Bloom and boom: how babies and migrants have contributed to Australia’s population growth


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Even without immigration, new data reveals Australia’s population would continue to grow.
blvdone/Shutterstock

Tom Wilson, Charles Darwin University

Population growth has profound impacts on Australian life, and sorting myths from facts can be difficult. This is the second article in our series, Is Australia Full?, which aims to help inform a wide-ranging and often emotive debate.


Population change has long been a topic of public debate in Australia, periodically escalating into controversy.

It is inextricably linked to debates about immigration levels, labour force needs, capital city congestion and housing costs, refugee intakes, economic growth in country areas and northern Australia, the “big versus smaller” Australia debate, and environmental pressures.

Views about the rate of population growth in Australia are numerous and mixed. At one end of the spectrum are those who are vehemently opposed to further population increases; at the other end are supporters of substantially higher population growth and a “very big” Australia.

Logically, population debates usually quote Australia’s demographic statistics. But there is value in comparing our population growth in the international context.

Average growth rates compared globally

Although growth rates have fluctuated considerably from year to year, statistics just released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that Australia’s population grew by 3.75 million between 2006 and 2016. This indicates an average annual growth rate of 1.7%.

As the chart below shows, this was quite high compared to other countries and global regions. Over the decade, other English-speaking countries such as New Zealand, Canada and the US all experienced growth rates lower than Australia’s. The world’s more developed countries in aggregate grew by an annual average of 0.3%.

The world’s population as a whole increased by an average of 1.2% per year.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/VAIfb/1/


According to the UN Population Division, Australia ranked 90th out of 233 countries in terms of population growth rate over the decade. The countries or territories with higher growth rates were mostly less developed countries, particularly in Africa, and the oil-rich Gulf states. The only developed countries with faster rates of growth were Singapore, Luxembourg and Israel.

Why Australia’s population growth rate is higher

There are two main reasons for Australia’s high growth.

Net overseas migration (immigration minus emigration) is one major factor. It has been generating a little over half (56%) of population growth in recent years.

Demand for immigration – to settle permanently, work in Australia, or study here for a few years – is high, and there are many opportunities for people to move to Australia. In the 2015-16 financial year about 190,000 visas were granted to migrants and 19,000 for humanitarian and refugee entry. Temporary migrants included 311,000 student visas, 215,000 working holidaymaker visas and 86,000 temporary work (skilled) 457 visas.

Over the last five years, ABS figures show that immigration has averaged about 480,000 per year and emigration about 280,000. This puts annual net overseas migration at around 200,000.

This is high in international terms. UN Population Division data for the 2010-15 period reveals Australia had the 17th-highest rate of net overseas migration of any country.

But it is not just overseas migration driving Australia’s population growth. High natural increase (the number of births minus the number of deaths) also makes a substantial contribution. Natural increase has been responsible for a little under half (44%) of population growth in recent years (about 157,000 per year).

Australia has a relatively healthy fertility rate, which lately has averaged almost 1.9 babies per woman. We also enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

This combination of an extended history of net overseas migration gains, a long baby boom and a healthy fertility rate has resulted in Australia being less advanced in the population ageing transition than many other developed countries.

In particular, relatively large numbers of people are in the peak childbearing ages. This means that even if migration fell immediately to zero the population would still increase. Demographers call this age structure effect “population momentum”.

Whether Australia’s population is growing too fast

While Australia’s population growth rate is high in a global context, this does not necessarily mean its population is growing too fast. It all depends on your point of view.

It is important to stress that the overall population growth rate is just one aspect of Australia’s demography. A more comprehensive debate about the nation’s demographic trajectory should consider a broad range of issues, such as:

  • population age structure (the numbers of people in different age groups);

  • the health and wellbeing of a rapidly growing population at the highest ages;

  • population distribution across the country;

  • economic growth and development;

  • the contributions of temporary workers and overseas students;

  • appropriate infrastructure for the needs of the population; and

  • environmental management and per-capita carbon emissions.

The ConversationProgress on issues such as healthy ageing, economic development,and environmental management depend on appropriate strategies to deal with these challenges. Total population numbers will often be relevant to the discussion, but they are only part of the equation.

Tom Wilson, Principal Research Fellow, Charles Darwin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

In a world awash with data, is the census still relevant?

Liz Allen, Australian National University

How we track our economy influences everything from government spending and taxes to home lending and business investment. In our series The Way We Measure, we’re taking a close look at economic indicators to better understand what’s going on.


The Australian Census came under intense scrutiny in the wake of #censusfail. Parliament conducted a review, the Senate an inquiry, and some in the media questioned the entire point.

But cost and privacy concerns aside, population is one of the three pillars of the economy.

Understanding population characteristics is vital to inform us of challenges and opportunities, and is a necessary input in other economic indicators. The quality and timely population data found in the census is not gathered through any other means. If changes need to be made, it’s in the discussion around the census.

So we know who is where

The census is unique in that it is a total survey of the population, covering a range of social and economic variables. At present, it is the only way such data is obtained in Australia.

