Australia’s population will hit the 25 million mark later tonight according to projections from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), a milestone reached in record time as net migration continues to outpace births.
- Australia’s population has grown by 400,000 a year over the past three years, ABS says
- 25th million person is likely to be a young Chinese woman student or skilled worker
- Economy needs skilled workers to support ageing population, George Megalogenis says
The ABS population clock estimates Australia’s population is increasing by one person every 83 seconds, and the new population record is likely to be set at about 11:00pm.
While we cannot know for certain who the 25 millionth person will be, author and political commentator George Megalogenis said they would most likely be a young, female Chinese student or skilled worker.
“The two biggest migrant groups in Australia are Chinese and Indians since the turn of the 21st century,” he told The World program.
“So we’re getting an extraordinary number of Chinese and Indians from two countries that are actually rising.
“Since about 2005, we’re receiving more people from overseas than have been added to our population through natural increase, so more migrants than babies.
“The biggest story in the 21st century for Australia is the migration story.”
Net overseas migration — the number of arrivals minus departures — currently accounts for 62 per cent of Australia’s growth. Natural increase makes up 38 per cent.
“Last time that happened was in the gold rushes of the 1850s,” Megalogenis said.
‘Fresh air, blue sky, good food’
If you look at arrival figures, as opposed to net overseas migration, people born in China emerge as the largest group of migrants accounting for 15.8 per cent of total arrivals.
Divided by visa category, international students are the largest group of arrivals, and China is the most common country of birth for international students in Australia.
University of Melbourne student Jinghua Liang, 20, said she was attracted to Australia’s multicultural society and lifestyle.
“I think the first thing when I think about Australian schools is fresh air, blue sky, good food — and my mum told me [about] emus, kangaroos, that’s a pretty attractive thing,” Ms Liang said.
“People enjoy their life rather than just making a living, and they will enjoy their weekend and vacations … I feel like [Australians] are pretty slow-paced.”
The journalism student said she was surprised to hear that the 25 millionth Australian was likely to be a Chinese woman.
“Many of my friends speak good English with pretty awesome Aussie accents, but many of them don’t want to stay here,” she said, adding that many students had cultural reasons for choosing to return home.
“I’d prefer to stay … I feel like it’s a pretty multicultural environment, it’s good for me to be a writer or a journalist because I’ve got much more freedom, and more good stories here.”
‘Uniting tribes’ an Australian achievement
If Ms Liang does remain, she would join a growing population of single, well-educated Chinese women who have decided to stay in Australia permanently.
“Every time I read this stat, my jaw drops — the Chinese-born population in Australia is overwhelmingly female, and in fact it has one of the greatest gender skews towards women of any migrant group,” Megalogenis said.
“And given that they’re a young and very well-educated group, the question is where are the guys going to come from?”
Megalogenis predicts marriages between Chinese-born and Indian-born migrants, who have a heavy gender skew towards men, will become increasingly common in coming decades and continue a long-standing trend in Australian history.
“One of the greatest achievements in the 19th century in Australia was a sort of keeping a lid on sectarianism,” he said.
“A greatest mixed marriage in the 19th century — which sort of creates an idea of the older Australian population as we know it today, but at the time it was young and vibrant — Protestant male from England, Catholic female from Ireland.
“I tend to view the mixed marriage between the Chinese women and the Indian men in the next 20 or 30 years will be the next version of what is this sort of great ability I think we have to unite tribes.”
And that ability may prove crucial in future decades, where Megalogenis said different states in Australia were likely to have populations with diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
“There is … a Eurasian identity being formed in Melbourne and Sydney … the rest of the country are oversubscribed from migrants from other parts of the world,” he said.
“New Zealand migration is really driving the migration story on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane, and English and South African migration is driving the migration story in Perth.
“So you’re getting the country moving literally in three different directions — a Eurasian south-east, a Pacific north and an Anglo south-west.”
Australia ‘locked into’ mass migration
Concerns over transport infrastructure and property prices in Sydney and Melbourne have seen population growth become a political issue in both cities.
Last month, there were calls for an inquiry into population growth and further cuts to the migration intake from the Coalition’s backbench, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said there was an “out-of-control” amount of people coming to Australia on work visas.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull waded into the debate over gang-related violence in Melbourne, and former leader Tony Abbott said the Labor Party was in the grip of “ethnic activists”.
Megalogenis said instead of “dog whistling” on migration policy, politicians should be working to ensure the benefits of migration are shared more evenly.
“If you’re running a mass migration program — and you know you’re locked into it because otherwise your population would age too quickly — why don’t you get a discussion going about spreading the benefits to all the other parts of Australia,” he said.
“These things are very difficult debates to have, and the sceptic in me says I probably wouldn’t trust this generation of politicians to do all the infrastructure — they’d probably make a lot of mistakes.
“But I’d much rather have that conversation than none at all, or to be having the one at the margin about asylum seekers or so-called gangs.”
By Michael Walsh, Sean Mantesso, Bang Xiao and Beverley O’Connor