THE Federal Government wants to develop a sustainable-population strategy.
This is admirable.
Getting the people of Australia to adopt such a strategy is where the challenge lies, because population sustainability rings a lot of alarm bells in the collective mind of the nation.
Shut the door to migrants and we'll have pandemonium or worse - economic meltdown - warn the economists, who issued their slant on the debate earlier last month.
Bring too many and we'll wreck the environment, the sustainability advocates say.
Federal Minister Tony Burke appointed three panels to consider the likely trajectory of the nation's population and the associated challenges and opportunities.
The three panels were sustainable development (chaired by former NSW Premier Bob Carr), demographic change and liveability (chaired by Prof Graeme Hugo from the University of Adelaide) and the productivity and prosperity panel (chaired by business industry leader Heather Ridout).
All three panels released reports earlier this month, along with an issues papers inviting public comment.
Out of this, Minister Burke is expected to cook the sustainable population cake, which will provide enough for all, while presumably protecting the natural environment.
Though not entirely unpredictable in their slants, the documents make fascinating reading.
Mr Carr's panel said there was strong evidence Australians had serious reservations about higher population.
And well they might, because by 2050, if forecasters are correct, we'll have 35 million not the 28.5 million previously predicted by that year.
And if trends persist, most of tomorrow's Australians will live in capital cities. Right now, 63.7 per cent of us live in capital cities.
But the economists say we need more people to prosper, that having more people will lift living standards, create a bigger workforce to pay more taxes, which will allow the government to pay for essential services.
The liveability panel walked the middle line and urged Australians to develop a strategy that balanced sustainability and growth.
The wellbeing of indigenous Australians was a common theme, as was the need for greater training of a skilled workforce.
Migration and ageing are also key concerns, especially for non-metropolitan areas.
The sustainable development panel recommended pressing some key decentralisation triggers: improving funding for local governments in areas bearing the brunt of heavy population growth; shifting some government functions out of cities; creating more financial incentives for people to go bush; lifting barriers to industry development and encouraging regions to sponsor migration programs.
All are laudable.
There are many wonderful points in these panel reports, but for my part I liked this line from the demographic panel report:
"Addressing many of the issues requires a real behaviour change among Australians.
"Many Australians engage in unsustainable practices in their daily lives and these need to change."
Perhaps if we did this, we'd have more to share. You can make your own personal submission about Australia's population strategy by going online at www.environment.gov.au/sustainability/population/consultation/index.html