Without the census, we wouldn’t know how many we are, who we are and where we live. This means important planning and policy issues couldn’t be addressed. The location of schools and hospitals, provision of medical facilities, funding for major infrastructure would all be done without an accurate idea of who is where.

In fact, local, state and federal governments rely heavily on data only available in the census. The number of children, working age population, travel to work information, occupations, housing suitability and vulnerable populations is all data only found in the census.

The census also allows for sub-national analyses to be performed, particularly legislated population estimates and projections. These estimates form the basis of economic indicators such as labour force statistics and gross domestic product per capita.

The estimates and projections also highlight inequalities within society, and provide opportunities for policy responses and development at a regional level.

But the purpose of taking a census goes beyond informing resource allocation, taxation and electoral representation.

The statistical benchmarks used in surveys and studies, research and analysis, and, most importantly, lower level aggregates and groups of interest can only be informed by census data. Low level aggregates allow identification of need. Identification of areas with high proportions of young people who cannot access employment or education can provide much insight into barriers to economic participation.

Quality information about homelessness, minorities, and Indigenous populations is only truly obtained via a census.

The data we already collect won’t do

One of the arguments against the census is that we can get the same data elsewhere from the multitude of service providers that already come in contact with the public.

The problem is that these data collections are administrative. They’re collected for a reason and with limited scope.

Centrelink data is collected to provide a service. Information we provide to the tax office ensures tax compliance. Medicare doesn’t keep information about overseas nationals and people who have never had their birth registered, which is an issue in remote and Indigenous communities.

Australia’s large immigrant population would become a blind spot if we were to rely on the data the government already collects, as many aren’t eligible for certain government services. The data collected by Centrelink, the tax office and Medicare don’t provide sufficient scope. So far the census is the only data source that fits the bill.

Some alternatives

Population registers are a viable alternative to our five-yearly censuses. Finland uses a computerised system to record population data including births, deaths, marriages, migration and so on. The Netherlands, on the other hand, conducts a virtual census by pulling together digital data from a number of different sources.

These registers offer real-time data, but they require ongoing maintenance and verification and often exceed the cost of our census. Ironically, they also need to be checked against a census. And Germany’s experience shows population registers are not always accurate.

Further, major legislation changes would have to go through for Australia to be able to pool data like this. The establishment of a national population register would be costly and demand interdepartmental government coordination.

We could also look to the United States’ method of conducting surveys in between a 10-yearly census. This mixed methodology was suggested by the ABS in 2015 to cut costs.

However, limited financial upside, together with lower quality data, makes it a risky alternative for Australia. Plus we shouldn’t think of the census as an unrecoverable cost. The Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom estimated the costs of their 2011 census were recovered in just over a year.

The future is data

So how can we improve our census?

Online census completion will save money, improve data quality and reduce data processing time. However, online collection must be balanced to ensure disadvantaged populations aren’t excluded. The end of the census collector hasn’t arrived just yet.

More importantly, we must define contemporary data needs moving into the future. An informed public conversation about migration, employment, families and our changing population is much needed to gain social licence to collect and use relevant data.

Whether the methodology of census continues as is or we introduce an alternative method of data collection, the key going forward is the question of legitimacy. Steps must be taken to justify the need to take a census, and to assuage privacy and security concerns. Without social license we’ll see the failings of the 2016 census play out over and over again.

Australia’s future relies on strong evidence we can agree on. This isn’t solely the domain of researchers. We all have a stake.

The Conversation

Liz Allen, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wow – Great New Features in Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader

As most people probably know, a PDF reader is required to read PDF files. Usually you would use Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader for that. Now there is even more reason to use Adobe’s piece of software for doing just that. Adobe has just released version X of the software and it has some massive improvements – improvements that will be of great help to family members at Tracing our History.

The following are the ‘new’ features of version X of Acrobat PDF Reader:

  • Read, search and share PDF files
  • Convert to PDF
  • Export and edit PDF files
  • Add rich media to PDF files
  • Combine files from multiple applications
  • Increase productivity and process consistency
  • Streamline document reviews
  • Collect data with fillable PDF forms
  • Protect PDF files and content
  • Comply with PDF and accessibility standards

OK, that all sounds very confusing I guess – it does a bit to me also. Now this is how I see at least some of the improvements and they are what I’ve been looking for for a long time.:

  • There is the ability now to highlight text within a PDF file
  • There is the ability to add a note to what is highlighted and make comments. If the PDF file is sent to someone else to look at it can be opened and comments can be made in reply to what you have written. This makes a PDF file very collaborative in research.
  • There is the ability to place sticky notes onto the file – just as you would with a book or magazine. Again, these can be replied to or edited.
  • Obviously the PDF file can be shared with others for their comments and be passed backward and forwards.
  • The PDF file can also be sent to someone else right in the reader software by email or via Adobe Online.

So they are just some of the uses of version X, but they are brilliant for genealogy research.

To get Adobe Acrobat PDF Reader X visit:
http://www.adobe-new-downloads.com/