What’s the “optimal” immigration intake for Australia?

By Leith van Onselen

“Dr Demography”, the ANU’s Dr Liz Allen, was at it again yesterday, claiming that Australia’s “optimal” immigration intake is between 160,000 and 210,000, after which Australia will suffer from diminishing returns. From News.com.au:

Liz Allen, a demographer and social researcher at the Australian National University, said the facts speak for themselves.

“The economic benefits of our migration intake are clear,” she told news.com.au. “That is, based on research, our current migration program in Australia is a demand-driven program. Evidence shows that the optimal level for Australia, given the population characteristics, is between 160,000 and 210,000.”

In other words, a migrant intake over 210,000 will produce diminishing returns, while an intake below 160,000 — as Mr Abbott is advocating for — will be ineffective for economic growth…

As I noted on Wednesday, this so-called ‘research’ claiming the “optimal level” of immigration “is between 160,000 and 210,000” comes from fellow ANU Demographer, Peter McDonald, who in 1999 co-authored a 1999 federal parliamentary research paper, entitled “Population Futures for Australia: the Policy Alternatives”:

In this 1999 paper, McDonald explicitly stated that it is “demographic nonsense to believe that immigration can help to keep our population young”, while also recommending “a population of 24-25 million within 50 years” as well as “annual net migration… in the order of 80 000“. McDonald also stated “that there were difficulties in the late 1980s when net migration rose for just two years to over 150 000 per annum” and that “a sustained net migration level of 120 000 per annum is at the high end of what Australia seems to be able to manage”.

Dr Allen needs to explain why the ANU (via Peter McDonald) has raised its “optimal level” of migration so aggressively? And why is Peter McDonald not concerned that Australia’s population has already reached his “24-25 million” target some 30-years ahead of schedule? Is it because of his alleged funding links with the ‘Growth Lobby” in favour of mass immigration (see below video).

Moreover, Dr Allen needs to explain why the ANU has ignored other evidence calling for lower levels of immigration?

For  example, in 2010 Flinders University released a report to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) examining the “Long-Term Physical Implications of Net Overseas Migration” (NOM). This report concluded that “higher levels of NOM impose greater adverse impacts on the quality of our natural and built environments” and that the “geographical concentration… within Sydney, Melbourne and Perth… substantially increases their environmental impact”. The report also found that “decreased urban water supply is a significant environmental constraint exacerbated by higher levels of NOM”. In particular, “modelling shows the vulnerability of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth to deficits in water supply“.

The Flinders University report also noted that Australia’s water resources could only cope with NOM of up to 50,000 people a year (versus a permanent intake of 210,000 currently):

Only NOM levels of 50,000 pa or less result in Melbourne and Sydney maintaining a small surplus of net surface supply over demand on average out to 2050, assuming current climate conditions persist. Potential options to alleviate water stress at high NOM levels over the longer term may be hard to find.

Also in 2010, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) called for Australia’s population to be stabilised and nominated human population growth as a “key threatening process” to Australia’s biodiversity.

In 1994, when Australia’s population was just under 18 million, the Australian Academy of Science (AAS) convened a symposium on the future population of Australia. Its analysis was extended to Australia’s resources of water, minerals and arable land, and the interactions between present lifestyle and present environmental damage, and between future expectations and the costs of increasing population.

The AAS cautioned that “if our population reaches the high end of the feasible range (37 million), the quality of life of all Australians will be lowered by the degradation of water, soil, energy and biological resources” and concluded that “the quality of all aspects of our children’s lives will be maximised if the population of Australia by the mid-21st Century is kept to the low, stable end of the achievable range, i.e. to approximately 23 million”.

Why is environmental sustainability being completely ignored by the Dr Liz Allen and the ANU?

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Unconventional Economist


  1. What is the optimum salary of immigrants?

    Foreign workers should be required to pay $30k/year income tax to the ATO.

    When they have done it for 5 years in a row, they should be allowed to convert their 3rd world passport into an Aussie one.

    Why is Norway allowed to be 11% foreign-born.

    • Arriving in Australia as a migrant or a newly born child is like winning the lottery! Whether you are born here or migrate, you immediately have a massive amount of infrastructure at your fingertips. Look around you. Go for a drive into the countryside. Water pipes, power lines, dams, power stations, roads, schools, hospitals, all the envy of most of the world!

      That trillions of dollars worth infrastructure was paid for from the sweat off the brow of our parents and the taxes paid by our grandparents. To just show up and think how good is this, and then start taking advantage of all that is laid out in front, but to have nothing invested in the place is a massive win for the new arrival.

