You are interpreting for a Chinese delegation who are attending a talk about Australia’s population issues. The speaker is giving a presentation about the challenges associated with Australia’s ageing population.
Listen to Speech
Transcript and reference translation
I was very pleased to see population growth in Australia being debated during the recent federal election. However it is surprising that another big challenge – population ageing – has hardly been mentioned.
Birth rates have dropped dramatically over the past half-century. At the same time, medical breakthroughs mean we are living longer. The result is that the age distribution of our population has changed – and continues to change – dramatically.
It is projected that by 2050 there will be 35.9 million Australians. The proportion of Australians over 65 will also grow to more than 20% of the population. This is up from just over 10% now. This means that the proportion of Australians in the labour force will fall and economic growth will slow.
The result will be a growing fiscal gap: under such projections, by 2050 Government expenditure will exceed revenue by 3%. Healthcare and pensions will cost us an extra $60 billion a year.
Australia’s population will grow. But whether we are able to meet the challenges of population ageing will depend on the age composition of our population and the proportion in the workforce.
The Opposition has copped flak for suggesting that if it won Government it would cut immigration – while it has pursued policies it claims would boost the birth rate, such as paid parental leave.
Our immigration program boosts our productivity and workforce participation rate. But immigration doesn’t substantially change the age composition of the population. In other words, migrants get old as well.
It is changes in the fertility rate – not in migration levels – that will substantially alter the age composition of our population. Australia’s birth rate stands at 1.97 babies per woman.
Additionally, we can expect scientists to make big advances in fighting disease in the coming decades, meaning we will all live longer. However we can’t ignore the reality of population ageing and the fiscal challenges it will bring.
We can’t become complacent, either, about the possibility our baby boom could end. Look at Canada and much of Europe – their low birth rates are totally unsustainable.
So what can we learn from this debate? Well, we should keep in mind that there are good reasons to keep migration levels relatively high. We simply don’t have a big enough workforce to meet demand from employers.
That being said, we can’t expect immigration to solve our future fiscal problems. Only high fertility can slow the inevitable ageing of our population.
Like it or not, population ageing is a reality. If we are to have a more mature debate, politicians and policymakers must recognise this.
Material adapted from Jessica Brown’s speech on Australia’s ageing population problem.