A bigger Australia: opinions for and against.

Author:Betts, Katharine
Position:Report

Final-release data from 2009-2010 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes art: now available. These allow the analysis of attitudes to population growth across a wider range of background variables than in the pre-release data reported in the previous issue of People and Place. University graduates and migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds, especially if they are from high-income households, are the most likely to favour growth. In contrast, Australia-born non-graduates and people living in non-metropolitan areas are the least likely to do so. Voters who support the conservative parties are the most in favour of population stability but, even so, over two-thirds of Labor and Greens voters want stability. Many voters who are alienated from polities also support stability. Together these findings suggest opportunities for pro-stability parties and candidates in the forthcoming federal election.

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In September 2009 Treasury published its projection for a population growing from 22.2 million in 2010 to 35.9 million in 2050. (1) In October the then Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said that he was pleased with this. He believed in population growth: 'I make no apology for that. I actually think it is a good thing that our population is growing'. (2)

The previous issue of People and Place ran a report on voters' attitudes to growth. (3) It was based on pre-release data from the 2009-2010 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (AuSSA) of voters, made available in early March 2010, and drawn from a large mailout survey of people on the electoral roll. These data contained answers to questions on population growth, answers which could be cross-tabulated against a limited number of background variables: sex, age, and state or territory of residence.

The report showed the proportions supporting growth and the proportions supporting stability, and the reasons that each of the two groups had for taking these positions. Final-release data from the survey are now available (as of early June 2010) with many more background variables. These allow us to pursue the question of who prefers population stability and who prefers growth in more detail. The final-release data can also provide answers to questions about whether respondents' reasons for taking their chosen positions vary with their social location. The other differences between the pre-release and the final-release data arc that the number of valid responses has increased from 3052 to 3192 (4) and that weights have been calculated to compensate for any divergence between the sample's distribution by age and sex and that of the population as a whole. (5)

ATTITUDES TO GROWTH AND STABILITY BY SOCIAL LOCATION

In the pre-release file 69 per cent of respondents answered 'no' to the question, 'Do you think Australia need more people?' and 31 per cent said 'yes'. In the final, weighted sample the proportion saying 'no' has increased slightly to 72 per cent and the proportion saying 'yes' has fallen slightly to 28 per cent.

The pre-release data had shown a strong relationship between gender and attitudes to growth, with women much more pro-stability than men; this difference remains. (6) It showed only a slight difference in attitudes by age and this too remains. The overall pattern of responses by state is also the same with Queensland the most pro-stability and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) the least. (7) However, the proportions pro-stability in each state are all slightly higher than in the pre-release data. Table 1 sets out the pattern of responses by state in the final-release data.

Table 1: Attitudes to growth by state, December 2009 to February 2010, per cent Australia needs Queensland South Australia Victoria New South more people? (Qld) (SA) (Vic) Wales (NSW) No 76 74 72 70 Yes 24 26 28 30 Total 100 100 100 100 Total 611 294 866 862 Australia needs Tasmania Western Australia ACT Total more people? (WA) No 70 66 65 72 Yes 30 34 35 28 Total 100 100 100 100 Total 96 371 63 3192 Source: The Australian Survey of Social Attitudes [Computer file], Canberra: Australian Social Science Data Archive, The Australian National University, 2010, final-release data. Notes: The question was: 'Do you think Australia needs more people? Yes [or] no'. People who did not answer this (n=51) are excluded from the analysis here and in subsequent tables. The 29 respondents from the Northern Territory are not shown separately but are included in the total. The data in Table I (as in all the tables in the present article) are weighted. Table 2 disaggregates attitudes to growth in the five mainland states by region.

Table 2: Attitudes to growth by region, the five mainland states, December 2009 to February 2010, percent Queensland South Australia Australia needs more non-metro outer metro inner non-metro outer inner people? metro metro metro No ** 86 71 63 * 83 74 67 Yes ** 14 29 37 ** 17 26 33 Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 Total N 271 208 125 98 102 88 Victoria New South Wales Australia needs more non-metro outer metro inner non-metro outer inner people? metro metro metro No 77 71 66 76 69 ** 58 Yes 23 29 34 24 31 ** 42 Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 Total N 283 310 244 415 258 176 Western Australia Total Australia needs more people? non-metro outer metro inner metro No 80 ** 49 69 72 Yes 20 ** 51 31 28 Total 100 100 100 100 Total N 113 123 133 3192 Source: See Table 1 Notes: Respondents were asked if they lived in an 'Outer metropolitan area of a major city (over 100,000 people)' or an 'Inner metropolitan area of a major city (over 100,000 people)'. Respondents who chose other options such as 'a large town (over 25,000 people)' or a 'rural area or village' have been grouped together as 'non-metro'. Respondents who did not answer the question on region (n=59) are not shown separately. * Difference between the sub-group and the total is significant at the .05 level. ** Difference between the sub-group and the total is significant at the .01 level. It shows differences by region, some of them quite strong. It is interesting that inner-metropolitan areas in NSW and elsewhere are less pro-stability and more pro-growth than the sample as a whole. As the definition of a metropolitan area is a 'major city (over 100,000 people)' these areas in NSW would include inner-city regions in Wollongong and Newcastle as well as in Sydney. In contrast to the inner-metropolitan regions, non-metropolitan regions, especially in Queensland and South Australia, are more pro-stability than are any of the metropolitan areas.

Given the distress that growing traffic congestion and overloaded infrastructure are causing in the major cities (8) this pattern of results may seem surprising. But many voters living in inner metropolitan areas are either university graduates, first-generation migrants or both. Table 3 shows that voters born overseas are more likely to support growth, particularly if they were born in non-English-speaking-background (NESB) countries. Table 4 shows that graduates are much more likely to be pro-growth than are voters in the sample as a whole and Table 5 shows that this is especially so if they are overseas-born.

Table 3: Attitudes to growth by birthplace, December 2009 to February 2010, per cent Australia-born ESB-born NESB-born Total No * 76 ** 60 ** 47 72 Yes * 24 ** 40 ** 53 28 Total 100 100 100 100 Total 2475 311 358 3192 Source: See Table 1. Notes: ESB stands for English-speaking-background countries and NESB for non English-speaking-background countries. Subtotals exclude missing on birthplace or not stated (n = 42). * Difference between the sub-group and the total is significant at the .05 level. ** Difference between the sub-group and the total is significant at the .01 level. Table 4: Attitudes to growth by level of post-school qualification, December 2009 to February 2010, per cent Australia needs Graduate or Trade certificate None Total more people postgraduate degree or diploma No ** 56 74 * 76 72 Yes ** 44 26 * 24 28 Total 100 100 100 100 Total 559 903 1596 3192 Source: See Table 1. Notes: Subtotals exclude 26 still at school and 109 missing on qualifications. * Difference between the sub-group and the total is significant at the .05 level. ** Difference between the sub-group and the total is significant at the .01 level Table 5: Attitudes to growth by level of qualifications and birthplace group, December 2009 to February 2010, per cent Graduates Australia needs more people Australia-born ESB-born NESB-born No ** 59 * 51 ** 39 Yes ** 41 * 49 ** 61 Total 100 100 100...

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