Population policy since the Second World War: immigration aspects

13 January 2022

PDF version [470KB]

Dr Susan Love
Social Policy


Executive summary

  • Australia’s immigration policy has often been characterised as its ‘de facto’ population policy.
  • In the immediate post-war period, Australia’s population policy was defined by an immigration drive, with ambitious population targets aimed at bolstering the nation’s defence capability and economic prosperity.
  • In the 1960s and 1970s, immigration and population became the topics of broad-scale government inquiries, which advised a move away from population targets while retaining moderately high levels of population growth though immigration to drive the economy.
  • Inquiries and reports since the 1970s have broadly defined two approaches: ‘positive’ or ‘pro-active’ policies aimed at directly influencing population levels, and ‘responsive’ or ‘adaptive’ policies designed to manage the effects of population growth.
  • Many reports viewed immigration as the primary element of the ‘pro-active’ approach, but also recommended development of a population policy distinct from immigration policy.
  • Governments have increasingly favoured highly managed migration policies focusing on migrants with characteristics likely to benefit economic growth. Direct or explicit population policy has proven contentious, and governments have not been able or inclined to set out a ‘pro-active’ approach.
  • From the mid-2000s, the Intergenerational Reports and the Productivity Commission set population as one of the three key drivers of economic growth—the principle of the ‘three Ps’ of population, productivity and participation continues to be influential today.
  • Governments have continued to engage with population issues, with policies, strategies and statements in recent decades generally adopting ‘responsive’ or ‘adaptive’ approaches to managing the social, economic and environmental effects of population growth while seeking to provide for productivity and economic growth. 


Executive summary
The post-war period: ambitious population targets

Arthur Calwell and post-war migration
Policy continuation in the Menzies Government

Inquiries of the 1960s and 1970s: growth, but not targets

The Vernon Report
The National Population Inquiry: the Borrie Report
The Green Paper

Discussing a population policy and migration planning: 1980s to early 2000s

Adjusting the advisory councils
Immigration planning and recommendations for a population policy
Immigration policy as population policy

From a ‘big Australia’ to ‘sustainability’: mid–2000s towards 2020

A ‘big Australia’ and a new proposal for a population policy
Developing the sustainable population strategy
Returning to ‘de facto’ population policy

The current framework for population planning

COVID-19 disruption of planning and projections



This paper provides an overview of Australian Government population policy since the end of the Second World War, with a focus on the immigration-related aspects. The topic of population has often been the subject of some contention and is connected with many other areas of political and public debate. These areas include questions of demography, economic growth, environmental resources, infrastructure, social services, regional development and social cohesion.

This paper does not attempt to cover the full range of topics or debate associated with population policy, and nor does it discuss in detail shifts in governments’ migration program planning over time. The paper aims to identify some of the key themes and shifts in population policy in the post-war period, drawing on ministerial statements and media, government reports, and reviews and inquiries commissioned by committees, advisory councils and government departments. It is divided into sections based on broad trends and time periods, a structure intended to assist in the presentation of policy shifts and continuity, rather than establish boundaries or define specific eras.

The post-war period: ambitious population targets

‘Populate or perish’ was the term that came to characterise Australia’s immediate post-war population policy. The phrase was first popularised by Billy Hughes as a call to increase the declining birth rate during the Great Depression, but became attached to the drive to bring in new migrants from 1945, including in media headlines on the issue.[1] The reasoning for the migration increase was based primarily on the need to build economic prosperity and, with the memory of war still very much present, to boost the population for the purposes of future defence of the country. The policy of high immigration was shared by the wartime and post-war Labor governments and the succeeding coalition government under Robert Menzies, as summarised below.

Arthur Calwell and post-war migration

During the later years of the Second World War the Australian Government had begun planning for reconstruction following the war’s end. This included consideration of post-war migration planning: Frank Forde in 1944 (as acting Prime Minister) noted the work of an inter-departmental committee established in 1943 and the development of migration policy which was underway.[2]

Arthur Calwell’s first statement as Minister for Immigration in August 1945, following the creation of the Department of Immigration, stated the perceived need to increase Australia’s population:

Our first requirement is additional population. We need it for reasons of defence and for the fullest expansion of our economy. We can increase our 7,000,000 by an increased birth-rate and by a policy of planned immigration within the limits of our existing legislation.[3]

The statement set out an annual population growth planning target of 2 per cent, based on the supposed capacity of the country to absorb additional numbers, through a combination of increased birth rates and immigration contributing approximately 1 per cent each. Calwell noted the need for popular support for the policy: ‘Any immigration plan can succeed only if it has behind it the support and the goodwill of the Australian people.’ There was a focus on migration from Britain—the White Australia Policy remained in effect, in spite of the declaration of support for ‘new’ sources of immigration and the rejection of discrimination against migrants in Calwell’s statement.[4]

Calwell also emphasised the planning and logistics required, including managing the return of armed forces personnel, the provision of infrastructure and employment, and the availability of shipping to bring migrants to Australia. Ministerial statements continued to expound these issues and the need to plan for them, for example Calwell’s fifth statement in 1949 stated:

We need to absorb immigrants into suitable employment; we must house and accommodate them; we must accept them as new Australians who will, sooner or later, share all the benefits and accept all the obligations of our common citizenship. The problems of the immigrants are the problems of the nation; solving those problems is the duty of us all.[5]

Ambitious population goals were envisaged:

… we shall reach the 9,000,000 figure early in 1954, and shall have 10,000,000 people within our shores towards the end of 1957. With this continued development, most Australians now living to-day should survive to see their country inhabited by 20,000,000 people.[6]

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data, the figure of 9 million was probably reached in late 1954, with 10 million not reached until 1959. Australia’s population passed the 20 million mark in the second half of 2004.[7]

Prime Minister Ben Chifley’s statement of policy ahead of the 1949 election continued the immigration enthusiasm:

Immigration means security. Even more than that, it means the full development of untapped resources. It means greater production of goods and services. It means a better, happier, more prosperous life for every Australian.

The great immigration drive, launched by the present Labor Government in 1945 and carried out with remarkable success, will be continued vigorously until Australia has the population she needs to achieve the development of all her resources and guarantee her security.[8]

The Government had established two bodies to advise the Immigration Minister on immigration matters: the Immigration Advisory Council, established in 1947 to advise on legislative, sociological and administrative matters; and the Immigration Planning Council, established in October 1949 to advise on economic and industrial aspects of immigration.[9]

Policy continuation in the Menzies Government

The advisory bodies were continued under the Menzies Government, which shared the policy approach of the previous government. Harold Holt as Immigration Minister in 1956 stated:

Nobody, I believe, would claim that we have as yet the population that we need to achieve the development of all our resources, or to guarantee our security, and those two great objectives announced by Mr. Chifley are still the objectives in the forefront of the present Government's planning for its immigration programme.[10]

In 1963, Minister for Immigration, Alexander Downer, further increased the ambition of a target population:

Our numbers grew by over 3½ millions [sic] since 1946, and of this increase nearly 1½ million were migrants. To the migrant contribution you must also add 720,000 children born here to migrant parents. Spectacular though this increase is, it marks, I believe, only the early stages of a long and successful story. For myself, I think, we ought to aim at a population of 30 millions by the early years of the next century.[11]

Inquiries of the 1960s and 1970s: growth, but not targets

Following the immediate post-war period, governments became more concerned about demographic trends, notably the declining fertility rate, low immigration intake and the rate of emigration, leading to years in the mid-1970s when net migration was very low. A number of broad inquiries in the 1960s and 1970s and their detailed reports helped create awareness of the complexity of population issues and the interaction with other areas of policy. As the Borrie Report (see below) noted, public opinion had become a key factor in considering population policy.[12] Governments became more cautious about setting population targets or large immigration intakes. The reports noted the value and contribution of immigration past and present, but presented their material in terms of population projections rather than goals. Ministers also began speaking in terms of more strategic population policy rather than numerical targets, while retaining immigration at the core of it. The sections below discuss the key reports in more detail.