  2. The AAS cautioned that “if our population reaches the high end of the feasible range (37 million), the quality of life of all Australians will be lowered by the degradation of water, soil, energy and biological resources” and concluded that “the quality of all aspects of our children’s lives will be maximised if the population of Australia by the mid-21st Century is kept to the low, stable end of the achievable range, i.e. to approximately 23 million”.

    So the immigration intake should be aiming for NOM that maintains the population at about today’s level.
    About 50,000 a year mostly from Europe, cos we are losing our culture and identity.

    • +1
      Look at her web page http://csrm.cass.anu.edu.au/people/dr-liz-allen
      She works for ANU who benefit from loads of overseas students.

      “Liz’s doctoral research explored the individual, family and neighbourhood contributions to child excess weight and screen time”
      She’s a social scientist, not an economist.

      She is also heavily involved in the Australian Population Association lobby group.
      – Liz is a national council member of the Australian Population Association.
      – Liz was Vice President of Australian Population Association 2012-16.
      – Liz was Secretary of the Australian Population Association 2008-12.
      – A member of Wurundjeri Tribe Land council

  3. Dr Liz Allen is a social researcher who among other things seems to write a lot of opinion articles in The Conversation. Her academic work includes studies of children separation when ‘staying overnight’, academic succession, aboriginal policy – and now Australia’s population policy.


    So that must mean that she is an academic at the ‘ANU School of Demography’ right? That’s where the demographers seem to live at ANU where they aim to:

    -Conduct demographic research of the highest quality
    -Train world-class demographers at the undergraduate, Master and PhD levels
    -Inform policy and the broader public in relation to major demographic issues facing Australia and its region
    -Lead the discipline of Demography in Australia and its region

    It says so right here:


    So isn’t it strange that when I looked at the academic staff list I could not find Liz Allen? Nor could I find Professor Demography himself, the great Prof Peter McDonald (marketer turned demographer and spruiker for the growth lobby).

    So what’s going on? Has ANU’s actual Demography School snubbed Dr Allen and Prof Demography out of professional spite?

    Funny though, I did happen to notice when I looked at the qualifications of ANUs demographers (in the actual demography school) that they all seemed to have qualifications in public health, applied statistics, economics and even – shock/horror – demography. In fact they seem to be rather heavy weight in both their qualifications and publications. Dr Allen and Prof Demography don’t seem to be in the same academic universe.

    But “so what” you say if we have another multi-skilled academic calling themselves a ‘demographer’ when they are not really a demographer? In reality it’s a popular but rather broad title. A reminder: “Demography is the science of populations. Demographers seek to understand population dynamics by investigating three main demographic processes: birth, migration, and aging (including death).” Hence, if you can calculate a mean and plug some figures on births, deaths and migration into an SPSS package, please write ‘demographer’ after to your name. Dr Allen and Prof Demography do. They ain’t even in the demography school and get away with it, so I’m sure that ANU is ok with it if we ALL call ourselves demographers. I mean, my guess is that the ANU School of Demography can’t care less if the photocopier technician calls themselves a demographer and starts to issue press releases and begins to take money from developers. Can’t do ANU’s reputation any harm can it? I’m sure the School of Demography is tickled pink! Demography is catching on – so popular that everyone wants to be one!

    Getting back to Dr Allen’s conclusions that seem to speak of her opinion that there is an optimum economic benefit derived from a key immigration intake. Ok then, let’s see the data/model/stats that this is based upon. Please show us where this data has been published and peer reviewed – IN A DEMOGRAPHY JOURNAL. Because if it has not been published and peer reviewed in such a place it is worthless comment and that raises another question – why are talking to the press and claiming to have new demographic data?

    Anyway, who cares about academic rigour, environmental sustainability, water security, food production, peak phosphorus, energy, quality of life, amenity democracy and the will of the Australian people? Let’s all get ready to squeeze into boxes and degrade our children’s lives because a couple of fake demographers tell us that it is good for the economy.

    All humour aside, shame on you ANU. Shame. Are you running any other scams out there that we need to know about? Perhaps you have a chiropractor school offering alternative ‘back-cracking’ cures for cancer? I mean, why not if it pays money hey?

    I tell you what ANU VC (Research), why don’t you take a look at the aims of your ‘School of Demography’ and see if you can spot the problem?

    Isn’t it time that CSIRO did a proper study? Clearly ANU isn’t up for it.

    • Um this is kind of serious, great pick up
      MB, you guys could send this straight to the ANU and cc Dick Smith
      Maybe even Andrew Bolt or your mates at 2GB

      See where it goes


    • reusachtigeMEMBER

      I have many partners at the property investor relations parties, does that now make me a demographer too?

