Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Managing Australia's population targets requires all of government

By Philip Ruddock - posted Monday, 15 April 2002

Informed discussion of population issues is vital to the development of policies that will enable us to best manage our future. However, discussion needs to move beyond simply barracking for a particular population target.

Before we start picking targets, even if that were appropriate, we need to focus on developing a better understanding of the impact of population change on many critical public policy areas. The lessons that Peter McDonald has taught us about what is demographically feasible and what is not are also important to an informed discussion.

The Government has invested very significant resources into research and policy development into a range of policy areas impacted by population change. For example, in addition to the extensive research into these issues that I have commissioned, my colleague the Minister for Family and Community Services has commissioned significant research into the impact of an ageing population on the social security budget as well as into the causes of fertility decline.


The Minister for Health has developed a National Strategy for an Ageing Australia which is a framework to address the economic and social impact of ageing.

The Minister for the Environment will be issuing the next State of the Environment report which will complement the work that the CSIRO is currently doing on the relationship between population and the environment.

In accordance with the Charter of Budget Honesty, the Treasurer will be producing the Intergenerational Report which will assess the long-term fiscal sustainability of current government policies, taking into account, among other things, the financial implications of demographic change over the next 40 years.

It is this type of research and policy development that will continue to guide the Government's approach to population issues.

Australia's Population Directions Australia's population of about 19 million is currently growing at around 1.2 per cent per annum - this is one of the highest population growth rates in the developed world. A critical part of this growth is that in 2001-02, the Government will deliver the largest migration program in a decade and the largest and most rigorously tested skill stream on record. In addition, long term movements to Australia have hit record levels and for the first time contribute more to net overseas migration than permanent movement.

Based on sound demographic research and reasonable assumptions regarding current trends in immigration, fertility and life expectancy, Australia may reach a population of around 25 million by mid-century. However, I do not regard this as a population target.


Two major population inquiries in the past decade have found that an optimum population target is not appropriate for Australia. Both inquiries also highlighted the very limited range of policy levers available to governments to influence population size and distribution.

In a liberal-democratic society such as ours, with an open trading economy, a high level of people movements (both internal and external) and a focus on free enterprise and individual choice, we have very limited capacity to ensure any particular population target is actually delivered. We know that demographic forces are slow but inexorable and very difficult to divert.

It is against this background that the three population scenarios being considered by this population summit should be examined. While 25 million is about where Australia's population may reach by mid-century based on current trends and assumptions, the other two scenarios require zero net overseas migration (and low fertility) or a possible tripling of net overseas migration (and a major increase in fertility).

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

This is an edited version of a speech given to the Population Summit in Melbourne on 25 February, 2002.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Philip Ruddock was attorney-general and minister for immigration and multicultural and indigenous affairs in the Howard government, and is the Liberal member for Berowra.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Philip Ruddock
Related Links
Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
Phillip Ruddock's home page
Photo of Philip Ruddock
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy