We should say YES to Big Australia.
See Topher debate Topher on the topic of Big Australia.
The question of whether Australia should welcome population growth or avoid it remains unresolved. The issue raises its head in public debate in different guises – from controversies over importing labour to fill vacancies in booming industries like mining, to temporary work visas and refugee quotas, from pressure on infrastructure and services in cities to boosting regional areas.
Pantera Press have published a guide to both sides of this debate in Why vs Why™ Big Australia, being released 22 August 2012. The book presents an accessible and balanced view of both sides of the argument for and against a big Australia aimed at a mainstream audience.
In conjunction with the release, YourView is raising the issue for public debate. Unlike other forums, YourView identifies the collective wisdom - the considered collective view of the participants.
Below, we'd like to hear your view. But first, consider the cases for and against made in the book:
|Yes Case||No Case|
1. Because it is happening whether we like it or not
Under every realistic scenario, even if migration is cut sharply, Australia’s population will become larger. “Big Australia” is not, as some claim, simply the aspiration of greedy businessmen; it is a reality for which we have to prepare. And, in reality, legislators have few options to prevent population growth and the illiberal consequences of these policies would be unacceptable to Australians, for example limiting the number of children people have, or limiting medical care for older people. Unless the government is prepared to take draconian measures, a growing Australia will remain the reality.
2. Because it can offset the challenges of an ageing society
Our population is ageing and will continue to age no matter what the population growth. Currently, there are about 820,000 Australians aged 80 or over and by 2050, this will double regardless of changes in fertility and migration. This demographic trend will see the need more hospitals, aged care facilities and support services for the elderly. Importantly, if we slow population growth, our population will age more rapidly. Labour force participation and labour force growth will slow as the population ages, and the tax take will fall at exactly the same time as health care and aged care costs are rising.
3. Because of its economic benefits
A growing, more diverse population opens countless prospects for specialisation and discovery, which lead to more competition and economic growth. It is this economic growth that helps build better physical and social infrastructure in public transport, schools and hospitals as well as cleaner and more efficient technology. And the economies of scale resulting from a growing population foster a more interesting, cosmopolitan and efficient society.
4. Because we can afford the infrastructure and housing
Australia must build new housing and infrastructure with or without population growth. Our present infrastructure is already inadequate and increased demand will make it worse. We can do much better in meeting the demands for housing and infrastructure if we fix our federation and give state and local governments both the tools and the incentives to deal with population growth. Such reforms are long overdue, and a bigger population could well be the catalyst to tackle them.
5. Because we will have enough food and water
Despite a massive explosion in the global population, we have not run out of food. Famines still occur, but their causes are political and economic not a global shortage of food. Australia is extremely self-sufficient in food; according to the CSIRO, we produce about 93 per cent (by retail value) of the food we consume and we export about two-thirds of the food we produce. Although we consume the second-highest amount of fresh water per capita in the world, this is less than 10 per cent of the fresh water resources available as well as that there is a lot more we can do to reuse and recycle the water we have.
6. Because we can still protect the environment
Australia has among the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world. But that is not because we have too many people; it is because we rely on carbon-intensive sources of power such as brown coal. Reducing our carbon intensity (the amount of carbon produced for a given economic output) would have a much greater impact on total emissions than reducing population growth, as well renewable energy will become more viable as the population grows.
7. Because social cohesion will remain strong
While other countries have also become ethnically diverse, few have managed the change as well as Australia. Across Western Europe, there are frequent outbursts of racial violence originating from migrant communities which experience high welfare dependence and high unemployment. In contrast, Australia with its skilled migration program, has created a culture in which migrants from very different backgrounds not only integrate but thrive by integrating into the workforce.
1. Because of the environmental damage.
Australia has the world’s worst record for mammal extinctions and now our birds are beginning to vanish. On top of this research has shown that if Australia’s population grew by only 10.6 million by 2050, this would probably still produce 276 million more tonnes of greenhouse pollution (53% more) than if the population had stayed at 22 million. At a private level, simply having one less child will save 20 times more emissions than you could do by making every possible change in your personal lifestyle.
2. Because we’re running short of oil and energy.
The basic assumption of growth economics, that growth can go on forever, begins to seem like folly As the global economy grows it pushes up the price of oil, which in turn tends to choke economic growth. Capitalism seemed a robust system while it could grow and feed on a seemingly limitless natural world. Yet now we are facing peak oil, peak gas, peak water, peak fish, peak phosphorus – the list goes on.
3. Because we’re running short of resources, food, and water.
The threat of world famine is back. In Australia and globally, technological improvements have largely ceased to improve crop yields, in many regions yields are flat or dropping. Certainly they are not keeping up with world population growth. Grain yield per person peaked back in 1986. Soils are eroded, compacted, salted, acidified, and robbed of humus after being over-exploited for decades. Treasury’s Intergenerational Report 2010 estimates how long Australia’s mineral and energy resources might last at current rates of extraction. It’s an eye-opener. Oil, 10 years left. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), 20 years. Liquefied natural gas (LNG), 63 years. Black coal, 90 years. Uranium, 143 years. Brown coal, 490 years. Zinc, 35 years. Iron ore, 70 years. You may be comforted by some of the larger numbers. Yet we are selling off, in a blink of time, oil and gas that took millions of years to create – and minerals that took billions of years.
4. Because it will make us poorer, not richer; and we don’t need more workers or a younger population.
A very detailed study for the former Bureau of Immigration Research found the net cost to government budgets for an annual migrant intake of 114,000 was well over $3 billion dollars, or about $34,500 (in 1992 dollars) per immigrant. So the existing population needs to spend at least $200,000 on infrastructure for each new person added to Australia. If this is not spent before the new people arrive, we get the congested roads, hospital queues, overcrowded trains that we see in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
5. Because it will damage our cities and our quality of life.
It’s odd, and sad, that Australia has urban housing prices comparable to NewYork and London. The squeeze is on for inner urban land because Australians no longer found new cities. We are said to be the world’s most urbanised large country; 89 per cent of us – and that percentage is increasing – live in cities. Throw in out-of-control population growth, and we are at great risk of increasing the pressure on our already sky- high land prices. House prices cripple many families. Population pressure and densification produce ever-worsening traffic jams which merely add to the time parents spend away from home.
6. Because it won’t benefit the world.
Australia could not absorb any significant percentage of the annual increase of more populous countries as well richer countries are the great polluters, where every extra person seriously increases the load on the planet. Immigrants do increase their individual emissions and environmental demands. People in Australia produce about 26 tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year, whereas people in Europe average about 10 tonnes, in China four, and India two.
7. Because a stable, sustainable population is achievable, and gives a safer future.
An Australia with a stable population promises a better and safer quality of life for our children and grandchildren, and more likely survival of Australia’s unique animals and plants. It is still a higher population than we should have, but it is at least a population we can plan for. It is logically impossible to plan for an indefinitely increasing population.
- Sustainable Australia - Sustainable Communities - Australia's current, official population strategy
- Dick Smith's Population Crisis (book) and Dick Smith Population (website)
- Bigger or Better? Australia's Population Debate (book) by Ian Lowe
- Make Population Growth Work - op ed in The Australian by Hartwich & Brown Aug 22.
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