    • “and degrade our children’s lives”

      If we all vote with that in mind, we’ll be okay.

      Leave LNP, Labor and Greens last below the line.

    • To be taken seriously on population growth the researcher should be based in Sydney or Melbourne. Its so easy to write on the joys of population growth from Canberra. Its population is growing but it still feels like a ghost town. There are vast paddocks lying unused between suburbs of quarter acre blocks, and what the locals call “trafffic” is when there is only one empty lane beside you.

      • Yeah Dan, but our nation’s capital is the place to be to keep an eye on our great leaders who are selflessly devoted to evidence-based policy, science and our “great demographic leap forward” for the benefit of all riding in Big Australia – unless you live in Sydney or Melbourne which are now rooted. Each are to become like Asian mega cities because there is no alternative. Absolutely none. I mean, that’s obvious isn’t it?

        ‘Demographers’ in social studies department (or hygiene services) are within eyeshot of the walled palace on the hill and can immediately jump on any Canberra-fishbowl comments that might not fit their ideological leanings. In becoming linked to the growth lobbyists in Canberra ANU is now more ‘relevant’ and Dr Allen and Prof Demography “players” in the sort of soap opera and navel gazing that can only go on in Canberra. It’s all so exciting if you are a long-term Canberra inmate.

    • Good work Clive,
      I find the good doctor’s interest in indigenous affairs interesting. Clearly this is an area where assistance is needed, but just as clearly from an academic’s point of view, it is a goldmine of ready access to an endless stream of funding grants!

  4. Ignoring what the argument what the correct level of immigration should be…There are some serious rational problems with some of those statements. Suggesting Australia could only take 50k pa based on water resources – on what basis?? Wonky assumptions, that could be disproved in an instant, by numerous developed countries.

    The sustainable population of 23 million is laughable. California is far smaller, less arable land, far less water and has double our population. England is similar to Victoria, without a lot of the benefits or water resources and it has 50+ million.

    I know MB has its bias’s, but you are destroying your immigration argument by quoting these quacks. No-one, and I mean, no-one will ever take you seriously. The arguments have to be more rational based on increased infrastructure (more employment) and integration.

    These environmental arguments are not even nebulous, but totally wacko, and just turn anyone with more than IQ of 90 off. just saying… you have to keep on point. It distracts.

    • What about the democratic arguments. I don’t recall anyone ever asking me about the level of immigration. Do I get a say? I only live here and pay for it. The freeloaders in business don’t, and neither do most of the migrants.

    • California pipes it’s water in from 3 states. Its also overrun by illegal immigration from Mexico and the most over taxe state in the country

      • Doesn’t CA also have a MASSIVE water problem?
        Overplanting of almonds (in an area not suited to almonds)

        Endless traffic (but RT conveniently ignores liveability as a parameter)

    • The point is that there are also “experts” calling for a much lower intake. So all the “expert” evidence is not pointing her way.
      Also, have you not noticed all the desal plants being built across Australia, that California pulls its water from elsewhere, and that California is in severe drought?

      • There are parts of Australia that have massive amounts of water, I guess the question is – how much, at what cost? The Ol man killed the Kimberley to Perth. We can do things a lot more-cleverly. No doubt.

      • Do tell why the Ord pipe has not been built yet, RT, if it were such a good time.
        Waiting to hear how enviro friendly desal plants are


      • A pastor from an Aboriginal Church I used to attend, wanted the pipeline from the Ord to in run down the Northern Goldfields before heading to Perth. There are hundreds of kilometres of fertile paleo-soils that just need water. They literally can grow anything (I have seen it for myself). His thinking, that his and the next tribe would have work and prosperity for his peoples in perpetuity. And it wasn’t a pipe-dream. It was an amazing idea…

        The problem a lot of the time, with many commentators, and contributors with MB, is they just see the nuisance value of doing something. In reality, when a big project occurs, things fundamentally change. had an argument with a major player about the benefits of China’s Three Gorges Dam – his whole argument against it centred around the “social cost of two million people”, and completely ignored the fact that it gives 23kMW for the next several hundred years effectively for free. Cheap power that the ordinary Chinese person can afford, and for many will transform their lives – then I pointed out that the Dam saved burning between 253kt to 363kt of coal per day… for a guy espousing minutes before run away climate change, he didn’t give a shit, just kept talking about the social cost.

        The truth is, these upwardly mobile environmentalists don’t either (a) have a clue; and/or (b) don’t give a stuff about the environment.

        Point I am trying to make – when you do something, especially something big, other opportunities follow – you just have to be imaginative/creative and change things for the better.

