Friday, 14 March 2014

Australia: a Population Policy in a Developed Country

UPDATE - 20/09/2015

Russell Brand seems to be quite popular among students (either because they love or hate him, either way it provokes discussion!) so I've decided to use this video as an introduction to the population issue in Australia: (warning - contains explicit language).

Here are the revision notes that I give to my students;

·       After WW2 the first minister for immigration, Arthur Calwell, wanted to increase the population to improve defence and aid development. He believed Australia was underpopulated as there was a desperate shortage of labour, especially after many people had been killed in the war.

·       Today, Australia has an ageing population and thus an increasing dependency ratio, with 13.7% over 65 (but this is increasing) and birth and fertility rates not high enough to offset this because women are marrying later (at least 29) and having children later (at least 30).

·       Australia also loses around 60 000 well-qualified young workers every year as they emigrate overseas and these need to be replaced or Australia will face labour shortages, especially in its vineyard and mineral extraction industries which are key drivers behind its economic prosperity.

·       The government takes Boserup's view that immigration drives economic growth, supplies young skilled workers to offset and support the ageing population, increases size of markets.

·       The first immigration policy was introduced in 1945 with the slogan 'populate or perish' and included the 'Ten Pound Poms' scheme in which families (mainly from UK) could migrate to Australia for only £10.

·       The government also reached an agreement with the International Refugee Organisation to take in 12 000 refugees per year from camps in Europe after WW2.

·       Since the 1970s skills-based immigration has been encouraged by introducing a points-based skills test. Prospective immigrants usually have university degrees and speak English, they fill specific job areas where there are shortages and they are under 30.

·       More recently they have introduced paid parental leave and baby grants ($5000 per baby in 2009) to increase the fertility rate through natural change.


·       Although fertility rate is increasing it is still well below replacement level (1.78)

·       However, population growth rate is 1.3% per year, meaning the population could double in 40 years. This is high for a HIC (e.g. 0.28% for the UK). About half of this is down to immigration.

·       Australia's population has increased from 7 million in the 1940s to nearly 22 million today; this shows that the policy has been very successful in increasing absolute numbers.

·       However, even though Australia has a very low population density (only 2.9 people per km2 compared to 256 in the UK) its natural environment is fragile, many people such as the Sustainable Population Party think it is becoming overpopulated and causing economic, social and environmental problems. They say population growth is a 'lazy way for big businesses to make more profit' and that it will reduce the per capita value of their mineral reserves. They don't think it will significantly offset the ageing population but instead create unemployment and overload the healthcare system.

·       Water supply is a major issue: rainfall is unreliable, evaporation rates are very high (94% of rainfall evaporates), groundwater is limited and ancient stores are being used up rapidly.

·       Rural areas have suffered prolonged droughts, which has been tackled with the Snowy Mountains Scheme: a series of dams and reservoirs in New South Wales and Victoria which provides irrigation for 60% of Australia. This, like any hard engineering scheme has negative implications for the local environment.

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