24 July 2006

Australians encouraged to procreate by government

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Australian Treasurer Peter Costello has made a new plea to women to start procreating, saying Australia's economy and defence system depend upon it, reports Fox News Australia.

He also urged fathers to take a bigger role in looking after their children, saying they had a vital part in helping their female partners return to work after giving birth.

The natural fertility rate - or effectively the number of children a woman has during their lifetime - has increased in the past year to 1.8 after falling from 3.55 to 1.73 since the 1960s.

Australia was one of the few developed countries in the world to actually record an increase in the fertility rate. Other nations, particularly Japan and Russia, are facing huge falls in natural population in coming decades.

Mr Costello said there was both a social and economic imperative for Australia to build its natural population.

He said depending on immigration to boost Australia's population threatened the composition of the population.

And without a surge in the number of people in the country, the nation's economy and its infrastructure were at risk.

"It is expensive to maintain a highly equipped high tech defence force on a small population base. Larger states find it easier," he said.

"It is hard to maintain living standards in a country where population is declining.

"It is hard to maintain an older population in a country where there is a shrinking base of people of working age."

Borrowing from former Labor immigration Arthur Calwell's call to populate or perish, Mr Costello said it was time to adopt a new call to population arms.

"Perhaps our future attitude should be procreate and cherish," he said.

Mr Costello said although the drop in the fertility rate had stopped, for now, getting it back to replacement level - 2.1 - was a very tall order.

"Let's just see if we can stabilise the decline and turn it back up. It would be a great thing for our country," he said.

Mr Costello said flexibility in the workforce, especially enabling people to work from home, was one way of encouraging women to have more children.

But another key issue was the role of fathers.

He said even though more fathers were taking a greater role in child-rearing, there was still scope for improvement.

"I think fathers are probably doing better, but I think the mothers of Australia will tell you there's room for improvement," he said.

"Dads can take more responsibility in relation to children and minding them. And I do speak from personal experience."

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