Saturday, December 05, 2009

Saturday Morning Musings - Population change in Australia

Some time ago I began a Pacific Perspective series. One of the drivers at the time was a feeling that modern Australians had lost sight of Australia's Pacific and especially Oceanic connections and that this loss of perspective had come back to bite us. 

I was reminded of this still to be continued series by an article in the New Zealand Herald during the week. It appears that 126,000 of the 765,000 people in the world with Maori ancestry, one in six, now live in Australia. I haven't tried to total all the Pacific Island groups now living in Australia, but the combined total is quite high and will continue to rise.

Continuing the demographic theme, on Thursday the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its population estimates for Australia for the year ended June 2009. These showed that the quite remarkable transformation of Australia is continuing.

Generally, the commentary focused on the headline number: the estimated resident population rose by  443,100 persons, no less than 2.1%. This is quite a remarkable number in itself. It means that Australia now has one of the fastest rates of population increase in the world. Australia population growth June 09

The graph from ABS shows the growth pattern over the last few years. You can see the upward trend, as well as the way in which growth has been driven by net overseas migration.

In this most recent period, net overseas migration contributed 64.4% to the total, natural increase 35.6%.

Now here I want to drop below the headline numbers and look at some elements in population growth.

The preliminary estimate for births  at 300,900 was 4.6% higher than the figure for the year ended 30 June 2008 (287,700). The total fertility rate (TFR) for the year ended 30 June 2009 was 1.978 babies per woman.

These numbers show that the mini-baby boom has continued, with the fertility rate now only just below the population replacement level. This means that demand for things like schools will be greater.

The net natural increase (births minus deaths) was 157,800 persons. With zero immigration, Australia's population would have grown by 0.7%.

We now come to an interesting comparison.

The estimated number of Australian residents who left the country, 225,200, was significantly greater than the net natural increase of 157,800. Had immigration been set at zero, the Australian population would actually have declined!

I do not have statistics on the mix of people leaving the country. It includes not just locally born, but also overseas born residents (citizens and others) going for a variety of purposes. If we look at Australia's rapidly growing Indian and Chinese communities, for example, there is a clear pattern of departure for both locally and overseas born to take advantage of the economic rise of those countries. Further, in at least the Indian case, the growth of the Indian entrepreneurial class provides a network around the world that facilitates cooperation and movement.

This may be true for China as well. However, here my impression is that movements are far more back to China.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with this, by the way, from a national viewpoint. It is part and parcel of life, linking Australia into international networks in a way that would have seemed inconceivable even forty years ago.

Now we come to a statistic that continues to worry me a little.

With an estimated 225,200 permanent residents leaving, we needed 510,600 overseas arrivals to achieve a net gain on overseas migration of 285,300 persons. Why does this worry me?

First, I need to outline something I don't know.

Just as the permanent residents leaving includes previous migrants, so the new arrivals include returning Australians. I will come back to this in a moment. 

On the surface, the gross immigration rate equates to 2.3% of the Australian population. This is a very high rate. If all those new arrivals were in fact new, ie no returning Australians, then in ten years time 2.3% moves to 23%, ignoring population increase in the meantime. Obviously we cannot do that, but I am using the numbers to make a point, that we are engaged in a major exercise in national change.

My worry is that I don't know what this actually means in terms of scope and impact.

Forget, for a moment, green house gas issues. This label was immediately attached to the latest numbers. The argument here went that Australia should reduce immigration to reduce its green house gas emissions.

Australia's changing population is a complex mix. Further, it is a mix with considerable geographic variation, creating a changing mosaic across space and time. This has considerable implications.

  Consider, for example, the provision of school education in NSW.

Resources are tight, so the Government does all sorts of projections trying to work out at local level where demand will rise and fall, where primary education will need to be contracted, where expanded. This is hard enough in its own right, but the NSW Government also has to factor in changes associated with the on-ground impacts of migration and emigration, including internal movements of Australians.

In area A, total pupil numbers are increasing. However, overseas migrants are moving in, locals moving out. A school that was predominantly Anglo in the broad sense if with a migrant mix, is now a melting pot. Alternatively, another ethnic group may have become dominant in place of the Anglo.

The Government has to respond to these changes: more English as second language teachers may be required; staff have to be trained to deal with cultural differences that may vary greatly, not just in dealing with students but also with parents; school programs may need to be adjusted.

These issues are not new at one level.

In my review of Don Aitkin's book that began with  Train Reading - Don Aitkin's What was it all for? 1, I referred to those of the Armidale High School Leaving Certificate class of 1953 who became teachers.

They entered the profession at a time when the combination of mass migration and the baby boom had really stretched schools. Many found their early experience in schools dominated by the children of migrants as the most enjoyable and valuable part of their teaching careers.

While the issues are not new, there are far more complexities today in part because the migrant mix is so varied. All this can create planning nightmares.

I think that I will pause here, perhaps resuming at another time.            


Neil said...

Good post, Jim.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks Neil. Just a small step forward in something that I started a long while ago, an exploration of the varying on-ground effects of demographic change.

This is a topic that I find quite fascinating because I keep seeing bits of it peeping up.

Anonymous said...


Where's Sunday Essay?

Get moving! I haven't got all day you know.


Jim Belshaw said...

Gee, KVD, you are a hard task master! It's coming, but not for a little while yet.