By Graham Bradley
President, Business Council of Australia
Imagine the prospect of an Australia where government simply can’t afford to provide the standard of health and education we have today, let alone improve it.
Imagine the impact on our lifestyle of a smaller economy, fewer Australians working and paying taxes, and an ageing population in need of health and other services.
And then picture our place in the region as a less diverse economy, even more dependent on resource exports and functioning rather like a ‘branch economy’.
This is a scenario people need to consider if Australia opts for low or no population growth over the decades as the federal government develops the nation’s first sustainable population strategy.
The main purpose of having a population strategy is to put forward a vision for Australia, and then set out the population policies that are most likely to help us achieve that vision during significant change at home and in the world around us.
The Business Council of Australia believes that improving the quality of life of all Australians within prosperous, secure and liveable communities is more likely to be achieved through moderate, well-managed population growth over the first half of this century.
While some people may say that businesses only support population growth because it’s good for business, the BCA has thought long and hard about the best sustainable population strategy.
In developing our submission to the government, we have looked at the facts and figures, assessed the context for Australia, and considered the benefits and risks of population choices.
None of these choices is without risk but we do not believe that low or no population growth is the way to preserve the way of life we all cherish.
It is not the low-risk option some people suggest.
But a bigger risk is that governments will not develop, explain and proceed with a serious, national population policy at all. Not because they don’t recognise the need to do so but because they shrink from providing the necessary leadership, policy honesty and national cooperation.
Without a strategy, governments won’t plan and manage the risks associated with different choices. They won’t equip cities and communities to manage the growth already occurring.
Our support for moderate population growth highlights the importance of good planning, good policy and good management Australians expect of governments. This includes a mix of migration policies, coordinated infrastructure planning, city and regional planning, health and education reform that meets the needs of a growing population, and policies to protect our natural and built environment.