Insane growth rate is stretching all services
The federal government will consider slashing Australia’s annual migration intake to help tackle concerns about traffic congestion, housing, hospitals, water and the environment.
Just months after declaring himself in favour of a “big Australia”, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday warned of “legitimate concerns” with population growth and appointed Agriculture Minister Tony Burke as Australia’s first Population Minister. Mr Burke has been given a year to develop the country’s first population plan, including a review of immigration levels.
The announcement came as another boatload of asylum seekers – the 102nd to be intercepted since Mr Rudd took office – was placed in detention at the Christmas Island facility, which has reportedly reached capacity.
Mr Rudd denied the new strategy was a smokescreen to divert attention from the recent boat arrivals, saying the idea for a population plan had come after “extensive deliberations of the cabinet over the last month”.
He said population growth must be monitored: “Particularly its impact on urban congestion, its impact on the adequacy of infrastructure, its impact on the adequacy of housing supply, its impact on government services, its impact also on water and agriculture and on our regions.”
Mr Rudd’s change of heart followed the release last month of Treasury’s Intergenerational Report, which predicted Australia’s population would swell from about 22 million to 35.9 million in 2050, with overseas migration by far the biggest contributor.
Australia’s growth rate is now twice the global average, even outstripping that in some developing nations including the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Figures from the Bureau of Statistics show that last financial year net overseas migration added a record 298,924 people, while natural increase (births minus deaths) added 157,792.
Victoria’s population, estimated at 5.44 million at June 2009, is growing faster than the national average, with 27 per cent of all immigrants in 2008-09 choosing to set up home here.
The majority moved to Melbourne, where population growth outstripped all other capital cities for the eighth year in a row, compounding pressure on the city’s public transport network, roads and housing market.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison dismissed Mr Rudd’s announcement as a diversion to cover his failure to control boat arrivals. “Effectively what he has announced is a plan for a plan after the next election,” he said.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Australia needed a serious debate on population. “It’s very hard to have a sustainable population strategy if you can’t control our boat arrivals. You can’t have a population policy without having a border protection policy,” he said.
The Future Eaters author and former Australian of the Year Tim Flannery welcomed the move, but said the Government should create an independent board to set medium and longer-term targets that would take into account the environment, social issues and the economy.
Greens leader Bob Brown said the new strategy must be matched with action. “The major parties’ population growth plan is outstripping Australia’s infrastructure, environmental capacity and affecting quality of life.”