In one of the most sudden retractions in recent Australian political debate, Bernard Salt, the Australian's columnist and perhaps our best known advocate of Big Australia, has abandoned his central thesis.
Salt, often tagged as "demographer Bernard Salt", had argued that the impending retirement of Australia's baby boomers will create a "Baby Bust" or a "Big Tilt", which only high immigration can control.
The crunch was supposed to occur in 2011 when "of a sudden baby boomers born in 1946 exit the workforce at a faster rate than Generation Y can enter the workforce."
Salt's retraction is bound to re-open debate about whether he is a demographer. He has on at least one occasion emphatically stated that he is not, and implied that media carelessness causes him to be so described. Yet one might argue that both his prominence in public debate and his influence upon some MPs and business figures depend on the belief he is a demographer. His publishers seem to agree. The back cover of his new book states he is "Australia's number one demographer".
Salt had been arguing his "Baby Bust" line for months, but his claims reached a crescendo as his book The Big Tilt approached. He persuaded the ABC to put his claims to air as simple fact, in the TV evening News program on May 24. Then on 28 May his Facebook page alerted fans: "Beware the Baby Bust. See the central thesis to my new book out today The Big Tilt in The Weekend Australia at http://tinyurl.com/3cr8uzk".
Sure enough, this Australian article "Baby boom to baby bust" crowed that "The baby bust, the big tilt, whatever you want to call this bold new demographic world, is like nothing we have experienced before. It works silently, eating away at the consumer and the tax base..."
Over the years Salt has offered many different arguments for population growth, but of late this one has been his bedrock. It was music to the ears of the big end of town, which generally sees profit in population growth yet knows it has lost round one of the Big Australia debate.
Polls show that about 70% of Australians think we do not need more people. They can see that rapid population growth destroys amenity, kills other species, bloats house-prices, and clogs our cities. Yet they may prove susceptible to the argument that we need to go on rapidly pushing up population through immigration --- just as an emergency measure for the next 15-20 years to counter "the baby bust". Bernard Salt was emerging as the growth lobby's ace in the hole.
Instead less than a week later, in an article in the Australian on June 2, Bernard retracted his central claim. He admitted that there was no such generational imbalance – or rather that it was the other way. Gen X and Gen Y are not smaller than the baby boomers. They are larger! In his words
There are 4.1 million boomers, 4.4 million Xers and 4.6 million Ys in Australia.
With those words, Salt's "Baby bust" expired!
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