The Vernon Report

In 1963 the Government established the Committee of Economic Enquiry, which tabled its report, known as the Vernon Report, in May 1965. This extensive inquiry on economic conditions and projections included aspects of population policy. The terms of reference stated the policy of the time with regard to population growth and broader economic direction, and included examination of the role of population:

Having in mind that the objectives of the Government’s economic policy are a high rate of economic and population growth with full employment, increasing productivity, rising standards of living, external viability, and stability of costs and prices, to enquire into and report its findings on the following matters:

(a) The trends in population as a whole, in the work force, and in the distribution of the latter amongst various sectors.[13]

The report’s conclusion on population growth aligned with the Government’s policy:

The objective of a high rate of population growth is grounded in social and strategic considerations, but it is also an economic objective in itself. We believe that, at Australia’s present stage of development, population increase will assist economic growth, both directly by its effect on the size of the work force and indirectly by enlarging the domestic market, thereby permitting economies of large-scale production.[14]

It recommended maintaining the net immigration rate at 100,000 per year, but did not favour a population target, stating that the concept of an ‘optimum’ population level was not useful because other factors influenced the standard of living, including improvements in technology and increasing availability of capital.[15]

It further noted that there were potentially trade-offs, including pressure on resources and the need for capital expenditure to invest in the necessary infrastructure and in expanding productivity.[16]

The National Population Inquiry: the Borrie Report

In July 1970, Minister for Immigration Phillip Lynch announced a series of studies on immigration and population. While continuing to support high immigration, he noted a need to consider broader aspects, including ‘nonmaterial and environmental’ issues.[17]

This led to the establishment of the National Population Inquiry, also known as the ‘Borrie Commission’. Broad-ranging terms of reference considered many aspects of population trends and policy. However, they did not ask the inquiry to determine an ‘optimum’ population or the ‘carrying capacity’ of the country.[18]

The term of the inquiry, from mid-1971 to the report’s delivery in 1975, covered the period of a change in government in 1972 and the removal of the final elements of the White Australia Policy in 1973. At the same time, the planned intakes under the immigration program were reduced: the Whitlam government announced a program limited to 80,000 in 1974–75. Settler arrivals in fact fell from 170,000 in 1970–71 to 52,700 in 1975­–76, the lowest since 1947 when the post-war migration drive began.[19]

The report noted that the trends that had marked the post-war period had shifted, and that:

… the marked downswing in fertility, together with both a decline in the free flow of immigration and a deliberate reduction by the Commonwealth Government of the immigration intake to 80,000 new settlers a year [in 1974–75], sets the population growth pattern along a totally different course.[20]

It stated that should there be a policy decision to increase the migration intake again, a total of 100,000 per year:

… would probably be manageable in terms of both environment and resources, but, in the light of the weight of evidence of submissions to the Inquiry, it would be against the current climate of opinion in Australia.[21]

In February 1975 the Minister for Labor and Immigration, Clyde Cameron, gave a speech on population following the tabling of the Borrie Report, highlighting its key findings and discussing a need for further examination of key concepts. Although the speech was titled ‘The Great Debate: How many Australians in 2001?’, he did not seek to answer the question by fixing a target figure. He stated that:

… the practical options open to government regarding a positive population policy rest on the level of immigration.

The chief difficulty in attempting to adopt a positive policy aimed at a certain level of population would revolve around the government obtaining a consensus regarding the desirable size of population in 2001.

Given that immigration is the dynamic element in the strategy, its role cannot be simplistically set at a steady annual average level of intake.[22]

He stated that ‘populate or perish’ and ‘zero population growth’ were two extremes of an over-simplified debate, but noted that: ‘there is a wide acceptance of the theory that it is highly moral to bring population levels into balance with resources and that a stable situation will increase per capita wealth.’[23]

Earlier in the month, he had replaced the Immigration Planning Council with the Australian Population and Immigration Council, in order to carry out the recommendations of the Borrie Report and further its work.[24]

The Green Paper

Following the election of the Fraser Government in late 1975, the new Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Michael MacKellar, gave a statement on population policy in March 1976. The statement also drew on the Borrie Report, including in affirming:

It is no longer acceptable to set a figure virtually arbitrarily as a rate of future population growth and then use it as the basis of a population policy. We are a larger and more diverse nation than the one which set out on the large-scale post-war immigration program.[25]

He aimed to develop a population policy strategy, noting:

Immigration is an essential instrument of Australia’s population policies and of the broader national strategies and objectives to which those population policies are directed.

That is a commitment to population growth, with immigration as the prime factor in that growth. But—and I emphasise this—it is not a commitment to immigration simply to add to our population without any assessment of the effects of doing so and what is needed to meet those effects.[26]

MacKellar also ‘reconstituted’ the Australian Population and Immigration Council, commissioning it to prepare a Green Paper on population and immigration policy options. The Council’s Green Paper on Immigration Policies and Australia’s Population was published in March 1977.[27]

The Green Paper was intended as a discussion paper rather than a new inquiry and drew on the Borrie report to inform and stimulate public debate. The paper again posed the question of an ‘optimum’ population level for Australia, while presenting options and projections rather than suggested targets:

Optimum population size will vary over time according to particular value judgments about the rate of economic growth we attempt to sustain, the level of our technology, the extent of environmental protection, the amount of resources the community is prepared to spend on education, training and retraining, the amount of resources it is prepared to set aside for new capital equipment, the features of a desirable quality of life, and a host of other considerations.[28]

The paper presented a set of possible national goals, which a population policy would be a means to achieve. These goals included economic growth and national security, as well as social cohesion, equality of opportunity and preservation of the environment.[29]

As MacKellar settled into his term, he spoke more directly in favour of immigration and population growth, while noting the public debate in the area:

I believe that it is of fundamental importance to Australia and its people to think about the size and composition of our population 25 years and more ahead. I have no doubt that if the community decides that we should not seek to increase our population, and this means primarily by adding increments to it by migration, we run the risk of becoming increasingly inward-looking and of becoming a stagnant society.[30]

Following the tabling of the Green Paper, public discussion, consultation and submissions were pursued.[31] The Council continued to meet, with concerns about declining population growth continuing.[32] In June 1978, MacKellar gave a key ministerial statement setting out immigration policy principles. Although the principles and the details of the speech were very much focused on migration program issues, the statement was framed in the context of the preceding population policy discussion. He stated that the Government adopted a long-term approach to population policy in which immigration was ‘the only controllable factor’ in its commitment to population growth.[33]

Discussing a population policy and migration planning: 1980s to early 2000s

The Borrie Report of 1975 noted ‘positive’ and ‘passive’ approaches to population policy and public debate on the topic, where a positive approach was to establish population goals and then set policies to influence the demographic factors in order to achieve them, and a passive approach was to shape social and economic policy to adjust to the demographic context.

The reports that followed in the 1990s returned to this concept: Population Issues and Australia's Future, released in 1992, discussed ‘pro-active’ and ‘responsive’ policies,[34] while the 1994 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Long Term Strategies report on Australia’s Population ‘Carrying Capacity’ termed them ‘direct’ and ‘complementary’ policies.[35]

The reports recommended developing an explicit population policy that would actively manage and influence population levels. They suggested that immigration policy, while a fundamental part and essential tool of population policy, should be distinct. Also in accordance with the reports of the 1970s, they recommended against an ‘optimum’ population level or target.

