Formulating a comprehensive population policy
CHAN CHUN YING:
Deputy President, manpower resources are the key driver of Hong Kong’s sustainable social and economic development, a factor that has contributed to Hong Kong’s success in the past. For the Government, the population policy is like the trunk of a tree, with various branches covering different policy areas. It is only through the interplay of various Policy Bureaux that different social needs can be addressed. A sustainable population policy is not only related to our economic development, but it also provides equal development opportunities for our citizens and takes into account their aspirations for a liveable environment and quality of life.
In 2015, the population of Hong Kong was 7.29 million, rising to 7.52 million in 2019. However, in the following three years, the population has been declining to 7.33 million by the end of 2022, mainly due to several reasons: First, the significant drop in the inflow population resulted from the implementation of boundary control and quarantine measures due to the COVID-19 epidemic, non-permanent residents have moved out of Hong Kong due to work transfers, and permanent residents who have left Hong Kong have been stranded abroad due to the epidemic; second, the relaxation of immigration requirements by countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada has accelerated the emigration of Hong Kong people, with the net emigration of Hong Kong residents reaching a record high of 185 000 in the past three years; third, Hong Kong’s birth rate has been declining for years and the death rate has been rising, resulting in negative population growth.
Hong Kong’s population has fallen by more than 100 000 in the past 3 years, a record high for Hong Kong in 60 years in terms of both the number and the rate of decline. This decline has had a significant impact on the overall functioning of society. When talents gather, the city prospers; when talents disappear, the city decays. The SAR Government has recently stepped up its efforts to attract talents to Hong Kong, and it has already identified the problem. However, the formulation of a comprehensive population policy can still not be delayed.
First of all, there is an exodus of teachers and healthcare professionals. In 2021, for example, the decline in the number of doctors and nurses under the Department of Health and the Hospital Authority and their turnover rate are obviously more worrying than those in previous years. At the same time, we have lost more than 4 000 teachers. This has led to problems in the healthcare sector and a worsening teacher-student ratio, which has to some extent affected the normal operation of schools and hospitals. The Government needs to bring in much-needed professionals in a targeted manner, such as importing healthcare professionals from the Mainland and overseas to Hong Kong immediately to meet the local demand.
Apart from filling the gap, I suggest that the Government should also formulate a more proactive policy to attract talents, especially those in the innovation and technology (“I&T”) sector. In the 14th Five-Year Plan, the State encourages Hong Kong to maintain and build on its strengths, while explicitly “supporting Hong Kong’s development into an international I&T hub”. Therefore, although policies such as the “Top Talent Pass Scheme” and “HK Talent Engage” have been introduced, the pace needs to be accelerated and a series of talent pipeline building work should be explored, especially to attract international leaders in the I&T field to Hong Kong, in order to lay a solid foundation for the I&T industry.
In terms of youth policy, the confidence of some young people in staying and developing in Hong Kong is being affected by rising property prices, high commodity prices and slow income growth. Therefore, apart from helping them to solve their difficulties in education and employment, the Government should also adopt various measures to assist young people in Hong Kong, including vigorously developing diversified industries such as cultural and creative industries to unleash the entrepreneurship of these young people and enrich their leisure time. In addition, more subsidies and tax concessions should be provided to the younger generation to encourage marriage and childbirth and boost their confidence and aspirations to stay and develop in Hong Kong.
Lastly, regarding encouraging childbirth, it is estimated that the stimulating effect on the fertility rate would be very limited if we only increase the child tax allowance, maternity leave or even cash subsidies. More importantly, the purpose of encouraging childbirth can be achieved by significantly increasing housing supply, accelerating the speed of housing construction, improving the living environment of the public, and meeting the actual needs of the younger generation to form families.
I am grateful to Mr Kenneth LEUNG for his motion urging the Government to formulate a comprehensive population policy with high-level coordination and cross-departmental collaboration to ensure the sustainability of Hong Kong’s demographic structure. In this way, we can protect the quality of life of our citizens at an individual level, and plan for the future development of Hong Kong society as a whole. This will enable the population to sustainably complement and promote Hong Kong as Asia’s world city and create an inclusive and cohesive society.
For this reason, Deputy President, I support the original motion and all the amendments. I so submit.