        Everything has a cost…

      • RT,

        Have a look at how much water is sent down ephemeral creek beds in the Pilbara on a yearly basis from dewatering at the major IO mines.

    • ”California is far smaller, less arable land, far less water and has double our population.”

      Let us know when it’s feasible for Australia to pipe its water in.

      • EZ-PZ, just dig so many holes that we have enough dirt for an equivalent of the Rockies just off Sydney. Nature will take care of the rest!

    • Agree. I saw this rather fabulous Map of Australia marked according to habitability and Australua deemed Full. It was 1920.

      “The map is based on the works of Professor Griffith Taylor of the University of Sydney who did not think settlement should extend into the interior of Australia and also wanted to show that Australia was in a sense “full,” by the 1920s.”


    • I’m fine if people wanted to populate currently uninhabited arid areas using new technology or engineering projects (e.g. there is are interesting experiments going on in South Australia using solar powered desal). But that’s not what’s ever going to happen. Instead migrants are just piling into existing population centers and its putting huge stress on the resources, infrastructure and environment needed to sustain the existing population. Theoretical carrying capacity may be much higher, but practical carrying capacity is constrained by economic and political factors. Like Infrastructure Australia today arguing “if only we did better strategic planning and aligned all stakeholders so that everyone shared in the benefits”. Sadly we are governed with election cycle time-frames in mind and self interested profit-driven entities in control. Planning based around a strategic vision or public interest invariably gets shoved into the bottom drawer.

  5. we just have to wait for upcoming recession, not only that immigration will fall by 75% but emigration will will skyrocket. Once property bubble bursts Australia will face population decline in excess of one million – because people (mostly recent immigrants) will run away from million dollar debt on shitholes on 300sqm blocks conveniently located in bad areas of shithole suburbs

  6. Where does the basic human sense of sovereignty come into this mass immigration?
    History says much human grief and suffering is caused by threats to sovereignty.
    We mess with this at our own peril.

    • Here’s how you do it.

      “The Scanlon Foundation believes that the future prosperity of Australia, underpinned by population
      growth, will depend on our ability to maintain social cohesion in a society with even more cultural
      diversity than we have successfully accommodated historically, whereby: almost one in four current Australians were not born in Australia. Also half of Australians have had at least one parent born overseas”

      Sovereignty doesn’t concern such a huge chunk of Australia, it’s irrelevant.

      • A Parliament filled with dual citizens who we allow to take up post politics million dollar corporate gigs doesn’t give a wazoo about sovereignty. A country that’s on the verge of changing the Australia day date, and a $200m Cayman investing PM that was the figure head to become a republic do not give a flying fk about Australia’s sovereignty.

        The more free market we become, the more diverse we become, the more we pay people like Lisa Wilkinson, the more we have been sold out.

        Our Greens voting lefty kids have no clue what they’re actually voting for.

        I’m going to see if I can get dual citizenship. My fellow moron Australians have traded trinkets for their country.

      • Auto correct and Siri on a phone….apologies. .”The Scanlon Foundation believes Mr. Scanlon should have more money”

        I like Siri’s word “lotion”…. it has a nice smooth slick sound to it.

  7. Hearing her argue and browsing her articles she is not cogent nor strong in logical argument. She can’t distinguish marginal from absolute and has conflated all in GDP which is a bad measure anyway. She also seems to ignore network externalities and infrastructure costs so her argument is superficial.

  8. So demographers (employed by us, to act in our best interests, I’m guessing) punch the numbers in using all their skill learned from university and experience.

    Then they look at the enormous bag of money encouraging them to say the exact opposite.

    Vote Hanson. Australia’s regulatory bodies have been captured by corruption as bad as anywhere in the world.

  9. https://candobetter.net/node/431

    “In 2006, the Scanlon Foundation recently made “one of the biggest private sector donations for social sciences” to the Monash University Institute for Global Movements and the Australian Multicultural Foundation…..project investigating ways to get Australians to accept a massive immigration program, draconian changes to their way of life, and loss of the natural amenities and space they grew up with, in the context of huge engineering works and infrastructure expansion proposed by the abovementioned Scanlon Report”

    LNP, Labor Greens all in on it. Vote to take our democracy back.

    • @RIC
      Thanks for link – its really just stuff you know in your bones is happening but racist to not run with it:

      Heres a few paragraphs copy & pasted from Sheila Newman (We) Can do better: :

      What organisation has only 24 members of which the first ten comprise the current Prime Minister and nine past and present Australian Prime Ministers or Prime Ministerial contenders? And why would they be so dedicated to an organisation with a focus so antithetical to democracy and Australians?

