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The challenge: procreate or perish

By Kevin Andrews - posted Sunday, 15 September 2002

Last year, The New York Times featured the headline: "Singapore, hoping for a baby boom, makes sex a civic duty". The report continued: "Here in strait-laced Singapore, it's the new patriotism: Have sex.

"Alarmed by its declining birthrate, this tiny city-state of just four million people is urging its citizens to multiply as fast as they can."

"We need more babies," proclaimed Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.


Another article in the Straits Times, which featured the headline "Let's get on the love wagon", included tips for having sex in the back seat of a car, with directions to "some of the darkest, most secluded and most romantic spots for Romeos and Juliets".

I am not advocating procreation as a civic duty for Australians, simply highlighting a smart country that has recognised the importance of sustaining its population and taken steps to address its declining birthrate.

Australia must also start addressing this serious issue.

The Singapore Government is offering cash to couples who have second and third children. It is also spending $50 million over five years to educate the public on family life.

Australia's population is ageing rapidly. One reason is that Australians are living longer. In 1901, the average life expectancy was 55 years. Today it is 76 for men and 82 for women, and that is expected to increase.

Another reason is that the great post-war baby-boomer generation is about to enter retirement and, in 15 to 20 years' time, will become the old-age generation.


This is what I call the numerical ageing of the population. The real problem, however, is structural ageing caused by the decline in Australia's fertility rate.

For more than two decades, our fertility rate has been below what is required to sustain the population. It is currently 1.7 babies per woman, and is expected to drop to 1.5.

There are limits to what governments can do about boosting fertility rates, but it is important we do something.

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This article was first published in The Age on August 21 2002.

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About the Author

Kevin Andrews is the federal Member for Menzies (Vic) and a former Minister in the Howard Liberal government.

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