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Economy

Australia's population soars to 25m on brisk immigration

Economy grows but strained infrastructure provides fodder for election debate

One person arrives to live in Australia every minute, according to the country's statistics bureau.   © Reuters

SYDNEY -- Australia's population has hit a record high of 25 million, capping a fivefold increase over the past century driven by rising migration.

The total population is forecast to almost double again by 2061, potentially reaching 48.3 million.

The 25 million mark was touched last week, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Figures released earlier showed that migration accounted for 63.2% of population growth in the fiscal year through June 2017, outstripping the natural increase -- births minus deaths -- which made up 36.8%.

One person arrives to live in Australia every minute, according to the bureau. Since 2012-2013, the annual intake quota for permanent immigrants has been set at 160,000 to 190,000.

Reserve Bank of Australia Gov. Philip Lowe pointed to strong migration as a factor supporting economic growth during a speech in early August. "Australia's demographic profile is more positive than those of many other countries," he said, calling it "one of the factors that provides a basis for optimism about the future of our economy."

Around a third of Australia's population was born overseas, traditionally in England and neighboring New Zealand but increasingly in China and India. Last month, Australia entered an unprecedented 27th year of continuous economic growth, partly credited to population-driven economic activity alongside a China-fueled resource export boom.

At the same time, immigration has created certain economic pressures: undersupply of infrastructure, a tight housing market beset by soaring prices and a growing labor pool blamed for constraining wage increases amid gradually declining unemployment. An index tracking home values reached 171 in Sydney and 153 in Melbourne for the January-March quarter of this year, from a base of 100 in fiscal 2011.

A recent poll by the Lowy Institute, a Sydney think tank, found that 54% of Australians feel immigration levels are "too high," up from 37% in 2014. Respondents who thought the levels are "about right" decreased to 30%, from 47%.

With some politicians calling for immigration controls, employment and infrastructure pressures are shaping up to be major campaign topics for the next general election, which is likely to be held in March or May 2019 according to the national broadcaster. The same is true of state elections in the populous region of New South Wales, also scheduled for next March.

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