Little Australia

Bernard Keane in Crikey on the “Little Australia” hysteria:

The surrender to small-mindedness comes at a time when Australia should be exploiting the poor economic management of other developed countries to pick the eyes out of their skill bases. Across Europe and the anglosphere, there are millions of highly skilled, well-educated men and women whose potential isn’t being used, and won’t be used for years to come, until Western economies return to strong growth, if they ever do. We should be encouraging these people to make new homes in Australia, where we’ll put their talents to use and reward them well.

The craven retreat from immigration by Tony Abbot and Julia Gillard is a policy disaster of the first order. And it’s one for which generations of Australians will pay.

That’s the major parties pandering to xenophobia – but even the Greens are wary about population increases. I’d rather they were a little more open to the idea of a higher population – although, in their defence, their argument at this point is more at the “build infrastructure and manage our resources better” end than the asinine “foreigners take our jobs and destroy our values” ones that motivate the big party voters.

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13 responses to “Little Australia

  1. We already have housing shortages, water shortages, over stretched public schools and hospitals, not to mention major infrastructure bottlenecks in every part of the country. Everything from rail, ports, roads etc are under pressure.

    Higher population will almost certainly lead to more desal water being used, which will push our (already disgraceful) national carbon footprint even higher.

    Personally, i think the onus is on the “Big Australia” population boosters to first explain how we will benefit from a higher population, and once that has been established to explain how how we will confront the concerns of people like us Greens and other “Small Australia” realists.

    Working and living in the country, i am also extremely concerned that increasing our population will lead to further urban/suburban expansion into valuable farm land.

    Once we’ve paved over our all our best farmland, and have had to divert water from agriculture to supply the rapidly expanding urban population, there is no going back.

    As it cannot be undone, we need to think very carefully about any further increases to our population.

  2. “We already have housing shortages, water shortages, over stretched public schools and hospitals, not to mention major infrastructure bottlenecks in every part of the country. Everything from rail, ports, roads etc are under pressure.”

    (My bold)

    That is patently incorrect. The problem is we have too much concentration in capital cities. There is no shortage of *most* things in regional areas, including affordable housing, most importantly.

    As for infrastructure, I think we need the population growth to warrant it first. It’s not a case of “build it and they will come”, it’s more a case of population growth demanding & spurring better services & facilities.

    (It’s obviously a much more complex issue than that but my basic premise is that we are not only underpopulated we haven’t worked out how to spread the population out more evenly)

  3. Most of Australia is desert, so the population is concentrated on the few relatively fertile regions along the coastlines. Unlike Europe or the USA, Australia’s fragile environment can’t support a large population (poor quality soil and low rainfall being some factors). It’s already being severely damaged with the population it has. Also, even if Australia could support a large population, do we really want to emulate horridly overcrowded countries like many in Asia? I certainly don’t want to see Australia become like that (and many immigrants come here because Australia is comparatively spacious).

  4. Splatterbottom

    I’d rather they were a little more open to the idea of a higher population – although, in their defence, their argument at this point is more at the “build infrastructure and manage our resources better” end than the asinine “foreigners take our jobs and destroy our values” ones that motivate the big party voters.

    Population is to some extent relative, and Australia is to some extent underpopulated. There is only a limited extent to which we can act like a dog in a manger. Our challenge is to manage the process and retain the good things about our society, while adapting to an increasing population.

  5. “Australia is to some extent underpopulated”

    Could you elaborate SB?

  6. Personally, i think the onus is on the “Big Australia” population boosters to first explain how we will benefit from a higher population

    It’s pretty simple economics – most text-books will be able to explain it. Increasing the population though immigration, particularly skilled immigration, is generally beneficial to the wealth of a country. The more people out there working, the richer we become as a society.

    and once that has been established to explain how how we will confront the concerns of people like us Greens and other “Small Australia” realists.

    That’s a tougher one to address – but by no means impossible. Both the ‘xenophobe’ and ‘green’ concerns (which are equally valid inasfar as they are genuinely held) can be managed through better planning for integration and management of an increased popultaion, and the enthusiastic adoption of new technology.

    Obviously it’s all much more complex than that, but the principle of economic growth through immigration is well established. We have the tools necessary to use immigration to our advantage and we should not shy away from the opportunities it presents just because it’s going to be a challenge.

    Our leaders are supposed to recognise this and guide us . . . . but no chance of that it seems.

  7. Splatterbottom

    Duncan Australia is underpopulated in the sense that it has a lower population density, even allowing for the large desert areas, relative to the rest of the world. It is also a wealthy and stable country, making it an attractive place to live, especially for people in poorer, more populous and more unstable places. The question is why Australia’s vast resources should be allocated to a disproportionately small proportion of the world’s population?

    I dislike the tribalism that makes people think that they have some right to ethnic purity on their traditional soil. While the rest of the world is fragmenting along tribal lines, like the Balkans or Czechoslovakia, I don’t see this as any good thing, and would prefer that people of different ethnicity learn to get along with each other. Multiculturalism is a means of fostering tribalism and is ultimately divisive.

    I would prefer to see Australia contribute to an improvement in the lives of as many people as possible by welcoming new migrants and providing adequate resources to manage the process so that we do not lose the freedoms we have and maintaining our standard of living. This may not be a simple matter, but it is preferable to adopting the rabid dog in a manger attitude currently so popular.

  8. Hi Mondo. Just a few thoughts..

    List of the top 10 richest countries in the world, on the righthand side i have put their population ranking.

    1 Luxembourg 170th
    2 Norway 116th
    3 Qatar 148th
    4 Switzerland 94th
    5 Denmark 109th
    6 Ireland 119th
    7 Netherlands 61st
    8 United Arab Emirates 117th
    9 United States 3rd
    10 Austria 92nd

    Anyone else detecting a pattern here, or is it just me? 🙂

    I think the idea that getting bigger is the only way to get richer is an antiquated and debunked economic theory.

    Like The Church Of The Invisible Hand, the fable of infinite growth has had its day.

  9. Well done Duncan. You have disproved decades of economic theory, analysis and observation by ranking ten rich countries in a row.

    Seriously – if that’s the level of thinking you’re prepared to bring to an immigration debate then it’s no wonder our society is so completely incapable of discussing this issue rationally.

  10. Any particular reason you feel the need to be so antagonistic Mondo?

    I thought the smiley face thing may have alerted you to the slightly tongue in cheek nature of that part of my comment.

    However, the most highly populated countries on earth DO tend to be among the poorest.

    But i was just making an observation Mondo, a throw away, potentially amusing comment.

    Do they have them where you come from?

  11. As it stands, we (Australians) are:

    The biggest emitters of CO2 per capita.

    The most obese.

    The biggest wasters of water per capita (even though we have the least – we are idiots)

    We have the biggest houses in the world (bigger than Americans) and it’s apparent that many of them weren’t even insulated???

    We could fit loads more into this nation, first though we have to learn to conserve, we have to learn to not be the biggest wasters on the planet.

    “build infrastructure and manage our resources better”

    We have to do this, but as for water infrastructure we’d rather waste water and power with desalination plants than just learn to stop wasting the stuff (Our filthy, brown coal powered power stations are cooled with…….drinking water!!)

  12. Any particular reason you feel the need to be so antagonistic Mondo?

    Antagonism is in the eye of the beholder Duncan.

    Personally, I am antagonised by insincere argument.

  13. jordanrastrick

    OK, I can’t resist the temptation to take a crack any longer.

    “We already have housing shortages,”

    Largely, because of the consistent anti-development sentiment that refuses to allow enough higher density housing in capital cities. This is an issue that needs to be addressed.

    “water shortages,”

    During droughts, yes. Easy to deal with by a combination of water recycling and desalination powered by clean sources of energy.

    “over stretched public schools”

    Hardly.

    “and hospitals,”

    This is because of the constant advance of medical technology, leading to an ever increasing public demand for medicine combined with an unwillingess to pay the necessary taxes for funding, not because of population increases.

    “not to mention major infrastructure bottlenecks in every part of the country. Everything from rail, ports, roads etc are under pressure.”

    Tales of the imminent collapse of Australia under infrastructure pressures have been greatly exaggerated. In all cases, the answer is more government (and private) investment, which can be funded in part by the taxes paid by immigrants.

    Generally most infrastructure benefits from economies of scale – so the taxes on a population 40 million can fund more than double the capacity in roads, rail, schools etc as the taxes on 20 million people. For example, compare the public transport systems in New York, Paris, Tokyo or London to that of Sydney.

    “Higher population will almost certainly lead to more desal water being used, which will push our (already disgraceful) national carbon footprint even higher.”

    Sydney’s desalination plant is carbon neutral. There’s no reason this can’t be replicated everywhere.

    “Personally, i think the onus is on the “Big Australia” population boosters to first explain how we will benefit from a higher population,”

    What we mainly need from immigration over the next few decades is not so much a bigger population per se, as a less rapidly ageing one.

    To me the more general case for immigration is more a moral than selfish one – it is by far the most effective way a rich country can go about reducing global poverty and inequality.

    As for the selfish part of the argument, well, if you can’t be bothered to do even the most cursory examination of the convincing economic case for higher populations that Mondo rock refers to, I suppose I can do the one paragraph summary.

    Gains from population are much akin to the gains from trade – a larger base of potential trading partners allows for more specialisation, which is the key to all technological (and hence, sustainable economic) progress. So while an economically isolated city-state of 1,000 might struggle to support a single person to maintain their lone diesel power generator, a nation of 40 million can be home to a raft of scientists researching fusion reactors.

    “and once that has been established to explain how how we will confront the concerns of people like us Greens and other “Small Australia” realists.”

    What concerns do you think need addressing? That the environmental costs of economic activity need to be internalised? Agreed, but this holds true for a population of 20 million as much as for 40 million, and any sensible policies that succeed in doing so (such as an ETS or Carbon tax) should scale with population increases.

    That it is somehow more economically difficult for a larger population to fund enough infrastructure to support itself? Hopefully I’ve done a reasonable job here of debunking this myth.

    “Working and living in the country, i am also extremely concerned that increasing our population will lead to further urban/suburban expansion into valuable farm land.

    Once we’ve paved over our all our best farmland, and have had to divert water from agriculture to supply the rapidly expanding urban population, there is no going back.”

    See my earlier comment about higher density development in urban centres, which is a clear remedy. I’ll also note that you seem to admire the top 10 list of countries by per capita GDP, and I’d hazard a guess most are net importers of food, having put land to more economically productive uses than farming where appropriate.

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