Launch of the 2006 Census of Population and Housing

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Productivity Commission Research Paper on the Financial Performance of Government Trading Enterprises
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Launch of the 2006 Census of Population and Housing



MONDAY, 24 JULY 2006

Thank you very much for the invitation to be here today to launch the 15th Census.

From Friday a small army of 30,000 collectors and supervisors will hit the streets to distribute Census forms to every household in the nation. From 9 August, they will return to collect the completed forms.

The Census provides the foundation picture of Australia and how it has changed in the past five years. It gives us a detailed portrait of all aspects of the Australian people. It is the basis of data that governments at all levels use to make planning decisions.

And it tells us about the trends in our population. One of the important questions included in the 2006 Census will be about the number of children that each woman has had. Other questions will give background on our migrant population. Population trends is what I want to talk about today.

 Population matters. Demography is destiny.

There are countries around the world that are now facing absolute population decline, for example:

  • Italy’s population, around 58 million in 2005, is projected to fall to 56 million in 2025 and 51 million in 2050 (a fall of 3 per cent to 2025 and 12½ per cent to 2050 from the 2005 level);
  • Japan’s population, around 128 million in 2005, is projected to fall to 125 million in 2025 and 112 million in 2050 (a fall of 2½ per cent to 2025 and 12½ per cent to 2050 from the 2005 level);
  • Russia’s population, around 143 million in 2005, is projected to fall to 129 million in 2025 and 112 million in 2050 (a fall of 10 per cent to 2025 and 22 per cent to 2050 from the 2005 level).

This will be a huge problem for the economy of each of these countries – imagine running a business in a country with a declining customer base year after year.

And imagine the problem this presents for national goals and ambitions. Theoretically, a nation that does not replace itself can eventually disappear. Through human history numbers of peoples have disappeared from the face of the globe.

The Government’s Intergenerational Report released in 2002 looked at this issue of demographic change and the ageing of the population in Australia. The fall in the birth rate and the increased life expectancy mean that the ratio of those over 65 to those of working age (15-64) is going to double between 2002 and 2042.

Since then I have been talking about Australia’s fertility rate and its importance to our national prospects.

The total fertility rate (TFR), the number of live births per female over their reproductive life, went into long term decline from 1961. In 1961 it was 3.55. In 2002-03 the rate bottomed at 1.73. In 2004-05 it recovered to 1.80. We should aim to continue the reversal of the long term decline. I have promoted this proposal with an encouragement to Australian parents to have:– “one for mum, one for dad and one for the country.”

 A boost in fertility is essential in the long-run. The total fertility rate necessary for parents to replace themselves is around 2.1, and we are still well short of this. Bear in mind in the immediate term a boost in fertility is likely to cost – it will affect short term female labour force participation and it will cost us in terms of health and education spending. But in the long run it is essential to hold our population and, preferably, increase it so that we have the economic base to give Australians a growing standard of living as well as providing support for the aged in the future.

I also happen to believe that it is healthy and positive for families and society to have plenty of children around.

In the past there was a saying in Australia that we should “populate or perish”, perhaps our future attitude should be “procreate and cherish”.

In some countries where space is extremely limited there is a fear about increasing population.

But Australia is not like that. We are a big country. We have lots of space. We are approximately the size of the USA without Alaska. But we have one fifteenth the population of the USA. We have room to grow.

While a large part of Australia is desert there is still a large amount of habitable land capable of being populated and still further space for undisturbed natural environments and farmland.

 Boosting our fertility rate is also necessary to balance our immigration program. At present half of Australia’s increase in population comes from net migration. At present the number of births outweighs the number of deaths but because our fertility rate is below replacement level over time this will change.

You can see that if our fertility rate was to run below replacement levels and if the difference was made up by immigration, over the long term, the composition of our population would change.

There are some European countries with low birth rates and high immigration which have moved into this situation and it has caused a lot of social division. In some countries of these countries there has been social disruption and violence.

Australia is an immigrant country and we always will be. Immigration has provided profound benefits for our country in so many different ways. But our past waves of immigration have occurred at times when there was significant natural increase in population. It was easier to keep the balance in population because immigrants were being absorbed into a growing population led by fertility. If we continue a long term drop in fertility this will put more pressure on our immigration program. Increasing immigration to cover natural population decline will change the composition of our population and raise concerns about social dislocation.

Some countries faced with population decline or labour shortages have turned to guest worker arrangements.

Guest workers are not immigrants. They are workers who are not accorded full citizenship rights and are subject to eventual removal.

Whilst the earnings of guest workers may be remitted to help family in their own country, their status in the new country is always secondary. This means they are vulnerable to exploitation. The difference between an immigrant and a guest worker is that a guest worker is expected not to assimilate because at the end of their work visa they will be required to leave. Guest workers become a society within a society. We have already had an unfortunate experience with guest workers, for example, the Kanakas brought to the North Queensland sugar industry.

