Low population growth is dragging down living standards and will retard economic growth as well as pose serious risks, according to the Business Council of Australia.
The BCA, an association of chief executives of leading Australian corporations, is calling for a migration drive as the Federal Government is attempting to devise a sustainable population strategy.
Choosing low or no population growth over the next 40 years poses unacceptable risks to the Australian way of life, BCA president Graham Bradley says in the organisation’s submission to the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
‘There are risks to Australia’s future well-being whether we choose low or no growth, moderate growth or a high growth path to population planning. Understanding the risks will help us weigh up our population choices in an informed way,’ he said.
‘Restricting our population to the level it is today will drag down our lifestyles and lead to a very different kind of Australia to the one we have all grown up in and value for our children. Low population growth is not the low risk option some people suggest,’ he explained.
‘We believe that the way to have a sensible debate about our population choices is to show leadership that tells a story about how population growth can achieve our shared goals. It is leadership to inspire people about the future rather than populist debates that seek to scare people about the present,’ he added.
In developing its submission, the BCA said it has taken a step-by-step approach, looking at the facts and figures, assessing the global trends that will shape the context for Australia, and considering the benefits and risks of alternative population choices.
The submission argues that the projected growth in the Intergenerational Report that would see the population increase to around 30 million in 2030 and 36 million in 2050 is a moderate and sensible guide to what is likely to be needed to meet Australia’s long-term goals.
‘While restricting our population to low or no growth might seem appropriate to manage congestion, and environmental and urban pressures, an assessment of all the factors shows the risks are far too great,’ Bradley said.
‘With an ageing and shrinking workforce, low population growth will render us a branch office economy of the region with limited ability to support health, education, aged care and welfare services, or to pay for the infrastructure we need,’ he added.
The submission highlights that without moderate population growth the ageing of the workforce will see the number of people of working age to each Australian aged 65 or over slump from 5 to 2.7 by 2050.
‘The Australian workforce needs more people, not less, at a time when large numbers of Australians are reaching retirement age. Keeping the Australian workforce strong is vital because economic growth in our region will increase demand for Australian products and services. Our own economy is closely interconnected with rapidly developing countries,’ explained Bradley.
‘Well managed, moderate population growth will deliver a strong, innovative and diversified economy, with growing world influence and the ability to better manage our natural resources and pay for key infrastructure and community services.
‘Above all, however, good government that delivers the right policies is the fundamental requirement for population growth to achieve benefits for all Australians,’ he said.