Does Size Matter? was the question posed by the title of Assistant Shadow Treasurer Andrew Leigh's talk to the Lowy Institute on Thursday 13th of March. The answer arrived at at the end of his talk was that the quality of people was more important than the quantity. The talk was billed as giving an economic perspective on the population debate and this is exactly what the audience got. Absent were inconvenient scientific perspectives like ecological footprint, climate change, water and energy security.
This was a talk high on optimism that technology can solve all of our problems and that more of the right kind of immigrants will give us a better chance of developing that technology.
The event promo also claimed that several myths about the population debate were going to be dispelled. Some were welcome observations such as the point that the population debate was separate to the refugee issue and that high immigration was not the answer to population aging.
Malthus also came in for a serve but you have to wonder how intelligent people can be so quick to ridicule Malthus when the UN estimates that two billion people cannot get adequate food.
The subject of infrastructure overload was mentioned but again Mr Leigh's optimism dismissed this as a mere failure to adequately plan for the future rather than laying the blame on high population growth.
The institute's namesake Frank Lowy would have given smiling approval to the thrust of this talk. Immigrants have a greater entrepreneurial spirit and benefit the Australian economy in numerous ways we were told.
In the end the idea that numbers were not important in the population debate did not ring true. Mr Leigh lives in Canberra which is the size of Australia's annual growth. You have to hope that when he drives around the city he may come to the realisation that the reason we cannot build this amount of infrastructure every year is not because of planning but because it's just a physical impossibility.
Perhaps this would be a little optimistic, however.
Kris Spike is the Vice President of the Sustainable Population Party