Our concept of an immigrant society is that all arrivals are offered the opportunity to become full, first class citizens. Our culture and history is not compatible with the introduction of guest workers or different tiers of citizenship.


Australia’s birth rate has been dropping for over forty years but it looks like we have now arrested the decline.

I think that part of the reason for a pause in the decline of the TFR is our economy has been strong. People have a greater sense of security and feel more confident in having children. The birth rate is a sign of confidence in the future.

 If we want a higher fertility rate we really have to look at what – from a woman’s point of view – will make having children more attractive.

This is not to say that men are unimportant in the equation, simply to recognise that women mostly have the final say in the decision to have children.

If women choose to have children, the decision that they face as to when to have children, and how many children to have, is also influenced by the interruption and impact that it will have on their career.

If women choose to have children in their early to mid-twenties (like many of their mothers) it is likely they will be in the formative phase of their career.

On the other hand, if women have children later in their career, when they are more established this impacts on their fertility.

No matter how you sugar coat it – the reality for many women is that despite the experience and the level of skill that they have acquired up until the time that they leave the workforce it can be difficult for them to pick up the threads of their career when they are able to return.

Clearly, the more children that a woman decides to have, the more interrupted her career, the increased probability she will have less choices about her career on her return. It is also true that the later a woman leaves her decision to have children, the less choice she has as to the number of children she can have.

Perhaps as a result of this, and as noted by a recent study released by the ABS (Australian Social Trends 2006) – “women are having fewer children, and at later ages.”

It seems strange, but the fertility rate was much higher when we were all a lot poorer. I think one of the key reasons why fertility rates are lower today is what economists would call “opportunity cost”. The cost to an educated woman with a good career for coming out of the workforce to have children is much greater than it was 40 years ago when educational standards were much lower and women’s salaries much less. Because a mother is earning more, the cost of fore going those earnings is greater. In this sense although we are richer the financial cost of children is greater.

Women recognise that there is a ‘career cost’ in having children – and know also that there is a ‘family benefit’ in having children – which is why so many women still do have children. But the personal benefit – the fulfillment – in having children, should not negate our determination to work harder at minimizing that ‘career cost’.

Because the cost is not just a personal one – but a societal one.

While there is a limit to what governments can do, this Government has recognised how important it is to have women participate in the workforce and how important it is to provide education and skills for women returning to the workplace.

To deal with the financial issue the government’s task should be to ensure the most healthy economy possible so that jobs are available and well paid and available to women who want to re-enter the workforce after motherhood. In 2004 the Australian Government decided to provide a baby bonus – currently worth $4,000 and set to go up to $5,000 in 2008 – specifically for mothers to help deal with the expenses that the arrival of a baby brings.

Many women are loath to leave the workforce – as are men – and that is where the provision of childcare has been an enormous step forward. We have almost doubled childcare places since 1996.

 I think that a key to ensuring that women’s needs are met is the provision of flexibility in work arrangements. Often the micro conditions like specific work arrangements and proximity to child care can be as important as macro conditions like the general employment situation and wage levels.

Anyone who has children will know of the difficulties of juggling work and family, but flexibility can allow parents to manage a job as well as raise a child. Inflexible work practices can make this impossible.

Flexibility is also essential for fathers who also have a responsibility in raising children. Over recent decades there has been some change in the right direction but I think there is still a lot of room for improvement for fathers to take on more.

Flexibility of work hours, flexibility of leave arrangements, flexibility of work site, where some jobs can be done from home is going to be critical for women thinking about starting a family. This flexibility can make for mutually beneficial arrangements which allow both employers and employees to gain from the process.

A friend told me a story recently about how he saw a new mother with a double pram pushing twins and trying to get into a lift. He went to help and complimented her on the two young babies. “Oh I am doing my bit for Mr Costello,” she said.

Well I don’t think she was doing her bit for me. And I can tell you I had nothing to do with those twins! But I do think she was doing her bit for Australia and its future.

We are a country of 20 million people. There are some things that all governments have to do – like defence – that are more easily provided with a larger rather than a smaller population. It is expensive to maintain a highly equipped high tech defence force on a small population base. Larger states find it easier. It is hard to maintain living standards in a country where population is declining. It is hard to maintain an older population in a country where there is a shrinking base of people of working age.

Children are the greatest gifts that parents can give to each other and the greatest gift that we as parents make to society. A country confident about its prospects will be a country where parents feel safe and secure to have, and to raise, a family. And where parents feel safe to have, and to raise, a family the nation’s prospects will be much stronger.

Population matters. Demography is destiny. And our country, long term, will be very much better on a population that is increasing. This will only happen when parents are secure and confident to have children to build the future.