Should Australia’s population be controlled

Published in The Herald Sun (Melbourne), 2 October 2011

Every day, we are bombarded with bad news from Europe. But terrible as the continent’s debt crisis looks, its biggest long-term challenges are yet to come.

With an ageing and shrinking population, Europe has little hope of growing its way out of trouble. Small Australia campaigners take note. If population growth seems like an insurmountable challenge, look at Europe to see just what population decline means for society and the economy.

The number of Europeans aged 14 or under will fall by 27 per cent over the next 40 years, just as the big bulge of Baby Boomers gets set to transition into their twilight years. With the tax base shrinking and government debt already piled up, pension protests are just the beginning.

Contrast that picture with Australia. We have a vibrant – though shifting – economy and a population still young by developed world standards. Migrants are queuing at the door.

Yet we complain about the state of our nation. Instead of seeing the opportunities in our booming economy and growing population, we obsess over narrow-minded political rhetoric. Instead of welcoming the world with open arms, we want to shut the doors and stop the boats.

“Big Australia” has become synonymous with a catastrophe waiting to happen. But there’s little focus on the opportunities a growing Australia brings. Growing, dynamic societies are more creative and innovative. Population growth can spur us to be more innovative and efficient in the way we use our resources and energy.

Living in a colourful, multi-ethnic society is nothing to be feared. While European leaders have been racing to declare multiculturalism dead, here it is flourishing. Australian migration is a success story.

Not only can a growing population make us economically richer, it can make us socially richer too.

Putting caps on growth would turn Australia into a stagnant, ageing and inward-looking country – a basket case to rival the declining states of Europe. “Big Australia” is a reality that we have to prepare for. But it is not something we should be scared of.

It’s the opportunities that we should be focusing on. How do we build vibrant, thriving cities? How do we upgrade our transport network and provide quality, affordable housing? How will a bigger Australia get its energy in the future?

While population growth isn’t something to strive for in and of itself, it is nothing to be feared either.

Our challenge is not how to stop or slow population growth; our challenge is to embrace it. That way, we can ensure that a growing Australia is a prosperous, interesting and liveable place for us all.

Jessica Brown and Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich co-wrote this article. They are research fellows at the Centre for Independent Studies and their report Why a Growing Australia is Nothing to Fear was published by the CIS this week.

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