Too little too late: immigration tweaks will be far from sustainable

11 December 2023

Media Releases 2023


Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) says that, while some aspects of the migration reform package are welcome and long overdue, it falls short in reducing migration to a sustainable level.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil is misleading the Australian people in claiming that these reforms will bring us back to a ‘normal’ and ‘sustainable’ level of population growth, says SPA president Ms Jenny Goldie.

“Immigration before the pandemic was in no way sustainable. It was elevated from 2005 by the Howard government, and further raised by Kevin Rudd. A decade at those levels saw wages cut adrift from productivity gains, housing unaffordability soar, infrastructure clog up, state budgets blow out, urban water issues intensify and koalas pushed to near extinction by urban sprawl.

“The new government target of 250,000 is even higher than the disastrous pre-Covid decade. It is bound to continue worsening housing, infrastructure and the environment.

“The government’s use of the word ‘sustainable’ is meaningless and misleading,” says Ms Goldie. “A sustainable immigration level must allow Australia’s population to stabilise, since no growth can be sustained forever. The more we grow, the more we lose from the natural environment and our quality of life. We could stabilise with 60,000–80,000 migrants per year, returning to average levels in the post war decades.

“Regrettably, by any measure, Australia’s population growth is not sustainable,” says Ms Goldie. “The 2021 State of the Environment Report showed Australia’s environment is worsening on every front, and population growth is a major driver.

“There are economic, social and environmental (ecological) aspects to sustainability, but ecological sustainability is the bedrock upon which the other aspects depend.  Human economy and society depends on the natural systems of soil, water, biodiversity, nutrient and carbon cycles, and so on, that make up our world.

“The bottom line is that we must aim for genuine long-term ecological sustainability. This is explained in more detail in SPA’s recent submission to the parliamentary inquiry into Migration – Pathway to Nation Building.

The new policy package is based on the Parkinson review into the migration system completed earlier this year. That review was narrowly framed, not considering impacts of population growth on the natural environment and the wellbeing of existing Australians.

“It is telling that the Parkinson report did not utter one word about sustainability and the broader environmental, social and economic impacts of immigration and population.

“As such, the Parkinson review was a step backwards from the impressively comprehensive study of Migrant intake into Australia by the Productivity Commission in 2016.”

The 2016 study by the Productivity Commission recommended a new independent body to do regular integrated assessments of the environmental, social and economic impacts of population growth as the basis for setting immigration policy.

“Unfortunately, Treasury and its Centre for Population is not equipped to do such an integrated, multi-disciplinary assessment. Treasury is captured by big corporate interests and is wedded to the fetish of aggregate GDP growth regardless of per capita recession.

“A new independent assessment body, placing immigration policy in the context of sustainable population policy, is the only way to provide some intellectual rigor and genuine public accountability in immigration settings.”


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Federal Government , immigration , Media Releases 2023 , Politics , population
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