Migration biggest contributor to population growth

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(Transcript from World News Australia on SBS Radio)

Australia’s population is projected to double by 2075 with migration as the highest contributor.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics report shows almost 15 million migrants are expected to arrive over the next six decades, bringing the country’s population to 46 million.

Marc Tong takes a look at the growth trends and their impacts on Australia’s major cities.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full story)

For the first time, the Australian Bureau of Statistics is including data from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection in population projections over the next five years.

Combining those figures with current trends, migration numbers are estimated at 240,000 a year.

Demographer and Assistant Director at the Bureau Phil Browning says that’s an increase from past projections.

“The previous set that we did assumed 180,000 per year, so we’re 60,000 higher than that number. But that number itself was 70,000 higher than the set that we did before, where we set net overseas migration at 110,000. So migration has gone up a lot in the last five years.”

The Bureau projections show it will be Australia’s major cities that will grow the most as they attract the majority of migrants.

Phil Browning says some of the smaller cities will overtake today’s bigger ones.

“These projections show Perth is growing fairly fast at the moment. Melbourne and Sydney should be neck-and-neck (equal) by 2053 with 7.9 million people each, but Perth could overtake Brisbane in 2028 at three million people and the ACT could overtake Tasmania.”

But Dr Bob Birrell, from the Centre for Population and Urban Reseach at Monash University, says the projections are not definitive forecasts.

He says if the projections play out, states and cities won’t be able to cope with the numbers particularly when it comes to employment.

“The question is what are all these people giong to do and I don’t think there is a clear answer to this. At the moment what they are doing – or what the government hopes they will do – is that they will help to build the appropriate infrustructure, the housing and other facilities necessary to accommodate extra people. But it’s hard to see how that could continue forever because it will involve very considerable borrowing and at some point we will have to have an industrial base that would support these much larger populations.”

The federal MP for Wills, Labor’s Kelvin Thompson, agrees that Australia’s cities will come under huge strain from an increased number of migrants.

He says that strain will produce a gap socially and economically.

“I think this increase will be disastrous for the big cities. It will drive traffic congestion in gridlock, high rise and the loss of public open space, widening gap between rich and poor and social inequality. and it will also fuel housing unaffordability and job security for our young people. I cannot see any examples of cities or countires around the world which have effectively managed rapid population growth. In every case it’s smaller more stable populations which have fared better in terms of economic prosperity and also looking after their environment.”

But the Settlement Council of Australia disagrees that migration would cripple the social and economic fabric of Australia.

Executive Officer Sky de Jersey says history shows migrants contribute more to the country, not less.

“Continuing to support migration through strong settlement services is essential. There’s a lot of research on the positive benefits and the positive economic and social and civic contributions of migrants and people of refugee backgrounds to Australia and that’s leveraged and strengthened when you have strong settlement services, particularly in the early stages of settlement. People can do really really well and if you look at the top billionaires and millionaires of Australia there’s an interesting number of them from refugee and migrant backgrounds.”

Then there’s the question of health services to support the current population and future migrants.

Dr Birrell says while an influx of migrants can provide temporary relief for when baby boomers age, there is a catch.

“In the medium term it will be beneficial in the sense that most migrants are of working age and therefore when the baby boomers retire, having more migrants in the working ages here will slow the process of decline in the number of workers in proportion to dependents. In the long term migration is not a great deal of help because migrants get older and the migration solution requires more and more migrants.”

But the Settlement Council’s Sky de Jersey says even if the numbers increase as projected, it will be met by an increase of services.

“The services generally grow as the communities grow, so the projected increase is one of the factors and it’s generalyl done in a very planned way, there’s a fair amount of consultation that happens around that so I don’t foresee any particular consequences from that point of view. Australia ranks fifth internationally in terms of integration. There’s a study done regularly called the Migration Policy Index and it looks at integration across a range of policy areas and Australia’s fifth out of 33 countries internationally, which I think is pretty high.”




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