Poll shows deep unease on 35 million people by 2049
MARY-ANNE TOY AND MICHELLE GRATTAN
November 10, 2009
FOUR in 10 Australians believe Australia's projected population of 35 million by 2049 will be too many people, according to an Age/Nielsen poll.
As Prime Minister Kevin Rudd talks up the idea of a ''big Australia'', the public is more dubious about the expansion. Australia's population recently passed 22 million due to near-record levels of net migration and the highest birthrate since the 1970s.
Only 30 per cent think 35 million would be about right; 26 per cent have no opinion, while 2 per cent say it would be too few people.
People are evenly split, on 43 per cent each, between those who say present immigration is too high or about right. Just 9 per cent said immigration is too low. The numbers are little changed from 2001.
In the current poll, those over 55 and Coalition voters are more likely than average to think present immigration too high; the same groups are worried about a population of 35 million.
Women (46 per cent) were more likely than men (41 per cent) to regard current levels as too high. Those outside capital cities (46 per cent) were more likely than those in the cities (42 per cent) to believe immigration is too high.
In the year to March, Australia's population grew by at least 439,000, or 2.1 per cent – roughly double its average growth in recent times.
Net immigration of 278,000 – up from 100,000 five years ago – accounted for the majority of the increase.
Asked to comment on the poll, a spokesman for Mr Rudd said the Government believed that a bigger population was relevant in a national security context because Australia's national security includes its capacity to grow and prosper as a nation.
The spokesman said high population growth was not necessarily incompatible with reducing carbon emissions: ''The Government believes that a well-designed carbon reduction pollution scheme can break the link between emissions and economic growth by putting a price on carbon to reflect the true cost of economic activity.''
But Mark O'Connor, co-author of Overloading Australia, said talking of tackling climate change was meaningless while the Federal Government was encouraging record population growth. ''The 35 million figure is rubbery. It's the Government getting us used to the fact that growth is going up even more and they know that this is going to be unpopular,'' he said.
Andrew McNamara, the former sustainability minister in the Queensland Government, said if the current growth rate continued, Australia would have 43 million people by 2049.
Former NSW premier Bob Carr said it was a disgrace that a population increase of this magnitude was not subject to an environmental impact assessment, likening it to playing ''Russian roulette with water security''. ''There's no consultation of course. The immigration targets are set by bureaucrats in Canberra [with] not a hint of an environmental assessment.''