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Look to our population problem - now

By Bert Dennis - posted Tuesday, 16 May 2000

The new millennium will see Australia facing many problems, even crises. Some are going to test our will to breaking point unless we act now.

Principal among these problems, because it will affect every one of us sooner or later, is the problem of our rapidly ageing population with all that involves in the way of soaring social security costs and burdens on younger taxpayers.

By the year 2028 the number of workers for each retiree will crash from a present 6 to 3. By the middle of this century 25 percent of Australians will be aged more than 65.


What are we going to do about it? There's no easy solution as Japan, one of the smartest nations on earth, has discovered. Similarly Britain is now looking at Policies on how to keep people at work beyond 50.

The Australian Population Institute or APop as we call it, is the only organisation in Australia that has seized this nettle - and others associated with our population - and made them public issues.

In the past six months there has been an opening up of attitudes in both Government and the private sector – a realisation that population is at the very core of Australia’s future – and cannot be ignored or denied.

APop is determined to create a focus for debate - about our ageing people, about our fertility rates, about our need for increased immigration, about our need for a population of 30-50 million by the middle of this century.

There is, of course, the concern that a greater population will have a greater effect on the eco-system of Australia. In particular such issues as bio-diversity and greenhouse gas emissions. The point is surely that people have an impact on these factors wherever they are on the globe - whether in their country of birth or in a country they have migrated to.

As we know too well, floods recently inundated huge areas of central and northern Australia. And annually our monsoonal rainfalls could be much better harvested and directed. Our use of tertiary treated water is almost zero and millions of gallons gush from uncapped bores throughout the Outback - there are many areas in which we can improve or innovate.


Environmentalist demographers claim that if Australia significantly increases its population we will see a vast urban sprawl along the east coast of Australia. They seem stuck with the notion that urban development will continue along past lines of single family houses on a quarter acre of land.

In fact we are already seeing a different reality: the compacting of suburbs with smaller block sizes and a huge movement by people both young and old into city apartments with all the efficiencies of energy and resources that this involves.

The Murray-Darling basin is often used as the prime example of the dry land salinity problem faced by Australia with some 2.5 million ha already effected. A variety of solutions are currently on offer: changes in land use, salt interception and other engineering solutions and redirection of water flows to dilute salinity. All are costly.

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About the Author

Bert Dennis is President of the Australian Population Institute.

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