Expert Feed
Time to invest in Eurasian Australia
BY ALEX DUNNIN | FRIDAY, 14 JUL 2017   2:45PM

First results from the 2016 Census reveal how fast Australia is changing and highlight just how irrelevant are most of the policy arguments that consume Australia's political, business and finance leaders.

The figures were so shocking they seemed to wrong-foot many of the nation's commentators. Tabloid media screamed the Chinese are taking over Sydney and church leaders had to immediately hit the TV panel talk shows to rationalise that Australia really isn't losing its religion.

It is easy to see how people who haven't been paying attention to Australia's social trends may have been caught off guard. But for those who have been watching there wasn't too much to see as revelations Australia is becoming cosmopolitan and Eurasian are not new.

The long-established cues are all here: Australia is getting older, Asian influence is nearly on par with European influence, more people are renting their homes and more of these are apartments, Sydney is losing population ascendancy to Melbourne, more people speak languages other than English at home, and while the number of retirees will grow the number of working age Australians will grow faster.

But there were still some surprises. While Australia is hyper urbanised the number of people living in regional Australia is growing two thirds faster than the number living in capital cities. And all this is set against a backdrop of quickening population growth.

In the 40 years between 1966 and 2006 Australia's population grew 1.4% pa but in the last decade this growth rate jumped one fifth to 1.7% pa. At this rate Australia will hit 50 million mid-century, meaning debates about 'big Australia' are over.

These demographic dynamics have huge economic and investment implications.

For example, if you think Australia has a problem now with its infrastructure deficit, wait another decade for Infrastructure Australia's current 10-page 100-project-deep priority list to balloon into a multi-volume epic.

Funding this is going to require whole new ways of thinking about capital raising and ownership. Otherwise, Australia's taxation rates and national debt will have to skyrocket.

It's an open question whether Australia is capable of this new thinking - but if we're not, we better prepare for traffic gridlock, overflowing sewage networks, decaying sidewalks, faltering electricity grids and lower standards of public health. And while we're at it, get set for an inequality explosion to rival the US with all the social division that goes with it.

A big economic question is what jobs will Australia's 20 million-plus workforce do? What we do know is they won't be making too many things or driving for a living, given what's happened to our manufacturing sector and what is about to happen to Australia's transport system.

To ship freight around to 50 million people it's clear our current transport models aren't efficient enough. It's no surprise that almost every Australian government is already running inquiries into driverless transport technology and how it will impact passenger safety standards and road rules albeit the insurance sector is way ahead of them on this.

Capital cities containing twice as many people as they do now will meanwhile force massive changes to Australia's electricity and telecommunications system and building codes although the latter might help reboot the housing affordability debate as the size of standard homes necessarily reduces. Despondent wannabe first home buyers might then realise that growth prospects for capital gains in the housing market are just as rosy now as they have ever been.

Feeding twice as many Australians will require big changes too in our agricultural value chain, but we'll need these anyway to feed burgeoning markets to our north and north west.

Yet another challenge will be that for Australia's high wage, high business cost, high welfare, and high tax economic model to remain viable we will have to ramp up the pace of our productivity improvements to stratospheric levels.

Ubiquitous technology available throughout the world will also neutralise the advantage the 'developed' world once had, meaning nations with the most people will be our economic leaders, i.e., India and China. Even with 50 million people Australia will slide down the global rankings.

If you're on an investment committee you have a lot of thinking and planning to do.

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