Despite the recent rise in Australia’s birthrates, the “fertility crisis” refuses to go away. Today’s beat-up is in The Australian,
which seizes on a submission by Bob Birrell, director of the Centre for
Population and Urban Research at Monash University, to a parliamentary
inquiry into balancing work and family. Birrell argues that men with
fewer economic prospects are not attracting women who want families:
“And the result”, says The Oz, “is a fertility crisis in the making.”

According
to Birrell, “Men who are on the disability support pension or
unemployment benefit are not very attractive partners … women when
they are looking to establish a family prefer to have a partner who can
bring substantial resources into a relationship”. It’s not clear from
the report whether this is supposed to result from sensible biological
determinism or wicked feminist indoctrination, but either way Birrell
says “there has been a massive decline in the number of unqualified men
setting up households with a partner.” So the government should step in
and give these men a helping hand in order to boost fertility.

Now
the world in general does not have a problem of underpopulation. I’m
almost embarrassed writing that sentence, because it seems so
blindingly obvious, but sometimes obvious things need to be said. If
Australia needs more people, it can choose them from almost anywhere in
the world – there is no shortage of people who want to come here. As
Dana Vale made explicit early this year, what animates the advocates of
higher fertility is concern about the type of people we get – they want
nice white Christian babies, not dark-skinned foreigners.

Bob
Birrell gives Vale’s prejudices a more respectable academic colouring.
He came to prominence in the 1990s as an immigration sceptic, arguing
that unskilled immigrants were contributing to Australian unemployment
and that our migration program needed to be reoriented towards skilled
migrants and away from family reunions. This dovetailed nicely with the
views of the new Howard government, and Birrell defended its policies
against claims that it was driven by racist populism (for example, in
this December 2001 article in the IPA Review).

More recently he has branched out into other right-wing causes. In 2004 he was lead author of a book for the Australian Family Association (itself an offshoot of the far-right National Civic Council), Men and Women Apart,
which rehearsed the arguments reported today: that low fertility
results from less partnering, that this happens particularly towards
the bottom of the socio-economic scale, and that “Men are the largely
unnoticed and unacknowledged losers in this process.”

Its proponents know that the campaign for more babies is an ideological crusade. It’s time the rest of us woke up.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW