“THE Australian population will explode to 35 million people in a generation” went the headline. Bloody hell, I’m gripped with a sense of panic before I read any further.
But there is no need to panic. The figures reported with such explosive rhetoric in the mainstream media (see here) came from some revised population forecasts released by Treasurer Wayne Swann. The numbers referred to the 3rd Intergenerational Report which will be released soon.
The prediction now is for an upward revision of future population numbers. Our present population is 22 million people (a handy population clock can be found here). The new forecast is for a population of 35 million by the year 2049 – some forty years in the future.
That’s an increase of 13 million people or 325,000 people per annum. Hardly an explosion on global terms and not even an explosion in Australian terms.
In 1969 (forty years ago) our population was 12 million people. John Gorton was Prime Minister, the Rock musical Hair opened in
So we’re actually slowing down! Maybe the headlines could equally have read “
Calm down Bob, it’s not a boom. We haven’t run out of food, we haven’t run out of space, and we’re arguably more prosperous and more environmentally responsible than we were in 1969 or at any time since then.
The global population is, granted, growing to dizzying numbers but that growth is taking place largely in nations and continents where the term ‘sustainable practice’ is even more unheard of than it might have been in Australia in 1969. The point here is that growth in
It might be handy also to calm the jittery nerves of the Malthusians and provide some global benchmarks. (Malthusians subscribe to a school of thought developed by Thomas Malthus in 1798, which predicted that food supply could only grow arithmetically while population grew exponentially, meaning a population disaster was inevitable. Much to the disappointment of the Malthusians, it hasn’t - after more than 200 years - happened yet).
Then there are the heavier hitters:
And finally the A league:
So here we are today with fewer people than
This then begs the question: how do all these other places manage? They have water, food, energy. You would struggle to call
Even the ‘lone star’ State of
Maybe I am missing something here. Australia, population 22 million and with vast areas of land and natural resources at its disposal, and with the sort of governance systems in place that guide progress along more sustainable tracks than might be the case elsewhere, is worried that a growth rate of 325,000 per annum is some sort of explosion. Bob Brown calls it a calamity. Others will worry we will exhaust supplies of food and water.
And others still must wonder at what it possibly the most critical problem facing us with this growth, mild as it might be. We are currently some 80,000 dwellings short of what’s needed in this country. Our rate of new dwelling supply is at record lows. Our planning systems restrict the supply of land and mandate a style of new housing supply at odds with market preference and which is both difficult and expensive to supply.
Not helped by this housing shortage, we endure (practically celebrate) some of the highest housing prices in the world relative to average incomes - and prices are still rising faster than incomes, even when unemployment is rising. The situation is so chronic that we are now starting to show occasional signs of ‘slum lord’ behaviour, where shelter is at such a premium that students are being charged by the mattress and into overcrowded homes (story here). (Deputy Brisbane Mayor Graham Quirk was prompted to comment: "
The extra 325,000 people per annum are going to need around 150,000 new dwellings per annum – well above our current delivery rate. And that’s without catching up with the existing shortage. Ironically, we seem to have coped reasonably well in the last 40 years. But now, the regulatory systems have changed, and we appear to struggle with lower rates of growth when it comes to the supply of suitable shelter.
So while there may be no reason to panic at the ‘explosion’ of numbers we face in the future, there could well be a reason to be worried – very worried – about where, and in what standard of housing these people are going to live.