June 28th 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Counting Stalin's victims 50 years on

EDITORIAL: Australia's population challenge

PACIFIC: Solomon Islands: nightmare in paradise

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Why the Crean-Beazley issue is unresolved

ENVIRONMENT: Climate scientists reject Kyoto Protocol

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Labor mates / Night to remember / Heart of darkness / Intervention

EUTHANASIA: Stopping Australia's Doctor Death

Sugar price decline (letter)

Free trade deal and local shareholders (letter)

TIMOR L'ESTE: Looming food shortage in East Timor

AGRICULTURE: National water trading plan questioned

FAMILY LAW: Canadian court changes definition of marriage

EDUCATION: The problem with boys ...

South African economic miracle?

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Australia's population challenge

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, June 28, 2003
One of the most worrying trends in Australia today is the slowing of Australia's population growth, due to the decline in the birthrate, and the inexorable increase in Australia's death rate, as the country's baby boomer population ages.

The Bureau of Statistics estimates that if existing trends continue, Australia's population will pass 20 million in 2004, rise to around 23 million by the year 2020, peak at around 25 million 30 years later, then start to decline.

The causes of this are undoubtedly social, cultural and economic.

Until about 30 years ago, Australian culture was strongly pro-children, and the normal division of labour in the family was that mothers cared for their children as homemakers, while fathers were the primary family income earners. There were always many exceptions, but the exceptions proved the rule.

Despite the changes produced by technology and the influx of millions of migrants from post-war Europe, families were generally stable, and family life was the normal environment in which children were raised and educated.

Social revolution

From the 1960s, this all changed. Fiercely attacked by radical feminists, for whom the family was an instrument for repressing women; greenies who regarded human beings as the ultimate environmental vandals; and economic rationalists who opposed the idea of a family wage, and regarded family support programs as inefficient subsidies to non-productive economic units, the culture of society no longer welcomed babies and children.

In a utilitarian society which does away with around 100,000 unborn Australians every year (and funds it through Medicare), is it any wonder that latch-key children, child abuse and pedophilia have become national problems?

It was revealing that at the Liberal Party's recent National Convention, the Prime Minister, John Howard, described the average Australian family as consisting of one parent working full-time, and the other working part-time, and described it as "mainstream Australia".

"It is the job of government to focus on the needs of mainstream Australia," he said. (The Age, June 7, 2003)

In fact, this model constitutes just 27 per cent of all families. What about the other 73 per cent?

In spite of nearly thirty years of neglect, over 22 per cent of families still comprise one parent in the workforce and the other as a full-time homemaker; while 17 per cent of families have two full-time earners.

Tragically, in some 10.5 per cent of families, there is no parent in full-time work and a further 23 per cent are headed by single parents. This means that at least a third of all families are dependent on government payments to survive.

From these figures alone, it is obvious that an additional child would impose heavy financial burdens on most families. Is it any wonder that Australians are reluctant to have more children?

Mr Howard has stated, on a number of occasions, that he is concerned about Australia's declining fertility and increasing divorce rates, but he seems powerless to do anything about it.

Perhaps he should start by addressing the problems the Government's own figures have highlighted: to have children, families need full-time jobs and full-time homemakers.

Australia's official unemployment rate is around 6 per cent, but the real rate - adding the unemployed who have been put on disability benefits, the young unemployed who have become students, and those employed for just a few hours a week - is probably twice the official figure.

The hard fact is that with the destruction of Australia's manufacturing industry base over the past 25 years, under the impact of economic rationalism, there are just not enough jobs and far too many people on welfare.

Additionally, the collapse of Australian manufacturing has caused the burden of taxation to be shifted even more heavily away from companies onto individuals, and particularly, towards discretionary taxes on alcohol, tobacco and gambling, where the burden falls most heavily on low income families.

The radical shift in taxation towards "discretionary" taxes on things like gambling, which now produces some 14 per cent of some states' incomes, is accompanied by the disastrous social consequences of problem gambling. A Productivity Commission report in 1999 concluded that that around 290,000 Australians are problem gamblers and account for over $3 billion in losses annually.

As Mr Howard said in releasing the report, "This is disastrous not only for these problem gamblers, but also for the estimated 1.5 million people they directly affect as a result of bankruptcy, divorce, suicide and lost time at work." However, governments have no solutions.

Australia's manufacturing sector used to be up with the rest of the developed world. Today it is below 12 per cent of GDP, compared with around 19 per cent for the other developed economies. What's more, we have the sharpest declining manufacturing sector in the OECD.

It is perfectly clear that until Australia embarks on a comprehensive industry development policy - as countries such as Singapore, Sweden, the US and others have done - the related problems of declining fertility, excessive tax levels, family breakdown and welfare dependence, will not be addressed.

  • Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council

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