Australian politician calls for an increase in the birth rate
AUSTRALIA faces a future of social upheaval unless couples start having more children, warns the Treasurer, Peter Costello.
Launching the 2006 Census yesterday, Mr Costello said that without an increased fertility rate, Australia would be forced to buttress its population decline with increased immigration.
This, he said, would change the nation's social composition and lead to problems similar to those being experienced in western European nations such as France, the Netherlands and Denmark.
"There are some European countries with low birthrates and high immigration which have moved into this situation and it has caused a lot of social division. In some of these countries there has been social disruption and violence," he said.
Mr Costello said Australia had benefited from immigration and the biggest waves of immigrants had come when the birthrates were highest.
"It was easier to keep the balance in population because immigrants were being absorbed into a growing population led by fertility," he said.
Australia's fertility rate has recovered in recent years from a 40-year low of 1.73 in 2002-03 to 1.8 in 2004-05.
Mr Costello said the rate needed to be 2.1 for parents to replace themselves but he conceded achieving this rate would be "a very tall order".
He has made an increased birthrate a personal crusade since 2002 when he released the intergenerational report, which warned of an ageing population with too few workers to sustain it.
Allowing more guest workers was not a long-term solution because they were second-class citizens who were not expected to assimilate, were vulnerable to exploitation and became a society within a society, he said.
"Our concept of an immigrant society is that all arrivals are offered the opportunity to become full, first-class citizens. Our culture and history is not compatible with the introduction of guest workers or different tiers of citizenship," he said.
Coining the challenge ahead as "procreate and cherish", Mr Costello said fathers could do a lot more to allow women more flexibility to balance parenthood and career. "I think the mothers of Australia will tell you there is room for improvement; that dads can take more responsibility in relation to children and minding them," he said.
Labor's spokeswoman on work and family, Tanya Plibersek, accused Mr Costello of being in "la-la land". Women and men were working longer hours trying to make ends meet and the Government's new industrial relations laws were family-unfriendly.
"Like so many of Mr Costello's comments, calling on fathers to spend more time at home is just wishful thinking," she said. "It bears no relationship to the reality of people's lives, including his own." She cited the lack of affordable, high-quality child care as the major impediment to women wanting to work.
The census, a five-yearly event, will begin on Friday when more than 30,000 collectors and supervisors begin to hand out forms to every household before census night, August 8. They will return between August 9 and 28 to collect the forms.
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