Senator Nick Minchin was Minister for Finance and Administration and Leader of the Government in the Senate under the Howard Government. He recently stood down as leader of the opposition in the Senate. He was a speaker at a forum on Australia's population prospects held in Adelaide in May 2010. The following is an edited version of his address.
Debate about Australia's population has suddenly come alive following the release of the government's 2010 Intergenerational Report, which projected a population of 36 million by 2050--a 60 per cent increase. Mr Rudd immediately embraced this outcome as desirable.
I note that the Intergenerational report our government released in 2007 projected a population of only 28.5 million in 2050. So Treasury's forecast for 2050 has increased by a massive 7.5 million in just two years, and the Treasury forecast is now a government target. No wonder this frightening scenario has sparked debate-and a much-needed debate.
Some of you may be surprised that someone like me is a participant in this forum. But I've been interested in this issue for many years, and in keeping with my philosophical conservatism, I have for a long time had a conservative view on population growth.
My views are also influenced by my training in economics, having completed a Bachelor of Economics Degree at the Australian National University in 1974. Economics is after all about the efficient use of limited resources--it's a discipline, like conservatism, that recognises and works within natural limits.
I have been engaged in this issue in the Senate from the outset. For example, I spoke of my concern about high and uncontrolled immigration in my maiden speech in 1993, and in that speech noted with alarm that net immigration from 1982 to 1992 was over one million--50 per cent more than the previous decade. I also welcomed the fact that immigration in 1992-93 had declined to a net 63,000 and I said it should stay within that figure for the foreseeable future.
Today we have net immigration of about 300,000, nearly five times what it was when I entered the Senate.
In May 1994 I again spoke in the Senate on this matter, and specifically criticised the Keating Government for the absence of any policy framework for population and immigration, and again noted that Labor had essentially lost control of immigration in the 1980s.
During the time of the Howard Government (March 1996 to November 2007) I did whatever I could to keep...