Australia Considers a Population Policy: Any Lessons for a Drifting USA?


Australia has created a Ministry of Sustainable Population and is nearing the end of a yearlong high-level review of its population strategy. These initiatives since 2009 came in the midst of public concerns about increasing urban congestion and about 2009 demographic projections showing population growing by more than 60 percent by 2050 – to 35 million. The preliminary
findings from the review, principally an Issues Paper by the Population Minister, rejects population stability as a goal and implies continued acceptance of high immigration.

Australia’s preference for the population status quo and for economic growth over environmental and resource preservation matches U.S. experience in population policy, chiefly the 1972 Rockefeller Commission on Population growth and the 1993 President’s Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD). The recommendations of both bodies that the U.S. move toward a stable population were rejected or ignored by top policy makers. There are numerous common factors in the shared aversion of the two countries toward population policy and in the stratagems of their policy makers for ignoring aggregate population growth.

Australia and the U.S have striking cultural and political similarities. As market-economy democracies peopled by European settlers and immigrants, they share a laissez faire attitude toward population and immigration, a resistance to ‘social engineering,” and a love of bigness. Particularly noticeable in the current Australian experience is an optimism nourished by powerful business sectors that population growth itself will bring the innovation, energy and added resources necessary to ensure prosperity while overcoming resource depletion, congestion and environmental degradation. This “growth-will-pay-for-itself” assertion has immense appeal to democratic politicians everywhere.

Despite its likely undramatic outcome, the Australian debate provides some useful ideas for keeping population growth in the public eye, most notably the high-level population review itself and the creation of a Ministry of Sustainable Population. The U.S. would be well served 1) by holding a similar review of population policy, and repeating it at five-year intervals; and 2) by creating high-level permanent organizations within the White House, major executive branch agencies, and in both houses of Congress to monitor population growth and its consequences based on agreed indicators.

Read the full paper – Click here for a downloadable, printable PDF version

David Simcox

David Simcox is a former NPG Senior Advisor. From 1985 to 1992 he was executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. From 1956 to 1985, Simcox was a career diplomat of the U.S. Department of State, with service in diplomatic posts in Latin America, Africa, Europe, and in Washington.  His diplomatic assignments involved formulation of policy for labor, population and migration issues in such countries as Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Brazil and the nations of Indo-China.  Simcox is a frequent contributor on population, immigration and Latin American matters to national newspapers and periodicals and has testified on several occasions before congressional committees on immigration, labor and identification policies.  He holds degrees from the University of Kentucky, American University and the National War College.  Simcox is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and saw service in the Korean conflict.  If you are affiliated with the media and would like to schedule an interview with David, please contact us at 703-370-9510.
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