Australia’s migrant intake 2001-02 – Submission by AESP National Office to the Dept. of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA), Nov 2000

1 November 2000






November 2000

The objectives of Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population (AESP) that closely relate to the annual immigration program are as follows:

To promote policies that will initially lead to stabilisation of Australia’s population by encouraging near replacement fertility rates and low immigration rates

To advocate low immigration rates while rejecting any selection of immigrants based on race

AESP believes we in Australia are not living in an ecologically sustainable manner, partly because our per capita demands are too high, and partly because there are too many people for the resources required to sustain them. Evidence for this lies in our deteriorating soil, water and biodiversity.

As CSIRO warned in 1994, “Australia lacks the necessary knowledge and understanding to manage effectively its current population at current living standards. Every extra person and every unit increase in consumption increase the need to rectify this situation.”1

As an organisation, AESP also advocates greater efficiency in the use of resources and energy and believes that long-term sustainability will only be achieved by a move from a fossil-fuel based economy to one based on renewable energy. Population, however, is our primary focus.

We therefore seek stabilisation (“stationarity”) of Australia’s population as soon as reasonable and practicable. Despite fertility rates (TFR) falling to 1.76 and thus below replacement rate, there is nevertheless a time lag and births will outnumber deaths for another three decades. Thus lowering immigration must be the primary means for stabilisation to occur.

We acknowledge that stabilisation of Australia’s population alone will not of itself lead to ecological sustainability, but it will certainly help. On the other hand, every extra person makes the task of Australia achieving ecological sustainability that much more difficult. Every extra person makes an “ecological footprint” which puts pressure on our resource base. Every extra car puts more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; every extra house on our urban fringes encroaches on the habitat of other species; every extra person reduces the amenity of our recreational and wilderness areas.

We frame the following case for stabilisation through lower immigration levels around the Discussion Paper on the Consultations for the 2001-2002 Migration and Humanitarian Programs.


We applaud the fact that Australia’s immigration policy is non-discriminatory, which mirrors our own objective (above).

We question whether, however, the Coalition Government’s immigration policies and programs have “sought to achieve a proper balance between economic, social, environmental, and humanitarian objectives.” We would argue that it has, on the contrary, rejected the arguments connecting population growth and environmental decline. It has refused to adopt a population policy for this country that might address the concept of a sustainable or optimal population. In placing these criteria as competing interests to be balanced and compromised it has failed to understand that unless environmental sustainability is achieved the other objectives will become over time increasingly more difficult to attain.

We believe, instead, that the Coalition Government has promoted population growth through immigration based on the fallacy that greater overall economic growth will lead to greater well-being of Australia’s citizens. As the discussion paper notes (p7) “there is no direct correlation between population growth and per capita GDP growth.” Assuming per capita economic growth is a better indicator of well-being than overall economic growth, the Government’s primary rationale for immigration appears to be misplaced.

With respect to balancing the social objectives, we do not believe the Coalition Government has taken these fully into account. Unemployment and underemployment still remains high. While many migrants do indeed create jobs for others, there is considerable anecdotal evidence that many of the jobs go to fellow immigrants. Has the Government considered the social effects of two-hour commutes each way for people forced to live on the outskirts of Sydney? Has the Government addressed the effects on children with reduced playing areas because of urban consolidation policies, a direct consequence of population growth in our major cities? Has the Federal Government provided adequate support to Government schools that are dealing with children for whom English is not their primary language? Recent shifts in expenditure away from government to private schools would suggest otherwise.

And balancing humanitarian objectives? AAP reported on 8 November 20002 that there has been a sharp rise (9.8%) in the number of skilled migrants. It seems that the balance has shifted unduly away from humanitarian objectives towards that which meets “Australia’s national interest and needs”.


The discussion paper notes that about 41 per cent of Australia’s growth is due to net overseas migration. This contributes to the fact that “Australia’s current rate of population growth is one of the highest among developed countries”(p3).

This is not a statistic of which to be proud. Australia, despite its large size, does not have the resources to sustain growth of 1.1 per cent. Much of the continent is barely fit for human habitation, being largely arid. Even in the less arid areas, water is looming as a resource that will limit further development. Much of our agricultural areas will have to be taken out of production or converted back to native vegetation because of dryland salinity3.

Future Population Possibilities (p4)

The ABS provides three population projections that give rise to population levels in 2051 of respectively 24 million, 25+ million and 28 million, all of them above the level (23m) that the Minister for Immigration, Mr Ruddock, has consistently claimed will be where our population will level out. Obviously, of the three scenarios we would choose the third (Series III – TFR of 1.6 and NOM of 70,000 leading to 24 million) but see no reason why NOM needs to be as high as 70,000. There is no reason why stabilisation could not be achieved at a lower level by cutting immigration. If we are not living in a sustainable manner with 19 million, how much less sustainable will we be with 24 million, even assuming consumption levels remain the same? But the pursuit of economic growth is an attempt to make per capita consumption rise, driving a larger population even further from the goal of sustainability.

