Where is Australia’s population policy?

Cross-posted from Independent Australia:

Morrison Government’s population plan “capped” permanent migration at 160,000 but its 2019 Budget uncapped net migration to 270,000. This has not been challenged by the Labor Opposition and so, our steep population growth is removed from the political contest, ignoring the environmental and electoral objections.

UP UNTIL CHRISTCHURCH, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s muscular migration brand was “Stop the Boats”. The humanitarian intake seemed almost an afterthought. But give credit. On population per se, he’s ventured a plan. Unlike Labor or the Greens.

The Labor platform proclaims a ‘… long-term’ approach to migration levels. That’s as precise as it gets. The Greens policy presents population as an environmental and not just a socioeconomic issue. Who knew? But once again, there are no numbers.

Labor has form here. Its ‘Sustainable population strategy‘ of 2011 waved through ex-Prime Minister John Howard’s big surge to permanent and net migration. Then they cranked permanent migration higher still, to 190,000.

In ‘Planning for Australia’s future population’, fudges Morrison, ‘…everyone has a view’. The majority view in this latest survey – and a raft of recent polls – is for lower migration and/or population growth. Even Premier Gladys Berejiklian – no friend to the environment – briefly advocated halving migrationinto New South Wales.

Morrison’s plan “cuts” permanent migration 15% for a “cap” of 160,000. What’s not to like? It’s still roughly twice the 1970s-1990s average. And as the plan itself notes, the crucial net-migration figure topped 236,000 in 2017-18.

The plan introduces 23,000 migrant visas tied to regions, plus a few thousand regional scholarships. Mini measures won’t reduce the crush of overseas students and migrants into Sydney and Melbourne. Whose dominance has never been dented by any post-war schemes for “decentralisation”. At 1945, they held about a third of our population. Now it’s 40%. In 2017-18 they took nearly two-thirds of net migration. Over 80% of Sydney’s population growth of 93,000 in 2017-18 was net migration, with 27,000 locals leaving the city.

The urban plans for Sydney and Melbourne start with eight million apiece by mid-century. On those figures alone, who’d credit Morrison “busting congestion”?

He’s nodding at the everyday lives of urban dwellers. Which incline them to favour lower population growth. To wit, stretched infrastructure and services, stalled wages and barely affordable housing, congestion and vexatious commutes. Post-Howard, our real infrastructure spending has climbed, but not enough. We’re lagging by 15 per cent or more a recommended $100 billion annual public spend, for depreciation and surging population. Morrison’s putative infrastructure top-up – an extra (approximately) $75 billion over ten years – wouldn’t plug the gaps.

Infrastructure Australia sees ‘…communities increasingly disappointed’ as

‘… infrastructure delivery is struggling to keep pace with rapid population growth.’

It forecasts traffic congestion (and access to jobs, schools, hospitals and green space) scarcely improving (or going backwards) as the populations of Sydney and Melbourne soar towards eight million.

Morrison nominates population as a fixture for ‘…all future’ Council of Australian Government COAG) meetings. Good idea, but it needs a more balanced discussion than that of last December, where professional population-booster Peter McDonald guested.

A balanced discussion would delve where Morrison doesn’t. It’s Treasury that hosts our real population plan — inside the budget. To prop up the sainted Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the budget loves generous “parameters” for net migration and population growth. Over the past decade, planned population growth has shored up more than half our real GDP growth. Yet real growth and real per-capita growth remain sluggish, by post-war standards.

Budget population estimates use not permanent, but net, migration. Which sums up the entrants who stay 12 months or more, minus departures who stay away 12 months or more. It can be lower than permanent migration. Across the past 30 years, more often it’s been higher. Post Howard, it’s stayed above 170,000.

Currently, net temporary (especially student) entries dominate net permanent (including migrant and humanitarian) entries. If the economy shrinks, so it’s argued, net migration might follow suit. But we’d be coming off a lofty plateau. And both Liberal and Labor would fight the trend.

The 2018 Budget assumed net migration at 230,000 plus, for population growth 1.6% and estimated GDP growth 3%. We’re getting the 230,000 — never the 3%. This Budget primes net migration to 270,000 plus, for population growth of 1.7% and (wishful) GDP growth at 2.75%.

Morrison is the sixth prime minister in a row sweet on Big Australia. He’s passing off unprecedented migration as the new normal. He’s sandbagging annual population growth above 1.5% — much higher than nearly all other OECD nations.

The political parties and the pervasive Big Australia lobby, fob off electors and environment with ”jobs and growth”. Our carrying capacity, reply the one million fish, matters more than ever. The five-yearly ‘State of the environment report‘ chronicles acute pressures from rapid population growth and economic development. These are drivers of land-use change, habitat loss, invasive species and climate change.

