As the vicious political bun fight over asylum seekers arriving in boats continues in Canberra, I was reminded recently of the real population issue facing Australia.
We are not being overrun by boat people or terrorists or any other bogeymen that the media and pollies try to scare us with. We are in fact being overwhelmed by the aged. We are not having enough children and we are living longer than ever before. While longer life with fewer mouths to feed are pluses for present generations, these factors spell doom for Australia’s long term economic future.
A year or two ago, the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was criticized for championing the concept of a “Big Australia” with a population of 50 million or more. There is in fact no alternative to a Big Australia if we are continue to balance the books. Without greater numbers of people, our taxes are set to skyrocket.
Consider these facts:
1. There are presently more than 3000 people aged 100 years or more .
2. By 2050, there will be 50 000 people aged 100 years or more.
3. By 2050, there will be more Australians in retirement than active in the workforce.
No-one in the present policy debate has explained how we will pay for the costs of this ageing population. Instead, they focus on scoring points with each other about who can stop the boats. And this while a demographic tsunami looms on the horizon.
It’s my intention to produce a series of works in print, television and radio on this question. It’s easy for younger people to ask: ‘well how does this affect me?’. But it’s the young of today who will deal with this problem.
I’d like people to share their thoughts here on the topic. I’d like to use those ideas and debate as a starting point for my research. I’d like to hear from people who have narratives that demonstrate the numbers in action. Every family will deal with this question in one form or another.
Every discussion I have throws up some new facets of the issue. For instance, one friend lamented that the mix of conservatism and liberalism is out of balance. An older society is naturally a more risk averse society. A healthy country has a mix of caution and recklessness, this balance fires entrepreneurship and risk-taking.
Australia is a lucky country, we are poised on the verge of greatness as the Age of China rolls on. However, can an ageing Australia really achieve its potential? We are faced with the choice of making lots of babies or addressing the role of the elderly in the economy and society. Otherwise we won’t be building any schools, just nursing homes.