Contribution of Net Overseas Migration to Population Growth (p5)

The discussion paper notes: “Australia’s temporary residence programs allows employers to overcome temporary skilled labour shortages by recruiting key personnel from overseas” (p5). While we are concerned, as with tourists, about the environmental impact of temporary residents, nevertheless, we believe temporary visas are the best means of overcoming skills shortages while Australia’s educational facilities catch up. We believe it is unethical to ‘poach’ people educated overseas instead of educating our own people. It is particularly so when those poached come from developing countries that can ill afford to lose their skilled workers. To the extent that the ageing of the Australian population plays any part as a motive for immigration, the poaching of young people is also ethically questionable as it merely shifts our problem to that other country.

We acknowledge that “Australian businesses must have access to skills, ideas, contacts and technology from overseas to be successful in today’s increasingly global economy” (p5). We note, however, in the AAP report2 on the recent increase in skilled component of the permanent program that 11.9 per cent are “sales staff”. Is importing sales staff really going to help Australia fit into the global economy? 13.2 per cent of the skills were tradespeople. Is Australia really so incompetent as educators that we cannot train our own tradespeople? Surely they could have come in on temporary visas, not permanent ones?

New Zealanders as a component of Net Overseas Migration (p6)

According to the AAP report2, New Zealanders now account for 31,610 out of the total of 92,272 settlers, or almost 35 per cent of new arrivals. Given that this enormous component is not part of Australia’s Migration Program, it makes a mockery of these consultations about migration levels. We strongly urge a revue of the Trans-Tasman Agreement and the inclusion of New Zealanders in the Program in order to avoid future blow-outs in Net Overseas Migration.

We suggest that, even should the New Zealand economy improve, there will be continuing pressure on Australia’s shores as an indirect result of population pressures on Pacific Islands. We understand that many Islanders are able to enter New Zealand and then move on to Australia after achieving residency status there.

Possible Implications of Declining Fertility and Population Growth (p7)

We agree that immigration has only a marginal effect on the ageing of the population. We do not regard ageing as a major problem, however, as our dependency ratios are very good and will remain so for some time. We believe any problems with an ageing population can be overcome by various measures including extending the retirement age and promoting adequate and universal superannuation coverage.

Environmental Impact (p7)

We look forward to the publication of the project report on “Future Options to 2050” by CSIRO’s Ecumene Group. In the meantime, however, there have been numerous statements by Australian and overseas scientists such as Sir Robert May (UK Chief Scientist)4, Professor Jared Diamond (author of “Guns, Germs and Steel”)5, Dr Peter Raven (US Presidential Biodiversity Sub-Committee)6 and many others, that Australia’s population is having a dire effect on biodiversity and the environment generally. “State of Environment – Australia”7 said as much. We urge the Federal Government to note the next State of Environment Report that is due to be published next year.


Economic and Social Objectives

We agree that large- scale unskilled immigration to the US has increased poverty and income inequality there, particularly for African-Americans. We recognise that many in the family reunion program or humanitarian component may be unskilled. Nevertheless, we do not believe the large-scale importation of unskilled or semi-skilled labour is in the interests of either Australian-born residents or immigrants who have been here for some decades but been displaced by the down-turn in the manufacturing sector.

The discussion paper cites the benefits that migrants bring to Australia as being the introduction of more than 100 languages and cultures. Certainly, Australian cultural life has been enriched by post-war immigration, but we question whether having so many different cultures and languages might not have put a strain on schools and community services in high migrant areas. Some years ago, for instance, Marrickville High School in Sydney had 54 language groups represented in its student body. How does an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher cope in such circumstances?

We doubt that Government funding has been adequate to allow new immigrants to fit happily into their new communities and make a contribution to Australian life. We would argue that if there are insufficient funds to meet the genuine needs of new immigrants, then that alone is a case for reducing immigrant numbers.

Skill Stream (p9)

While not opposing the importation of skills absent in the Australian community, we reiterate that many should come in on temporary visas while Australian educational facilities catch up with the demand. Why are so many doctors brought in under the Migration Program when the ‘Provider number’ for Australian graduate doctors is restricted? Medicine is the most competitive of faculties to enter, many students are anxious to study it, yet the importation of so many doctors suggests we are not training enough.

