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The pandemic has snapped the 'Big Australia' population rush. Morrison will soon fix that.

By Stephen Saunders - posted Friday, 19 June 2020

John Howard accelerated net migration, in 2005-06. Figures of 200,000 and much higher, unknown before 2007, have ever since been spun as normal. Or inevitable.

Post mining boom, the Coalition has claimed, superior management of a wunderbar economy. Never mind the steep population growth, severe housing unaffordability, stalling wages and household recession.

The border shutdown and economic recession are an unexpected opportunity. To revert to a more manageable population trajectory.


But Scott Morrison will "snapback" to a Big Australia. Already, his hometown Herald is propagandising the next population boom. Disguised as front page news.

And yet, you hear little of Morrison's actual population plan. As distinct from, his population promo.

In the real plan, Treasury updates net migration and population targets annually. And squirrels them into Appendix A of Budget Paper 3. As unexplained "parameters".

In fact, the percentage population growth is a vital prop for percentage GDP "growth". It affects the people. It should be, a Budget headline. It's neither displayed, nor discussed.

In 2019, Josh Frydenberg's Appendix A craved the second highest net migration ever. Instead, his speech touted the "strength" of a miracle economy in its "28th year" of growth. For 2019-20, he was pitching 2.75 per cent GDP growth. Always a big ask.

Josh's Budget Paper 1 showcased Morrison's population promo. In which, he spins Big Australia as a natural part of life. Like Australian sugar. "One of the big issues is population," he declares. "Everyone has a view."


His view wins. "Population growth" and the "most successful" multicultural society make us "the envy" of the developed world. Check our "congestion busting" and fake decentralisation.

These narratives replay, in the Commonweath-State population framework, revised at March 2020 COAG. Again, answers precede questions. Answers like "high population growth", "migration, in particular", "vibrant cities and regions" and "challenges, such as congestion".

The COAG premiers divide equally, between Labor and Liberal. Both sides agree, the population framework need not consult the population. It's Treasury business.

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About the Author

Stephen Saunders is a former APS public servant and consultant.

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All articles by Stephen Saunders

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