Although governments maintained the discussion on population issues, in practice the policy planning and implementation focus was on migration: Australia’s immigration policy was recognised as its de facto population policy. These developments are further discussed in the sections below.

Adjusting the advisory councils

Over the period of the late 1970s and early 1980s, refugee issues and multiculturalism became more central topics. In 1981, Ian Macphee, who replaced MacKellar as Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, merged the Australian Population and Immigration Council with two other bodies—the Australian Refugee Advisory Council and the Australian Ethnic Affairs Council—to form the Australian Council on Populationand Ethnic Affairs. The terms of reference of the new Council retained a strong focus on immigration issues.[36]

Macphee gave the opening address at a conference in September 1981 organised by the Academy of the Social Sciences and the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on ‘Implications of Australian Population Trends’, in which he said that ‘one important issue which needed to be more fully discussed was whether a comprehensive population policy for Australia was desirable, and if so, whether it was attainable.’[37]

The Hawke Government replaced the Australian Council on Population and Ethnic Affairs with the National Population Council in 1984.[38]

Immigration planning and recommendations for a population policy 

The major report on immigration of the 1980s was that of the Committee to Advise on Australia’s Immigration Policies (the FitzGerald Report) in 1988.[39] The Committee’s terms of reference were primarily to address the relationship between immigration and the economy, social and cultural development, and population issues. The report’s recommendations focused on immigration policy, particularly economic and immigration program planning aspects, and did not make any recommendations specifically on population. However, it did recommend a long-term planned migration intake in the form of a 10‑year rolling forecast and proposed higher immigration intake for the forthcoming year—at 150,000, higher than the Government’s planned intake of 140,000.

As part of its response to the Report, the Government established the Bureau of Immigration Research within the Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs in 1989 to conduct and promote research into immigration and population issues. Part of the Bureau’s role was to provide research to inform immigration planning levels.[40]

In 1990, the Bureau of Immigration Research held a National Immigration Outlook Conference at which Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced that the National Population Council would be commissioned to examine the diverse impacts of population increase. In his speech he stated:

I have said on many occasions that I favour a larger population for Australia. I describe myself as a higher immigration man rather than a lower immigration man.

I have said that ideally Australia might have a population of about 25 million by 2015 or 2020—but there are too many hypotheticals to make any such assumption a worthwhile population target for Australia.

But I make very clear the thrust of Government policy: we believe that with proper planning, Australia has the capacity to absorb a growing population.[41]

The terms of reference for the Council’s inquiry provided by the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs, Gerry Hand, indicated that the report was to ‘contribute to the development of a population strategy’.[42]

The report, Population Issues and Australia's Future, was delivered to Government in December 1991 and published in February 1992. It concluded that ‘Australia’s national goals will be better served if a conscious population policy is adopted by the government’,[43] and although it was not its task to formulate such a policy, the report set out what a population policy should consider and address. It made seven recommendations, including:

  1. The Government should develop a population policy which seeks to influence and respond to population change so as to advance economic progress, ecological integrity, social justice and responsible international involvement.
  2. Such a population policy should be achieved not by specification of any long-term optimum population number, since a large range of determinants are subject to change. Instead an optimal population policy should be pursued and that refers to whatever combination of population size, location demographic characteristics best serves Australia’s national goals.[44]

Recommendation 6 in particular addressed immigration factors as part of a population policy, including the broad focus of the immigration program:

  1. On immigration, the Committee concluded that a population policy developed along the lines indicated would:
  • accept a positive role for economic migration in enhancing the skill level of Australia's population
  • affirm the need for re-unification of immediate family
  • acknowledge the need for Australia to address international obligations via a targeted refugee program
  • understand that national ecological integrity and equity in the funding of urban growth may be advanced by lower population growth
  • recognise that migration should not be determined by a concern for using it as a major response to demographic ageing
  • facilitate non-permanent movement to Australia and enhanced foreign aid as part of an increased outward focus.[45]

The report also recommended improved coordination and administrative measures between government agencies. Although it did not advocate significant amalgamation or centralisation of responsibility, it stressed the need for linkages across policy areas. Recommendation 7 included establishing a Population Office in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, continuation of the National Population Council, and re-establishing the Bureau of Immigration Research as the Bureau of Population Research with broadened terms of reference.[46]

Although the Government accepted the view against setting an optimum population level, it did not move to develop a population policy. One of the recommendations it did implement was to change the name and scope of the Bureau of Immigration Research to the Bureau of Immigration and Population Research in 1993.[47]

The National Population Council was disbanded soon afterwards and the again-renamed Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research was disbanded in 1996.

Immigration policy as population policy

The Government’s stance on population policy was summarised in a 1994 report by the National Committee for the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development:

In the domestic context, Australia does not have an explicit or formal population policy directly aimed at influencing the level of population. After considerable public debate, the Government decided that a formal population policy (particularly one which would specify population targets) would not be appropriate for Australia, given its low levels of fertility and diversity of community views as to the character and objectives of such a policy.[48]

In December 1994, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Long Term Strategies tabled a report on ‘Australia’s Population ‘Carrying Capacity’’. The terms of reference recognised the contentious public debate on population growth and sought to establish planning levels based on the number of people Australia could potentially support in terms of resources, quality of life, and ecologically sustainable development.[49]

The report concluded that ‘it is not possible to determine a specific upper limit beyond which Australian society would be at threat. ‘Carrying capacity’ is a combination of political, social, environmental and cultural factors.’[50] Instead, it offered a number of planning scenarios, and made 15 recommendations, many of which concerned developing a population policy.[51] While concluding that immigration policy was the ‘main instrument’ of population policy, it saw the two as requiring distinction:

Recommendation 1: The Government should determine that population policy and immigration policy are quite distinct, with differing goals, although the long term consequences are inextricably linked, and immigration is a major instrument of population growth. The political and administrative responsibility for population and immigration must be separated.

Recommendation 2: The Australian Government should adopt a population policy which explicitly sets out options for long term population change, in preference to the existing situation where a de facto population policy emerges as a consequence of year by year decisions on immigration intake taken in an ad hoc fashion, such decisions being largely determined by the state of the economy in the particular year and with little consideration of the long term effects. Population policy is central to establishing national goals and must involve the Prime Minister directly.[52]

In a speech in 1997, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock, discussed population policy. He considered the National Population Council report of 1992 and the Standing Committee on Long Term Strategies report of 1994, including the scenarios and approaches to policy development. He posed the question:

 … whether there is evidence to suggest Australia would in an overall sense, be better off with a significantly higher or significantly lower population: I am not aware of any evidence that provides a conclusive answer to this question but I am quite happy to be persuaded otherwise.[53]

After presenting population projections at the time, and noting that the Coalition Government had reduced the annual immigration intake, he concluded that the current trends would produce the ‘reasonable’ prospect that ‘Australia’s population is likely to be around 23 million in 25 to 35 years and growing only very slowly’.[54] This essentially rejected the need for a ‘pro-active’ population policy as recommended by the National Population Council report, as such a policy ‘would deliberately seek to change the directions that Australia’s population is currently projected to take’, and this was not considered necessary.[55] 

The Government maintained this approach in subsequent years, focusing on the management of the migration program and the importance of public confidence.[56]

At this time, temporary migration was increasingly a feature of the migration intake and net overseas migration. A Parliamentary Library commissioned paper argued that:

 … the Australian Government has only a very limited degree of control over the final level of annual net migration. It has almost no control over movements out of the country and little control over long-term (as distinct from permanent) movement into the country. Even major components of permanent movement into the country (New Zealand citizens and spouses or children of Australian residents) are largely beyond the government's control. That is, it is not possible for any Australian government to precisely determine the level of annual net migration.[57]

In 2002, the Government released its first Intergenerational Report as part of the Budget.[58] Governments have since produced an Intergenerational Report every five or so years. The reports aim to assess the long-term sustainability of current government policies and how changes to Australia’s population size and age profile may impact on economic growth, workforce and public finances over the forthcoming 40 years. They outline existing population size, projections on population growth, and discuss policy measures to respond to particular challenges and pressures relating to population size and composition.

