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Australia is in the midst of a popularly-constructed crisis of population. This so-called crisis, in social terms, is not dissimilar to the many which have come before in Australia’s history. Yet Australia’s contemporary crisis differs in that the focus of the oft-referred-to population debate has come to revolve primarily around immigration and the politics of problematising population.
The problematisation of population occurs in many countries across the world, and is much about immigration and the effects of migrants on settlement areas, particularly as fertility has declined. Constructing population as a social problem means any consideration of population-related matters typically results in the portrayal of population, specifically immigration, as the root cause of social ills. Talk of population has, unhelpfully, come to focus on race and ethnicity. For example, with ambivalence Japan has widened immigration intake to allow additional visas for much-needed skilled workers (Murakami 2018). Despite the need for migrants, Japanese people are concerned about the effects of foreign workers. Concerns relate to whether migrant workers will fit in and what pressures they might place on the pension and welfare scheme. Apparent concerns also relate to how immigration will change Japan. In a more overt example of problematisation, the United States President Donald Trump has framed immigration as a threat to the American people (Bennett 2017).
Population growth in Australia, fuelled by net overseas migration, has prompted calls from politicians and social commentators across the political spectrum for a population inquiry and policy debate. Questions have been raised over what might be the best, and or, sustainable population size for Australia; and more importantly, whether greater intervention is needed to restrict the level of migration and the source countries of migrants.
Current calls for a population policy reflect wider social concerns which have come to be conflated with population growth (especially due to immigration), including housing affordability, adequacy of public infrastructure, and environmental conservation. A dominant narrative has emerged: inequality is further exacerbated by migration, conjuring nationalist and protectionist sentiments.