      The Australian Multicultural Foundation and the Institute for Global Movements
      In 2006, the Scanlon Foundation recently made “one of the biggest private sector donations for social sciences” to the Monash University Institute for Global Movements and the Australian Multicultural Foundation,[1] in the words of Professor Nieuwenhuysen (formerly Director of the Bureau of Immigration Research), now director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation and of the Institute for Global Movements.

      The study in question seems to have been a project investigating ways to get Australians to accept a massive immigration program, draconian changes to their way of life, and loss of the natural amenities and space they grew up with, in the context of huge engineering works and infrastructure expansion proposed by the abovementioned Scanlon Report. Nieuwenhuysen commented in 2006, when the Monash University study began, that “The results of these studies are destined to generate much interest from government, academia and the wider community, both in Australia and internationally.”

      Membership list of this exclusive club
      Indeed, if you look at the 24 person strong membership list of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, you might consider this a foregone conclusion. Here are the first 10 members:

      The Hon Kevin Rudd MP (Prime Minister of Australia), Mr John Howard, The Hon Mr Simon Crean MP, The Hon. Mr Alexander Downer MP, Mr Robert Hawke AC, Dr J. R. Hewson, Mr Paul Keating, Mr Mark Latham, Mr Kim Beazley, andMr Andrew Peacock AC.

      This must be the most exclusive club in Australia. I cannot help but wonder, what’s in it for the members? Maybe this is how you get a crack at being the titular head of the country, by selling out your constituents to big business.

      At any rate, any illusion some naive people may have been clinging to, that the Australia 2020 conference really meant to consult with Australians, rather than get them to do the bidding of engineers and industries which benefit from rapid population growth, should now be dispelled, along with the illusion that we are still living in some kind of democracy, or that the future is safe in the hands of our politicians.

      • ANU, Dr Liz Allen and Peter McDonald should be publicly called out.

        Pretty clear they’ve been captured and there’s even questions they may not be demographers.

  10. Permanent migration numbers are a moot point when Australia carries near permanent high levels of temporary migration, year in year out.

    Temporary migration has also grown in importance as a factor increasing NOM.

    The conclusion of this report should raise a wry smile Leith:

    “It will be interesting to observe in the coming months and years how policies relating to both permanent and temporary migration will develop, particularly in the context of debate over sustainable population.”

    Although a few years out of dare (I couldn’t quickly locate the more recent version I recently saw) still worth a read.


  11. Dr. Allen is the favourite “go to” expert (chuckle) for any radio host on ABC radio. All of whom are in full agreement with her mostly unsubstantiated, highly questionable claims.

  12. I wrote to my local MP asking to outline their population policy in detail.

    Through gritted teeth they had to admit they didn’t have one.

  13. Tried to have a debate with @DrDemography on twitter – but the sensitive sole blocked me.

    The last one tgat did that was CPA CEO Alex Malley – and look how that turned out !

  14. These ‘demographers’ are certainly being supported by someone. But it is no use railing against them. We need to know who the REAL financiers are! Obviously its big business, but can we actually put our finger on the real culprits of this massive fraud and corruption?
    And related to this, why are Australia’s ecologists so silent? After all, the real issues are the carrying capacity of the country. And indications are that we have already exceeded that!

  15. “And related to this, why are Australia’s ecologists so silent?”


    CSIRO ecology was given the bullet. Universities are dependent upon mass immigration to fund themselves. The leading ‘global warming’ R&D was shut down by Abbott and co. Ecologists have not been invited to “demography” conferences funded by developers (i.e. government and private partnerships) for 2 decades. There are no ecologists left in any government institutions who are charged to look at these issues in any serious and objective way. They were all defunded and re-structured. The public sector now lines up behind government policy and rolls over. There is no alternative policy coming from the public sector. Frank and fearless? Frankly, no.

    There is no discussion, debate or dissent. Someone, somehow, has made this rate of immigration ‘normal’ – but who? How come the electorate has not been consulted? Why is this trip-partisan? How can The Greens have no population policy?

    I really don’t know.

    But don’t hold your breath waiting for ecologists to do anything. That they failed is implicit in the very policy we presently have now. Ecologists are a gormless bunch of wimps with no stomach to engage with the reality of their own failure. Too harsh? Not at all. Look around – do you see any going into bat for the Australian environment? I see only 2-3 who have been shut down.

    Blame ‘the system’ sure, but there is a lack of courage among ecologists. They don’t even have the balls to take on a fake demographer or two. Pathetic.

    • Plenty of people going in to bat for the Australian environment.

      Few of them focus on immigration because it seems a relatively minor issue, environmentally speaking.