In a post in July titled “A Big, Sparsely Populated Country”, I quoted some statistics about the population (and population density) of Australia. I also foreshadowed a comment on how big a population Australia can reasonably support. (A spokesbear for the koalas was recently reported as saying “We’re already finding it hard to locate a quiet spot with a few gum trees and a nice climate. If there are many more people in this country, we’re history. From what we’re told, there aren’t even many other countries with a lot of gum trees. Someone said Ethiopia, but that’s a long way to swim.”)
The currently population (of people) is a bit less than 23 million. Let me quote a recent statement by businessman Dick Smith:
If we reduced our net immigration to about 70,000 a year (still very high by world standards) including a humanitarian intake of about 20,000, Australia’s population would stabilise at about 27 million.
Allowing for a bit of wriggle room, I’m happy to contemplate 30 million. Much beyond that, I think we’d be facing ongoing and significant problems including the cost of infrastructure and social services, and the availability of water.
There have been some, even in fairly recent times (eg. Kevin Rudd), who have advocated a “big Australia”, for whom a population of 50 million or even greater is seen as desirable. In my opinion, such proposals fly in the face of the arid climate of much of our country. I’m yet to come across anyone with a significant experience of the Outback who can see the country supporting 50 million or more.
It seems to me that we should be prepared to contemplate the possibility that (1) we don’t need to keep increasing our population, and (2) we don’t need to keep increasing the size of the economy.
At the same time, I realise that there are sizable parts of the world where the population is already too big for the available resources – quite apart from places where the political circumstances make life unbearable. Do we as a nation have the right to deny some of these people access to Australia? If we could conduct an instant survey of everyone in the world, providing some basic information about life in Australia, and then asking the question “Are you happy living where you are, or would you rather move to Australia?”, my guess is that there would be at least 100 million people – maybe 500 million – who would prefer to move to Australia. As responsible world citizens, what should be our response to such a situation?