You are here

Bernard Salt on the Population 'debate'

Illustration: "Cage metropolis". The building block for the nightmare city depicted in the illustration comes from stills taken from a France2 (National government) television news report on 9 September 2009. The report showed people living in cages, several to a room, and paying USD$120 weekly in rent.[1]

Flattr this

This suffering is the result of population pressure in a system which does not protect human rights from its impact, in Hong Kong, an ex-British protectorate. We cannot blame it on the recent Chinese government, which has retained the British system. When the British took Hong Kong over, there was no population problem like this. It was a colonial creation which the mainland Chinese have chosen to perpetuate.

Australia's system - like Canada's and most in the USA - shares many of Hong Kong's problems, in part because its land-use planning laws have similar origins, and because population growth is encouraged despite the problems that it causes.

In Australia more people every day are homeless. If you doubt just how precarious many peoples’ situations have already become, have a look at the Four Corners video-report on homelessness, "The Last Chance Motel"

Underpinning the out-of-control cost of living in Australia is the massive rise in land-costs as the principle factor in housing prices and the cost of productive activities. These costs radically reduce the margins for profit in production and the margins for economy among wage-earners, raising costs for Australian small business and consumers.

The Australian Consumer Price Index will not tell you this because it has never counted land in the costs it surveys. The reason is because land is not supposed to be a ‘consumable’, even though the property developers package and market it just like one.

Is this the way we want to live?

Have we even been asked?
Why are we being pushed into this nightmare and who is responsible?
Read on:

Salt with a grain of salt ...

"Where to put the extra millions at the end of the 21st century?" Bernard Salt asks readers of Mr Murdoch’s Australian, September 10, 2009.

What? Doesn't Mr Salt know? I thought he was going to put them up in his lounge room.

Seriously though, Mr Salt, a partner in KPMG, has been doing little else but market rapid and continuous population growth for Australia over the past ten or fifteen years. So, if he doesn't know where to put them, why does he do it?

Recently I heard a radio presenter say, "Demographer Bernard Salt has looked into his crystal ball and has predicted that Australia’s population will grow …"

Mr Salt bills himself as a 'demographer', but I think it is fair to describe him as a property development marketer who describes himself as a demographer and who has used that title to give authority to his claim that high immigration and constant population movement within Australia is natural, inevitable or desirable and that he is a clever spotter of it.
And Mr Salt doesn’t ‘predict’ on the basis of pure statistical trends. Along with other high-profile members of the Growth Lobby, he influences trends. He does this in part by making media announcements as if trends to rapid growth are predictive and then inviting people to invest in the likelihood that infrastructure and housing demand will increase as the population growth does. He also doesn’t just suggest that trends will continue. He is a member of a group which benefits financially from population growth and therefore actually tries to push trends to go upwards faster.

Why is Bernard Salt so important?

Bernard Salt is a spokesperson for the Population Growth Lobby, which I identify as a set of industries which make money out of population growth and organize to promote it.

Whilst there are other media-promoted spokespeople for the Growth Lobby, such as Peter McDonald of the ANU, Salt is one of the most ubiquitous, appearing frequently in most or all forms of the mainstream media. Not only has he recently been featured in long articles in Murdoch’s Australian, he also now has a column in the Herald Sun. He is also quoted by state and federal governments. The amplitude given to his statements by the mainstream media and government means that what he says has massive political ramifications.

Population numbers touch every aspect of society

As the then Senator Barry Jones said years ago, in relation to the 1994 Inquiry into Australia’s population carrying capacity, "Population numbers touch every aspect of society."

Uncontrolled population growth is a juggernaut.

You and I haven’t actually been asked by our governments whether we want to be dragged along in the slipstream of the growthist juggernaut, but we have the right to be asked.

As citizens we should be asked before it continues to go ahead.

It is wrong that government and mainstream media have tried to normalize growthism through repetitive promotion of it, via voices like Bernard Salt’s, before any public debate has taken place. Any so-called debate has been conducted with growth lobby promoters given talking rights as if they were ordinary citizens without vested interests, but also featured as authorities with more weight than citizens, quoted and amplified ad nauseum by the mainstream media, public and commercial. The essence of democracy is that the citizen’s voice has primacy over that of any private institution with vested interests in issues of national and state government, resources and assets. That value is being lost in the public-private production of out-of-democratic-control population growth in Australia.

