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Should You Be Afraid Of Australia’s Rocketing Population?

Our population hit 24 million at 12:50am yesterday.
Photo by Flickr User James Cridland

What were you doing at 12:50 AM AEDT on February 16 2016? If the answer was "emigrating to Australia" or "being born," then congratulations! You might be Australia's 24 millionth person.

The population of Australia passed 24 million yesterday, and frankly, we don't look a person over 23 million. But vanity aside, can Australia sustain this sort of rapid population growth? The 23 million mark was reached in early 2013, and it's expected we'll hit 25 million in 2018.


We certainly have the space for them. Australia currently has around three people per square kilometre, which even the most ardent manspreader would find difficult to fill. But that's taking all of Australia's land into account, and obviously it's not a practical measurement. Many parts of Australia remain unfit for human habitation, like the Gibson Desert or Geelong.

A growing population is inevitable, even desired. Politicians persistently talk up the idea of growth, but growth without an increasing population is impossible. We want more people, but the "right type" of people. Our type of people. Babies, not immigrants. So of course the 24 million population news came with a call to curb immigration numbers.

Former NSW Premier and foreign minister fan-fic writer Bob Carr was, inexplicably, the loudest voice in this debate. In a press conference, Carr said that this was proof immigration numbers needed be curbed. Immigration, he argued, is the reason the price of housing has risen to ridiculous levels.

Carr's assertion is spot-on, but only if you're a boomer who wants to deflect blame for an unsustainable housing market onto immigrants. If you're a fan of accuracy, then his assertion shifts ever so slightly into the realm of utter bollocks.

What's easy is blaming rising housing costs on the baby boomers. So we will.

But we'll also blame Bob Carr, and his predecessors and successors, and the numerous Sydney councils who controlled urban planning, public transport routes, zoning, and so on.


"We've got a third-world style population growth rate," he told reporters. This was more hyperbole than fact. We're pretty close to the middle of the bell curve, and Australia's 1.4 percent population growth is actually the lowest its been over the past five years, so presumably the third world country Carr is referring to might just be New Zealand ( 1.9 percent in 2015).

But is a growing population a good thing? This time last year, Italy's health minister Beatrice Lorenzin said that Italy was in trouble due to its falling birth rate. "We are very close to the threshold of non-renewal where the people dying are not replaced by newborns. This means we are a dying country," she said.

Could this have played a part in Italy's new approach to refugees? Over the past year, the country has welcomed tens of thousands of immigrants, and even made moves this month to decriminalise illegal immigration, which was itself only criminalised in 2009 by Silvio Berlusconi's government. But the fact is that without a young workforce to pay for the retired, Italy is in trouble.

Fundamentally, this is a system that is not sustainable. Infinite growth, points out David Suzuki, is impossible in a finite world with finite resources. This is a difficult concept for politicians, because acknowledging this mathematical fact means tearing up the basis of our entire economic system and starting again. So they rarely talk about it. Except when they find the part of the story that relates to our long-standing and paradoxical fear of immigrants. Then, suddenly, resources are finite.

So although Carr and his mates are correct when they say that accepting an untapped number of immigrants is unsustainable, they're ignoring the bigger picture. You should not be afraid of a growing population as much as you should be afraid of climate change, and the mass migration that will result from climate change, and the fact that Australia itself will be unable to sustain any number of human beings in the not-too-distant-future.

You should be afraid of a system that boasts about infinite growth, but then scapegoats segments of the population when the negative consequences of this philosophy inevitably arise.

But 24 million people? That's cool. We can handle it. And we'll check back to see how each and every one of them is doing in 2018 when we hit 25 million.

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