Why is extreme population growth viewed as inevitable?

The Conversation published an article yesterday noting that Australia’s population will double within 80 years:

Australia’s population is projected to grow to over 50 million people by 2101. This will have enormous implications for the country’s long-term infrastructure planning and prized livability, particularly in the capital cities where most growth is occurring…

Not surprisingly, our survey found strong opposition to continued growth of the state capital cities…

Our aim was to understand people’s preferences for managing population growth at the national scale, with the hope it will inform a national urban policy to prepare for the coming population surge…

With an election looming, will either party take a harder look at the bigger question here and announce plans for a national urban policy? We can’t pretend this population boom isn’t happening – and our cities need to be ready.

The latest report from the Australian Housing Urban Research Institute (AHURI) was even more extreme, noting that Australia’s population would double in 50 years, which it acknowledges will choke living standards in Sydney and Melbourne:

In the next 50 years, Australia’s population is predicted to double. Much of this growth is expected to be concentrated in major metropolitan centres that are already struggling to provide the requisite infrastructure needed to support their populations.

Between 2016 and 2066, the Australian population is projected to increase by up to 24.6 million people, and approximately 55 per cent of this growth is expected to occur in Australia’s two largest cities—Sydney and Melbourne (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS] 2018).

The largest Australian cities are already under great strain, as reflected by high levels of road congestion and expensive local housing markets. Sydney and Melbourne together account for roughly 75 per cent of all road congestion across major cities in Australia and New Zealand (Austroads 2016). Average housing costs in these two cities are up to 50 per cent higher than those in other Australian cities and regional centres (ABS 2019).

What I hate most about these types of reports is that they treat it as a a fait accompli that we will continue to grow our population at the extreme pace of the 15 years pre-pandemic on the back of insane levels of immigration:

Australia's net overseas migration

Big Australia here we come!

There is never a discussion about if we should grow, just that it is happening no matter what.

Nobody bothers to look at the standard of living of the Nordic countries that keep everything moderated, which maximises the quality of life for their citizens.

Population

Nordic populations have remained relatively stable.

Between 1960 and 2019, the combined populations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland grew by only 6.9 million people (34%), from 20.1 million to 27.0 million.

Over the same time period, Australia’s population ballooned by 15.1 million people (147%), from 10.3 million to 25.4 million.

A polity that cared for its citizens would seek to emulate the Nordic countries by focusing on improving productivity and living standards instead of perpetual low quality, quantity-based growth that benefits a small number of elites over the masses.

Recent opinion polls show that the overwhelming majority of Australians support much lower levels of immigration and a stable population.

Late last year, the The Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI) released detailed polling showing that only 19% of respondents supported pre-COVID levels of immigration, with 70% wanting lower levels of immigration (of which 48% want significantly lower or zero immigration):

Immigration poll #1

The overwhelming majority (69%) of Australians also do not believe that Australia needs more people:

Population poll

Last month, Fairfax published more polling showing that even more Aussies (65%) want immigration to be restarted at a lower level than existed pre-pandemic and only 22% want the same or higher:

Immigration poll #2

The best and most democratic way to decide on Australia’s future population would have been to hold a plebiscite at the upcoming federal election. This plebiscite could have directly sought voters’ preference about the nation’s future population size, the answers of which would then be used to formulate Australia’s immigration intake to meet the said target.

Sadly, in the unrepresentative democracy of Australia, a population plebiscite will never take place. Rather than representing the wishes of the Australian people, our politicians and media are too busy bending the knee to vested interests in the property, business and edu-migration lobbies.

Thus, mass immigration and a ‘Big Australia’ is all but locked in, consequences be damned. And with it, we’ll experience more decades of sluggish wage growth, worsening housing affordability, environmental stress, and declining living standards.

Unconventional Economist

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