As we crush-load our coastal environments, Morrison’s plan perpetuates familiar narratives. We’re ‘the most successful immigration nation in the world’, on our ‘28th consecutive year of economic growth’. It plays well, in London or New York.

We’re already nearly 30% overseas-born. Asian nations dominate the student and migrant intakes. In demographic terms at least, “multiculturalism” looks safe. As this latest surveyevidences, high immigration captivates the (graduate) elites much more than the ordinary Australians.

Behind the “jobs and growth” mantra, our GDP stutters, while income and wealth inequalities haven’t improved since the global financial crisis (GFC). With the repetitively implausible infrastructure and decentralisation “catch-ups” always well down the road, no wonder the voters are sceptical.

Morrison’s dogged devotion to Big Australia – apparently shared by Shorten – cruels his infrastructure (redistribution) claims. Both are stuck — as they appear to be on the Adani coal mine.

A government that put local welfare first would wind permanent migration back to 1970s-1990s levels – below 100,000 – and bring net migration well under 150,000. Annual population growth, if somehow prised free of the Treasury and Reserve Bank catechisms, should be reined inside 1%.

Stephen Saunders is a former public servant, consultant and Canberra Times reviewer. His report for the Australian Population Research Institute is ‘Why do we have a big Australia?’


  1. CanuckDownUnder

    If only there was a party dedicated to fighting this country’s insanely high level of immigration and the crush loading effects it is having on our living standards, natural environment etc!

    Remember kids, wanting lower immigration is offensive, alarmist and worst of all fringe, so the Sustainable Australia Party is now focused on NIMBYism and high vegemite prices!

    • I’m like to see Sustainable Australia do that. But unfortunately they don’t seem to be ANY gaining traction.
      Go with One Nation, which is not my preferred choice. Despite a seemingly media ban (notably by the ABC) of Mark Latham during the NSW election they still managed to win two Legislative Council seats.

    • SAP a total white elephant. Nice guys …. too faaaken nice. Being nice does not cut through. Change your bloody name and don’t be scared to offend anybody. Harden up. Lame.

      • Totally agree.

        The problem with this country is that the smartest guys don’t have cut through.

        I’ve seen it on my page. I write something intelligent and it might get read by a few thousand, but I put a stupid meme that highlights the double standard with Muslims and it will go to 60,000 +

        SAP needs a rebrand , proper social media team (meme based politics), and a leader with charisma that isn’t afraid to tackle a colourful issue (and hope people still read some of the more intelligent stuff.

        Hey.. lets face it.. i could probably be that person. 🙂


  2. There seems to be an agreement between the LNP and ALP not to have migration as a election topic.

    For this to become an hot election topic, we need to see Mark Latham gate crashing NSW shopping center/public media events of Scummo and Big Australia Bill.

    I’m sure some in the media (perhaps not those at the ABC) would gladly tip off these planned events to Mr Latham as the resulting confrontation (circus) greatly boosts media ratings

    I hope Latham and his advisors (if any) catch on to this as they would like to win Senate seats in NSW.

    • Neither of them want a lower immigration rate.

      LNP = more people equals more profit for big business donors
      ALP = more people equals more construction jobs for union members, and more profits for their business donors too.

      It’s that simple.

      • I don’t agree with that. Mostly when immigration gets mentioned it nearly always turns to race, as can be witnessed here nearly every bloody day. Forget the nationality bs, talk the impact on house prices, jobs and the environment. Talk the actual numbers, 1.6 % should see upwards of 90 million people by the turn of the century, watch peoples jaws hit the ground on that one!

        Ask them, when they say the pop should grow to a point when the economy is at a sustainable level, if they understand our economic growth is because of pop growth and when that stops, our economy stops. I’ve lost count of the number of people who think when the pop gets to a set level the economy will be self-sustaining without pop growth! The people will stop coming, but the jobs won’t!

  3. As we all know, the country just needs more and better planning. Nobody actually needs to do anything. Just produce mountains of plans and all will be well. That will fix the buggered infrastructure, eliminate the traffic jams and pollution, produce water where previously there was none, smooth over the social tensions, allow people to be treated by the health system in a timely fashion and fix pretty much everything else we need sorted.

  4. “There seems to be an agreement between the LNP and ALP not to have migration as a election topic.”

    I’ve often thought that but the sensitivity around even discussing the subject is huge. No one wants to one branded a racist – best avoid the whole subject entirely. It is probably deemed playing with political fire.

  5. Scummo has done a Dubai.

    Allow $10/hour labour to come in but never give them an Aussie passport – thereby saving the pension budget. The trouble is, Scummo did not copy enough of Dubai – he did not cut the permanent immigration rate much. It is an insane 160,000/year.

    And unlike those monarchies, he did not ban foreigners from working in the more desirable professions.

    Moreover, I doubt Dubai allows foreigners to study in government schools.

