Back in 2004 then-treasurer Peter Costello famously made headlines as he introduced the baby bonus scheme by imploring Australians to "have one for mum, one for dad and one for the country". The baby bonus scheme, which initially gave tax cuts to new parents and then progressed to lump sum payments, was in response to a historically low birth rate of 1.7 births per woman. Its success was brief and created the country's largest baby boom and a birth rate that peaked at 2.02 in 2008. However, soon after that peak in 2008, and even with the baby bonus scheme in place until it was axed in 2014, the birth rate continued to decline, and now we're back where we started with the birthrate for 2022 on the decline at 1.63 births per woman. The drop in the Australian birth rate is part of a worldwide trend that's seeing population dynamics undergo a seismic shift. From the exponential growth rates of the past two centuries, we are now on the cusp of a reverse trend: population decline. Children born today are expected to witness the end of global population growth in their lifetime. United Nations demographers predict that the global population will peak in the 2080s, with some estimates placing it even earlier, in the 2060s or 2070s. This is not a plateau; it's a decline, and the implications are profound. Australia joins the list of countries where the population is not replacing itself. The low fertility rate presents not just demographic challenges but also significant economic, social and environmental implications that are far-reaching and pervasive. The declining fertility rate will exacerbate the age dependency ratio, meaning a shrinking workforce will have to support an increasingly aged population. By 2060, it's estimated that nearly a quarter of Australia's population will be over 65 - that is an estimated 10 million people - more than double what it is today. A smaller workforce will reduce the country's productive capacity, which will, in turn, place immense strain on pension systems and healthcare services. With fewer young people, investment in education might dwindle, leading to a vicious cycle of a less-skilled workforce unable to meet future challenges. It could also affect the dynamics of global talent migration, potentially causing brain drain problems as young people seek opportunities elsewhere. A declining youth population means fewer people entering the workforce, which translates into reduced tax revenues. This would exacerbate existing debts and limit the government's ability to invest in infrastructure, innovation and social programs, stunting economic progress. Ignoring the ticking time bomb of declining fertility rates will leave future generations with fewer choices and greater challenges. Let's not kick the can down the road any further. Australia's demographic conundrum isn't a standalone issue; it's a complex web of intertwined challenges. Policymakers, innovators, social thinkers and the wider community need to work together to find solutions. For example: Family-friendly policies: Australia can implement more comprehensive family support measures, such as subsidised childcare, longer parental leave and financial incentives like the baby bonus for families. These policies can alleviate the financial and social burdens of raising children, making it more feasible for couples to consider larger families. Reform immigration policies: In response to declining birth rates, Australia needs to carefully evaluate its immigration levels. While increasing skilled migration can effectively address immediate workforce shortages and add dynamism to the economy, it's essential to consider the sustainability of this approach amidst global population decline. Skilled migrants can fill crucial job gaps and contribute to economic vibrancy, but this must be balanced with thoughtful integration policies - for example Australia's housing crisis and an understanding that, in the long run, relying solely on immigration might not be a viable solution if global birth rates continue to fall. Promote workforce participation for older adults: As life expectancy increases, policies must encourage and support older adults to remain in the workforce. This includes flexible working arrangements, opportunities for reskilling such as with digital and data literacy, and anti-age discrimination measures, helping to offset the workforce gap created by a declining birth rate. Encourage technological innovation and adoption: Leveraging the fourth industrial revolution's technologies, such as AI and automation, can compensate for labour shortages and enhance productivity. Australia can invest in technology-driven sectors, encouraging innovation that can boost economic growth while adapting to the changing demographic landscape. The time is ripe for starting a compassionate, factual and inclusive dialogue about the future we are collectively walking into. Disregarding or trivialising the impending demographic changes could be as perilous as ignoring the warning signs of climate change. And just as individual decisions have collectively led to climate change, our collective choices will determine how society adjusts to a future of global depopulation.