Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni: Land of boom running dry

Pregnant bellies abound across the Tasman, but a slowing economy may spell the end of family perks

Illustration / Anna Crichton
Illustration / Anna Crichton

Eager for a bit of what the nice young "mozzie" folk of The GC experience on a regular basis, the family and I headed over to the Gold Coast for a few days this week.

I have to say my own experience of 3.30am wakeups with a toddler, being jostled by half of Queensland in the roasting sun at Dreamworld, and running from cockroaches the size of rats is probably miles away from the life of revelry those youngsters enjoy.

And yet, whatever experience you have near that silky white sand and perfect surf, its mere presence is bound to make you feel more sexy and alive.

Maybe that sexy feeling accounts for the burgeoning population.

I couldn't help but notice that almost every woman I saw seemed to be pregnant.

Walk through any mall in that area of the country and you are surrounded by blooming bellies housing a million unborn Australians.

And if a woman is not pregnant, she tends to be towing a line of four or five children.

It certainly keeps the theme parks and malls in business; it also seems to keep the purveyors of soft drinks and French fries in clover as well.

But that is the reality of much of urban Australia today, and it might explain why the country's population has raced ahead of former predictions to hit the 23 million mark.

It's true that 60 per cent of that growth comes from immigrants - many of them New Zealanders, of course, chasing the good life like the hot bods of the GC crew.

But a staggering 40 per cent of it comes from native population growth - a trend that runs in the opposite direction to much of the Western world.

Julia Gillard this week had to tell the nation that falling revenue had blown a A$12 billion ($14.5 billion) hole in the government's budget, and that spending on things once considered sacrosanct was about to be "put on the table".

For once, her grim tone was put to good use: the land of milk and honey may become as curdled as anywhere else, she suggested in her broadest twang.

One thing she may have to consider is revoking Australia's "baby bonus" - the payment, now A$5000 per baby, instituted in 2002 to raise the country's fertility rates and eventually support the ageing population.

It's not just the baby bonus that Australian families receive, but a plethora of tax benefits and other subsidies that shield them from the true costs of raising children.

Many are questioning whether it is a good idea to continue paying women to procreate; to sustain the Howard Government's A$120 billion in tax cuts and A$133 million in handouts to seniors and families.

One group, the Stable Population Party, supports the idea of allowing benefits for only two pregnancies.

But what I couldn't help wondering is how these women who have four or five kids can possibly reintegrate into the workforce.

Most women accept a slower ascent up the career ladder when they take time out to have children: but what about the women who have no training or higher education and have been at home for 10 years, possibly much more?

As talented as they may well be at household management, it seems unlikely they'll be considered a good fit with a rapidly changing economy, run by a government struggling to maintain the good vibe in uncertain times.

- NZ Herald

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

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