23 September 2021

Rethinking Big Australia: the impacts of COVID-19

Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) COVID statement 2021

Read the full statement here

On New Year’s Eve 2020, Australians were ready to say goodbye to a challenging and difficult 2020 while anticipating a freer and more joyous 2021. Our last mild, rainy summer on the east coast offered an omen of hope and reprieve following the bushfire hell of summer 2019-2020. Furthermore, the sacrifices to personal freedom endured by the whole nation – and in particular the seeming endless Melbourne lockdowns of 2020 – appeared to be working and COVID-19 was on the verge of elimination. We felt on track for moving onwards and upwards.


As we enter the second half of 2021, this initial optimism appears increasingly misplaced. At time of writing, our two most populous Eastern States persist through a déjà vu of endless lockdowns while NSW continues to record high daily COVID cases. In a short space of time, we have gone from conquering a virus to a new reality of living with COVID for the long haul.

Nevertheless, the federal government’s ‘national plan’ to reopen Australia, after a majority of us are vaccinated, is reflective of a collective enthusiasm to return to a new normal as soon as possible. For all of us, a return to former freedoms without the fear of battening down the hatches – again – is something that we wish to see.

However, the enthusiasm espoused by the federal government to return back to normal is driven by a strong desire by many of our politicians to return to high GDP and population growth. A read through this year’s Intergenerational Report or the recent Senate committee report on temporary migration reveals that they have all pushed for a return to previous levels of temporary and economic migration numbers as soon as it is feasible.

To provide context, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia’s population grew by 0.5%, or 136,000 in the year ending 31st December 2020. Natural increase accounted for 97.6% of this growth, and immigration accounted for 2.4%.

Compare this to 2019, a ‘normal’ year for the past decade, where Australia’s population grew by 1.5%, or 380,000 people, where net overseas immigration accounted for more than 60% of this growth. According to many in the business and political communities with narrow economic perspectives, this downturn in population growth is bad news. The attitude of this ‘growth lobby’ is to double down and make up for lost time when Australia reopens.



Sustainable Population Australia believes that now is the perfect time to rethink the Big Australia vision – promoted by the growth lobby – that is at the root of Australia’s unprecedented high immigration experiment. With a federal election around the corner and vaccination rates finally rising toward a future reopening of our states, it is time to decide whether we want the ‘new normal’ to include a return to high population growth and whether we are still happy for big business interests to be calling the shots on Australia’s population future. We believe it is time for ordinary Australians to send a message to their elected representatives that they emphatically want a stable and sustainable population future, rather than perpetual growth.

The impacts of COVID-19 and international border closures on our society and economy bring into serious question the growth lobby’s touting of Big Australia as the desirable future for our country.  Read our full statement here to find out more.

The COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular the virtual cessation of immigration, has acted as a grand experiment on Australian society and economy. It puts in vivid relief how, pre-COVID, high immigration led to stagnant incomes, over-stressed infrastructure and deteriorating ecosystems. The pandemic has motivated new preferences for lower density living and highlighted housing affordability as an ongoing national challenge.

What does this all mean for Australia? It means that we must accept and embrace the fact that our society can never return to ‘the old normal’. We need a new vision for a new normal; one that has at its heart ecological sustainability, a fair, post-growth economy and a stable population size as part of that. We should dispense with the stale Big Australia vision of Australia’s political and business elites – a vision which, as repeated polling evidence shows, most of the broader community does not share.

Our COVID-19 Statement can be read in full here

As part of the vision for a sustainable future, Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) calls for policies that will lead to the stabilisation, and even gradual reduction, of Australia’s population by encouraging low fertility and low migration. We advocate for a sustainable level of immigration at no more than around 50,000 to 80,000 per year, including a generous humanitarian intake. This level can be achieved through reducing temporary, student and permanent economic migration programs while rejecting discrimination of selection on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion. We discourage fiscal policies that provide financial incentives for larger families and believe this funding can be better spent on providing quality childcare, education and health services. We advocate for a global and national approach to population sustainability. A detailed statement of SPA’s position and policies on population can be found on our website here.

We can no longer afford to pursue outdated economic stories of ‘jobs and growth’ when it is clear that limits to growth is a reality we can no longer put off. It is essential that we transition to steady state, post-growth societies that prioritise community well-being over antiquated conceptions of economic growth. We can no longer be governed by those who prioritise the well-being of big business, property developers and stock market tycoons over the future of the planet.

In other words, it will take more than just vaccines to put us on the road to a new and ecologically sustainable normal.

Read our statement in full:  Rethinking Big Australia – the impacts of COVID-19  (COVID statement 2021)

SPA produced two earlier statements on COVID-19 at the start of the 2020 pandemic that can be found on our website here and here.
Find out more on how we can rethink a Big Australia here.

Sustainable Population Australia is the only Australian environmental charity to directly explore the impact of population growth on a host of environmental and social issues. We rely on memberships, donations and community support in order to continue this very important work. Find out more on how you can support us here.




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