In July 2005, Treasurer Peter Costello announced that the Productivity Commission would undertake a research study into the impact of population growth, including through migration, on Australia’s productivity growth.[59] The report, Economic Impacts of Migration and Population Growth, was released in May 2006. Its focus was on the economic impacts of migration, but it included an overview of migration and population growth over time. It noted:

The links between migration, population and the economy are interdependent and complex. The economic effects depend partly on the level of migration relative to the size of the population. The rate of growth of the population and the economy are directly related to the rate of migration.[60]

It discussed various ways in which migration and population growth are linked to productivity and income per capita growth, including through the labour market, supply of capital, government expenditure on services, economies of size, international trade, and natural resources and the environment.[61]

It considered the Migration Program and migrant selection policies, but did not comment explicitly on program numbers or address population policy, concentrating on program flexibility and increasing skill levels. It concluded:

Economic effects of migration arise from demographic and labour market differences between migrants and the Australian-born population, and from migration-induced changes to population growth.

However, the Commission considers it unlikely that migration will have a substantial impact on income per capita and productivity because:

- the annual flow of migrants is small relative to the stock of workers and population
- migrants are not very different in relevant respects from the Australian-born population and, over time, the differences become smaller.[62]

From a ‘big Australia’ to ‘sustainability’: mid–2000s towards 2020

Government interest in population policy sharpened again with the change of government in 2007. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s espousal of a ‘big Australia’ proved contentious and was not pursued under Prime Minister Julia Gillard. However, the idea of a population policy was retained, with a shift to ‘sustainability’. The Productivity Commission and the Intergenerational Reports set population as one of the three key drivers of economic growth, and the principle of the ‘three Ps’ of population, productivity and participation continues to be influential today. The following sections summarise the concepts and shifts in policy stance.

A ‘big Australia’ and a new proposal for a population policy

Prime Minister Rudd spoke numerous times in favour of a ‘big Australia.’ Rudd gave a speech on economic reform in March 2008 in which he focused on productivity, drawing on the second Intergenerational Report of 2007. Productivity and population growth, along with workforce participation, formed the ‘three Ps’ of economic growth as highlighted in the second Intergenerational Report, where population is influenced by fertility, mortality and migration.[63]

Rudd concluded:

We need the national imagination to build a big Australia—by encouraging natural population growth; by maintaining support for a continued expansion of the migration program consistent with the long term needs of the economy; and by investing to ensure that the long-term infrastructure needs of a growing population are met.[64]

In October 2009, Rudd repeated his belief in ‘a big Australia’ in an address to the Business Council of Australia, in which he foreshadowed the third Intergenerational Report.[65]

The third Intergenerational Report was released in January 2010, less than three years after the second report. It projected that the population of Australia would increase to 35.9 million people by 2050, higher than the 28.5 million by 2047 projected in the 2007 report.[66]

On 3 April 2010, Rudd announced the appointment of Tony Burke to the new office of Minister for Population in the Treasury Portfolio:

Minister Burke’s first task will be to develop Australia’s first comprehensive Population Strategy.

In his new role, Minister Burke will consider the likely trajectory of population growth and the challenges and opportunities this will create. Minister Burke will also be tasked with developing the cross government frameworks that will be required to make the most of the opportunities, and minimise the risks, associated with population growth.

Australia’s first Population Strategy will consider the social and economic infrastructure Australia will need to support a growing population, including the roads, housing and service delivery network.[67]

Gillard replaced Rudd as Prime Minister in June 2010, and moved away from the ‘big Australia’ messaging:

I do not believe in the idea of a ‘big Australia’, an Australia where we push all the policy levers into top gear to drive population growth as high as it can be. […]

Let us make the national goal a ‘sustainable Australia’—an Australia that preserves our quality of life and respects our environment.[68]

The role of Minister for Population and the development of the population strategy were continued, with a shift in focus to ‘sustainability’.[69]

Immigration remained a separate portfolio. Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Evans, gave a speech on 28 June 2010 emphasising the role of immigration in filling skills gaps and contributing to the economy, while also considering the effect on population and the environment. It referenced the 2050 population projections from the third Intergenerational Report. A long-term migration planning framework would be developed, but it was not to be a target-setting mechanism and would form part of the population strategy.[70]

The speech also noted the role of temporary migration in the increasing rate of net overseas migration, but that policy changes, particularly to student visas, would help reduce this:

Australia's net migration levels should be driven by permanent migration not temporary.

Thanks to recent reform measures, it is expected that the net overseas migration figure will return to a sustainable long-term average given that most of the temporary entrants - the major contributor to net migration, will eventually return to their home country instead of prolonging their stay in Australia.[71]

Developing the sustainable population strategy

A number of papers were produced through 2010 and 2011 to inform the development of the population strategy. The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, as the lead agency on the strategy, released an issues paper, A sustainable population strategy for Australia, in 2010. It set the objective of the sustainable population strategy as ‘to ensure that future changes in Australia’s population (size, growth rate, composition and location) are compatible with the sustainability of our economy, environment and communities.’[72]

The issues paper sought input from the community through asking a series of questions on population and sustainability, which did not directly address migration issues. It did, however, state in relation to migration policy:

Governments have limited practical tools to achieve a population target. Immigration is the most direct lever available to government to influence the rate of population growth, although there are limitations on the capacity to fine-tune this lever. For example, the movement of people between Australia and New Zealand is not capped and therefore cannot be determined by government. Adoption of a population target may limit the use of the migration program as a policy lever to, for example, address recruitment difficulties and labour shortages. The inherent flexibility and, therefore, responsiveness of Australia’s migration program is lauded as one of its great strengths.[73]

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship commissioned a research paper released in December 2010 on Immigration, Labour Supply and Per Capita Gross Domestic Product: Australia 2010–2050. The paper’s modelling was aligned with assumptions used in the 2010 Intergenerational Report. It included discussion of the role of migration in population planning.[74]

While acknowledging there were numerous factors in considering the impacts of immigration on the economy and society, and numerous criteria required in determining the size and composition of a migration program, the paper did offer a numerical range for migration intake (net overseas migration), based on optimal benefits to gross domestic product:

… migration in the range of 160,000 to 210,000 provides the most beneficial impact on the rate of growth of GDP per capita. This ‘best’ outcome is not evident in the short term; it becomes more evident in the long-term, especially by 2050.[75]

Net overseas migration had peaked at just under 300,000 in 2008­–09 but had fallen to about 196,000 in 2009­–10.[76]

In December 2010, the Productivity Commission released the research paper Population and Migration: understanding the numbers. This did not discuss the arguments for and against a population policy, but rather attempted to ‘demystify’ population statistics and provide clarity to the contemporary population debate. It noted among its key points:

  • Migration flows are shaped by the economic and social motivations of migrants and by government policy in Australia.
    • Only the permanent migrant intake is controlled directly by the government, but migration is also influenced indirectly through other policy settings and conditions.
  • Net overseas migration has grown strongly during the past ten years, with most of the growth being in the ‘temporary’ categories.
    • Temporary migration contributes to Australia’s population growth in the long term as well as short term. In the last five years, many overseas students and skilled temporary migrant workers obtained permanent residency onshore.[77]

In March 2011, the Productivity Commission held a policy roundtable on the topic ‘A ‘Sustainable’ Population?—key policy issues’, attended by representatives from government, academia and non-government organisations. The introduction to the proceedings of the roundtable noted the contentiousness of the public debate and discussed the notion of a ‘sustainable population’ versus a ‘big Australia’. The ‘sustainability paradigm’:

… arguably requires us to give more attention to the rate of change than to some distant target level. That is, it puts the focus on what might best be called ‘absorption capacity’ (a dynamic concept) rather than static notions of ‘carrying capacity’. It seems virtually impossible, in any case, to predict outcomes two or three decades into the future.[78]

It discussed the role of migration policy within population and sustainability:

There has already been considerable debate about whether population policy should focus on population itself (as part of a ‘proactive’ stance) or on making the host environment more accommodating (‘reactive’ or adaptive policy). It seems evident that it would need to address both sides of the (sustainability) equation.

Looking at the population side first, a moment’s reflection tells us that immigration is the only component of population growth that is really amenable to policy action […]

It has been said that governments have little room to move when it comes to immigration levels; that these are largely ‘endogenous’—a reflection mainly of domestic economic and, particularly, labour market conditions […] Ultimately, however, it is government policy that determines the outcomes for prospective immigrants—it is the government that sets the criteria to be satisfied by applicants and that imposes caps on some categories (such as permanent residency visas).[79]

This could be read as a critique of the statement in the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities’ 2010 issues paper (refer above; see also McDonald and Kippen 1999, above) that there are limited immigration policy levers available to government to influence population growth.

A paper produced for the Parliamentary Library in May 2011 notes public discussion and opinion as tracked through polling, media commentary and academic publications.[80]

The outcome of this period of debate and consultation was the report Sustainable Australia, Sustainable Communities, published by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and launched in May 2011.[81]

The document was called a ‘sustainable population strategy’, not a ‘population policy’. The focus was on managing economic, environmental and social wellbeing in the context of population change rather than measures to influence population growth itself. In the terminology of the Productivity Commission’s 2011 issues paper (noted above), it was therefore largely a ‘reactive or adaptive’ approach rather than a ‘proactive’ one. While it gave a broad overview of population history and projections, it had little focus on immigration, concentrating instead on infrastructure, urban and regional planning, skills development, social inclusion and the environment. It did refer indirectly to the ‘three Ps’ of ‘productivity, labour force participation, and labour force growth’ when discussing the role of migration in contributing to the economy.[82]

Given the public debate around population policy, and the fact that numerous submissions during the consultation process called for a population target, it was considered necessary to include a text box in the Sustainable Australia, Sustainable Communities report explaining ‘why Australia does not have a population target.’ The explanation drew on the 2010 issues paper concerning the ‘limited practical tools’ the Government had in using migration to influence population growth, and in preferring to retain the flexibility of the migration program to address skills gaps and labour shortages.[83]

The text box continued:

Since the 1970s, all population inquiries sponsored by Australian governments have rejected the notion of a population target or national carrying capacity. Mandated population targets would typically be arbitrary, and impossible to deliver in practice. In addition, setting such a target has the potential to distract attention from addressing the challenges presented by other aspects of population change, including location, age and skill composition.[84]

To complement the population strategy, the Government began publishing the quarterly Outlook for Net Overseas Migration, with an annual report on immigration levels intended to ‘provide more information to assist whole-of-government and community planning to better manage population change’. (The Outlook was published until 2016.)[85]

Returning to ‘de facto’ population policy

With the election of the Coalition Government in 2013, the previous government’s Sustainable Australia, Sustainable Communities population strategy was withdrawn, but the debate on the role of immigration and population in the economy continued. The fourth Intergenerational Report was released in March 2015, maintaining a focus on population, participation and productivity as the key drivers of economic growth. It did not discuss population policy as such, concentrating instead on measures necessary to boost participation and productivity.[86]

In April 2016, the Productivity Commission delivered its report on its inquiry into Migrant Intake into Australia. It discussed population policy in terms of immigration intake, but also more broadly in terms of economic, social and environmental impacts, both positive and negative. It stated:

In conducting this inquiry, the Commission has been cognisant that Australia’s immigration policy is by default its population policy. Maximising the wellbeing of the Australian community is contingent on achieving a balance between proactive policies that influence the rate, composition and geographical distribution of population growth, and reactive policies that address the impacts of a given rate of population growth.

The Commission is of the view that there is no single optimum for the level of immigration and population. The optima depend on a range of factors — including the potential tradeoffs that are made across the three domains of wellbeing (economic, social and environmental) and the policy settings that are in place to address the ramifications of these tradeoffs.[87]

The report recommended that the Government develop a population policy concurrently with the intergenerational reports and that immigration intake should be consistent with this population policy (recommendation 3.1). Population policy issues were further discussed in chapter 3 of the report. The discussion was summarised in the report’s key points as ‘Australia’s immigration policy is its de facto population policy’.[88] The notion was not new, reflecting the previous decades’ reports and with a similar statement having been made in the 1994 report on Australia’s Population ‘Carrying Capacity’ (see above). It did however become a much-repeated phrase in commentary in the following years.[89] The Government did not make a response to the inquiry and did not commit to developing a population policy.

In 2018, the Treasury and the Department of Home Affairs released a joint research paper, Shaping a nation: population growth and immigration over time, intended ‘to inform discussion and debate’. As a research paper, it did not make recommendations, and the foreword stated it did not constitute government policy. The paper provided an overview of population trends, net overseas migration, and the migration intake, both permanent and temporary, and the contribution of these to economic growth:

Migration contributes to the economy in a number of ways. These can be thought of as contributions through the demand side of the economy, and the supply side of the economy. On the demand side, permanent migrants increase overall consumption in the economy by enlarging the pool of consumers, encouraging personal and business capital flows, and requiring government services. Temporary migrants can increase exports, including education exports. On the supply side, migration adds to the supply of goods and services through the 3Ps—population, participation and productivity.[90]

The Government continued to draw on these products when discussing population policy, for example Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stated in an interview in July 2018:

NEIL MITCHELL: So you reject them saying there is no long term planning around population.

PRIME MINISTER: Well the answer is that there is planning about population and the intergenerational reports that Peter Costello … started, I think back in 2002, are looking at that. But the immigration, the skilled migration program, responds to demands of our economy. And so we should not be bringing in anybody over and above whom we need. […]

NEIL MITCHELL: I guess the key on this is some of your own parliamentarians on your side of parliament saying we now need a Senate inquiry—or some sort of inquiry—into the population levels and how we handle it. Will that happen?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I'll talk to my colleagues about it. I mean this is what Parliament does, it has inquiries. There is a Standing Committee a Select Committee in fact, on immigration, a Joint Committee on Immigration. It's always open to continue and is constantly reviewing the migration program.[91]

The current framework for population planning

In the past few years, the Government has re-established a population framework, along with a revived government research body, the Centre for Population. The focus has continued to be on planning for population, that is, a broadly ‘adaptive’ approach. Immigration, the ‘proactive’ element, remains a largely separate planning process, with recent Migration Program intakes reduced from the peaks of the mid-2010s.