We believe the skills program could and should be cut to a level which allows permanent residency for only a few professionals with specialist skills genuinely not available in the Australian community, or for those professionals who can help Australians be educated in their specialist field.

The 2000-2001 Program allowed for 40,000 skill stream migrants. We believe this could be halved in the 2001-2 Program.

Family stream (p12)

Last year’s program allowed for 34,400 places for Family Stream migrants. We appreciate that spouses, fiances and children make up 90 per cent of these places and that this stream is therefore very difficult to cut. We acknowledge that the Government has already acted to reduce the abuse that was prevalent in this area in recent years and we urge it to continue to do so.

Nevertheless, we see little justification for bringing in relatives beyond spouses, fiances, children and parents (under the Balance of Family arrangement.) We therefore urge further tightening up of this stream and perhaps setting an absolute upper limit of 30,000, even less, if it can be achieved without undue distress.


Size and Composition of the Humanitarian Program

AESP has no problems with the size of the Program. If anything, it could be increased slightly, given the enormity of the problem of displaced persons. It is inevitable that Australia will be called upon to provide temporary asylum for many, as was done with the Kosovars and East Timorese, and should continue to do so. It is unlikely that the international situation will get better in coming decades with populations exploding in countries to our north and coming up against their limits in food and other resources. We can anticipate many more economic, environmental and political refugees, or a combination of all three, as conflicts often arise where populations are out of balance with the resources required to sustain them. Climate change may well exacerbate an already deteriorating situation.

We appreciate the costs of taking in refugees, even on a temporary basis ($25 million for 4000 Kosovars), but believe this is a cost that must be borne. Potential costs could be off-set by measures which prevent the desperate circumstances that cause people to leave their countries. Far more money should be put into our foreign aid budget, particularly into family planning and agricultural development, as well as diplomatic measures that may ease tensions between groups in conflict. Shifting people to Australia to relieve population pressure, which indirectly has become the reason for people becoming refugees, will do nothing to relieve those population pressures. Indeed, there is some evidence that taking migrants from these areas may act to inhibit the suppression of further population growth.


AESP calls for a much smaller Migration Program for 2001-2002 with the major cuts occurring in the Skills Stream. We call for an urgent review of the Trans-Tasman Agreement and either an incorporation of New Zealanders into the Migration Program, or a cap, eg 5,000 per annum, on net migration into Australia from New Zealand.

Ultimately, we would like to see Australia achieve zero net overseas migration, that is, about 40,000 immigrants if the number of long-term departures stays the same. We acknowledge, however, that that cannot be achieved overnight. Nevertheless, a cut of 25,000 in the official Migration Program as well as a cap on permanent entry of New Zealanders for 2001-2002 would go a considerable way to achieving this.

We ask the Minister to consider where immigrants are to live. Sydney, as has been acknowledged by NSW Premier Bob Carr several times, is already “full-up”. Neither urban sprawl nor urban consolidation is acceptable. Melbourne’s traffic, like Sydney’s, has ground to a halt. Brisbane already has unacceptable sprawl and it and the Gold Coast are encroaching on areas of prime biodiversity. Adelaide is threatened with a water supply from the Murray River that will not meet World Health Organisation guidelines two days out of five in 20 years’ time.

As for Perth, which we understand the Minister has suggested as a destination for immigrants, it already has rising air pollution and a limited water supply. 80 per cent of Australia’s dryland salinity occurs in Western Australia and no remedies are obvious. The urban area is beginning to stretch from Moore River in the north to Bunbury and Busselton in the south. Further industrial areas are not available and the Ministry of Planning is proposing that industry be located over the Jandakot water mound (a major water source for Perth) and in an expanded Kwinana industrial area in spite of repeated warnings from meteorologists and others that Kwinana should not be expanded. Land use conflicts are creating an unprecedented wave of community protest.

Finally, an immigration program cannot occur in a vacuum. Australia, as a matter of urgency, must adopt a population policy based on the principles of ecological sustainability. Immigration policy should be set within the context of an overall population policy. Only then can there be a Migration Program which is genuinely in the national interest.

Jenny Goldie
National Director
AESP National Office
16 November 2000


1. CSIRO submission. “Australia’s Population ‘Carrying Capacity’: one nation – two ecologies” p.137.

2. “Push for skilled migrants getting results” AAP, November 8, 2000.

3. “Salinity crisis will treble in 50 years” The Australian, 15 November 2000 p.5.

4. Sir Robert May. Speech. Academy of Science, Canberra. 1997

5. Jared Diamond. Speech. Australian National University. 1999.

6. Dr Peter Raven. Speech. Academy of Science, Canberra 1998.

7. “State of Environment – Australia” 1996. CSIRO.

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