Speech – Formulating a population policy (Priscilla Leung)

President, I remember that the surge of Hong Kong’s property prices was discussed at the beginning of the last term. At that time, public opinions generally considered the large number of rich Mainlanders who bought properties in Hong Kong as the main culprit. As a result, the community came up with a consensus that more public housing should be built. In that motion debate, I already reminded the Government to consider the population projections for the next five, 10 or 20 years before deciding on the number of public housing units to be built and planning for the development of new towns.

On 10 November 2010, in the motion debate on helping the people acquire their homes, I pointed out in my amendment that the formulation of population policy could afford no delay. Subsequently, in 2011, 2012 and 2013, the Government stated in the Policy Address and the Budget of each year that the population policy was the most important policy of Hong Kong as the Government had to be completely clear about the population projections for the next three to five years before it could formulate public policies on “birth, age, illness and death” and “clothing, food, housing and transportation”. Otherwise, many of its measures could not be easily implemented.

Regarding the birth issue, the shortage of bed spaces, infant formula and school places are all daunting problems. In addition, we have kept reminding the Education Bureau for a few years that the closing down of schools will result in teacher drain. If, in the future, there is another baby boom in a sudden and the number of children bounces back, we will be short of schools and teachers. As for housing, if too many flats are built, there may be vacancy. It is against the general housing policy of Hong Kong.

Therefore, in analysing population growth, citizens’ background, purchasing power and affordability, as well as the proportion of locals in our population, we must base on scientific data. Such analyses can facilitate the formulation of policies. We urged the last-term Government to do this in every session of the last term, and it finally came up with a report in May 2012 to give a brief account of its population planning. However, this report indeed came late. What is more, it failed to make a concrete projection; it just left the door ajar by suggesting that this issue would be left for the current-term Government. Therefore, I really hope that the current-term Government will achieve some breakthrough on this issue.

Regarding the problem of “age”, which is a stage in the process of “birth, age, illness and death”, a number of colleagues have brought up the issue of retirement protection for the elderly. This issue indeed has many different impacts. We, being Members of the Legislative Council or even the District Councils, often serve the public in the community. Therefore, we all know that a major function of community centres is to help the elderly live a happy life after retirement. Given that “retirement villages” are now quite popular, I have once
suggested that the Government should consider developing these villages on suitable sites in foreign countries or the Mainland. In particular, as stated by Miss Alice MAK just now, many single cultural workers and intellectuals with higher affordability may wish to live happily with their friends after retirement. Can it be a direction for developing the silver hair industry as mentioned just now?

Also, some colleagues have raised the point that lots of people are forced to go back to work after retirement. It is a fact. Notably, many grass-roots people may have to work as security guards or cleaners after retirement. Meanwhile, there is another group of retirees who are not psychologically prepared for retirement. For example, some civil servants are required to retire at the age of 53. Some traditional universities also require their staff members to retire at 60. Yet, these retirees are still energetic and their work experience is valuable. Recently, many people have asked me how they can continue to work. They either love their jobs or wish to contribute to society although they are not financially tight. On this issue, can we deal with it in a more open manner?

In recent past, I met some young people whose parents are already at the retirement age of 60. They asked if we could learn from foreign countries and relax the retirement age to let the elderly have a free choice on retirement. In the United States, many occupations, such as flight attendants, do not have a specified retirement age. In universities, this practice is even more common. Universities are free to renew contracts with their teaching staff if they have high academic standards. In view of this, can we remove the retirement age? It is not ncommon for us to see elders aged 108 or 106 in community activities. They are still healthy and enjoy their retirement life. While the retirement age is now set at 60, many of those at this age can indeed continue to contribute to society. Can the authorities consider providing some courses or channels for elders to keep working if they so wish?

Among “birth, age, illness and death”, the problem of “illness” involves healthcare issues. Yet, I am not going to go into details as time is running out and many colleagues have already touched on this point. The problem of “death” concerns the issue of columbaria. To address this issue, the Government must also make plans and projections under its population policy as Hong Kong is short of both housing for the dead and for the living. At the end of the day, what problems will arise? According to the statistics compiled by the Census and Statistics Department for the years between 2007 and 2012, 4% of “doubly non-permanent resident babies” would stay in Hong Kong after birth and 96% would not stay in Hong Kong before one year old. However, 55% of the parents said that they would bring their children back to Hong Kong for residence after they grew up. The Government must face up to these figures.

I hope sincerely that the current-term Government can achieve a breakthrough in its population policy and accurately project the population size of the next 10, 20 or 30 years to facilitate the formulation of public policies on “clothing, food, housing, transportation”, education, and so on. If the Government is willing to do so, it should be able to draw up better plans in different areas. By then, Hong Kong will not be at a loss.

President, I so submit.


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