On taking office in late August 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison appointed Alan Tudge as Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure, and Population. This re-instatement of population in a ministerial title linked population issues firmly with services, concerns on overcrowding, and regional distribution—Morrison called the role ‘Minister for congestion busting’.[92] Tudge’s speeches in this role concentrated on infrastructure and congestion.[93]

Immigration remained a separate portfolio, held by David Coleman. However, when Coleman took leave from December 2019, Tudge also assumed the role as Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs until the next ministerial reshuffle announced on 18 December 2020. Alex Hawke moved into the immigration portfolio and the ‘population’ label again disappeared from ministerial titles at that point.[94]

Morrison put the population discussion on the agenda for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). It was agreed at the December 2018 meeting of COAG that a COAG Treasurers’ Forum on Population would be created to develop a framework for national population and planning.[95]

On 20 March 2019, the Government released Planning for Australia's future population. The document drew together a range of programs on infrastructure, urban and regional investment, and visa settings to encourage migrants to settle in regional areas. It confirmed an approach of Commonwealth, state, territory and local government collaboration via the Treasurers’ Forum to develop the National Population and Planning Framework, and announced that a Centre for Population would be established to provide a focal point on improving data and research across government.[96]

The plan foreshadowed a reduction in the annual migration program planning level from 190,000 to 160,000, which was confirmed over the forward estimates in the 2019–20 Budget.[97]

The Planning for Australia's future population document was re-released in September 2019 and incorporated some amendments and updates, including measures that came into effect on 1 July 2019 and the establishment of the Centre for Population.[98]

Portfolio responsibility for population had been transferred from the Infrastructure portfolio to the Department of the Treasury following the May 2019 election. The Centre for Population was established within the Treasury with funding made available from 1 July 2019, and was officially launched on 4 October 2019. Tudge stated in the media release that:

The Centre will provide data and policy analysis to support the following broader objectives:

1. To support Australia’s economic growth;

2. To ensure the liveability of our cities and ongoing strength of our regions;

3. To achieve a more optimal settlement pattern in Australia; and

4. To ensure Australia remains united and together as a people.

In the immediate term, it will focus on particular tasks to support these objectives, including integrating data, better forecasting, greater transparency and initial research.[99] 

The Centre’s webpage lists three objectives for its work: ‘engage and collaborate’, ‘enrich the evidence base’, and ‘inform policy’. The website provides key publications (including Planning for Australia's future population), data and research papers, and short information summaries on population topics.[100]

Following from its commitment in December 2018 (see above), COAG agreed the National Population and Planning Framework in March 2020.[101] The Framework’s objectives were to:

… improve Commonwealth, States and Territories and local governments’ understanding of populations, population change and its implications, and set-out a plan for government collaboration on the challenges and opportunities these changes present.[102]

It laid out a forward work program in the form of a set of action items, a number of which have been overtaken by the cessation of COAG and the establishment of the National Federation Reform Council (NFRC), announced on 29 May 2020.[103] The NFRC included a National Cabinet Reform Committee on Population and Migration in lieu of the Treasurers’ Forum on Population (although it is not clear at the time of writing whether the committee will automatically take on all the action items which fell to the Treasurers’ Forum on Population).[104]

Many of the Framework’s action items, particularly those related to research or data, were to be taken up by the Centre for Population. Key action items included:[105]

  • The Centre for Population to publish a population plan every three years which would:
    • map objectives, forecasts, projections, actuals and outcomes, including an explanation of any differences,
    • factor in state, territory and local government plans, and
    • analyse the costs and benefits of population change.
  • The Commonwealth to release an annual population statement containing information on actual and expected population trends, drivers of population change, and ‘details of assumptions and methods used to develop the population estimates used in the Budget’.
  • The Commonwealth to institute multi-year planning for permanent migration.

In terms of migration aspects, one action for the Centre for Population was to study:

… the contribution of temporary migrants to net overseas migration, including internal movements of temporary migrants between jurisdictions, movements of temporary migrants between visa classes; and total length of stay.[106]

COVID-19 disruption of planning and projections

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted planning across government from 2020, with both the 2020–21 Budget and the Intergenerational Report postponed. It has left the way forward for some of the population framework uncertain, with the previous assumptions requiring reassessment.

In accordance with the National Population and Planning Framework action item (above), the Government released its first population statement on 4 December 2020.[107] It was not a policy document, but as per the tasking, presented historical trends in population growth and distribution, followed by projections, including the role of net overseas migration. The projections attempted to account for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and were based on assumptions consistent with those used in the 2020–21 Budget.[108]

The 2020–21 Budget was postponed until October 2020, with the 2021–22 Budget returning to the usual May cycle. Even so, the difference between the net overseas migration forecasts projected by the Treasury (the Centre for Population) between the two Budgets reflected the unpredictability of the pandemic’s effects. Immigration was largely halted due to the border closures in response to COVID-19 (from March 2020).[109] In 2020–21, net overseas migration was negative for the first time since 1946: the 2020–21 Budget predicted a level of -71,600, but the 2021–22 Budget predicted a lower figure of -96,600. Population growth was around 0.1 per cent—the lowest growth in over a hundred years.[110]

The actual figure from the ABS for net overseas migration in 2020–21 was -88,800.[111] The Mid‑Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook released in December 2021 revised the Budget forecasts slightly upwards, with net overseas migration projected to be negative again in 2021–22, before returning to near-pre-COVID-19 levels of 235,000 by 2024–25.[112]

Originally planned for release in July 2020, the next Intergenerational Report was postponed due to the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government announced on 20 March 2020 that it would be due a year later in mid-2021.[113] It was released on 28 June 2021.[114]

Like its predecessors, the 2021 Intergenerational Report drew on the framework of the ‘three Ps’, which it set out in a diagram on page 3. Population, including the effects of immigration policy settings, is discussed in chapter 2. Although the COVID-19 pandemic ‘is causing a short-run shock to net overseas migration’ which has caused the Treasury to revise its population projections down for the first time, the projections to the year 2060–61 assume a return to pre-pandemic migration settings:

The long-run assumption of 235,000 people per year [net overseas migration] is based on current Government policy, with annual planning levels of the permanent Program assumed to continue at the 2023-24 level of 190,000 people, the Humanitarian Program assumed to continue at 13,750 people, and flows of temporary migrants, Australian citizens and departing permanent residents assumed to continue in line with historical averages.[115]

The report briefly discussed the impacts of migration, with a similar framework to the Productivity Commission’s 2016 Migrant Intake into Australia report—it noted that in considering the costs and benefits of migration, economic metrics such as GDP are not the only relevant measures, and that social and environmental factors play a role in determining planning goals. It continued the argument for well-managed, sustainable migration and infrastructure planning, referencing the National Population and Planning Framework.[116]

The second Population Statement was released on 20 December 2021 by Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar.[117] The foreword from the Executive Director of the Centre for Population described the document as the Centre’s ‘flagship annual publication.’[118]

The document did not have the same historical content already covered by the first Statement, but was otherwise similarly structured, updating and refining the current data and projections. It used the same key assumptions as the December 2021 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook and elaborated on its projections for net overseas migration. With a more advanced perspective from further into the pandemic, it provided more insight into the effects of the travel restrictions and reduced migration, and remained cautious in how its projections could be affected by the continuing unpredictability of the course of the pandemic.[119]


While recent publications such as the population statements issued so far do not constitute an explicit population policy, they reflect the Government’s current settings including via the assumptions used for net overseas migration projections. The 2021 Population Statement notes for example that the long-run net overseas migration assumption is 235,000 people per year, dependent on planning levels for permanent migration, flows of temporary migration, flows of Australian citizens arriving and departing, and permanent residents who subsequently emigrate.[120]

It states:

With government planning levels accounting for the largest component to the long-run assumption [190,000 per year from 2023–24], it is highly sensitive to any future decisions by the Australian Government to increase or decrease the planning levels for the migration program.[121]

At the time of writing, the pandemic outlook remains uncertain. A federal election is due by May 2022. The Government has adopted a phased approach to the re-opening of Australia’s international borders, with vaccination programs, visa categories and ‘travel bubbles’ with eligible countries proposed to determine the next steps.[122]

The Government has set itself the task of preparing a range of documents for the future, including the Intergenerational Report, the annual population statements and the proposed three-yearly population plan, as well as its continued management of permanent and temporary migration. It will therefore have the opportunity to reassess the impacts and adjust its policy approaches.

