“About 22 or 23 million… the country couldn’t stand any more.” PM John Howard on #PopulationGrowth in 1997

Aaahhhh, those were the days! In 1996, Prime Minister John Howard had cut the Keating (ALP) Government’s immigration program back to the low 80 thousands only weeks after winning office. That first cut was by approximately 16,000. Howard then followed up with a further reduction of approximately 6,000 in 1997.

Although he’d campaigned in early 1996 (before the March election) that he’d keep the numbers ‘about the same’ as PM Keating’s program, it seemed to those closely following population / immigration politics at the time that Howard had understood the population / immigration message. Hence Howard’s initial cuts seemed like a bow to the common sense majority view.

In the early Howard years, whenever the growth lobby pushed for higher numbers, Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock would confidently respond along these lines: ‘The evidence suggests that, once we lift the annual intake above 120,000 to 130,000, we run into significant speed humps’. (As has been well documented over the last three decades, these ‘speed humps’ typically include infrastructure, housing, health services provision, social cohesion and so on.)

Whatever happened soon thereafter to influence the Howard Government to turn its immigration policy through 180° is yet to be fully explained. The outcome, however, was a doubling of the immigration intake from 1999 through to their loss of office in 2007.

Meanwhile, read this transcript of a Singapore Straits Times article by Anthony Paul, a journalist with Australian connections. In ‘Changing face of Australia – the economics of numbers’ (8 May 2004), Paul records Howard’s earlier words of wisdom to him:

Prime Minister John Howard, a conservative, has cautiously modest ambitions. ‘About 22 or 23 million seems about right,’ he told me in a 1997 interview. ‘The country couldn’t stand any more.’

It’s hard to find any evidence that Howard ever shared his sensible perspective on sustainable, low-growth population with Australian policy-makers or the electorate – to his cost in 2007.

For the record, Australia’s population is now just under 23.5 million, thanks to the continuing high immigration policies of several governments since 1999. Weep, get angry, then calm down – and get even by spreading the REDUCE IMMIGRATION write-on idea.

In 1990, our current Prime Minister Tony Abbott wrote an excellent opinion piece on the problems of immigration and multiculturalism from which he now unfortunately resiles. Its title, ‘The real issue is the changing face of our society’, provides an ironic precursor to Anthony Paul’s article, ‘Changing face of Australia – the economics of numbers’.

Together, these articles provide an historical backdrop to immigration decisions that are part of the 2014 Australian Budget, due for release on 13 May. Will new Budgeteer-in-Chief PM Abbott reduce immigration for the first time this century?



2 thoughts on ““About 22 or 23 million… the country couldn’t stand any more.” PM John Howard on #PopulationGrowth in 1997

  1. John Howard said in an ABC interview with Fran Kelly in January this year on the subject of asylum seekers:

    “The more people think our borders are being controlled, the more supportive they are, in the long term of high levels of immigration. Australia needs a high level of immigration. I’m a high immigration man. I practiced that in government, and one of the ways that you maintain public support for that is to communicate to the Australian people a capacity to control our borders and to decide who and what people and when come to this country.”

    “Australia needs a high level of immigration”! So, asylum seekers grab the headlines to overwhelm the “immigration” issue, and the public are deceived into thinking they are where our immigrants largely come from! Asylum seekers arrive in their boats, while the majority of migrants arrive daily in jumbo jets! Media attention focuses on the former, and the latter masses come silently – without reports.

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