Nearly three-quarters of Australians do not want a bigger population, a recent survey shows.
That’s the lead of an SMH article this morning, citing a paper by Katharine Betts using Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 results.
But the meaning of surveys like this can only be discerned in light of other polling. Last month, for example, a Morgan Poll found that support for the migration program – an annual figure of 170,000 was mentioned – was at 58%. At the weekend Pollytics blog gave us details on a Nielsen poll (also reported in the SMH) showing that half the population thought immigration was either about right or too low.
The AuSSA result is not necessarily inconsistent with these immigration results. The question of whether Australia ‘needs’ more people is not the same as whether we should or could take more people, though that is the way it is being interpreted.
Questions on immigration and population should be considered like questions on taxing and spending; two things linked in practice but often separated in people’s minds if pollsters ask about them in isolation. It’s one thing to say that there are inconveniences from a growing population, but another to say that we should reject foreign workers (anyone fancy trying to get medical care in this country without imported medical staff?), keep migrant families separated, or dash the hopes of many others for a better life here.
The Morgan Poll looks to be best practice on these things, and finds that most people are comfortable with the population heading up towards 30 million. We may not ‘need’ that many people, but we are comfortable with having them.