For a Sustainable Population
I was honoured to give the opening address to a strategy planning workshop of Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) re-focusing on SPA’s goals and objectives. Inspired by a photograph of Winston Churchill in the foyer of the hotel, I told the group that never before had so many owed so much to so few. The population debate had turned around after former Prime Minister Rudd’s statement in 2009 that he made no apologies for believing in “a big Australia”.
The public reaction forced him to retreat within about two months.
As I said at the time, we weren’t getting “bigger” in terms of more reliable rainfall or more robust rivers or deeper, richer soils. Remarkable thing is the strength of a backlash to the big Australia notion. Now the ALP, the Coalition, the Green Party and environmental groups refused to endorse anything like “a big Australia”.
Business does, of course. But I pointed out Saturday morning that the Australian economy was being changed and rendered overwhelmingly dependent on resource and energy exports. In which case it made no sense to drive a dramatic population build-up. In fact, the restructuring of the Australia economy – driven by industrialisation of China, India and ultimately other nations – makes it sensible for us to run a smaller Australia than business wants, enjoying high GDP per head of population based on that mineral and energy production.
I told the group to beware of the ridiculous arguments that “It’s not population, it’s just infrastructure.” As if nobody was interested in building any. Or, “It’s not population, it’s just consumption.” Of course it is both. Or, “It’s not immigration, it’s just planning.” Wrong – fast population build-up stresses even sound urban plans. Population growth is the basis of all environmental pressure.
And I recommended they join the political party of their choice and increase their political activism, leaving them with a message of hope: “You are winning this debate. Population advocates in big business feel isolated. Most Australians agree with us.”