Big Australia incompatible with nation’s scarce water supply

Recall that the Australian Treasury’s latest Intergenerational Report (IGR) projects that Australia’s population will grow by a whopping 13.1 million people (~50%) over the next 40 years to 38.8 million people. This is the equivalent to adding another Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Australia’s existing population.

Moreover, 74% of this growth will come directly from net overseas migration (NOM), which has been projected to increase to 235,000 annually from 2025-26 onwards versus 215,000 per year in the 2015 IGR:

Australian population projections

Back to ‘Big Australia’.

However, in making these heroic assumptions, the IGR also warned that Australia’s immigration intake needs to be at a level that is “at or below the capacity” of destination cities or regions to absorb them, and requires “careful planning by all levels of government”:

The economic and social pressures and capacity constraints that result from an inward flow of migrants also need to be managed carefully. Migration should be kept at or below the capacity of the destination city or region to absorb new migrants, taking into account impacts on incumbent populations…

This requires transparency, consistent decision making and careful planning by all levels of government.

With this background in mind, it is disturbing to read that the Murray-Darlin Basin, which produces nearly 40% of Australia’s food supply, is running desperately short of water – a situation that is projected to worsen amid climate change:

Climate change since the 1990s has drastically reduced the amount of water available in the southern part of the Murray-Darling Basin, according to new research.

According to the University of Technology Sydney, the height of the Murrumbidgee River has dropped by about 30 per cent during the growing season of April to May.

Report author Milton Speer said there was approximately 300 million litres less water flowing past the regional town of Wagga Wagga each day…

Dr Speer said changes would be necessary as there was less available water to be shared around.

“The viability of the basin is at stake…

“Continued drying and warming in Australia will cause water availability to decline even further, deepening the hurt for communities, irrigation businesses, animals and the environment.”

“There will be less and less water, and some hard decisions will need to be made, and that be probably mean less water for irrigation and farming.”

The mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy guarantees chronic water shortages.

The additional 13.1 million people projected by the IGR will massively increase water demand at the same time as supply is reduced from lower rainfall and rising evapotranspiration rates due to climate change.

Thus, the best thing our policy makers could do to safeguard the nation’s water supplies is ensure that immigration does not return to its manic pre-COVID level, nor is raised to the insane (235,000 annual) levels projected by the IGR.

Unconventional Economist
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  1. Up until the 1990s, a distinctively Australian debate (government, Barry Jones, AAS, Tim Flannery, etc) was all about the driest continent’s “carrying capacity”, by definition including bagatelles like too many punters and not enough water.

    But then the Australian power elite discovered the endless frissons and useless pea-and-thimble tricks of United Nations Net Zero, and carrying capacity was quietly buried by Flannery and the other scientists. A side effect was that state governments discovered the joys of whacking another desal plant on the barbie – water problem “solved” 4 eva.

    • Display NameMEMBER

      I am not so sure desal is the solution. The Murray Darling is way over allocated (still) and water taken from it is not policed in any real fashion.Like most things we don’t manager water even close to way we should be valuing it.. Desal is far too expensive to solve this problem. A good chunk of what are marginal farms now are probably not viable into the future with changing rainfall profiles. In fact the Murray Darling Authority were advised by scientists locally and in California to use 21st century rain fall profiles to calculate river water allocations NOT the 20th century ones. As a result the starting allocations were too high and there has been no political will to police them going forward.

      . All these issues are just being kicked down the road. Never question Big Australia….

  2. Frank DrebinMEMBER

    Plenty of water up North.

    Just need to replace the expectations of lattes and croissants with beer and BBQ Barra !.

  3. Lord DudleyMEMBER

    I recently finished a 4100 mile road trip (take that, minivan!), from Colorado, across South Dakota, into Minnesota (the land of lakes), then down to Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Kansas (we cut through a couple of states corner-bits, but they don’t count). About two thirds of the way through South Dakota, there’s a distinct line where the agriculture changes from cows to corn. Once you hit Minnesota, there’s waterways and lakes everywhere. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron look like the ocean, and they’re not even the biggest lake.

    I’ve driven across parts of inland Australia (Adelaide to Ceduna, Adelaide to Sydney, Adelaide to Brisbane). It’s largely desolate wastelands. I’ve been to the Murray multiple times in South Australia; here in Colorado, it would be considered a minor river. English-speaking North America is 16x the Australian population (US Canada), with about a gazillion times the water resources. Add in climate change, and Australia’s water situation will look even worse, as the entire Eastern part of the country will dry out even more.

