A lost century confronts Australians


Independent economist Tarric Brooker published the below chart on Twitter plotting the actual growth in real GDP per capita over the past 21 years versus the projections contained in the 2002 Intergenerational Report.

Brooker notes “a pretty striking shortfall considering we had a mining and LNG boom buff out the numbers”:

Australian real GDP per capita

Source: Tarric Brooker

It is worth pointing out that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2002 forecast that Australia would not hit its current population size until 2051.


Instead, we arrived at this population number 28 years early:

ABS population projections

ABS population projections in 2002

This stronger-than-expected population increase kept the overall size of the economy growing at a respectable rate, while per capita growth plummeted:

Per capita GDP growth

Per capita GDP GDP grew strongly at the beginning of the century when the mining boom took off. But since then, growth has evaporated.

The same can be said for Australian real wages, which have recorded minimal growth this century:

Australian real wages

It is hard to see the situation changing with the federal government choosing mass immigration-driven population expansion as the economy’s main driver:

Net overseas migration

The 2023 Intergenerational Report projects that Australia’s population will expand by 14.2 million people over the next 40 years – equivalent to adding a combined Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide to the current population.

While this mass population increase will ensure that the economy’s GDP continues to grow, everybody’s slice of the economic pie will stagnate as broader living standards are crushed under the never-ending population deluge afflicting infrastructure, housing and the natural environment.

It is a recipe for a lost century for Australians.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.