7:30 Report: the social impact of the population boom and Australia’s future


Last week the ABC’s 7:30 Report spent the entire week looking at the drivers of Australia’s long-term future. The fourth program, on The social impact of the population boom, was an excellent examination of the diverse issues and perspectives on the implications of rapid population growth, including interviews with a diverse range of politicians, demographers, analysts, and myself as the lone futurist.

It’s well worth seeing the video of the full program along with the transcript on the ABC’s website. A video of the program’s introduction and excerpts from my comments are below.

The program examined Australia’s demographic and social future, however the issues raised are absolutely relevant in all developed countries, where low immigration inevitably means a rapidly aging population, with all of the associated challenges.

Last December I wrote about the driving trends and uncertainties in Australia’s population growth, pointing to the recent dramatic increase in the 2050 forecast for Australia’s population from 28 million to 35 million. This revised forecast had a powerful impact, resulting in heated discussion about the social, ecological, and economic implications of what would be the fastest population growth of any developed country in the world.

Towards the end of last year, in a piece on what I called the 10 TENsions defining the coming years, I chose Immigration – Borders as one of the most critical tensions and social challenges that developed countries face. While there are many benefits to immigration of talented people, there is also an inevitable pushback on a proliferation of newcomers from different countries and cultures.

I don’t think the path of strong population growth is going to be easy, with many massive challenges as a nation and society ahead of us. However, as I said in the program, I believe we must accept and deal with those challenges the best we can. The alternative is to live in a country that is slowly dying.

Here is the transcript of the excerpted video above:

KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: Over the course of this week we’ve highlighted some of the economic, environmental and social issues Australia will confront if Treasury’s projected population boom becomes reality over the next 40 years – the water we need for our very survival, the rooves over our heads, the critical transport systems, the basic protection of our environment.

Tonight we look at another critical issue on which this nation has sometimes been brittle: social cohesion. Can we confidently manage a 60 per cent population boost in 40 years?

MATT PEACOCK: In 40 years, with a projected population of 35 million, the face of Australia is likely to have a more ethnic, Asian look, believes futurologist Ross Dawson.

ROSS DAWSON, FUTOROLOGIST: We’re going to look far more Asian, we really will be an Asian country as we’ve got far more people coming from that ancestry and far, far deeper ties in terms of trade and economy and culture to the rest of the Asian region.


MATT PEACOCK: The fracture points in Australia’s society won’t just be religious and racial, they’ll also be aged-based. As baby boomers like me get older, we’ll put greater pressure on our hospitals in a health system that’s getting more expensive and more capable of keeping people alive for longer, and it’s younger people who’ll be paying the tax bill. But that larger ageing population is the one politicians will find hard to resist.

ROSS DAWSON: There’ll be an extraordinary proportion of people in Australia in the year 2050 who will be 65 or older. Clearly these voters will be expressing themselves by how they vote and politicians and political parties will have no choice but to espouse policies that are friendly to the elderly.


ROSS DAWSON: Ultimately, the only way in which Australia can experience the real dynamic growth over the coming decades is through immigration. The birth rate has increased a little bit in recent years, but that will never be enough to do more than just maintain our population. If we want to be part of a really exciting part of a global economy and global society, Australia must have immigration, and the issue is: how do we effectively manage that?