This fact sheet compares historic demographic patterns and central projections from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Treasury. It looks at trends relating to the total population, population ageing, fertility, life expectancy and migration. Treasury figures are of particular interest since they form the basis for the Intergenerational Report, an analysis of fiscal sustainability of existing policy.
Both the ABS and Treasury emphasise that in describing Australia’s future demography (as well as the related long term fiscal impacts) their figures should be seen as projections, not forecasts. But the two are commonly conflated in public and political discourse and the projections have an impact on policy decisions. So the reasonableness of official projections should be subject to scrutiny, evaluated against actual experience and compared to each other. Any differences and inaccuracies can serve as a guide to users of the data.
Transparency is all the more necessary given that the Treasury sets its own demographic assumptions for long-term fiscal reporting rather than using those produced by an independent national statistics office – the usual approach among OECD countries.
The fact sheet shows how outcomes can differ based on different assumptions and how it is not uncommon for projections and assumptions to stray from reality.