1370.0 - Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 15/09/2010   
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The size and composition of Australia's population influence, and in turn are influenced by, many aspects of progress.

The size and distribution of the population influence democracy in Australia by determining the number of seats in the House of Representatives. As the population changes, this leads to changes in the number of seats allocated to each Australian state and territory.

The population's geographic and age distribution influences the labour market. Changes in the labour market, in turn, can influence the geographic distribution of the population, by encouraging people to move to where they can find employment.

The proportion of the population that is employed provides a broad indicator of the degree of economic dependency in Australia - the relative sizes of the total population and of that part of the population engaged in paid work. Economic dependency may increase owing to, say, a rise in the number of unemployed or the number of people in retirement.

Changes in patterns of mortality, fertility and migration lead to changes in the age distribution of the population. This in turn contributes to changes in the demand for health and other services. As an example, the current ageing of the population partly reflects an increase in life expectancy, and is contributing to an increasing demand for aged care services.

Where people live also has important effects on the environment. Concentrating people within an area can have localised environmental effects, such as air pollution in cities. The concentration of people in the coastal areas of south-eastern Australia has also resulted in relatively high rates of land clearing for urban development, together with the need to provide water, sewerage and landfill sites. This urban expansion tends to occur in Australia’s more fertile areas leaving less land available for preservation or agriculture. Conversely, some remote and sparsely populated areas have seen decreasing populations over the last decade. This has generally been characterised by declining numbers of young people in these areas and ageing of the local populations. Such population decreases are often associated with a decline in employment prospects and access to services, but may also be associated with impacts of drought.

Some Australians believe the population should grow quickly to reach substantially higher levels by the end of this century - they point to the economic and other benefits not just of a larger population but also of a growing population. An additional argument for continuing population growth states that such growth is important in increasing and maintaining Australia's national security (Sheridan 2010).

Other Australians are of the view that our environment cannot sustain a significantly larger population with a resultant higher level of consumption (Sustainable Population Australia 2010). Such a view would argue that economic progress should be generated mainly through productivity enhancements, rather than just through an increase in the scale of economic activities. This focus on sustainability acknowledges the need to maintain given lifestyle now without reducing the capacity for future generations to enjoy comparable lifestyles.

Two of the environmental arguments advanced for stabilising our population are:

  • the limited amount of land suitable for agriculture; and
  • our climate patterns, and in particular the limited amount of rainfall.
Arguments raised to counter these two views include the following:
  • Australia's agricultural industry already produces more than we need, being a strong exporter; and
  • in 2004-05, just under two-thirds of water consumption in Australia was by agriculture (65%), rather than directly by Australian households (11%) (ABS 2006).
Current ABS population projections indicate that Australia's population could range between 30.9 and 42.5 million people by 2056, if various assumptions for fertility, mortality and net overseas migration were to hold. The population would have an older profile and there would be more older people not in the labour force per adult in paid work. The proportion of the total population aged between 15 and 64 could decline from 67% in 2006 to less than 60% by 2056, according to the ABS projections (ABS 2008b).


  • Population glossary
  • Population references

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