Figures suggest we’re experiencing the biggest boom since the 1950s, writes Kelsey Munro.
A COMBINATION of high immigration rates and high birth rates has pushed Australia to a record population boom.
Population growth in 2008 was the highest since the baby boom of the 1950s, according to statistics from RP Data.
Last year, Australia’s population grew by 1.9 per cent, or 406,083 people, to 21.6 million.
A record figure of 253,415 in net migration (total arrivals minus total departures) represented a great increase over 2007’s net migration figure of 184,438.
“In terms of [raw] numbers it’s a record,” said social researcher Mark McCrindle. “In terms of rates, it’s not – we had higher birth rates in the 1960s, we had higher migration rates in the postwar years.
“But the gross numbers are key. A growth rate of 1.9 per cent doesn’t sound that much but it’s almost half a million people.”
Western Australia was the fastest-growing state in 2008, with a 3.1 per cent population increase largely fuelled by overseas migration drawn by the resources boom.
However, Queensland had the greatest raw number of new residents, with 107,000 new Queenslanders (including births) arriving during 2008.
NSW grew by 97,509 people but lost 22,690 residents to other states, mostly Queensland. However, this is almost half the number of residents heading north compared with the year before.
Fertility rates rebounded from a 2002-03 low of 1.7 children per woman to 1.9 in 2007-08, an increase of about 12 per cent.
Yet demographer Peter McDonald from the Australian National University said it was primarily the migration rate that was driving Australia’s population boom. “Most of it is contributed by long-term temporary movements, such as overseas students, New Zealanders, long-stay business visas and working holidaymakers,” he said. “They now form a very substantial part of the Australian labour force.”
The Bureau of Statistics estimates that the country’s population will grow to 28 million by 2026, and 35 million by 2056. But 2008’s growth rate of 1.9 per cent would see the population grow much faster, doubling by mid-century to about 44 million.
“There are considerable advantages to the Australian economy to be taking immigrants in,” Professor McDonald said. The estimate of 35 million “is manageable but we can’t plan after it’s happened”, he said.
Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtin University, said: “Population is mostly a global issue and we are one of the few countries which should take more immigrants and refugees as the global population stabilises in the next 20 to 30 years.”
But not all are convinced population growth is good for the country.
Scientist Tim Flannery, who was the Australian of the Year in 2007, has questioned whether Australia’s natural resources can support even the existing population in the longer term.
Mark O’Connor, the author of the 2009 book Overloading Australia said: “From any scientific point of view it’s straightforward: it’s crazy to be growing our population. We need to cut carbon emissions and secure food and water supplies.