KPMG and the "Big Shift"

As I mentioned earlier, Mr Salt is a partner in KPMG Australia. KPMG is part of an international accounting company with business relationships with many corporations, whose reputation is not unblemished.[5]

Ten or fifteen years ago I was curious to notice that KPMG Australia was in the business of publishing annual 'population growth trends' in the form of books or folders for businesses that wanted to make money by speculating on where there would be rising demand for land, power and goods. As I recollect, some 15 years ago, these printed volumes cost around $300 each.

When I first noticed KPMG’s role in marketing population growth to business, the internet was not even available for ordinary people. Now Australian property and citizenship are marketed at ever-increasing volume and with almost no restraints over the internet to the world. The profits for those commercial interests which have acquired control over land, water, power and other resources, plus the associated services and infrastructure, run literally to billions of dollars, narrowly channeled to a relative few individuals and corporate streams. That situation has created a political, demographic and inflationary tsunami which threatens to crush any democracy and quality of life in Australia.

Before the internet, Mr Salt himself did not seem to me to stand out from the crowd. He was spotted as a major marketing talent by the Growth Lobby at some stage, however - perhaps because he was waving so hard - and came into focus with his - ahem - wittily titled book, The Big Shift, which came out in around 2002.

Manipulating housing prices and population growth

The claim to fame of The Big Shift was to predict that housing prices (read land-prices) would grow in Melbourne more than they would in Sydney. And you only have to look at Hong Kong where people pay a fortune to live in smaller and smaller places to see that Salt was right on the nose for the money. (See the illustration, "Cage City".) Where there is growth these days there is pain, and someone has to benefit.

Since Sydney was having huge problems expanding, despite the militant growthists in NSW parliament at the time – Bob Carr not withstanding - the Growth Lobby had honed in on Melbourne. The Lobby was marketing population growth and property development there with a vengeance, destroying democracy in the process. (One nightmare event was Mr Bracks' Melbourne Population Summit in 2002, where school children were bused in with organised enthusiasm reminiscent of a Hitler Rally - Lebensraum! Lebensraum! – and addressed by business ‘leaders’ like Richard Pratt and Steve Vizard.) [2]

What’s different about Mr Salt’s recent article?

In his September 10th article, to my knowledge, Mr Salt has taken a slightly different tack. Here he is warning politicians that the population projections they relay to the electorate as 'predictions' to justify their engineering of artificially stimulated population growth will continue exponentially beyond their theoretical statistical boundaries.

He is right. To put it a little more folklorically, these political sorcerers' apprentices have meddled dangerously with demographics and have unleashed an exponentially growing number of angry magic mops - the angry mop being a metaphor for insoluble, compounding problems and the sorcerer’s apprentice a metaphore for Mickey Mouse politics.

Safe to call out "Fire!" after the house has burned down?

Why is Mr Salt only just now mentioning that the consequence of accelerating population growth to the degree that Australian politicians have been doing is dangerous?

This overpopulation has been caused through excessive immigration to a population which, attentive to the signs all around it, was limiting its own growth by slowing down natural increase.

This overpopulation is not the public’s fault, for they have not been given any real role in the political decision, nor have they received dispassionate information about it.

The fault for this lies in the members of the growth lobby who have militated irresponsibly for population growth and in the members of governments which have allowed the lobby’s agenda to run Australia’s politics, sidestepping democracy.

Overpopulation means starvation, thirst, poverty, insecurity, homelessness, environmental degradation, no wildlife, and corrupt and terrible politics. We already have all these things but they can all get worse with more population growth.
When Bernard Salt was marketing his Big Shift book with its socially divisive generalisations about how younger people should resent 'Baby Boomers' a few years ago he didn't have too much to say then about how:

"There is the very real prospect that urban planners will have to manage the development of three Australian mega-regions (Sydney, Melbourne, southeast Queensland) each rising to between five and seven million by century's end. This means Sydney and Melbourne will have to accommodate an extra three million residents, or two million more than current planning has considered."

Pardon? Urban planners managing the very mess they created and which Salt writes that they could not even see coming? Lunatics in charge of the asylum? Mr Salt, it is up to we the people, to manage our own affairs. It is called 'self-government' and 'democracy'. Butt out!

Nor did he say then:

"If Melbourne and Sydney are to grow to seven million and beyond, surely both cities need to consider long-term water and power supplies."

Or warn that we would run out of water and power:

"It may be possible to crib a few extra years of water supply by preservation and pipelines but this will not supply water needs for the two million-plus residents expected in Sydney and Melbourne beyond 2030."

Or tell the politicians:

"I simply do not see the range of solutions being offered as sufficiently robust to accommodate the scale of growth Australia must accommodate this century."

He did not say:

"Urban consolidation is all well and good but it is simply not possible to add three million people to Melbourne's existing urban footprint. Even if it were technically possible, the citizenry wouldn't accept it."

Or add, sotto voce, tongue in cheek ha ha:

"Although I suppose there is the option of enforcing compliance to urban consolidation laws using a special squad of enforcers."

The dangerous myth that we must have population growth

Nonetheless, if the article introduced a few disclaimers this time, Bernard was still back to his old tricks: at pains to reinforce the growth lobby myth of the inexorable:

"Water savings and renewable energy make a great contribution to the efficient operation of our cities as long as the rate of urban growth is not too vigorous or long-lasting. And that's the issue. Australia will be an immigrant nation for our lifetime and for the lifetime of our grandchildren."

(Who says? Bernard Salt says. And the Murdoch press promotes the ideology.)

Then, seizing the territory of environmentalists, he calls for a 'debate':

"What this nation needs is a frank and robust debate about options for population and urban growth on a grand scale and over the long term."

Now, I would just like to point out that the Nation may need a debate, but that debate should be among the people. Corporate spruikers like Bernard Salt and their sponsors – KPMG, Mr Murdoch, Fairfax et al - or their minders and amplifiers – who include, I am afraid, Mr Rudd and Mr Brumby, as well as a raft of other sorcerers' apprentices who started off the magic mop avalanche - don't have the right to a voice in a citizens’ 'debate'.

Why ban Growth Lobby spokespersons from a citizens’ population debate?

Why don’t Growth Lobby spokespersons have a right to a voice in a debate on population growth? Because they don't 'debate'; they market propaganda. They are not acting in the capacity of citizens. They are corporate entity spokespersons. They have narrow profit motives which overwhelm the rights of citizens. Some may actually believe their ideology, but it is a dangerous ideology and should be labeled as such, along with racism. The spokespeople for the Growth Lobby have occupied and taken over the media in every shape and form for years now. They have not just influenced the so-called 'debate' or 'discussion'; they have actually influenced the size of our population and our related fate.

They are in fact responsible for us running out of water, paying unreasonable prices for land, and losing our democracy to laws privileging planning and developers’ objectives over human rights. They have advocated our perilous situation and many can clearly be shown to have done so in the pursuit of related financial benefits, or in order to remain in office in a country where the mainstream commercial media will either ignore you, discredit you or overwhelm your voice with their propaganda, if you are against population growth and have a rational argument. [3]

Indeed, overwhelming of rational argument is what seems to be taking place at the moment in the Press. Kelvin Thomson has come out with sound arguments pointing to the absolute folly of continuing avoidable population growth in Australia. Immediately there is an absolute tsunami of growthist propaganda coming out of every media organ.

And the growth lobby is not going to lose the opportunity to turn the spotlight on growth to their advantage.

There is no place for the commercial growth lobby in this debate

Here's their punchline, in the words of Bernard Salt:

"In this debate I'd put hard questions on the table such as the option of constructing metropolitan dams and nuclear power stations."

Mr Salt wants to ... surprise, surprise... argue a need to build nuclear power plants to supply power for the out-of-control population growth which HE says, "Australia must accommodate this century."

Well, actually, it's not very surprising, because it has been obvious that the business lobby was forcing population growth on Australians so as to have an excuse to 'go nuclear'.

Honestly, I wouldn't be so shocked, except that Mr Salt and his ilk really don't seem to care whether or not it works.

See "Nuclear power, totalitarianism and overpopulation in Australia"
If it doesn’t work, millions of Australians will die because you cannot run a complex society without huge amounts of power and you cannot mass produce food and transport it within such a society without cheap and abundant fuel. Going by the major oil discovery trends and depletion models, access to cheap and abundant fossil fuel is currently on the way out.[4]
Furthermore, if we are to attempt to deal with this terrible problem by using nuclear power, then the people who are expected to continue to suffer for it – Australian taxpayers – must own it and control it. Before any population growth goes ahead, the government should contract with Australia’s citizens to make laws so that those who expect to make a profit out of population growth by building cities around power plants, should be made to pay for that power with their profits in taxes on population growth impact-related profits. Indeed, these laws should apply to anyone making a profit out of any impacts related to politically stimulated or politically engineered population-growth. This would allow for immigration to replace emigration, but not to exceed it until such time as the population had stopped growing.


[2] Read more about the cage cities and about how the promise of improved living standards from industrialisation has panned out in Hong Kong. Australia is prey to the same colonial myth associating big populations with wealth. The reality is that the myth justifies a system that exploits people horribly, then chews them up and spits them out. Governments that foster continuous population growth can never keep up with the provision of housing and never have any intention to do so. All policies are palliatives.
Read about it on the Urban Poor Asia: Asian Coalition for Housing Rights. On one page, the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO), reports on a recently finished survey of Hong Kong's street sleepers. "The numbers are on the rise - from 819 in January 2000 to 1,259 in December 2000. .... Not large numbers by Asian standards ... but a rise of 47% .... The surge is attributed to a change in welfare policy and the recession.
Wages for low paying jobs have dropped 30 to 50% over the past 2 years, so many people may not be able to afford housing. Some unemployed refuse to seek the dole (unemployment relief) for fear of being stigmatized. According to the survey there are more younger people becoming street sleepers.
SoCO has urged the welfare department to adjust the unemployment application process to take into account the realities of the poor.
The government according to Ho, have taken up many of the recommendations resulting from the SoCO survey. When the survey was published, one immediate impact was an increase in the government budget allocation for outreach workers.

The SURVEY and other information on Hong Kong's urban poor and Housing Policies is available from SoCO

[2] Pratt and Vizard, together with Tim Watts of OzPop (junior organization to APop sponsored by the New America Foundation), also published the speeches from the event in a book.

[3] How would we prove such a political motive? By showing where the media repeatedly published politicians repeatedly making ideologically-based growthist statements where counter-arguments were put but neither published by the media nor responded to sensibly by the politicians.

[4] There are a great many sources, but I can vouch for Seppo A. Korpela, “Prediction of World Peak Oil production”; Colin J Campbell, “The Assessment and importance of oil depletion;” Seppo Korpela, “Coal Resources of the World;” Michael Dittmar, “Fusion Illusions;” and the articles on Nuclear Fission and on Geothermal power and Australia and France after Fossil Fuel by myself in Sheila Newman, (Ed), The Final Energy Crisis, Pluto Press, UK, 2008

[5] See some more re KPMG in Naomi Klein article ]


Some demographic "experts" think that Australia is a blank canvas and that people pay taxes and consume, so the route to prosperity and more taxes is to just keep adding more people! What about the ecosystems that are collapsing, the Great Barrier Reef suffering from pollution, our abysmal Ramsar wetland desecration, our lack of water, our diminishing wildlife and the struggling of our agriculture? Apart from environmental demands, there are the social, financial and climate change implications of us toppling over sustainable human numbers.

One great failure of the human race is our failure to understand exponential growth. At about 2% per annum increase in population growth, we will double our population about every 35 years! At our growth rate, we will have blown over the 35 million level before 2050.

What are the advantages of cramming more people into Australia? Mass markets, the housing industry, governments all benefit as demands for goods and services are maintained and taxes are collected, but for the average person, it means that finite resources must be distributed between more people, living standards erode and costs escalate.

It is a fallacy, a myth, that we can have continual population growth without eroding and destroying the nation that provides our source of living. It is all about anthropocentric arrogance and greed! Kelvin Thompson's voice is tiny but it needs to start an avalanche of protests.

After reading Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine" of 2007 I began to realise that we are entitled to assume the very worst of the elites now in control of humankind's destiny -- that they are willing to deliberately inflict death, destruction and abject poverty upon millions of fellow human beings, the environment and future generations to satiate their own rapacious greed.

The wilful decision of Australia's elites to increase our population further confirms that view (even though Naomi Klein, herself, unfortunately, largely avoids confronting that 'politically incorrect' question).

All the arguments for population growth have long ago, been shown up, exactly as our common sense and intution would have told us, to be fraudulent hogwash.

There is absolutely no possible way that adding millions more to this dry continent could possibly do anything for this country as a whole except to make its circumstances worse[1].

In the distant past, it was possible that addition of people would have made our industrial economy more effecient, if not more ecologically sustainable, but that point has long since past.

Instead (as I have written a number of times elsewhere) the majority of this country loses out in at least four ways.

1. there is less wealth to go around, so each of us on average must become poorer;

2. the additional damge to the environment and excessive consumption of non-renewable natural resources will cause there to be even less wealth to go around for greater numbers of people, that is assuming that it does not lead to outright ecological collapse;

3. ineffeciencies of scale that cause the cost of provision of goods and services to increase on a per-capita basis once the optimum population has been achieved

4. the transfer of more wealth from the majority to the minority most most dramatically through escalating rents and housing prices, that are driving many formeraly prosperous Australians into poverty.

On top of all that the free market economic dogma that prevents Governments for intervening effectively in the economy causes us to miss out on what economies of scale would be possible through increased population.

That those in control are seeking to bring this about is absolute confirmation that their interests are antithetical to the interests of this country as a whole and that their corrupt grip on this country's levers of power needs to be removed.


1. Just possibly, arguably, more people could be fitted in if we adopted radical measures to fix the environment such as Natural Sequence Farming and consumed natural resources less profligately, but the country is headed in the opposite direction in that regard, too.

Natural Sequence Farming is predicated on a closed, localised economy; farming without exporting. Whilst it would stop further degradation of the land and would repair land, you would have to stop raising crops for export.

That's a good thing.

The reason we are in trouble is that we have flogged the land to death.

The elites are so stupid that they cannot understand reality and they are so utterly without sense or humour or intelligence that they cannot understand why people might enjoy living rather than work for them and their mini-minded values.

".. there is less wealth to go around, so each of us on average must become poorer"

You are correct - population growth only serves to dilute our per capita earnings from mineral exports.

As Monash University academic Bob Birrell noted in his response to the Productivity Commission's 2006 report on immigration:

"Currently Australia has the capacity to maintain high levels of exports deriving from its renewable and non-renewable resources. It can only do this because of its small population, that is, because there is currently a substantial surplus between what can be produced and what is needed for consumption in Australia. There is very little relationship between extra migration and the scale of rural and mining output in Australia. However, a migrant induced increase in population has a direct relationship with the level of imports, in the sense that imports will rise at least as fast as the migrant population rises.

In these terms it is hard to see the economic argument for high migration, at least from the point of view of most incumbents."

Bernard Salt, again given more air-time in the main stream media in article "Adelaide block sizes shrink"
The developers in Adelaide must have both of Mike Rann's ears. They have achieved an average block size of 450sqm, below the national average of 527sqm (note that the old 1/4 acre block is 1011 sqm !!)
and then on today's news:
"Australians have world's biggest homes" from:

and "Welcome to Victoria, home to super-sized houses"

So we have 2 opposing trends, smaller block sizes and bigger houses. Clearly what is happening is that backyards have become token paved "outdoor entertainment" area, while the house has moved up right to the boundary on all sides, only subject to limits as required to by local planning rules (i.e. set-backs). So it looks like that developers are succeeding in selling small blocks by fully covering them, compensating home owners with increased interior space.