Sunday, November 14, 2010

Population boom inevitable, Australian PM told

Why is it inevitable? It is well within the government's power to control if it has the will to do so. The problem is immigration, not excessive births

JULIA GILLARD's election pitch to avoid a "big Australia" is to be abandoned after a Treasury warning that strong future immigration is "probably inescapable".

In another policy retreat, the government's population review has been delayed and "recalibrated" to focus on skills shortages and regional growth, rather than nominating population targets.

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During the election campaign in August, Ms Gillard said Australia should not "hurtle" towards a big population. At the time, she said a Treasury projection that Australia would have a population of 36 million people by 2050 was excessive. "I don't support the idea of a big Australia with arbitrary targets of, say … a 36 million-strong Australia," she said.

However, a Treasury briefing sent to Ms Gillard after the campaign suggests she could have no choice. The briefing warns that the prediction of 36 million people "factors in a significant reduction" in migration, from a recent peak of 300,000 to an annual average of 180,000.

It concludes that even if annual net migration was lowered to an unrealistically low 60,000 per annum, Australia's population would still reach 29 million by 2050.

"Given the powerful global forces driving the Australian economy, net immigration figures well in excess of that low number are probably inescapable," the briefing says.

"Strong population growth is not necessarily unsustainable. It need not adversely affect the environment, the liveability of cities, infrastructure and service delivery, provided the right plans and policies are put in place now in anticipation of it."

A senior Labor source said business groups had been pressuring the government to adopt a default position "where the issue of specific targets is not addressed". "I believe the government has accepted the reality that it is not prepared to cut migration to the extent needed to significantly reduce population growth," the source said.

Population Minister Tony Burke has indicated the government might miss an April 2011 deadline for its population review, blaming the extended caretaker period while a new government was being formed. "I don't want to give a commitment that we'll be able to get to that [April] time frame," Mr Burke said.

Days before the election was called in July, Mr Burke appointed three population panels to provide advice on demographic change and liveability, productivity and prosperity, and sustainable development.

Treasury's budget update released last week predicted that unemployment will fall to 4.5 per cent by June 2011, heightening concerns that skills shortages could re-emerge as a key issue.

Asked if it was prudent to be talking about immigration cuts at such a time, Treasurer Wayne Swan said the government had refocused the migration program on skills.


It's no longer taboo to question immigration

Comment from Canada

Privately, the impact of immigration has been a constant topic among Europeans, almost an obsession, but it's been a no-go area of public discussion. Only "racists" and "bigots" challenged immigration policy. For mainstream politicians it became a dreaded third rail.

Until now. The combination of Muslim extremism and the recession seems to have encouraged European leaders to confront this elephant in the room. With much trepidation, countries of the European Union are tightening immigration rules, and for the first time in 50 years talking about the expectation that immigrants should "assimilate."

It's produced some head-spinning changes in direction. In Germany, as recently as 2005, new legislation declared the country an immigrant society and officially placed multiculturalism at the heart of public policy. A couple of weeks ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that "multikulti" was dead, kaput!

Remarkable, but not the sudden "racist" eruption that some commentators would have us believe. It has more to do with overpopulation and labour supply than bigotry.

With slower economic growth and the EU's expansion to include much of Eastern Europe, it has an adequate supply of cheap labour within its borders: one that's legally entitled to live and work in the EU. It no longer needs to import labour from forgotten empires.

And despite the visibility of immigrants in large cities, the numbers suggest Europe has never become an immigrant society in the North American sense. Its citizenry remains overwhelmingly indigenous. Germany's immigrant population stands at just over 12 per cent, and in most of Europe it's less than that (4.3 per cent in Italy).

Compare that to Canada, where a whopping 41 per cent of the population is made up of first-and second-generation immigrants, and only four per cent of the people are indigenous.

Together with massive public debt and a changing global marketplace, shifting patterns of immigration will shape the world our children will live in. For economic migrants, tighter rules in Europe will make North America even more attractive.

In Canada we need more immigrants to supplement our pathetic birthrate and grow our economy. The issue is whether we choose new citizens, or sit back and allow a free-for-all.

The U.S. is already more crowded than Canada, and stress on public services and an intractable unemployment rate could persuade Washington to scale back immigration. The flow of migrants into the U.S. has increased by an astonishing 40 per cent since the passage of the 1990 Immigration Act -- and almost half of those are illegals!

Without changes, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts the country's population will rise from around 310 million to more than 400 million by 2050 -- and some 70 million of that increase will come from immigration. Can the U.S. handle those numbers, particularly if it's looking at slower economic growth?

Of course greater prosperity and opportunity in China, India and elsewhere may eventually keep millions of potential migrants at home. Coupled with tougher immigration rules across the developed world, that could mean an end to the mass migration we've come to think of as a permanent phenomenon.

For decades now the accepted wisdom has been that immigration was a giant blender that would eventually result in a polyglot humanity -- one race from many, one global culture, a John Lennon world.

Or maybe mass migration reached its zenith in the 20th century, and our kids' world will continue to be dominated by national identity and ethnic diversity. Imagine!


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