There’s a growing need for a federal population minister

John Quiggin is one of Australia’s finest economists whom I have admired for a long time. His article (“Can’t we just keep families together?”, December 31, p26), however, exposed that divide between economist and ecologists that he has sometimes bridged, but not on this occasion. Quiggin looks at immigration with his economist blinkers on but fails to see the overarching issue of population, and how many people this nation can sustainably support.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic complicates things, closing borders that might otherwise be open. Nevertheless, immigration policy must be set in the context of a broader population policy. Quiggin is simply wrong to assert that the “number of people that actually want to migrate for personal and family reasons is limited”. The number of people on the spouse waiting list is in the tens of thousands. And no doubt a lot of the 26 million refugees in the world and 79.5 million “forcibly displaced” would like to come here to have a better life.

This is not an argument to keep our borders closed once the pandemic has passed. Any nation, however, has a responsibility to control its borders, not only to protect its existing citizens from excessive competition in the labour market, but also to protect the habitat of other species from being destroyed for urban expansion, a corollary of rapid population growth. Most of us who support controlled borders are neither xenophobes nor racists, rather, citizens who see the social and environmental downsides of the kind of rapid population growth that has characterised Australia since John Howard’s government.

Immigration is a mere subset of population – the other half is natural increase that can be affected by such social policies as baby bonuses, for instance.

It is thus a pity that, in the recently announced Morrison government, there is no minister for population. Alex Hawke is Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, but not population. And he’s in the outer ministry, so has less influence. Anne Ruston, on the other hand, is Minister for Families and Social Service – a portfolio that may affect population policy – and is in the ministry itself.

Let’s hope that ministers Hawke and Ruston talk to each other.

Jenny Goldie The Canberra Times 2 January 2021

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