[1].    LF Fitzhardinge, ‘Hughes, William Morris (Billy) (1862–1952)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, vol. 9, MUP, 1983 (published first in hardcopy). Examples of media headlines on the issue include: ‘‘Populate or perish’’, The Daily News (Perth), 7 November 1945, p. 7; ‘Populate or perish—Agreement on migration’, Chronicle (Adelaide), 9 August 1945, p. 29.

[2].    F Forde (Acting Prime Minister), ‘Question: migration’, House of Representatives, Debates, 16 November 1944, pp. 1829–1830.

[3].    AA Calwell (Minister for Immigration), ‘Migration—Commonwealth Government policy—United Kingdom White Paper’, House of Representatives, Debates, 2 August 1945.

[4].    Ibid.

[5].    AA Calwell (Minister for Immigration), ‘Question: immigration’, House of Representatives, Debates, 8 September 1949.

[6].    Ibid.

[7].    Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Historical population 2016, cat. no. 3105.0.65.001, ABS, Canberra, 2019.

[8].    JB Chifley (Prime Minister), Statement of policy by the Prime Minister: General Elections 1949, speech, 14 November 1949, p. 14.

[9].    A Downer (Minister for Immigration), ‘Answers to questions: the Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council’, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 March 1958, pp. 739­–741.

[10]. H Holt (Minister for Immigration), ‘Question: immigration’, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 September 1956.

[11]. A Downer (Minister for Immigration), We ought to aim at a population of 30 millions by the early years of the next century, speech at a naturalisation ceremony, Murray Bridge, 21 November 1963.

[12]. National Population Inquiry, Population and Australia: A Demographic Analysis and Projection, First Report of the National Population Inquiry (Borrie Report), 2 volumes, Canberra, 1975, p. 711 and chapter 18.

[13]. Committee of Economic Enquiry, Report of the Committee of Economic Enquiry (Vernon Report), Committee of Economic Enquiry, 2 volumes, Canberra, May 1965, [preface].

[14]. Ibid., p. 434.

[15]. Ibid., p. 89.

[16]. Ibid., p. 91; p. 434.

[17]. P Lynch (Minister for Immigration), ‘Minister speaking on occasion of twenty-fifth anniversary of his department’, media release, 26 July 1970.

[18]. National Population Inquiry, Borrie Report, op. cit., p. xxxvii.

[19]. F Crean (Treasurer), ‘Inflation—ministerial statement’, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 July 1974, p. 508; Australian Population and Immigration Council, Immigration policies and Australia's population—a green paper (Green Paper), AGPS, March 1977, p. 28; ABS, Historical population 2016, op. cit.

[20]. National Population Inquiry, Borrie Report, op. cit., p. 724.

[21]. National Population Inquiry, Borrie Report, op. cit., p. 732.

[22]. C Cameron (Minister for Labor and Immigration), ‘The Great Debate: How many Australians in 2001?’, speech to the Public Relations Institute of Australia (Queensland Branch), media release, 21 February 1975, p. 5.

[23]. Ibid., p. 4.

[24]. Ibid., p. 16; see also C Cameron (Minister for Labor and Immigration), ‘National Population and Immigration Council set up’, media release, 2 February 1975.

[25]. MJR MacKellar (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs), Population policy—ministerial statement, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 March 1976, pp. 1099–1104.

[26]. Ibid.

[27]. Australian Population and Immigration Council, Green Paper, op. cit.

[28]. Ibid., p. 9.

[29]. Ibid., p. 2.

[30]. MJR MacKellar (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs), ‘Toward a population policy for Australia’, media release, 9 August 1976.

[31]. MJR MacKellar (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs), ‘Address to the N.S.W. branch of the Institute of International Affairs’, media release, 22 November 1977, p. 1.

[32]. MJR MacKellar (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs), ‘Australian Population and Immigration Council meets in Canberra’, media release, 26 October 1979.

[33]. MJR MacKellar (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs), ‘Immigration policies and Australia’s population—ministerial statement’, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 June 1978, pp. 3153–3159.

[34]. Population Issues Committee, National Population Council, Population Issues and Australia's Future: Environment, Economy and Society, National Population Council, Canberra, 1992, p. x.

[35]. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Long Term Strategies, Australia’s population ‘carrying capacity’: One nation—two ecologies, AGPS, Canberra, December 1994, pp. 120–121.

[36]. I Macphee (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs), ‘Minister announces ACPEA members’, media release, 13 May 1981.

[37]. I Macphee (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs), ‘Population developments—key to planning’, media release, 21 September 1981.

[38]. S West (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs), ‘National Population Council—ministerial statement’, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 June 1984, p. 3069.

[39]. Committee to Advise on Australia's Immigration Policies, Immigration: A Commitment to Australia, Report of the Committee to Advise on Australia's Immigration Policies, Australian Government, Canberra, 1988.

[40]. R Ray (Minister for Immigration Local Government and Ethnic Affairs), ‘Committee to advise on Australia's immigration policies—ministerial statement’, Senate, Debates, 8 December 1988, p. 3753.

[41]. R Hawke (Prime Minister), Address to the National Immigration Outlook Conference, Melbourne’, media release, 14 November 1990, pp. 5–6.

[42].  National Population Council, Population Issues and Australia's Future, op. cit., p. vi.

[43]. Ibid., p. 102.

[44]. Ibid., p. 122.

[45]. Ibid., p. 123.

[46]. Ibid., p. 124.

[47]. N Bolkus (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs), ‘Increased focus on population research’, media release, 27 May 1993.

[48]. National Committee, Australia: National report on population for the United Nations international conference on population and development, AGPS, Canberra, 1994, p. 7.

[49]. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Long Term Strategies, Australia’s Population ‘Carrying Capacity’, op. cit., p. iii.

[50]. Ibid., p. 124.

[51]. Ibid., pp. 147–150.

[52]. Ibid., p. 21.

[53]. P Ruddock (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs), ‘Population policy: issues for consideration: speech to the Urban Development Institute of Australia's 1997 National Congress’, media release, 4 March 1997, p. 6.

[54]. Ibid., p. 14.

[55]. Ibid., p. 3.

[56]. For example: P Ruddock (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs), ‘A sustainable population future for Australia: speech to the Australian Association Biennial Conference, Melbourne’, media release, 1 December 2000; P Ruddock (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs), ‘Australia doesn't need a population policy’, The Age, 11 January 2002.

[57]. P McDonald and R Kippen, ‘Population futures for Australia: the policy alternatives’, Parliamentary Library Seminar Series, Research Paper 5, Australian Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 1999, p. 3.

[58]. Australian Government, Intergenerational report 2002–03: budget paper no. 5.

[59]. P Costello (Treasurer), ‘Productivity Commission to examine the impact of population growth and migration on productivity growth’, media release, 25 July 2005.

[60]. Productivity Commission, Economic impacts of migration and population growth, Final report, April 2006, p. 34.

[61]. Ibid., p. xxvii, p. 31 and chapter 3.

