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Sat, 03 Apr 2010 10:34 - Updated Sat, 03 Apr 2010 10:34

Australia appoints first population minister


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Sydney - Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Saturday announced Australia's first population minister, citing concerns about sustainability as the number of people is tipped to balloon within decades.

Rudd, who has previously talked of a "Big Australia", said the government needed to plan for an ageing and growing population which a recent report forecast would jump from 22 million to 35.9 million within 40 years.

"Many Australians have legitimate concerns about the sustainability of the population levels in different parts of the country," the prime minister told reporters in Canberra.

"Particularly its impact on urban congestion, its impact on the adequacy of infrastructure, its impact on the adequacy of housing supply, its impact on government services, its impact also on water and agriculture.

"Our challenge is to make sure that we get our future population levels as right as possible, and... make sure we're planning properly," Rudd said.

Rudd said Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister Tony Burke would take on the additional portfolio.

The government has previously warned the economic threat of a booming and ageing population is as grave as that posed by climate change, and would drive up government spending and slow growth.

In October Treasury Secretary Ken Henry warned the rapid increase would "test the limits of sustainability".

"Our record has been poor, and in my view, we are not well placed to deal effectively with the environmental challenges posed by a population of 35 million," Henry said.