    The US can easily grow to about 500 million in population over the next century or so. I doubt Australia can even hit 50 million, unless they all live on the coast, use desalinated water, and the nation becomes a net food importer.

    The US has its problems. Australia has its problems. One of the reasons I’m betting on the US in future is because of climate change. Climate change’s plodding, inexorable nature tends to lead people astray, because it’s slow, but it builds up. Australia is going to do very poorly under future climate change scenarios. North America has a lot more buffer, especially with the ability of Canada to absorb more population as the climate warms.

    • Display NameMEMBER

      It is a huge contrast. I have driven north of SanFran into Oregon, from Troy in NY state up to Montreal and both paths have lots of water. Water on a scale we have *nowhere* in Australia. Same is true in many parts of Europe. Have driven along the Danube. Such a contrast to most Australian rivers. A relatively young river (geologically) fast flowing and wide, rarely switching back on itself. I did a summer drive in Norway and Sweden. Absolutely stunning and water *everywhere*. Likewise Canada. Vancouver to Calgary is a postcard around every corner (in late spring)

      There are pretty much no permanent, natural, large fresh water lakes in Aus. Despite being approx the size of the contiguous 48. In fact go west of the thin band behind Great Dividing Range and the colours are rarely green and certainly nowhere as green as any of the places I have mentioned. You would have to go into northern Queensland in the tropical band to enough water to support large populations.


        We got the artesian basin of you wanna count that. But we’re destroying that quicksmart too whoop!

  4. kierans777MEMBER

    As much as I agree that we need to kill Big Australia, we also need to tackle the water corruption in NSW.

  5. Israel has >9m people – only 2.71% of its area water (i.e. is a desert) – in an area one third the size of Tasmania!

    The above is utterly illogical.

    • Lord DudleyMEMBER

      It’s not the area of water that matters… it’s the flows. And Australia has almost none of either.

      • Have you seen Australia? There are enormous water resources up north!

        If the Chinese owned Australia (in a parallel dimension) – there would be 200-300m here already. And they would be fine. No doubt your Chinese equivalent would be wringing his hand about not having more than 400m. It is truly a flawed world view.

        Saudi Arabia has >34m people, and it truly is a desert, with not much water flow. To put some perspective, If Victoria had a population density of Denmark, there would be >36m Victorians kicking around.

        • Lord DudleyMEMBER

          Ha ha ha ha! Well, don’t let me stop you building this mega Australia with 300 million people. I emigrated. My kids are outta there. So you go girl! Make that dream a reality. Let me know how it works out for you.

          Ha ha ha ha ha!

          • World view changes dependent where you are. The above is both a failure in analysis and direct comparable (heck, look within central Eurasia), but also in imagination.

            Hence my point previous (must admit, its been deleted plenty of times) – our national survival, or someone else will do it. And look, it may be that we are destined to lose the north. I accept that possibility. Nature abhors a vacuum.

        • Saudi Arabia isn’t self-sufficient in food either. They have to import more than 90% of their grain.

          The Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce Report looked at the agricultural potential of Northern Australia about 10 years ago. They did find some opportunities for agricultural development, but nothing like the hype. If you want to live in a country with a big, dense population, perhaps you should emigrate.

          • It would require some adaptation, granted. But not much… in many places, it has the right soils, lots of water (need storage) and the perfect climate. Need infrastructure though. India has added over >500m people over the past 30 years, which once faced chronic food shortages, is not only self-sufficient but now retains substantial grain reserves. Indonesia, formerly the world’s leading rice importer, is increasingly a major exporter.

            If I was Indonesia, and by the end of the century having 350m people, six or seventh largest economy globally, and if Australia isn’t doing anything with the North, well, the opportunity exists…

    • Israel has to import 80-90% of its grain, including grain fed to animals. Look it up. Do you really want Australia to be dependent on the global market for food? Especially since the long-term effects of climate change are uncertain?

      • Lord DudleyMEMBER

        “Do you really want Australia to be dependent on the global market for food?”

        We both know that for the average Australian, if it means stratospheric rises in house prices in the short to medium term, the answer is “YES YES YES”.

      • Granted, Israel produces almost 70% of its food requirements, but the UK is only 63% self sufficient (using 2020 numbers) food wise! Its a non-arguement, unless Isreal goes under blockade, which the Germans tried with the UK a couple of times (nearly worked!).


      Lol yeh they don’t worry about water in israel, righto. So, did they just take the Golan Heights for a laugh?