[62]. Ibid., p. xxii.

[63]. Australian Government, Intergenerational report 2007, Department of the Treasury, Canberra, April 2007, p. 10.

[64]. K Rudd (Prime Minister), ‘Towards a Productivity Revolution: A new agenda of micro-economic reform for Australia: address to the Australian/Melbourne Institute ‘New Agenda For Prosperity’ Conference, Melbourne University’, 27 March 2008, p. 35.

[65]. K Rudd (Prime Minister), ‘Building a big Australia: future planning needs of our major cities: address to the Business Council of Australia, Sydney’, 27 October 2009.

[66]. Australian Government, Australia to 2050: future challenges: Intergenerational report 2010, Department of the Treasury, Canberra, January 2010, p. 5; p. 158.

[67]. K Rudd (Prime Minister), ‘New Minister for Population’, media release, 3 April 2010.

[68]. J Gillard (Prime Minister), ‘'Forward to a sustainable Australia': address to the Eidos Institute, Brisbane’, media release, 18 July 2010.

[69]. J Gillard (Prime Minister), ‘Prime Minister announces new Cabinet’, media release, 28 June 2010.

[70]. C Evans (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), ‘The role of immigration and migration through to 2050: speech to the Informa Conference, Population Australia 2050 Summit’, media release, 28 June 2010.

[71]. Ibid.

[72]. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC), A sustainable population strategy for Australia: issues paper, SEWPAC, Canberra, 2010, p. 5.

[73]. Ibid., p. 6.

[74]. P McDonald and J Temple, Immigration, labour supply and per capita gross domestic product: Australia 2010–2050, research report commissioned for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Canberra, May 2010, p. 2.

[75]. Ibid., p. 3.

[76]. ABS, Historical population 2016, op. cit.

[77]. Productivity Commission, Population and migration: understanding the numbers, Productivity Commission Research Paper, December 2010, p. vii.

[78]. Productivity Commission, A ‘sustainable’ population?—key policy issues, roundtable proceedings, Productivity Commission, Canberra, 2011, p. 2.

[79]. Ibid., pp. 3–4.

[80]. M Goot and I Watson, Population, immigration and asylum seekers: patterns in Australian public opinion, Parliamentary Research Service, May 2011.

[81]. SEWPAC, Sustainable Australia, sustainable communities: A sustainable population strategy for Australia, SEWPAC, Canberra, May 2011.

[82]. Ibid., p. 23.

[83]. Ibid., p. 24.

[84]. Ibid., p. 25.

[85]. C Bowen (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship), ‘The outlook for net overseas migration’, media release, 3 June 2011.

[86]. Australian Government, 2015 Intergenerational Report: Australia in 2055, Department of the Treasury, Canberra, March 2015.

[87]. Productivity Commission, Migrant Intake into Australia, Productivity Commission inquiry report no. 77, Canberra, April 2016, p. 8.

[88]. Ibid., p. 2.

[89]. House of Representatives Standing Committee on Long Term Strategies, Australia’s Population ‘Carrying Capacity’, op. cit., p. 21; see also for example: C Allen, G Metternicht and T Wiedmann, ‘If you think less immigration will solve Australia’s problems, you’re wrong; but neither will more’, The Conversation, 24 May 2019; M Cilento, ‘Economic success: connecting people with progress’, speech launching Connecting people with progress, research report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Sydney, 12 November 2018.

[90]. Australian Government, Shaping a nation: population growth and immigration over time, Treasury and Department of Home Affairs, Canberra, 2018, p. 25.

[91]. M Turnbull (Prime Minister), ‘Transcript of interview with Neil Mitchell’, media release, 17 July 2018.

[92]. S Morrison (Prime Minister),’ Transcript of press conference: ministerial arrangements’, media release, 26 August 2018.

[93]. For example: A Tudge (Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure, and Population), ‘The congestion challenge: more infrastructure and stronger population planning to get better cities’, speech to the Menzies Research Centre, media release, 9 October 2018.

[94]. Parliamentary Library, Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, 46th Parliament, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2020; S Morrison (Prime Minister), ‘Statement: Ministry’, media release, 18 December 2020.

[95]. Council of Australian Governments (COAG), Communiqué, COAG meeting, Adelaide, 12 December 2018.

[96]. S Morrison (Prime Minister), A Tudge (Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population), D Coleman (Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs), B McKenzie (Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation) and D Tehan (Minister for Education), ‘A plan for Australia’s future population’, joint media release, 20 March 2019.

[97]. Australian Government, Budget paper no. 2: 2019–20, p. 11; refer also to pp. 64–65 for the population package measure.

[98]. Australian Government, Planning for Australia's future population, September 2019; A Tudge (Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure), ‘Updated plan will better manage Australia's future population’, media release, 23 September 2019; A Tudge (Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure), ‘Better managing Australia's future population growth’, media release, 1 July 2019.

[99].  A Tudge, (Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure), ‘Launch of the Australian Government’s Centre for Population’, media release, 4 October 2019.

[100].  Centre for Population, ‘About the Centre’, Centre for Population website, accessed 5 January 2022.

[101].  COAG, Communiqué, COAG meeting, Sydney, 13 March 2020.

[102]COAG, National Population and Planning Framework, COAG, March 2020, p. 1.

[103].  S Morrison (Prime Minister), ‘Update following National Cabinet meeting’, media release, 29 May 2020.

[104]Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), Australian federal relations architecture, PM&C, October 2020.

[105]National Population and Planning Framework, op. cit., p. 9.

[106].  Ibid., p. 9.

[107].  A Tudge (Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure), ‘First annual population statement released today’, media release, 4 December 2020.

[108].  Centre for Population, Population Statement, Centre for Population, Treasury, Canberra, December 2020, p. 52.

[109]. S Morrison (Prime Minister), M Payne (Minister for Foreign Affairs) and P Dutton (Minister for Home Affairs), ‘Border restrictions’, joint media release, 19 March 2020.

[110].  Australian Government, Federal financial relations: budget paper no. 3: 2020–21, Table A.5 p. 86; Australian Government, Federal financial relations: budget paper no. 3: 2021–22, Table A.5 p. 104; Australian Government, Budget strategy and outlook: budget paper no. 1: 2021–22, p. 37.

[111].  Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), National, state and territory population, reference period June 2021, ABS, Canberra, 2021.

[112].  Australian Government, Federal financial relations: budget paper no. 3: 2021–22, Table A.5 p. 104; Australian Government, Federal financial relations: mid-year economic and fiscal outlook 2021–22, p. 26.

[113].  J Frydenberg (Treasurer), ‘2020 Intergenerational Report’, media release, 16 December 2019; J Frydenberg (Treasurer) and M Cormann (Minister for Finance), ‘2020–21 budget announcement’, media release, 20 March 2020.

[114]. J Frydenberg (Treasurer), ‘2021 Intergenerational Report’, media release, 28 June 2021.

[115]. Australian Government, 2021 Intergenerational Report: Australia over the next 40 years, Department of the Treasury, Canberra, June 2021, p. 16.

[116].  Ibid., pp. 24–25.

[117].  M Sukkar (Assistant Treasurer), ‘2021 population statement’, media release, 20 December 2021.

[118].  Centre for Population, Population Statement, Centre for Population, Treasury, Canberra, December 2021, p. 2.

[119].  Ibid., see in particular section 1.2 on net overseas migration and the technical appendix.

[120].  Ibid., p. 45.

[121].  Ibid., p. 46.

[122].  Ibid., pp. 44–45; S Morrison (Prime Minister), ‘National Cabinet Statement’, media release, 6 August 2021.


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