Treasury is gaslighting the Australian people on population

11 May 2023

Media Release

The Australian people, and most journalists, are being gaslighted by the Treasury budget papers’ superficial analysis of Australia’s immigration and population growth. That this is being let go to the keeper by virtually all media commentary is extraordinary, according to Sustainable Population Australia (SPA).

SPA national president Ms Jenny Goldie says the most egregious Treasury claim is that Australia’s population growth needs to ‘catch up’ after the slow-down during the pandemic.

“This claim is based on the convoluted logic that current population levels are ‘lower than expected’ — these expectations having been set by Treasury forecasts prior to the pandemic,” she says.

“So this is a circular, Alice-in-Wonderland argument: our population goal becomes whatever Treasury has defined it to be at some prior point. Any subsequent real-world deviation from whatever Treasury targeted pre-pandemic, requires that we must ‘catch up’ — no matter at what cost to ordinary Australians. The implicit arrogance is palpable.

“Why, though, should population have to catch up to Treasury’s target? Is there some missing consumption or production that needs to be recovered? Hardly. Whatever demand for labour may have accumulated during the pandemic, it hardly requires 715,000 immigrants over this year and next, fuelling a massive population growth rate this year of 2%.

“Yet we have Budget Paper No. 1 breathlessly warning us that ‘Notwithstanding the recovery in net overseas migration, the total population is still expected to be 750,000 people (2.5 per cent) smaller in June 2031 compared with pre-pandemic forecasts.’ (Budget Paper 1, p. 59, emphasis added)

“No doubt this will generate alarmist headlines saying that ‘Australia to have smaller population in 2031’ – when in fact, according to Centre for Population projections, it would be larger by some three million people than our current population of 26.4 million,” Ms Goldie says.

“This is a textbook example of gaslighting: the insidious alteration of the markers of reality, until we no longer know what is real.”

Ms Goldie says another deceptive claim in the Treasury documents is that ‘migration [is] forecast to largely return to normal patterns from 2024–25’ (Budget Paper 1, p. 59).

“On the contrary, there is nothing normal about this. Treasury’s new projections (or targets) show net overseas migration (NOM) to remain at 260,000 per year through to at least 2026-27.  That’s nearly as high as Josh Frydenberg dared to go in 2019. It is higher than last year’s budget projections of 235,000 for those same years and higher than the actual 2007-20 average of 226,000 – which is itself more than three times higher than the twentieth century average peacetime net overseas migration of about 62,000.

“The Treasury budget paper adds that ‘Once the temporary catch-up effect from the pandemic subsides, net overseas migration is expected to return to more normal levels, falling back towards historical trends of 235,000 per year, which is the assumed level into the medium term.’ So now 235,000 is being presented by the Treasurer as the ‘historical trend’, when it is anything but. More gaslighting,” Ms Goldie says.

“What is distressing is that while Treasury plays these numbers games, the acute pressures of extreme population growth continue apace. For real people, this means housing stress, skyrocketing rents, stagnant wages growth, more congested infrastructure and health services, and environmental deterioration.“Such things are far from the minds of Treasury and, it seems, far from the minds of many media commentators,” Ms Goldie added.

“Treasury’s extreme population growth is accelerating the end of a fair go for Australians and it’s no longer the lucky country, with millions struggling with the cost of living crisis with rising rents and mortgages.”

Further information:

Sustainable Population Australia

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