The issue of Australia’s population growth is making the news quite regularly at the moment. The country’s population has just ticked over to 25 million people and many are questioning the impact that this growth is having on the infrastructure of cities like Sydney and Melbourne. The debate has even hit the highest level of the political scene: Prime Minister Scott Morrison late last year said in a speech that:
“They are saying: enough, enough, enough. The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrolments.
“I hear what you are saying. I hear you loud and clear. That’s why we need to improve how we manage population growth in this country.”
He has also stated that he intends to cut Australia’s permanent migration intake by about 30,000 people per year to reduce the strain placed upon congested cities. Whether such sentiments will be enough to win Morrison’s Coalition parties this year’s federal election is another matter – the governing parties’ penchant for knifing its leaders does little to endear it to the broader community.
However, it does seem that discussing immigration and population growth concerns is potentially fertile ground for the PM, at least according to a new survey released by the Australian National University. This survey asked 2000 people whether they thought that Australia needed more people. In 2009 this question saw a rough split down the middle – 45 per cent thought that Australia needed more people. In the nine years since then the number wanting a larger Australia have dropped by a third, to only 30 per cent. The drop in support for a bigger population is larger among men than women – over 20 per cent fewer men thought that Australia needed more people, while the drop in women thinking the same was just over 10 per cent. While those aged between 25-34 years old supported population growth the most, those aged 45-54 supported it the least.
What are the reasons behind this drop in support for a larger Australia? Generally, people are concerned about the ability for the current Australian infrastructure – roads, hospitals, schools etc – to cope with an increasing population. Further, there is concern that migration to fill gaps in the workforce is occurring at the expense of training the Australian-born workforce or previous cohorts of migrants. In short, use the human resources Australia already has before looking elsewhere to fill employment gaps.
Interestingly enough, the clear majority against a larger Australian population does not translate into an anti-migration stance per se. A 2018 Mapping Social Cohesion survey of 1500 respondents found that 80 per cent still saw benefits from migration and 52 per cent thought that the current levels of migration were “about right” or “too low”. So perhaps we can say that the population debate in Australia is confused and that Australians are not sure what they want. Alternatively, perhaps people are more comfortable with saying that the country’s population is too large than that there are too many migrants…