building boom it could be an indirect consequence).

        I thought the NSW exodus was due to high NOM, but then I noticed the record year was 2003 (31k left NSW that year ending December, compared to 11k in the year to Jun ’16), before Howard and Costello started messing with the settings.

  16. Interestingly Lathams speech has now appeared on Domain of all places. This probably means NOM is pretty safe..