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Does Australia need more people? Most Aussies don't seem to think so

<em>Photos: Getty</em>
Photos: Getty

Do Australians think the country needs more people?

Only three out of every 10 believe so, a survey by the Australian National University has revealed.

As the federal government and opposition grapple with their migration policies ahead of the next election, ANU researchers have uncovered a dramatic decline in support for population growth.

With Australia’s population a little over 25 million, more than 2000 adults were asked late last year whether they thought the country needed more people.

Only 30.4 per cent of respondents believed Australia needed more people, compared to 69.6 per cent who felt the country did not.

Support for a big Australia has fallen significantly since a similar question was asked eight years prior in 2010, when nearly half (45.8 per cent) of respondents felt the country needed more people.

Why the drop?

ANU lead researcher Nicholas Biddle said the most common reasons for why Aussies didn’t want more people were cost of housing (nearly 90 per cent); overcrowded cities and traffic congestion (84 per cent); and support for training Aussies rather than bringing over skilled people from overseas.

Associate professor and ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods associate director Nicholas Biddle. <em>(Source: Australian National University)</em>
Associate professor and ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods associate director Nicholas Biddle. (Source: Australian National University)

Concerns about the impact of population growth on the environment were also expressed by respondents.

Biddle noted that “policy and social context” would always be an influencing factor on Australians’ perception on population growth.

“Most people are now supportive of cultural diversity as a by-product of population growth,” he said.

“On the other hand, geopolitics, defence and population pressures overseas are less likely to factor into someone’s decision than they might have in the past.”

Aussies are most likely to support a more populated Australia if it meant increases to our skills base, mitigated the impacts of an ageing population and increased economic prosperity.

Indeed, a survey by the Scanlon Foundation found that the majority of Australians (82 per cent) were in support of immigration despite population and infrastructure concerns.

“But they do not want population growth to cause crowding, affordability or job security issues, nor at the expense of our natural environment,” Biddle said.

In October last year, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian called for a “breather” on the state’s migration levels.

But economic modelling commissioned by the Property Council of Australia found that halving migration levels would cost the NSW economy $130 billion and 200,000 jobs.

Who does and doesn’t support a bigger Australia?

The 15 per cent drop since last year was largely attributable to falling support levels among men, who were nonetheless still more likely than women to think Australia needed more people.

Younger Aussies (aged 25 to 34) had the greatest levels of support for an increased population, with 42.2 per cent in favour of growth.

People with higher levels of education and those born overseas – particularly migrants from non-English speaking countries – demonstrated strong support for a bigger population.

Greens voters were most likely to think Australia needed more people. Coalition voters had the lowest levels of support of the major parties, with Labor voters somewhere in between.

Those who said they would vote for another party or candidate had the lowest levels of support (20.2 per cent).

—with AAP

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