The Population Summit: Australia 2050, was held in Melbourne on 25 February
2002. It was designed by its convenor Steve Vizard as a forum for reasoned,
informed debate about population policy and related immigration issues.
More than 750 people took part, including over 200 students from various secondary
schools in Victoria. There was an impressive range of speakers including Australian
National University Professor Ross Garnaut, former Labor politician Barry Jones,
scientist and author Tim Flannery, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s
Michael Krockenberger, leading commentator on urban and social problems Tim
Costello, industrialist Richard Pratt, Monash University’s Centre for Population
and Urban Research’s Bob Birrell and the Victorian Multicultural Commission’s
As Victorian Premier Steve Bracks said in his opening address, the summit came
at a crucial time when 'Australia’s declining fertility rates [the average number
of children born to each woman in her lifetime] and relatively low levels of
net migration [the difference between those arriving and those leaving] means
Australia’s population could begin to decline within the next 50 years'. This
is also a period in which Australia’s population will be ageing. In other words
there will be a higher proportion of older people in the community and fewer
younger, tax-paying workers to support them. Already, with our current technology,
the existing Australian population is putting considerable pressure on our key
resources – especially water.
A range of views
The summit organisers arranged speakers under the following headings: Economics,
Environment, Humanitarian, Demography, Media & Public Perception, Culture,
Youth Perspective, The People, and International Relations. There were at least
four speakers on each of these areas.
Some key facts
Australia’s population was estimated at 19 386 700
at 30 June 2001. This was an increase of around 15.5 million from
100 years earlier.
The fertility rate was 1.749 in 2000. This is well below
the replacement rate of 2.1 needed to maintain current population levels
over a long time. In Victoria, the fertility rate was an even lower 1.625.
In 2000–2001, 80 610 settlers arrived under the Federal
Government’s migration program. Of these settlers, 41.5% entered as part
of the Family Reunion Category, while 55.5% entered as part of the Skills
In 2000–2001, 13 750 people were allowed entry as part
of the humanitarian program. Many of these people were considered as refugees.
This number included both temporary and permanent visa holders.
Australia’s population growth – from natural increases and
net migration combined – was a low 1.2% in 2001. Net migration accounts
for 0.49% of this figure. This is significantly below a target of population
growth of 2% set over 50 years ago to increase our national population.
Around 24% of Australia’s total population was born overseas
– almost the same proportion as existed back in 1901.
Approximately 12% of Australia’s population is now aged
65 and over. By 2050 it could reach between 24 and 27%. At present for every
person aged 65 and over there are 5.5 people aged between 15 and 64. Most
of these younger people are part of the workforce and pay taxes. By 2050
there may be as few as 2.5 younger people for every person 65 years and
The Heinemann Atlas 3rd edn has a number of pages central
to these population issues:
- Pages 30–1 detail Australia’s population distribution and growth, migration
and predictions for the future.
- Pages 43, 53, 67, 77, 91 and 100 include examples of population movements
- Pages 198–201 put Australia in a world context of growth and movement including
Some key questions
The current situation raises a number of key questions, many of which were
tackled by speakers and questioners at the Population Summit in Melbourne. These
The Population Summit itself finished without a consensus, but having stimulated
lively debate on population and immigration issues, just as the organisers had
- How many people can Australia support at current and future levels of technology?
- How do we adjust our age structure to avoid a situation with a top- heavy
ageing population supported by a much smaller, younger, working population?
- Do we raise our net migration levels or encourage the existing population
to have more children, or take on both strategies?
- Where will new migrants come from?
- Is our migrant mix (family, skilled, business and humanitarian) working?
- Should we be encouraging large numbers of overseas contract workers, as
many European countries are now doing?
- What can we learn from the population situations in other countries such
as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada?
- How do we manage and sustain our environments as the population increases?
- Where will these increased populace live: in the existing cities, in the
regional centres or in new centres?