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Shock of the old

New aged-care recruits.

New aged-care recruits.

"You mean we actually used to stop foreigners coming to Australia?" my grandkids will ask me in 40 years' time.

"Not all of them, just the brown ones that came by boat," I'll reply. "We'd put them in jail for five years, while we worked out what to do with them."

Around then, I'll probably need to go to the toilet. So, I'll push a buzzer and a young dude named Abdul, Hong or Raj, who's earning $250,000 a year in the now savagely competitive aged care industry, will enter my room at the Fairfax Rinehart Nursing Home to give me and the grandkids a hand.

Hong will have arrived in our country, not by leaky fishing boat but business-class airfare, paid for by his employer who recruited him from his homeland of Asia, Africa or the Middle-East.

He'll have chosen Australia, turning down similar offers from aggressive recruiters in western Europe, Japan and the US because he likes the climate, and nasi goreng is now our national dish.

If you think this is some sort of neo-Liberal daydream/nightmare - think again because it's as inevitable as the planet one day running out of crude oil and 1951 Grange (well, maybe not the part about nasi goreng).

Last year our national fertility rate dropped 0.7 per cent, to 1.89 babies per woman. In order for us even to maintain our population at a birth "replacement rate", that figure needs to be 2.1.

Across industrialised Europe, countries are all well below that number, while Japan's estimate for 2012 is 1.39, China's 1.55, Singapore's 0.78 and the US's 2.06. In fact, Apple now sells more iPhones per second (4.6) than the world produces babies (4.2).

Not surprisingly this means we're not getting any younger. The 2011 National Census confirmed this last month, revealing Australia's median national age has remained at 37.

In simple terms, there's going to be lots more old people very soon. The Australian Treasury predicts more than 20 per cent of our population will be over 65 by 2050, up from just over 10 per cent now.

This raises the question - who's going to look after all these fossils? It's certainly not their families: how many grandparents do you know who are kept at home instead of shoved into aged care?

It's also not going to be Aussie kids because they'll all be at university or TAFE training to be music video directors, plumbers, software designers or celebrity chefs.

What's truly confusing is that last month we also saw almost 100 people drown trying to reach these shores; immigrants so desperate to get here, they risked their lives, then detention, so that they could one day clean McMansions, run the till at a 24-hour petrol station or help your grandma into the shower.

It's well-documented that immigration doesn't substantially change the age composition of a country's population, but there's no denying new arrivals are the ones more willing to do our dirty work.

The UN forecasts that, in 2050, the global fertility rate will decline to an average of 2.05 births per woman (down from 2.7 in 2000 and 4.5 in 1970), so, thanks to modern medicine and nutrition, we'll all be older, and having far fewer children.

A shortage of young people to run the economy will be a worldwide problem, except for Abdul, Hong and Raj, who'll get to pick and choose which country they'll reward with their now incredibly valuable physical capabilities.

Reckon we might get ahead of the game and start making them welcome?

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.

57 comments so far

  • It is not like women like me will get knocked up just because we can or should bump up the population.
    Sure it is important to check backgrounds of all people entering the country to make sure they are not bad people. For it to take 5 years to do so is stupid.
    For the focus to be on a few thousand people who arrive by boat when at least 10 times more arrive through our international airports is even stupider.
    Stop the boats? Stop the petty niggling and actually do something constructive for people whose lives are impacted by our country's involvement in their conflicts.

    Date and time
    July 17, 2012, 9:12AM
    • "For the focus to be on a few thousand people who arrive by boat when at least 10 times more arrive through our international airports is even stupider".

      Amen to that. It's nuts. The hysteria over boat people is just insane.

      Date and time
      July 17, 2012, 12:40PM
    • I wish I could *like* this. The pandemonium that surrounds, and the way we treat, the tiny number of people people who arrive "by boat" astounds me sometimes. Find a real issue to worry about people.

      Date and time
      July 17, 2012, 10:50PM
    • I couldn't agree more. It makes me embarrassed to be Australian

      Joe McGuire
      Date and time
      July 19, 2012, 11:40AM
    • You know why it takes 5 years to get someone out of a detention centre? It is because if we say no they can't stay we also provide them with an inordinate amount of opportunities to appeal that decision. Have a scratch at the statistics and look at the difference in time it takes for a genuine refugee with evidence of identity for a decision against someone who comes with no evidence of their identity. You will be astonished. Why this sort of information isn't being spoken about publicly is beyond me, guess there is no votes in it. I am all for accepting people into this country, but it does make it hard to do anything when you arrive without any shred of evidence of identity.

