Prime Minister Julia Gillard has declared she is not one to dream of a "big Australia," but would rather work on a sustainable population strategy.
The 49-year-old Wales-born Gillard took over the country's reins in a "bloodless coup" last week, following fears among her Labour Party leaders that it was in for a severe thrashing in the yearend national elections.
AdvertisementThe ousted Kevin Rudd used to speak passionately of a big Australia, encouraging immigration, though essentially of the skilled workers, in order to ensure industry did not suffer.
Under his rule, more people than ever before emigrated to Australia for a better life in a country that was successful and thriving. However along with the legal migrants also came the illegal immigrants, arriving in their hundreds by boat, making his position difficult.
In the event he was criticised by humanitarian groups for not keeping his promise of only detaining refugees offshore in emergencies and he was accused of discriminating against those refugees who arrived by boat. In April this year he announced a freeze on all new refugees from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
Ms Gillard has now indicated she will be swinging further right - "Australia should not hurtle down the track towards a big population," she told Fairfax.
"I don't support the idea of a big Australia with arbitrary targets of, say, a 40 million-strong Australia or a 36 million-strong Australia. We need to stop, take a breath and develop policies for a sustainable Australia.
"I support a population that our environment, our water, our soil, our roads and freeways, our busses, our trains and our services can sustain."
But Ms Gillard says that does not mean putting a stop to immigration all together.
"I don't want business to be held back because they couldn't find the right workers," she said.
"That's why skilled migration is so important. But also I don't want areas of Australia with 25 per cent youth unemployment because there are no jobs," she said.
Many like Australian businessman Dick Smith, a vocal advocate for immigration curbs, are delighted.
"The business community, my wealthy mates are completely addicted to growth because of greed," Mr Smith said.
"So they're going to fight her every inch of the way. They just want growth, growth, growth, even though it's obvious that it's not sustainable.
"I think she's a brave lady, I reckon she will stand up to them."
But an urban planning group is trying to convince Ms Gillard of the benefits of a big population.
Urban Taskforce Australia chief executive Aaron Gadiel says a large population increases the tax base to fund improvements to infrastructure and welfare services.
"We shouldn't be trying to fight it, what we should be trying to do is ensuring that we've got the investment and infrastructure that makes that process easier to manage," he said.
"I think people should be focussing on how much state, federal and local governments have been investing in urban infrastructure to help absorb population growth."
A survey earlier in the year by the Lowy Institute found that almost three-quarters of Australians want to see the country's population grow, but not by too much.
The Lowy Institute surveyed more than 1,000 people and found that while there was support for increased immigration, Australians were not quite prepared to embrace the Government's predicted 36 million.
The poll showed 72 per cent of people supported a rise in Australia's population, but 69 per cent wanted it to remain below 30 million people.
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