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Australia takes gold in population growth -

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ELEANOR HALL: Australia is forecast to grow faster than any other industrialised nation over the
next 40 years.

A Washington survey predicts that Australia's population will grow by 55 per cent by 2050 - that's
even faster than China or India.

The news has been welcomed by economists but conservationists say it will be a disaster for the
environment.

Annie Guest has our report.

(Sound of song Apeman, by The Kinks)

ANNIE GUEST: It's 40 years since The Kinks' Apeman captured the hippie generation's concerns about
overpopulation.

(Sound of song Apeman, by The Kinks)

Debate over population has only intensified over time, helped along by forecasts like today's from
the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau.

Its World Population Data Sheet shows Australia is forecast to grow by 55 per cent over the next 40
years - that's faster than any other industrialised nation.

And economists like the Commonwealth Bank's James McIntyre points out population and economic
growth have been integrally linked in Australia.

JAMES MCINTYRE: In Australia, population has been possibly one of most vital parts of the economic
story over the last year or so.

ANNIE GUEST: Continued growth has helped sustain Australia's economy through the financial
downturn.

Today's predictions by the private US group reflects a population totalling 34 million by 2050.
Last week Treasury forecast a figure of 35 million.

And economist James McIntyre says there are several messages in the data.

JAMES MCINTYRE: They expect our aging population to be less of a burden than our peers and they
also think that the dynamics of the global economy and the shift in the world's population more
towards our Asian neighbours. That will be a benefit to us.

ANNIE GUEST: There he's referring to the tyranny of distance that hampers business.

But he says plans for roads and other infrastructure will have to be overhauled.

JAMES MCINTYRE: The size of the population increase is above and beyond what's currently factored
into any of our investment plans for things like infrastructure and how we're going to have to
shape and evolve our cities over time.

ANNIE GUEST: So that by the time all these big projects that are underway in several states,
particularly Brisbane, are finished, governments in Australia are going to have to turn around and
do it all again.

JAMES MCINTYRE: To some extent that's true, but keep in mind that these projections are out to 2050
so we do have some time to get things in order.

ANNIE GUEST: How will having the fastest population growth of any industrialised nation change
Australia's standing in the world.

JAMES MCINTYRE: Well, obviously with our industrialisation peers having sort of declining or slower
growing populations and also more ageing populations than Australia, us being able to grow and also
to escape some of the burdens from population ageing means that we will be faring a lot better.

ANNIE GUEST: However, the Conservation Foundation's Chuck Berger is appalled by the population
forecasts.

CHUCK BERGER: There's a whole range of consequences. For each additional million people that we add
to Australia's population, we're having to deal with another 25 million tonnes of greenhouse
pollution.

ANNIE GUEST: Chuck Berger says allowing a large population boost is nonsensical.

CHUCK BERGER: We're already stretching our water resources and we've over-allocated many of our
rivers. We know that the Koorong is South Australia is in dire straits, the Murray-Darling Basin is
over-allocated, so increasing our population by, you know, 50 per cent is going to put even further
stress on those water systems. So we're already suffering from very severe growth pains in
Australia and if these projections hold true, we're really going to be facing an environmental
crisis that is much than the one we're already in.

ANNIE GUEST: And how do you think it will affect Australia's ability to meet any greenhouse gas
emissions targets?

CHUCK BERGER: It's going to make it difficult, possibly impossible for us to do it ourselves. It's
certainly going to make it much more costly.

ELEANOR HALL: Chuck Berger from the Conservation Foundation; he was speaking to Annie Guest about
that population growth report.