Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 30 - No 1 Contents DOES SIZE MATTER? AN ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE ON THE POPULATION DEBATE
10 POLICY • Vol. 30 No. 1 • Autumn 2014
In this article, I’ve focused on data and evidence,
but we should never forget the powerful stories
behind every migrant journey.
e father of a friend of mine was born in a
refugee camp in Germany in 1946, the son of
Polish and Russian refugees. He was a few years
old when his family hoped to emigrate to the
United States. Te Red Cross moved them by train
down to Naples, and he was so excited that he
constantly stuck his head out the window.
A piece of soot got stuck in his eye, and when
they got to Naples, the US immigration ofcials
were worried that he had an eye infection that
could be contagious, so they refused to take the
family. ‘You might try the Australians,’ he said,
gesturing to o cials in the other corner of the
room. And that’s why my friend—some 30 years
later—was born in Queensland rather than
Apart from Indigenous Australians, all
Australians are either migrants or the children of
migrants. So it's no surprise that the population
debate—which is really a migration debate—should
have attracted plenty of attention.
In this article, I have reviewed the arguments
for and against population growth. ere are dud
arguments on both sides. But on balance, the case
for bigger is stronger than the case for smaller.
Yet this requires politicians to act on the challenges
population growth creates: trafc congestion,
housing afordability, and mistrust.
Te asylum seeker debate should be founded
on the bedrock of bipartisan respect for refugees.
Over the past two decades, we have taken
large strides in this direction with Indigenous
Australians, and it ought not be beyond us to
do the same with refugees. Australia can—and
should—take more asylum seekers. Even after we
have done so, they will still be a small minority of
our total migrant intake.
Skilled migration will remain the largest
component of our permanent migration
program, and it is vital that we don’t just focus on
‘how many?’ but also on ‘who?’ If we want to have
a healthy migration debate, then ensuring that
we attract the entrepreneurs of the future
matters more than fretting about the next set of
1 Dick Smith, quoted in Joanna Mather, ‘No payout
for small Australia,’ The Australian Financial Review
(24 April 2013).
2 Bob Birrell, quoted in John Pasquarelli, ‘Abbott
should run a mile from Big Australia,’ e Australian
(18 May 2011).
3 Dick Smith, quoted in Stephen Lunn, ‘Te demographer
vs the entrepreneur: Tackling taboos in the Big Australia
debate,’ Weekend Australian (28 May 2011).
4 John Pasquarelli, ‘Abbott should run a mile from
Big Australia,’ e Australian (18 May 2011).
5 Jessica Brown, ‘Should Australia’s population be
controlled?' Sunday Herald Sun (2 October 2011).
6 Kevin Chinnery and Anthony Sibillin, ‘Te Big Cost of
Small Australia,’ BRW (19–25 August 2010).
7 Today, no Labor first speech is complete without a
heart-warming migrant story, but my party had a poor
track record on immigration for the first half of its
existence. Labor supported the White Australia Policy
at the time of Federation. In 1938, some Labor members
opposed taking Jewish refugees (e.g. Senator John
Armstrong said: ‘I urge the Government to take steps
to prevent the unrestricted immigration of Jews to this
country.’) In 1949, Labor Immigration Minister Arthur
Calwell was shocked when the High Court ruled that
he could not deport an Indonesian woman who had six
children with her Australian husband.
8 William Coleman, ‘Pipe Dreams and Tunnel Visions:
Economists and Australian Population Debates Before
the Baby Boom,’ ANU Working Papers in Economics
and Econometrics No. 568 (Canberra: ANU, 2012).
9 Graeme Hugo, ‘Population Distribution and Internal
Migration’ in Jonathan Pincus and Graeme Hugo (eds),
A Greater Australia: Population, Policies and Governance
(Melbourne: Committee for Economic Development
of Australia (CEDA), 2012), 72–95.
10 Quoted in William Coleman, ‘Pipe Dreams and Tunnel
Visions,’ as above.
11 e 2002 Intergenerational Report forecast a population
of 24.5 million in 2035 and 25.3 million in 2042;
see Peter Costello, ‘Intergenerational Report 2002–03,
2002–03 Budget Paper No. 5’ (Canberra: Australian
Treasury, 2002), 22. Extrapolating forward, this implies
a population around 26 million in 2047.
12 Wayne Swan, ‘Australia to 2050: Future Challenges,’
2010 Intergenerational Report (Canberra: Australian
Treasury, 2010), 159.
13 ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics), Australian
Demographic Statistics, Cat. No. 3101.0 (Canberra:
14 The total fertility rate (roughly the number of babies
a woman can expect to have in her life) rose from 1.765
in 2003 to 1.933 in 2012. ABS (Australian Bureau of
Statistics), Births, Australia, Cat. No. 3301.0 (Canberra:
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