Healthcare wha-? The new election issue de jour is Australia’s population and how — or whether — to curb it, with both parties fighting to appear tough on immigration and tap into Australians’ growing anxiety over news that we are the fastest growing population in the developed world.

On Saturday, the PM gave Agriculture Minister Tony Burke the new portfolio of ‘Population” and the task of producing a “population plan” for the nation. Over on Crikey’s The Stump blog, Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane says the appointment and plan is just Rudd’s way of “doing something” on population growth without actually, y’know, doing something:

The Prime Minister can now say that he has appointed the first Population Minister.  A review is under way, giving Rudd an excuse to duck the issue between now and the election, but also providing the basis for a response to the Little Australianists like Dick Smith whenever they demand action to curb the plague of people coming here and eating our food.

Yesterday, the Opposition further fueled debate by announcing it would cut net migration levels to Australia, before leader Tony Abbott appeared on ABC’s Q&A, turning the fiery issue into what is sure to be a raging inferno this week by declaring that Jesus wouldn’t have accepted every asylum seeker, either.

Look out for more contributions to the debate in today’s Crikey Daily Mail, including an extract from Malcolm Fraser’s new book The Political Memoirs on immigration and a bigger Australia, thoughts from Professor Peter McDonald, a key adviser on the government’s Intergenerational Report, and more opinion and analysis from Crikey‘s team of commentators.

Here’s what the commentariat has been saying this morning and over the weekend, while you were too busy stuffing your face with chocolate and hot cross buns to read the papers:

The Australian

Editorial: Planning for prosperity and a bigger Australia

… the Rudd government should be bold in planning for a big Australia.

Glenn Milne: ‘Big country’ grows into a big problem

… this will not be a debate about migration or race. Abbott will seek to turn it into a debate about government competence.

Michael Stutchbury: How to defuse population bomb

… the population bomb pressures generated by a decade or two of China-fuelled growth could end up exploding the sacred cow of Australia’s deeply-entrenched tiers of political governance.

The Age

Editorial: Challenges of ‘big Australia’ demand attention

It would be dangerous and immoral for this vast, sparsely populated continent to close its doors

Courier Mail

Dennis Atkins: Labor mixes its messages over population debate

Because this debate was becoming indistinguishable from the parallel discussion about asylum seekers arriving by boat, it was getting out of hand.

Herald Sun

Phillip Hudson: Size matters when it comes to population debate

Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott both endorsed a Big Australia but now seem to be less sure.

Susie O’Brien: A boat load of rubbish

… what Australian governments do doesn’t really affect who tries to come here and why.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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