Although some politicians and media commentators would have you believe otherwise, ‘big Australia’ population growth is not about boats or refugees. It really boils down to planes.
Australia’s total annual intake of around 14,000 refugees makes up only four per cent of our recent annual population growth of around 350,000 people. More importantly, asylum seekers arriving by boat (around 5,000 per annum) make up less than two per cent. In any case, boat arrivals do not increase Australia's rate of population growth. This is because asylum seekers that are deemed to be genuine refugees are included within the total number of refugees we accept each year.
The population issue is really about an excess of permanent immigrants over permanent emigrants, combined with a temporary excess of births over deaths. At present, including our open borders arrangement with New Zealand, our excess of permanent immigrants is nearly 200,000 per annum. Our excess of births is presently around 150,000 per annum. However, with the current fertility rate of around two children per woman, births and deaths will naturally find equilibrium over coming decades.
Almost surprisingly, both the Liberal and Labor parties agree on an annual refugee intake through the United Nations of around 14,000. The Stable Population Party also supports Australia's intake of around 14,000 genuine refugees. But our position is that this should be within a balanced – or zero net - migration program, where total permanent immigration equals total permanent emigration. Total permanent emigration of Australian citizens and permanent residents has recently been around 80,000 per annum. This stable population policy would free up significant Department of Immigration resources to properly assist refugees with their resettlement in Australia.
Another point often ignored in the refugee debate is that along with Canada, Australia has the highest per capita resettlement of refugees in the world. Although some lobby groups and political parties claim we should double or even triple our refugee intake, nobody can rationally argue that we are not already doing our bit.
Of course the Stable Population Party would prefer to see all refugees arrive through an orderly United Nations system - and an end to dangerous boat journeys. But it is ultimately immaterial to total population growth numbers if several thousand asylum seekers arrive by boat, or even whether they are processed onshore of offshore. If elected, our party candidates would work with any future government to implement appropriate policies and visas to help ensure orderly arrivals. But we first need to put things into perspective: the issues of refugees and population growth should not be cynically linked for political purposes.
Australia can continue to be compassionate and resolve our population growth predicament with a balanced, flexible and sustainable migration program. This could include skilled, family reunion and humanitarian components.
While welcoming our fair share of genuine refugees, we should also acknowledge that overpopulation drives the resource scarcity behind most current conflicts and forced migration. By stabilising their populations through voluntary family planning and empowerment of women, nations protect their food security, improve infant and maternal health, maximise resilience to climate change, free up investment to build prosperity and avoid labour exploitation. All people should be able to live in peace and harmony in their homeland – and our aid should prioritise this objective. Through partnership, example and assistance, Australia should help other nations to live well and plan their own future within their sustainable resource base.
Australia must also stabilise its population in order to live within its sustainable resource base; and we need to do so now as a sovereign nation, so that we can plan our future well in advance. This is doubly important because the future is likely to be turbulent; and our finite resources, including energy, minerals, and fertile soil, may be much less abundant than now.
Although Julia Gillard has had more positions on asylum seekers than Barry Hall has had football clubs, the ultimate prize goes to John Howard. When Mr Howard muscled up to a handful of desperate boat people and gave the clever impression of being tough on borders, he simultaneously added an extra hundred thousand ‘legal’ migrants every year – and introduced the baby bonus. His Government ignored stable population policies, setting the course for a big Australia of 36 million by 2050.
In supporting “as many people as possible the freedom and benefits of life in Australia", his protégé Tony Abbott is playing the same game. At this stage, it’s working a treat. But for how long can the plane facts be denied?
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