    Under the ALP and Sally McManus, the immigration rate may go up to 250,000/year because there is a “backlog” of spouse visas on hold. The wives of Aussies on $150k/year are as stuck as the wives of those who are on $10/hour!

    • Moreover, I doubt Dubai allows foreigners to study in government schools.

      Primary and secondary education is free of cost for all Emiratis. Everyone else must pay.
      My cousin’s children are studying under the French curriculum and cost is at the middle end of some of the private schools in the UAE.

      Desirability of workers in order of most desirable to least desirable: UK, US/German/Scandinavian, Afrikaners/Canadian/Australian, Other European, Other Middle Eastern, [daylight], Filipino, Pakistani/Indian/Sri Lankan.

      • No racism then in the UAE. Has anyone noticed that only people of European descent can be racist? Otherwise all other discrimination is perfectly acceptable.

    • Yep,
      And it doesn’t surprise me, aussies were quite happy to pay house slaves $150 pm to work 6, 12 hr days. Egalitarian my arse!

  6. Q. Where is Australia’s population policy?

    A. Australia does not need a public population policy as the present one operating beyond scrutiny and review suits those few who benefit very nicely. The bipartisan agreement to allow elites to build Big Australia without consulting the Australian people speaks volumes of it being undemocratic – and that’s the way they want to keep it. We get a plebiscite on same-sex marriage but not on anything that actually needs consultation. Government is in bed with industry and there is no room for the great unwashed.

  7. I feel defeated to say this, but I think the ship has sailed on immigration being a live issue in this federal election.

  8. I was trying to buy my lunch today and firstly had the alp red shirt push his how to vote I think it was as I wouldn’t take it. I asked him about immigration and pretty much presented the MB line, and he just BS’ed me, and then I asked him about collusion with the CCP and he claimed not to know what was happening, at either the Fed or state level. I told him to educate himself and gave up. The blue shirt then went at me so I went at him, and told them both I’d not be voting for either. I didn’t want to talk to them at all, but they were so aggressive I went a bit rogue on them. I really felt bad walking away as I got the impression they show you the stairs and as you walked by, they’d be pushing you down them. That’s it for me ..never again at any level.

    • Well done. The feedback from the street does filter up, albeit only a bit. The more times these cvnts get blasted on immigration when they shove a how to vote at someone, the better. I shall certainly be doing it early and often.

    • I had a similar encounter with a Labor one. First he tried the false binary of ‘so you want no immigration’? I explained how we get nothing out of it and all he could come up is that we ‘get diversity’. I pointed out we had that 20 years ago,

    • I gave up on politics ages ago. Whoever said democracy was two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner was dead right.

  9. Ronin8317MEMBER

    Australia’s population policy can be summed up by Buzz Lightyear’s catch phrase in Toy Story : “To Infinity and Beyond!!”.

    • Feel free to speak your mind but be careful not to offend anyone.

      (Freedom of speech in the 21st century). What a joke.

  10. Australians are stupid people – period.

    They are stupid because they moan and groan yet continue to vote for the ALP and LNP.

    They are stupid because they sell out their children’s futures by selling their properties to the Chinese.

    They are stupid because they only think about themselves.

    We deserve all we get.

    God help our youth.

    • Even StevenMEMBER

      And that pretty much reflects my views also. Many of us would rather spend time looking at the sports section of the newspaper than consider issues that actually matter. To say I’m disappointed doesn’t even begin to describe…

  11. Once again, political parties don’t talk about immigration that actually impacts Australians, family reunification https://www.reddit.com/r/australia/comments/baa1uu/how_would_i_go_about_suing_peter_dutton_and_the/?utm_medium=android_app&utm_source=share. They prefer skilled migrants families to expat overseas Australian families trying to return home. Sorry for the spam, i’m full of rage everytime I read about politicians talking about immigration but sweeping the fact Australian families are stranded overseas without the ability to return home.

  12. My Asian & Middle Eastern friends find Australia’s timidity about immigration laughably weak. Crowds & visa rorting is clearly way out of hand yet any elite not benefitting from it are terrified of undergrad-level arguments.I teach undergrad social science & adolescent outrage is so easily stared/argued down. But responsible adults have left our public stage wide open for these spoiled twittering brats.Lefties on the tenured public teat & sponsored ethnic lobbies love public ‘racism!!” brawls, as these days, like tantrumming toddlers vs apologetic adults it’s an easy win. But just because the public debate has been nobbled doesn’t mean the silent fuming masses won’t vote for an openly “slow immigration the fuck down down” party. Few would admit it in a poll or to colleagues but who cares? Voting is secret…..

    • @ maxbensen

      Explains what happened in the USA election where Trump supporters were very silent until the “unexpected” result. Well unexpected by the MSM and Democrats.

      Trump targeted illegal immigration, taxes and “unfair”?? trade policies.

      This would “Make America Great ” again resonated with many middle class/poor who felt left out.