      Date and time
      July 22, 2012, 7:20PM
  • Hit the nail on the head with this one Sam. The politics of fear has contributed significantly to the discourse in Australia when it comes to our refugee policies for far too long. Politicians need to stop screwing with the facts and the voters need to see through the crap they continually shove down our throats about refugees. Not only do we have an obligation to them as a signatory to the UN Convention, but in the long run we'll all be better off if we treat them as guests in our country instead of criminals. Thank you for bringing this up :)

    Date and time
    July 17, 2012, 9:33AM
    • The immigration debate in this country consistently upsets me, but I’m not sure what upsets me more – the grandstanding or the total ignorance of most people debating the subject. Listening to the media and refugee advocates in the left you would think this country is some kind of fascist, racist regime determined to cease all immigration in an effort to preserve our white utopia. A cursory examination of the facts show the foolishness of this view.

      In our region, Oceania, Australia has the highest number of international migrants – 4.7 million as of 2010. The next closest is New Zealand with 962,000. Australia also hosts the MOST REFUGEES in the region at $21,880 – the next closest is PNG at 9,700. These figures are from the international organisation for migration based I believe in Switzerland.

      I am all for immigration, and I’m proud of all the efforts and generosity shown by the majority of the Australian population towards those less fortunate than us. I’m also thoroughly disgusted by the disingenuous efforts of these narrow minded idiots who insist that our country is not doing enough – We quite clearly are leading our region.

      Lastly I would add that people are the single greatest source of harm to our environment. Where there are people, the environment is effected, usually in a negative manner. We live in the MOST environmentally sensitive continent on the planet. Whilst I strongly support the need for immigration, that need must not supersede the welfare of our environment.

      Date and time
      July 17, 2012, 10:41AM
      • Our region is full of counties of people who NEED asylum - so that is hardly a compelling argument.
        This site has some interesting facts about just how much we do compared to other similar countries like Canada (to whom we are so often compared)

        We are hardly punching above our weight.

        Date and time
        July 17, 2012, 2:52PM
      • Katea. The majority of our refugees are from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Oceania, is not full of people who are in desperate need of asylum. 80% of the people in Oceania live in Australia or New Zealand.

        The site you ask us to visit is Amnesty International Australia – I’m so glad you could find a balanced site. I’ve gathered my facts from the UN High commission for refugees. Unlike amnesty, they actually publish their source data.

        Canada takes 165,000 refugees – 18th highest globally. Canada’s population is 34m - They are the 35th most populous nation.
        America takes 264,000 refugees –9th highest globally. America’s population is 313m – They are the 3rd most populous nation.
        The U.K takes 238,00 –10th highest globally. The U.K’s population is 62m – They are the 22nd most populous nation.
        Australia takes 21.800 –46th highest globally. Australia’s population is 22m – We are the 52nd most populous nation.

        If you just look at the raw number of refuges it appears that Australia is punching below our weight – which is what amnesty wants you to think as it furthers their agenda. As soon as you consider existing population it becomes apparent that we are pulling our weight with regards to our refuge intake.

        Could Australia take more refugees, perhaps we could. Should Australia take more, yes I’d offer broad support for such a view. Should this very simple debate receive such an exaggerated level of importance – NO it shouldn’t, but it does largely because of people like you Katea are so very easily manipulated.

        Date and time
        July 17, 2012, 5:05PM
      • Nyd.

        Glad that you went to UNHCR's site (the UN refugee agency, the International Organisantion for Migration, IOM, is based just down the road). UNHCR is responsible for the supervision of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and for supporting State Parties to that Convention to live up to their promises.

        What the website ( would have pointed you to first, though, wouldn't have been 'Refuges by Numbers' (new version out this year, I think, which may help to clarify some of the stats above), but the fact that the Convention, that Australia helped to draft and to which we were one of the first signatories, obliges Parties to accept those who seek asylum, to ensure no sanction for illegal entry or presence, and to abstain from refouling (returning refugees against their will to a place where their life or freedom may be threatened).

        There is no quota put on the number of people who can come knocking at the border.

        If there were, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad and other struggling countries currently caring for the hundreds of thousands of people who have arrived in the last 12 months, might have closed their borders permanently after the first waves from Somalia, Mali, Sudan, and etc.

        They didn't.

        Where we ask more of countries like Australia and Canada is to support the efforts of those countries really doing it hard (Canada is better than Australia there, regardless of population), and to take in some of those who are the greatest drain on the limited ressources in major refugee hosting countreis. We do OK there, after the US and Canada, but just fine.

        Our initial obligations - open doors and protection from return - remain the same.

        Unless you want to opt out?

        far away
        late...just back from a refugee camp
        Date and time
        July 19, 2012, 1:17AM

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