Thursday, October 29, 2009

More on Australian population futures

Over at The Australian, that paper's David Uren and Michael Sainsbury report on how Secretary to the Treasury Ken Henry expects Australia's buoyant population profile to help sustain a long boom there.

The world's third-largest economy, which is due to pass Japan to grab second spot next year, saw growth of 7.7 per cent in the first nine months. Its latest figures will all but assure the country of hitting its 8 per cent target for this year.

"China's investment-fuelled recovery has propped up Australia's economy," said Royal Bank of Scotland China economist Ben Simpfendorfer.

Evidence of China's effect on the economy came as departing BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus warned the Rudd government to keep Australia's mineral resources from being snatched by foreign state-owned entities.

Speaking in Melbourne yesterday, Mr Argus said Australia was at risk of following Canada in having much of its natural resources owned by foreign investors.

Dr Henry told a business forum at Queensland University of Technology that the rapid growth in the population, caused by much higher migration and a rise in the fertility rate, had transformed thinking about the impact of population ageing on the economy, and would require large-scale economic and social infrastructure.

He said the projection that the population would rise to more than 35 million people by 2050 implied that Sydney and Melbourne would grow to cities of seven million, while Brisbane would more than double in size to four million.

Sydney's population would rise by 54 per cent, Melbourne's by 74 per cent and Brisbane's by 106 per cent. This would impose challenges for planners, as the cities could not expand simply by increasing their geographic footprints. It would also put pressure on skills training and government services.

A 2006 projection project that the Australian population could rise from 20.3 million to nearly 28 million by 2051. The growth in projected numbers between 2006 and 2009 can be linked to Australia's rising period fertility and growing levels of immigration. A relatively larger Australian population, one that was relatively younger than its other developed-economy peers and hence had a relatively advantageous age structure, would be well-positioned in the global economy.

That assumes that Australians would want that population level. Many Australians are hostile towards the idea of a substantially larger Australian population, not only because the need for extra investment in cities and overcrowding might hurt Australians' quality of life, but because the scarcity of basic resources like water create significant environmental limitations on Australian population growth.

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