Seven in 10 people want population pause

Daniel McCulloch and Marnie Banger
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Just three out of every 10 people believe the nation needs a bigger population, a survey by the Australian National University has revealed.

As the federal government and opposition grapple with their migration policies ahead of the next election, ANU researchers have uncovered a dramatic decline in support for population growth.

With Australia’s population a little over 25 million, more than 2000 adults were asked late last year whether they thought the country needed more people.

Only 30.4 per cent of respondents believed Australia needed more people, compared to 69.6 per cent who felt the country did not.

The high cost of housing, overcrowding in major cities, bad traffic and job security issues were among the most common reasons cited for limiting Australia’s population growth.

Lead researcher Nick Biddle said it’s clear people need to be convinced of a few things before they support a bigger country.

“People would need to be reasonably confident that there’s been an investment in infrastructure, that the cost of housing either to purchase or rent is under control, and also that the Australian education system is meeting the needs of the current Australian population,” Associate Professor Biddle told AAP.

Cabinet minister Simon Birmingham insists the prime minister is dramatically recalibrating the country’s population policies by taking a bottom up approach to migration intakes with the states and territories.

“The government is adopting an approach to population policy and our migration intake that is informed by different local factors across the different parts of Australia,” Senator Birmingham told reporters on Tuesday.

Assoc Prof Biddle noted about 70 per cent of people surveyed supported the idea of some migrants being required to live in rural or regional areas.

Support for a big Australia has fallen significantly since a similar question was asked in 2010, when 45.8 per cent of respondents felt the country needed more people.

The 15 per cent drop was largely attributable to falling support levels among men, who were nonetheless still more likely than women to think Australia needed more people.

Australians aged 25 to 34 had the greatest levels of support for an increased population, with 42.2 per cent in favour of growth.

People with higher levels of education and those born overseas – particularly migrants from non-English speaking countries – demonstrated strong support for a bigger population.

Greens voters were most likely to think Australia needed more people. Coalition voters had the lowest levels of support of the major parties, with Labor voters somewhere in between.

Those who said they would vote for another party or candidate had the lowest levels of support (20.2 per cent).

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