Population policy questions

Population growth and the ageing population, housing the nation, and the scope of future infrastructure programs are prominent issues in 2018.


Pino Monaco

The challenges of the ageing population, managing skilled migration and housing our growing population are issues of the moment.

We’re four full months into the year, and four significant policy matters have captured media commentary and political attention: population, economic growth, skills and infrastructure. These four inter-related challenges, and opportunities, are critically important matters for both our industry and for Australia’s future. Increasingly, they are also dividing public opinion.

On one side of the debate, advocates argue that Australia’s immigration numbers are too high, that our current population growth rate is unsustainable and that perceived downsides of a larger population through higher migration policy cannot be ignored. These being city congestion, higher house prices, falling job vacancy rates, declining access to essential community services and low wage growth.

On the other hand, increasing our population, including through a well-managed skilled migration program, will expand our workforce capacity, support economic growth, increase taxation revenue and help to offset the mounting welfare costs of our ageing population. A larger population helps lift demand for goods and services which in turn generates employment, investment and gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

Australia’s mini natural-population boom, inspired initially by the Howard Government’s baby bonus of the 2000s, is ending. Population policy now needs to focus on our nation’s ageing population and the crucial role that net overseas migration (NOM) will play in the years and decades ahead.

Population policy now needs to focus on our nation’s ageing population

While immigration can be an emotionally charged topic of debate, and one that too often draws a familiar, one-dimensional and simplistic narrative, Australia needs a strong population and strong immigration policy now more than ever. The 2015 Intergenerational Report highlighted the acceleration of Australia’s ageing population. The report projected that the number of Australians aged over 65 years will increase from 3.6 million in 2014–15 to 8.9 million by 2054–55. The report notes that the proportion of over 65s in the total population will increase from 15 per cent to 22.6 per cent mid-century.

Our capacity to provide the services and welfare support for our ageing population, while delivering ongoing economic growth is amongst the federal government’s greatest challenges. To do so, it needs to generate sufficient tax revenue to fund a more demanding social welfare program, and to deliver the necessary infrastructure to service the broader demographics of our population. All the while enabling corporate Australia to expand and invest, compete internationally, drive innovation and create employment opportunities.

As in the past, our future prosperity is indelibly linked to the nation’s ability to attract skilled migrants of working age. Policies that restrict skilled migration risk harming Australia’s future economic prosperity and the standard of living of future generations of Australians.

And as we debate the scope of the nation’s future infrastructure programs, it is clear that housing our growing population is central to the federal government’s challenges. I’ll have more to say on how governments can improve housing supply and affordability over coming editions of Housing.

In this edition, you’ll see some wonderful examples of our industry’s best work – winners of the 2018 HIA–CSR Australian Housing Awards. Our judges consider design excellence, innovation, material selection, workmanship, value for money and many other attributes. You won’t be disappointed with their decisions.

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