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Publications archive - International Activities and Commitments


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Australia's report to the UNCSD - 1995

Implementation of Agenda 21
Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1995
ISBN 0 6444 3152 0


Chapter 5 of Agenda 21

Australia's population at 30 June 1993 was estimated at 17 661 500. This compares with a population of 14 807 400 at 31 December 1980 and of 17 169 800 at 31 December 1990.

The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has primary responsibility for demographic issues at the national level in Australia. This agency is responsible for the coordination and assessment of policy, implications of research on population matters and provision of information on the impact of immigration and population growth. The Australian International Development Assistance Bureau has responsibility for the delivery of the overseas aid program.

Australia: national report on population

Australia's National Report on Population, prepared for the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), is intended to contribute to international knowledge and understanding of the Australian population and to promote informed debate on population and related issues in Australia. It follows closely the structure suggested by the ICPD Secretariat in identifying key issues for Australia at the Conference and setting out aspects of the Australian experience in the field of population.

Linkages between population and environmental degradation

As reported in Australia's National Report, the linkages between population and environmental degradation are complex and go beyond simple numbers. The extent to which population factors affect the environment in Australia has not been clearly established. Apart from population size, a number of other factors are also relevant, including patterns of population distribution, patterns and levels of consumption, public sector pricing policies, lifestyle choices, technology paths, land management practices and product mix at national or regional levels. Non-permanent population flows, such as tourists, also impact on the environment. Increased attention needs to be paid to the interactions and environmental implications of these factors.

Within Australia, population drift towards the coastal cities and north has been identified as a major factor underlying environmental stress in some regions.

While historically high rates of unemployment and improving rates of economic growth are common to many countries, Australia acknowledges that economic reforms should occur in the context of environmental sustainability and has in place a range of strategies, agreements and programs, aimed at a more sustainable utilisation of natural resources. The Government has sought to reflect the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) in its policies. The ESD strategy recognises that ecologically sustainable development policy involves people and impacts upon them. Policies should seek to influence and respond to population change so as to advance Australia's well-being in relation to ecological integrity.

Public debate

As population issues are all pervasive and governments regularly make decisions which impact on the population arena, it is inevitable that there will be considerable public debate on possible approaches to public policy-making in this area. Australia's large land mass and comparatively small population had earlier led to the view that there was little need to consider the management of the population. However, in the last decade, attitudes towards population levels have been modified by a growing awareness of the effects of environmental degradation and high consumption. The issue of linkages between population and environmental degradation has been considered by a number of government inquiries into population. For example, in 1991 the Government commissioned the Population Issues Committee report titled 'Population Issues and Australia's Future: Environment, Economy and Society', focusing in particular on the relationship between population, the environment and ecologically sustainable development.

More recently, in 1994, the House of Representatives Standing Committee for Long Term Strategies, conducted an inquiry into Australia's medium to long-term population carrying capacity. The Committee concluded that there is no numerical population level beyond which the social fabric and environmental quality might be expected to go into precipitate decline and rejected the view that Australia is already close to its maximum carrying capacity. It recommended the adoption of a population policy but rejected the notion of a single optimum population target. The Committee also noted the importance of consumption patterns in determining the environmental impact of any given level of population and recommended the adoption of a consumption strategy. The Government is currently considering the recommendations of the Committee.

At the community level, various non-government organisations with an interest in population and environment issues have held seminars to debate the issue.

Population policy

Australia does not have an explicit or formal population policy directly aimed at influencing the level of its population. After considering the 1991 Population Issues Committee report, the Government decided that a formal population policy (particularly one which would specify population targets) would not be appropriate for Australia, given its low levels of fertility and diversity of community views as to the character and objectives of such a policy. The Government considers that it is more important to ensure that the effects of population change are well understood by the public and effectively incorporated in policy and decision-making processes.

Australia does, however, have in place a wide range of policies and legal measures that many consider to be the constituent elements of a population policy including a formal immigration policy and a range of policies generally relating to broader social, economic, environment and health issues.

Some regions within Australia are considering the adoption of population policies or strategies. For example, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has foreshadowed a population strategy based on regional carrying capacity. The development of the ACT strategy will include public consultation and canvassing options available to facilitate sustainable population growth.

United Nations international conference on population and development

The linkages between population and the environment were one of the key themes of the ICPD, held in September 1994 in Cairo, Egypt. Australia pursued sustainable development issues consistently throughout the preparatory processes and the Conference itself, seeking to ensure that the ICPD Program of Action builds on the international agreement reached at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

Population issues and Australia's development cooperation program

The Australian Government is firmly committed to maintaining the high level of priority accorded to population- related activities in the development cooperation program. The 1993-94 budget included a four year $130 million initiative to fund population related activities in developing countries. This trebled expenditure on population activities.

The Government commissioned an independent inquiry to review the international literature on population and development, in order to ensure a firm policy setting for the new initiative. The report, released in April 1994, concluded that while family planning is not a panacea for the problems facing developing countries, few if any policies are likely to have the same breadth of impact as family planning, particularly given the modest costs involved. The report also found that while population growth is not the root cause of environmental degradation, it can complicate and exacerbate environmental problems under conditions commonly found in many developing countries.

The Government's overall policy approach to population recognises that slowing population growth is best achieved within the context of development efforts that promote economic growth, extend education and health, and improve women's rights, breadth of choice and status. Bringing benefits directly to women also helps to reduce birth rates. Australia's policy principles for family planning and reproductive health activities emphasise quality of care and informed voluntary choice.

Australia supports a number of multilateral organisations and programs engaged in population activities. International agencies which receive support include the UNFPA, the WHO Human Reproduction Program, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the Population Council and the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population.

In addition to family planning services, Australia is also providing assistance for demographic research. For example, the 'Pacific 2010 Project', implemented by the National Centre of Development Studies at the Australian National University, has produced demographic projections and analysis for the major island states of the Pacific and identified problems likely to emerge as a result of population growth over a range of economic and social sectors.

Australia played an active role in the ICPD and fully endorses the Conference's program of action directed to the empowerment of women.

The program of action for the conference establishes a number of important activities which will support ecologically sustainable development and which Australia will be playing its part in upholding. In particular, the plan of action:

For further information contact:

Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs