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Rebound in migration figures ‘optimistic’

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The government is expecting a return to pre-pandemic migration levels this year but the projections may be too bullish given the uncertain global environment.

A new report from the Centre for Population predicts a full recovery in migration numbers this year of about 235,000 people a year on average.

But Australian National University demographer Liz Allen said the migration assumptions were quite optimistic and she was not confident migration would rebound to pre-pandemic levels as quickly as the forecasts suggested.

“Because there’s a lot outside of the government’s control – logistics when it comes to getting on a plane, the logistics of being able to afford the price of a plane ticket, and so on,” Dr Allen told ABC Radio.

The final report, released on Friday, revealed the lasting effects of the pandemic on the population as an effective pause on migration accelerated the ageing trend.

As well as longer life expectancies and declining fertility rates, Australia is experiencing a wave of baby boomers entering retirement.

The ageing population is expected to weigh on the economy and pose budgetary challenges as a shrinking tax base contrasts with a growing need for healthcare and other government services.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the population report highlighted the demographic challenges ahead, including the need to equip the workforce to support an ageing population.

“We need to get the workforce issues right because we want to get our workforce in as good condition as it can be – the right size, the right level of skills and training people for good, secure, well-paid jobs – so that people are making a contribution to looking after people in the later stages of life,” he told ABC Radio.

The government has attempted to tackle the workforce challenge on multiple fronts, including allowing parents to work more, training Australians to fill skills gaps and improving the migration program

Dr Chalmers also welcomed the rebound in the fertility rate after the pandemic but said he’d like to see it pick up further with cheaper and more accessible childcare.

“One of the big factors in people’s decisions about how many kids to have is whether or not they can afford childcare when they go back to work,” he said.

Youth parenting body the Brave Foundation said it was concerning the report showed birth rates to young parents increasing in rural and regional areas.

Chief executive Jill Roche said more resources were needed to support young parents so that they wouldn’t become dependent on welfare to survive.

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