Last week on ABC insiders, the discussion briefly turned to population policy and its role in the previous election. Kerry-Ann Walsh (former Herald-Sun journalist, now semi-retired and occasional opinion writer for Fairfax) chimed in with
Given what Australia’s needs are going into the future…and the fact that the fertility rate is so low, we will just disappear if we don’t have a healthy immigration level.
And the fact that both sides were blathering during the election campaign and trying to hoodwink the Australian people is a disgrace.
The suggestion that the Australian population is about to disappear is fanciful. It is about as wrong as anything can be in politics – it is arithmetically wrong. This is not a matter of opinion. I have run a few calculations and projections to illustrate the point. Other people might get slightly different answers depending on various assumptions, such as the exact age distribution of mothers and how mortality will progress in the future.
TFR is the total fertility rate - meaning the number of children on average a women will have (supposing she does not die before having them). A value slight above 2 (in our case about 2.07) corresponds to replacement i.e. zero population growth. The history of the TFR in Australia is HERE. The TFR in Australia right now is about 1.97. The lowest it ever reached was 1.73 in 2001. In Hong Kong the TFR is about 0.9, see the ladder HERE.
The projections below all assume zero net overseas migration (i.e. about 220,000 migrants to balance the 220,000 permanent departures each year), starting from a population of about 22.1 million at the beginning of 2010.
It doesn’t really look like we are going to “disappear” does it, even under the worst case 1.73 scenario. Under this scenario the population will still be higher than it is now in 2050! I am afraid that it is journalists who are hoodwinking the Australian people on this issue, not the politicians.
Here is another scenario to consider. Suppose that drop the baby bonus and that the TFR falls back to about 1.80 in response. Suppose that we also reduced net overseas migration to 100,000 per year (instead of 200,000 which is now talked about as a compromise figure). Under these two policies - which represent the extreme of what would be politically possible in terms of reducing population pressure - does the population stagnate? No. It increases to 28.7 million in 2050 and continues to grow into the future.
There are reasons for running an immigration policy, but saving us from a seriously declining total population is not one of them. Neither is it any sort of solution to the ageing population problem, but that is for another post.