Treasurer Peter Costello continued his fertility crusade yesterday, and Australia’s media continued their wanton refusal to question his assumptions.

Speaking to the National Press Club on the launch of Treasury’s second “intergenerational report”, Costello presented as good news the fact that “our fertility rate which has been declining for over forty years has bottomed and marginally turned up”, and insisted that “further lifting our fertility rate is an important goal”.

Some coverage of the report was sceptical on other grounds, such as by Tim Colebatch in The Age . But no-one, so to speak, wants to argue against motherhood.

So let’s set out briefly some basic facts about the issue. (Apologies to regular readers who’ve heard some of this before — the message obviously hasn’t been getting through):

  • Decreased birthrates are associated overwhelmingly with two things: increased standards of living and improved status of women. The demand to increase birthrates is, consciously or not, a demand to reverse one or both of those trends.
  • The world does not suffer from an underpopulation problem. We can argue about how big a problem overcrowding is (I’m not a doomsayer on this), but it’s pretty clear that it’s more to be feared than the reverse.
  • Australia is not an unpopular place to live. On the contrary, there are millions of people who would like to come and make this their home — we spend a small fortune on patrol boats and detention centres to try to keep them out.

If Australia wants more people, we don’t need to return our womenfolk to domestic drudgery in order to get them. We just need to open the door a bit wider.

That doesn’t satisfy proponents of fertility, because immigrants are the “wrong sort” of people. In a dangerous flirtation with racism last year, Costello made that point explicit, saying “Increasing immigration to cover natural population decline will change the composition of our population and raise concerns about social dislocation”.

The drivers of fertility crusades are racism and misogyny: keep the women barefoot and pregnant, keep the dark-skinned foreigners away from our shores, and build up our population with nice white Christian babies.

Peter Costello doesn’t belong with this crowd, but the media and the public need to tell him so much more clearly.

Peter Fray

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