The Fairfax media sank to a new low recently in pushing its in-house pro-population bias (in The Age) by publishing commentary on this crucial issue from the Australian Population Institute.
Unfortunately, the article, ‘We should look to the west as our population swells’, by Jane Nathan, 16 July 2015, highlights the way in which the left-liberal establishment in Australia, including Fairfax, now sings from the same song sheet as free-market growth maniacs. While it may be claimed that the population-boosting rant presented in this article is the opinion of the Australian Population Institute and not Fairfax, Fairfax, of course, can exercise considerable bias in its selection of opinion piece commentary. It has a broad menu of pro-population vested interests to choose from. It is worth mentioning that material presented as commentary or opinion does not have to stand up to any serious standard of factual accuracy or rationality in the eyes of the Australian Press Council. Commentary, therefore, provides an opportunity to push an in-house view to extremes without being very accountable about it. Fairfax may respond that ‘balance’ will be struck over the longer-term with the subsequent publication of opposing views. Just when this may occur or whether subsequent opinion would directly address the inaccuracies and bias of commentary like this within a reasonable time frame remains unclear.
The opinion piece presents a one-dimensional account of booming population growth in the western suburbs of Melbourne, with no recognition, let alone discussion, of the potential short or long-term damage that rapid population growth may cause. It is unadulterated propaganda. Without any consideration of such challenges, the core message of the commentary is simple: rapid population growth is manageable and beneficial; the suburb of Sunshine in Melbourne’s west is an example to be emulated everywhere; and such rapid population growth is compatible with the creation and maintenance of thriving harmonious communities.
In advocating this mind-numbingly superficial view, a number of spurious assumptions are made. It is stated that the tertiary-educated population of Sunshine has increased from 21 to 50 per cent, and the number of women working has increased markedly. What are we to make of such claims in relation to the issue of population growth? The implication is that rapid population growth has the effect of spreading wealth around – that population growth has lifted Sunshine up from being a down trodden working class area to one of higher social status. The reality is that Sunshine remains one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas within metropolitan Melbourne. The 2011 Census showed that Sunshine remained in the bottom decile in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Index of Socio-Economic Disadvantage.
The implied linkages are logically flawed and factually feeble. Levels of tertiary education have risen across the board over time and would likely have risen in Sunshine to some degree, despite its low socio-economic status, in the absence of population growth. As to the number of working women in Sunshine, the growth is presented in terms of raw numbers and not rates. The cited numerical growth in employed women is likely to be a simple reflection of overall population growth and not improved labour market access for women in Sunshine. In any case, historically, the workforce participation rates of disadvantaged women in poor areas have often been high – out of necessity. The question should be -- what proportion of women in Sunshine has access to decent jobs? No matter how this question may be answered, the links to population growth remain tenuous.
Reference is made to the provision of new infrastructure in Sunshine, to serve the burgeoning population. The suggestion is that without population growth, we would not have such wonderful new infrastructure. Again, there is a worrying absence of balance and objectivity in this claim. It is widely accepted that rapid population growth in Australia, and particularly in Australia’s capital cities, has created a situation of chronic infrastructure shortfall in many essential areas. In this context, to simply say that some infrastructure has been provided in Sunshine, without any assessment of the remaining shortfall, and of the social and economic consequences of such a shortfall, is bewildering. The public deserves a much better standard of public commentary than this.
Just how misinformed the Australian Population Institute is may be gleaned from its website, where it is claimed that current levels of population growth will take Australia to between 25 and 27 million people by 2050, which it maintains is far too little. Where have these people been for the past decade! Current mid-range population projections from the Australian Bureau of Statistics point to around 37.6 million people by that year. That is roughly the equivalent of an additional three cities the size of Melbourne in a time frame of 25 years.
It may not be surprising that someone, somewhere, may hold such a silly, ill-informed view. But, that it should be shouted from the rooftops by Fairfax deserves greater scrutiny. “Centre-left”? Not likely. This is Fairfax at its hypocritical best and music to the ears of the growth maniacs who are constantly at the doors of our political leaders demanding ever greater levels of population growth to keep the gravy train of dumb growth rolling along. Don’t let Fairfax’s preoccupation with asylum seekers, human rights and political corruption fool you. On basic issues of the economy and economic democracy, Fairfax is far to the right of centre.
Contrary to the Fairfax’s in house view, population is not a politically neutral issue, whereby population growth may be reasonably advocated by either the left or right of the political spectrum. Unquestioning advocacy of population growth by ‘left’ intellectuals reflects an historic capitulation to the deregulatory, free-market right. This is particularly so in Australia where, because of decades of economic short-sightedness, the only way to keep Gross Domestic Product growth rates high in the absence of a mining boom is population growth and city building (given the serious structural impoverishment of the Australian economy – we sell dirt and a little agriculture to the world in return for elaborately transformed goods). In reality, the Australian economy’s reliance upon population growth is a form of crisis management, from which particular sectoral interests parasitically and disproportionately benefit (e.g. housing, banking and retail). For these sectors, any correction of the structural imbalance in the Australian economy would be perceived as a dire threat.
Reliance upon population growth is dumb growth writ large and Fairfax’s faux humanitarianism helps the free-market right along its way.