November 15, 2009


Immigration brings real and tangible benefits (Jacob Varghese - posted Monday, 16 November 2009, Online Opinion)

The population pessimists make three important claims: that immigration is unsustainably quick; that a growing population threatens our quality of life; and that it threatens the environment. All three claims are dubious.

As for the pace of immigration, reaching 35 million in 40 years will actually represent a slowing down from our historical rates of population growth. It means adding an extra 60 per cent on today’s 22 million. If you take any other 40-year period staring at federation in 1901 and ending at 2007, the lowest rate of growth you’ll find is 78 per cent, which occurred between 1967 and 2007. In our first 40 years of nationhood we grew 88 per cent, from 3.8 million to 7.1 million. Our 40-year growth rate peaked at 115 per cent, from 1947 to 1987.

In its historical context, 60 per cent over 40 years looks pretty modest. Australia has a history of very fast immigration growth, managed with remarkably little disruption or antagonism. Our economy, amenity and social services have grown with the population, each wave of immigrants quickly paying for themselves. Given this track record, there is every reason to be optimistic about more population growth.

Concerns for quality of life are similarly misplaced. Only the most reactionary would argue that the Australia of 1969, population 12.5 million, was a better place to live than the Australia of 2009.

Immigrants have added so much since. They have helped our economic life, not just in providing labour and consuming goods and services but also by adding dynamism and entrepreneurial vigour. In cultural terms, immigration has helped to make Australia a more vibrant and interesting place where ideas from around the world combine to inspire creativity. Propelled by this energy, both Sydney and Melbourne have grown into globally-recognised cities of cultural significance.

Even with our continuous population growth, or possibly because of it, our economy and public services continue to provide for the well-being of our residents. Australia is ranked second only to Norway on the Human Development Index, a rounded index of human welfare that takes into account education and life expectancy as well as wealth. We can always do better to guarantee the welfare of our citizens, but by relative standards we are doing very well.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 15, 2009 6:23 PM
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