Australia’s population reached 25 million people this week for the first time. It is a milestone which has some worrying about overcrowding and crime, especially in Sydney and Melbourne. Others are happy that growth is spurring Australia’s economy along.
Australia’s growth is caused by both postive migration and natural increase. For instance, in the 2015-16 financial year about 190,000 visas were granted to migrants and 19,000 for humanitarian and refugee entry, high in international terms. Australia also has a better fertility rate than many countries around the world and one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Though, natural increase was still responsible for less than half of the country's total population growth in recent years at about 157,000 per year.
So should Australians be worried about overcrowding? As a whole, Australia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with just 7 people per square mile. Compare that to 41,971 people per square mile in Monaco or the almost ten million people who live in Toyko, both places where people still seem to live pretty well.
It seems that Australia is not facing an overcrowding problem, but a planning problem, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.
Like so many countries around the world Australia is also grappling with what its true ‘Australian’ values and cultural norms are, and how those should be upheld by people who call Australia home, including new immigrants. It is important that Australia has its own core and unchanging values and it is a debate worth having.
Alan Tudge, the Australian Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, is working on proposals to increase the proportion of new arrivals that learn English, commenting in an interview The Sydney Morning Herald:
“The lesson from British and European integration is that they didn't address these issues earlier … and they're taking drastic action now. In some areas in Denmark kids as young as one year old have to go to Danish values classes for 25 hours a week.”
Moreover, some cities are struggling with too many people too fast at the same time that others are struggling with not enough people to fill jobs. Many argue that immigration rules and processes have not properly reflected regional economic needs, nor successfully reflected cultural values, and that poor planning has meant that too much pressure has been put on existing infrastructure such as healthcare and roading in some cities.
The Sydney Morning Herald also brings adequate defence into the population debate:
The postwar consensus for a growing population was partly driven by “populate or perish” logic, and the ANU's Andrew Carr stepped forward this week to remind Australia that this logic still holds: “The difficulty of protecting Australia has always been shaped by one central tension,” says Carr, a lecturer at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. “We claim a large continent but have few people living on it.”… Carr argues that reducing immigration would … harm economic growth, shrink Australia's voice and influence in the world, and weaken the Australian Defence Force.
Whichever way you cut it, the problems are not simple. However, over-population is not one of those problems.