Population growth may boost GDP but not wellbeing
The forecast increase in annual population growth to 1.4 per cent thanks to restoration of pre-Covid levels of immigration may boost total GDP but not individual well-being, says Sustainable Population Australia (SPA).
Treasury forecasts GDP will rise by 3.25 per cent in 2022/23 before dropping back to 1.5 per cent in 2023/24. Much of this growth will be fuelled by population growth.
Yet as the Commonwealth Bank points out in its latest Update, population growth “does not have much impact on per capita outcomes.”
SPA national president Jenny Goldie says this exposes the fallacy of focusing on aggregate GDP growth for measuring social and economic well-being.
In the October Budget, the government itself has begun work on a national well-being framework.
“GDP per capita is barely going to rise because of the influx of all the extra people,” Ms Goldie says. “We are now back on track to net overseas migration (NOM) approaching 235,000 per year. This is a return to the extreme population growth of pre-Covid days and will put immense pressure on housing, environment, infrastructure and services. The federal government has capitulated to special interest groups at the expense of the well-being of the Australian people.
“Well-being goes way beyond income. It is also determined by availability of healthcare, housing and energy affordability, level of congestion, clean air and water, quality of schools, access to recreation, and so on.
“Increasing population cuts directly against that. It will only make our housing crisis worse, by increasing demand. Unemployment will rise, and with that inequality.
“Waiting times for elective surgery will get longer unless there is a large intake of doctors and nurses. Roads will only become more congested unless there is huge investment in public transport. Schools will get more crowded.
“It comes down to a balance between the number of people and infrastructure,” says Ms Goldie. “Infrastructure costs money, and it is usually paid for by states and local government while the federal government reaps any benefits of more people in the form of taxes.
“Then there is the environment. It will be harder to reach the 43 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 with ever-increasing numbers of people. More people means more emissions, more houses encroaching on our food bowls or native forests, the habitats of other species.”
Population researcher Dr Jane O’Sullivan has called out the economic arguments for population growth as “fallacious and full of myths and bad assumptions.”
A number of recent polls, (including The Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI) and the Australian National University Centre for Social Research and Methods) show that the majority of Australians share this position, and would like to see a slowing of Australia’s population growth.