Tracey McArdle and Mark Ryan with their newborn baby boy Comhghan. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Tracey McArdle and Mark Ryan with their newborn baby boy Comhghan. Picture: Liam Kidston.

Population to hit 25 million overnight

A RUSH of overseas migrants is pushing up Australia's population faster than the rest of the developed world.

The number of people in Australia was expected to reach 25 million just after 11pm last night.

We've hit the milestone 33 years ahead of official predictions made by the Australian Bureau of Statistics a couple of decades ago.

And on current trends the number will pass 40 million before the middle of this century.

"It's not that they got their calculations wrong, it's that migration policy changes and longevity increases and a solid birthrate have defied the trends that were evident then," social demographer Mark McCrindle said.

While Australia remains only the 53rd-biggest country in the world - just behind North Korea and ahead of Ivory Coast - our growth is outpacing most of the planet.

The 1.6 per cent national rate is well ahead of the global 1.2 per cent, and more than double that of OECD countries. Only the Middle East and Africa are rising faster.

Southeast Queensland's popularity is helping to drive it, with the Gold and Sunshine coasts both growing at a remarkable 2.5 per cent, and Brisbane at 2 per cent.

The national numbers rose by almost 388,000 last year - the most ever in a year.

"That's more than a new Canberra per annum. That's a lot of people," Mr McCrindle said.

Overseas migration accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total, with another person arriving every 61 seconds.

"We are definitely the place to be from an international perspective," Mr McCrindle said.

While the 25 million milestone is certain to reignite fierce debate over migration levels, Mr McCrindle said the growth was a fact of life.

"It's happening, it's here to stay," he said.

"The challenge is whether we can keep up with that current and projected growth. That's why massive infrastructure investment is on the agenda.

"When people look at the expense of planning for growth, dealing with congestion, growing waiting times for hospitals and so on - when all that hits - migration gets the blame."

But closer analysis of ABS data reveals that many of the extra arrivals are here only temporarily, and boosting the economy while they are.

Of the 539,000 migrants in 2017-18, 58 per cent - 315,000 - arrived on temporary visas, including just over 150,000 international students.

"That's our biggest export industry after coal and iron ore," Mr McCrindle said.

Another 50,000-plus were on long-term working holidays and 32,000 on temporary skill visas.

Natural increase added 148,000 people to the population last year.

More than 300,000 babies were born around the country last year - one every one minute 42 seconds.

And leaps in medical science and health care over the decades have dramatically extended longevity, adding more than 25 years to the median lifespans of men and women in just over a century.

It took 48 years for the population to double from 12.5 million in 1970. The latest million has been added in just 31 months and we are expected to reach 26 million by 2020, 30 million a decade after that and 40 million in 2048.

On current forecasts, Greater Brisbane will be home to more than four million by then, while eight million residents will cram into each of Sydney and Melbourne.

The country's state capital cities already hold more than two-thirds of the total national population.

"What's needed is a rebalancing of the population," Mr McCrindle said. "If our future is just going to be Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth doubling their populations, we've got it wrong."

Sustainable Australia movement president William Bourke said the 25 million milestone was the perfect opportunity to debate whether we want Australia "to be better, or bigger".

"Our unplanned rapid growth is undermining key public policy objectives like secure jobs and decent wage rises, affordable housing, better planning to stop overdevelopment and a sustainable environment," he said.

"Only around 10 per cent of our continent is arable, so rather than being a big country with boundless plains to share, we're really just a thin green coastal strip next to a big desert."

While decentralisation should be encouraged, Mr Bourke said "there are more than enough people in our overcrowded cities to populate regional areas if only there were the jobs, water and infrastructure".

Tracey McArdle and Mark Ryan with their newborn baby boy Comhghan. Picture: Liam Kidston.
Tracey McArdle and Mark Ryan with their newborn baby boy Comhghan. Picture: Liam Kidston.

Mark Ryan and Tracey McArdle came to Australia from Limerick, Ireland, eight years ago and only planned to stay for a year.

"Australia is home now," Mr Ryan said.

The couple has just welcomed their first child, Comhghan (Cohan) and said they chose to live here because of great access to quality health care and education.

"It's just incredible here, Australia has a lot of Irish people that originally came over to travel but ended up moving here," Mr Ryan said.