Professor Martin Bell addressed the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland. He is from the QLD Centre for Population Research School of Geography Planning and Environmental Management University of Queensland.

The Intergenerational Report Australia to 2050: Future Challenges (Commonwealth Treasury) predicts 65% growth to 35 million by 2049 up from 21.5 million now.

Ken Henry: “We are not well placed to deal with the environmental challenges”.

Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009-10 asked: Do you think Australia needs more people? Yes 35%; No 65%

Shaping Tomorrow’s Queensland: A Response to the Queensland Growth Management Summit.

65% of Queenslanders want the Government to take steps to cap population growth.

National picture

  • Growth linear since WWII

  • Huge increases in recent years due to net overseas immigration

    • 80000/year for most of the 20th century

    • now at 300000/year

  • We’ve entered a new era of overseas migration into Australia

    • Permanent

    • Long-term migration

    • Long-term arrivals overseas visitors (the really big increase)

      • Students

      • Tourists

      • New Zealanders

      • Long stay visas

    • Much more mobility in the world

  • Fertility rate now almost at replacement level completely driven by women in their 30s and 40s having babies. Baby Bonus had very little impact.

  • The number of people having babies is now far more than at any previous time in our history although the birth rate has been higher historically

South-East Queensland

  • Growth in population much higher than for rest of QLD

  • 3 million in 2010 up from 1.5 million in 1984

  • Now growing at 71000 per year

  • Two-thirds of the state’s population live in the south-east

  • Cairns Townsville Toowoomba Mackay Whitsundays Gladstone all growing

  • We’re getting a little older on average but we are still young compared to similar countries. 65+ age-group 12%. 16% is global average Japan 23% Italy 20%

  • Demographic driver of population growth in SE QLD is migration.

  • Fertility in QLD mirrors the national trend not very variable. Child-bearing peaks at 30-34 years.

  • Interstate migration

    • more arriving than departing sometimes a lot more

    • a lot leave as well as arrive

    • when unemployment spikes elsewhere they move to SE QLD

    • when there is a house price differential they sell up and come here

  • Growth in SE QLD is more from interstate migration than intrastate (people moving here from other parts of QLD). Very little net intrastate migration.

  • Net overseas migration is the big change (huge)

    • 1970s-1990s net gain of about 13000/year

    • Now 60000/year

    • Permanent net migration has hardly increased at all

    • It is all the temporary migrants and New Zealanders

  • There is no data on emigration from SE QLD!

  • For many planning arrangements it’s the number of households (and types) not the number of people

  • Big growth in people living as couples without children

  • Biggest proportional change

    • Single parents

    • People living alone (especially in older years 70+ a lot of widows)

The Future

  • Hard to predict demographic future

  • 5 scenarios (all assume 1.85 long-run fertility rate)

    • High Net Overseas Migration – current net overseas migration rate continues

    • Big Australia – 180000 net overseas migration

    • Long-Run Average – average 1971-2007 migration rate

    • Low Migration – lowest 1971-2007 migration rate

    • Fortress SE QLD

  • SE QLD population by mid-century

    • High Net Overseas Migration – 7.3 million

    • Big Australia – 6.2 million

    • Long-Run Average 5.4 million

    • Low Migration 4.2 million

    • Fortress SE QLD – 3.5 million

  • Most likely Long-Run Average or higher

  • They lead to very different age structures in the population

Household projections using ‘propensity’ model

  • Big Australia

    • Big increase in couples with no children households

    • Increase in people living alone (all ages and elderly)

    • 95% increase in number of households (mostly single-person)

  • Fortress SE QLD

    • 39% in number of households due to changing age structure

Q. Can the QLD Government do anything to reduce the population growth rate in SE QLD?

A. The Constitution says no. International Declaration of Human Rights includes freedom of internal movement in countries. Options available to governments of restricting or limiting growth are limited to things like payroll tax differences.

Commonwealth has most control over overseas migration

  • Migration Program

  • Humanitarian Program

  • TransTasman Travel Agreement – New Zealanders have the right to live here

  • Australian overseas residents retiring home here

Population and household growth in QLD is unlikely to stop at least for many many decades to come.

Responsible course of action is sustainable planning for a larger older and more diverse population.

Scandinavia has had high fertility for some time so they have favourable age structures and also they are very wealthy because they have been saving their offshore oil revenue.

A lot of the growth in increasing costs that is age-related is more expensive medical treatments not the number of treatments.

Italy is in deep trouble with a severely aging population and low fertility.

Australia is in quite a favourable situation.

Population growth will increase the GDP but yet to be convinced it will have the same effect on GDP/capita.

Food security

  • Australia is now importing more food than it received for its exports of goods

  • Importing 60% of the fish we eat

  • More fruit and veges are imported than exported

Audience comment: Of the 600 people in his retirement village 500 are women mostly widows.

Gender imbalances in older ages are slowly declining.

The de facto policy has been pro-growth until very recently. Australia has a very strong historical love of growth.

Darwin has serious shortages of housing. Older people are getting pushed out of homes. Prices are higher than Brisbane. The cost of building there is twice elsewhere.

Housing density is something local communities are being given no say over.

Australia has very low housing density compared to Europe which is why they want to come here.

Australian Population Association Conference will be held on the Gold Coast 13 Nov- 3 Dec

Demography is now a very important part of how we plan.

Comment: Professor Bell arrived in Queensland from the UK fairly recently (after the water crisis had broken) and was not prepared to comment on the eco-system’s relation to population.