Professor Bob Birrell, head of The Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI), is the inaugural winner of the Mary E White Unsung Hero award. The winner was announced at the Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) Annual General Meeting in Brisbane on the weekend.
The Unsung Hero award is given to a person who has done outstanding work in the field of population but has largely been unrecognised for his or her achievements.
The award is named for the late Dr Mary E White, renowned paleobotanist and author who was a Patron of SPA from 2000 until her death last year, aged 92. Dr White was a strong advocate for limiting human population size and believed Australia should have no more than 13 million people.
SPA national president, Ms Sandra Kanck, says Prof Birrell was an obvious choice for the award and is richly deserved.
“For the three decades that SPA has existed, Bob Birrell has been doing first class research on population and immigration, first as director at the Centre for Population and Urban Research (CPUR) at Monash University in Melbourne, then since his retirement, as head of TAPRI.
“He has endured a great deal of hostility and abuse from other academics who promote a high immigration/Big Australia agenda. They do not wish to hear about any downsides to mass immigration, which is exactly what Australia has experienced for more than two decades.”
For 18 years, while Prof Birrell was at CPUR, he co-edited with Dr Katharine Betts (now herself a SPA Patron), the quarterly journal People and Place. He wrote, or co-wrote, many of the papers contained in it. This small, green magazine generated many heated discussions but at the same time was highly influential and widely read by politicians and senior bureaucrats.
“Bob has written countless papers and speeches. Only last week, TAPRI released its latest report, written by him, Overseas students are driving Australia’s Net Overseas Migration tide. It found that by 2017-18, overseas students were the largest contributor to Australia’s Net Overseas Migration (NOM). They comprised 104,987, or 44 per cent, of the overall level of NOM of 236,733.
“It is ironic that in the very week we announce the Unsung Hero award, Bob and TAPRI’s latest paper received front page billing in The Australian. Perhaps now, he’s no longer ‘unsung’ after all, though still a hero in our eyes. Unfortunately, he is still abused by those who promote and have a vested interest in a Big Australia.”
Prof Birrell was unable to travel to Brisbane because of family illness but will receive the award in Melbourne at a SPA meeting in the near future.