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Booms in immigration are the problem, not the solution

By Michael Lardelli - posted Thursday, 20 May 2010


Sometimes you see one fact that changes an entire debate. When the debate is the issue of population growth then everyone in Australia needs to know!

The main justification used by the pro-growthists for the current massive rate of immigration into Australia is that we need to infuse younger people into our economy to support our ageing “Baby-Boomers” - the bulge in our demographic pyramid. But how did we wind up with this bulge? The following analysis using data from Australia’s Productivity Commission says it all:

As engineer Matt Mushalik states at his excellent “Crude Oil Peak” website:

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The lightly shaded areas represent Australians and residents born overseas. The immigration bulge will now move upwards and worsen the dependency ratio. This is the bill to be paid for earlier immigration which now leads to a premature aging because immigrants are fed sideways into the population pyramid, an unnatural process. The economic argument that younger immigrants reduce the average age of the population is static, but demography is about a dynamic process over time. The “core” Australian pyramid (solid colors) looks quite healthy (triangle shape) but at the price of that immigration bulge which brought up part of the bottom of the pyramid. Without immigration, the shape of the lower part of the pyramid would be vertical instead of slightly widening at its base.


It is obvious from this analysis that the previous immigration booms of the latter half of the 20th century are what created Australia’s “Baby Boomer Bulge” problem that we are now trying to grapple with. But just as you cannot cure an alcoholic by giving him more alcohol, neither can you “cure” a top-heavy demographic pyramid by boosting immigration. All that will do is create another “bulge” of even greater proportions that will be even more difficult to resolve!

The Australian Baby Boomers have enjoyed the benefits of decades of oil-fuelled post-World War II economic growth. (Having been born in 1962, I am sometimes regarded as one of them.) However, now that they are beginning to enter retirement they are worried that they will not be able to be supported in the rampantly consumerist lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. Who will pay for it? So they are handballing the problem (much increased) onto the next generation (their children) by boosting immigration!

What makes this situation all the more disgusting and immoral is that it was the Baby Boomers that, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, received clear warnings that rampant population and consumption growth was incompatible with long-term human survival on a finite planet. They chose to ignore those warnings (that are now proving true (PDF 706KB)) - it was more convenient to believe the deluded economists who believe there is no such thing as a finite resource. Now, as oil production peaks, global warming takes hold and food production shows signs of faltering they continue to refuse to acknowledge the recklessness of their behaviour and the threat it poses to their children’s survival. If Generations X, Y and Z understood what was being done to them, what would they say?

Peter Costello was right - “demography IS destiny”. He just forgot to tell us that our destiny is to pay for our parents’ failures.

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Resolving the Baby-Boomer Bulge will be tough but it should be the responsibility of the Boomers, not their children. If we can do it without net immigration then Australia’s children can reap the benefits. As Queensland’s former Minister for Sustainability, Climate Change and Innovation. Andrew McNamara pointed out (PDF 63KB), a common characteristic of the world’s wealthiest nations is that they have small, stable populations.

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About the Author

Michael Lardelli is Senior Lecturer in Genetics at The University of Adelaide. Since 2004 he has been an activist for spreading awareness on the impact of energy decline resulting from oil depletion. He has written numerous articles on the topic published in The Adelaide Review and elsewhere, has delivered ABC Radio National Perspectives, spoken at events organised by the South Australian Department of Trade and Economic Development and edits the (subscription only) Beyond Oil SA email newsletter. He has lectured on "peak oil" to students in the Australian School of Petroleum.

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