To quote the IGR: “A key lesson from international experience is that countries with low population growth or declining populations such as Japan and Italy face lower potential rates of economic growth than countries with relatively healthier population growth.” The current IGR assumes a steep reduction in net migration from 244,000 to 180,000 a year. While it is good that the level of migration remains above the post- World War II long run average, we must maintain strong migration levels which are appropriate for our ageing population and labour needs. We cannot let environmental arguments for a stagnant population outweigh the need to deal with the economic impact of an ageing population. Nor should we surrender to the debate on current underinvestment in infrastructure as an argument against a “Big Australia”. It is ludicrous for our poor infrastructure to dictate our population. British economic historian Niall Ferguson, on his visit to Australia in August last year, summed it up when he stated: “The idea that traffic jams in Sydney are an argument against continued migration is a silly one.”
The solution is greater and smarter investment in infrastructure to meet our population, not a lower population to match our crumbling infrastructure. The argument that “migrants rob jobs” is dead. In the 10 years to 2008-09, Australia’s net migration totalled 1.7 million. Over the same period our unemployment rate fell from 6.6 per cent in 1999-2000 to 4.9 per cent in 2008-09. And why do we continually concede that migrants will move to the crowded eastern coast? An aggressive, realistic and properly funded regional development strategy will populate rural and regional Australia and be received with open arms. There have been many predictions in history of the end of civilisation due to population growth. Now, as then, technological and societal change will give us the answers to environmental or infrastructure challenges presented by a Big Australia. Solving the sustainability and infrastructure concerns that are associated with a Big Australia will not be easy. However, these problems are not insurmountable. The challenge for policy makers is to find solutions to these problems while maintaining strong population growth. So far, Australia has led the world in developing innovative solutions to an ageing population. The challenge to governments is to continue this tradition and deal with the policy issues of a Big Australia as they arise.