Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith says that Australia's rate of population growth is the highest in the developed world. RMIT ABC Fact Check finds him to be incorrect.
Businessman Dick Smith has population growth in his sights, arguing that immigration should be cut to slow Australia's ballooning population.
On September 9, 2018, he told ABC viewers:
"At the present rate, we have [a] 1.6 per cent growth rate. That's the highest in the developed world."
Is he correct? RMIT ABC Fact Check investigates.
Mr Smith is incorrect.
The "developed world" is not a settled concept, but Australia's population growth does not top any of four credible lists of developed countries.
Fact Check compared Australia's population growth with 95 countries that appeared on any of these lists, and with 31 countries that appeared on all four. The four lists were also considered individually.
Rankings were calculated four ways for each list of countries, using annual and five-year average growth rates and population data from the United Nations and World Bank.
The various results saw Australia's rank range from nineteenth of the 95 countries to third of the 31, behind Luxembourg and Israel.
Checking Australia's growth rate
Mr Smith didn't specify whether he was talking about an annual growth rate, but earlier in the year he said the population was growing by "1.6 per cent per year".
Population estimates are published quarterly by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and at the time of Mr Smith's claim, its latest figures were for December 2017.
These showed Australia's population had grown by 1.6 per cent in the previous 12 months — a rise of roughly 388,000 people to reach a total of 24.8 million.
Whether Mr Smith was referring to a single year's change or to an average annual rate over several years also wasn't clear.
In the five years to December 2017, Australia's annual population growth rate ranged between 1.5 and 1.7 per cent per year. The average annual rate was 1.56 per cent.
The rate was higher ten years ago when, as the chart below shows, the population grew by more than 2 per cent per year between June 2007 and June 2009.
What's a developed country?
Mr Smith claimed Australia's growth rate was the highest in the "developed world".
Simon Feeny, a professor of development economics with RMIT university, told Fact Check that developed countries were "basically high income countries" — but said any measure of development was somewhat arbitrary.
He recommended the World Bank's classification of countries by income per capita, a measure commonly used in the policy community. In 2018, 81 countries were deemed to be high-income.
Fact Check has previously written about the lack of consensus on which countries count as "developed".
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), for example, has identified the world's 39 advanced economies — though says its classification is "not based on strict criteria".
Meanwhile, the United Nations has assessed 59 countries as having a very high level of "human development" in 2018.
And yet another proxy for the developed world is the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) list of 36 member states.
AMP chief economist Shane Oliver told Fact Check that measures of economic development tended to reflect levels of gross domestic product.
But GDP can be measured differently by different organisations, he said, and certain countries, including some in the Middle East, might be considered "borderline" due to issues like income inequality.
"As a general rule of thumb, I'd use the IMF and the OECD," he said.
To assess Mr Smith's claim, Fact Check has examined all four of these lists, both individually and collectively.
Ninety-five countries appear on at least one of the lists and 31 appear on all of them.
Sourcing the data
To find population figures for comparing Australia with other developed countries, Fact Check contacted three demography experts: Nick Parr, from Macquarie University; Dharmalingam Arunachalam, from Monash University; and Peter McDonald, from the University of Melbourne.
All three said the United Nations Population Division was generally considered the best source for international population data.
However, its most recent figures only extend to 2015.
The World Bank also provides reliable, though marginally different, population estimates. These are drawn from official sources, including the UN, but are more up to date, covering the years to 2017.
Professor Parr told Fact Check that any recent figures should be treated with caution because they can understate the results.
"We're always a bit careful about the most recent figures for Australia, for example, because when it comes to the registrations of births, there are generally a few that come in late," he said.
While the UN produces its population figures on the basis of calendar years, the World Bank uses mid-year estimates.
Principal Researcher: David Campbell