You are here

Full text: Kelvin Thomson speech to Victoria First Inaugural General Meeting

Welcome. I always worried about population but I believed the demographers who said it would take care of itself. They were wrong, so I stopped listening to them. I kicked off a national debate about this issue in 2009. The points I made were about endangered species, climate change, traffic, housing, and the cost of living and the problems of Australia at 36 million. In 2010 there was movement - from the Greens, the Liberals, Kevin Rudd at Easter establishing a Population Minister, and Julia Gillard renouncing Big Australia. The election came and went, but there was no action. I don't know why Julia never delivered on this - I personally think she might still be PM today if she had.

In political debate people are very frightened about being called racist or xenophobic. This is true of Prime Ministers and also of the people who live in our street. Yes there are racists out there, it's a pity, but it's true. But the use of the term racism has become a new kind of McCarthyism, used to stifle debate. Just as there were communists in the 1950s, but the fear of communists was used in an hysterical way to shut down and discredit and attack all kinds of political ideas that the McCarthyists disliked, so too now we see the name calling used to stifle and shut down debate on things we desperately need to debate.

How do we counter this?

It's not easy, but

1. We need to point out that Australia already is a multi-racial society - one quarter born overseas, one half with one or both parents born overseas. The bird has flown. No-one is trying to maintain Australia as a white Anglo Saxon outpost of the British Empire - it can't be done, and I haven't come across anyone who is trying.

2. As a consequence of this, our actions will assist, and are intended to assist, Victorians of all backgrounds. For example Broadmeadows has double digit unemployment. Many unemployed people in Broadmeadows are of Turkish background. They are entitled to our consideration, rather than running migrant worker programs that stuff up their ability to find work.

3. We need to point out that if talking about population makes us racists, we are in pretty good company. People don't usually think of Dr Martin Luther King as a white supremacist. What did he have to say about population? “Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary. Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is solvable by means we have discovered and with resources we possess. What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of billions who are its victims".

And people wouldn't ordinarily think of David Suzuki as a puppet or fellow traveller of Pauline Hanson. What did he have to say about population? Dr Suzuki said “of course human numbers are at the very core of our crisis.

The explosive rate of growth simply can't continue". And while we're at it, let me point out a few more. - John Stuart Mill, the great nineteenth century philosopher said " solitude, in the sense of being often alone, is essential to any depth of meditation or of character, and solitude in the presence of natural beauty and grandeur, is the cradle of thoughts and aspirations which are not only good for the individual, but which society could ill do without. Nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature... Every hedgerow or superfluous tree rooted out, and scarcely a place left where a wild shrub or flower could grow without being eradicated as a weed in the name of improved agriculture".

Former US President Bill Clinton told the United Nations in 1993 that “to ensure a healthier and more abundant world, we simply must slow the world's explosive growth in population". And his Vice-President, Al Gore, said. Quote “I consider the dramatic growth in the world's population to be the greatest challenge currently facing the environment. ... He said the "effects of this rapid increase are felt around the globe. Starvation, deforestation and lack of clean water are just some of the problems".

4. Finally, on issue of racism, we just have to toughen up a bit and accept that it will happen, and that if we're going to win, we can't run away from this issue just because people will call us names. There are people out there who will look you in the eye and put their hand on their heart and swear black and blue that they are progressives, that they are left of centre, but they will not touch population because they are scared of being called names.

This is very ironic, given that the most common characteristic I find in the people who I have come across in my work on the population issue is compassion.Many of you are motivated by compassion for the environment, by compassion for other living creatures. You do not think it is alright to trample species after species into extinction on our relentless growth path. Others are motivated by compassion for the poor of the world, and feel deeply about the plight of the poor and the great disparity of wealth between globally rich and poor. You see population growth as the great obstacle to lifting the poor out of poverty.

It is ironic in the extreme, therefore, that we have a couple of agents provocateur out there accusing us of trying to hijack the environmental movement, when we are the most fair dinkum environmentalists you'll find. I defy anyone to challenge the environmental credentials of Jacques Cousteau, who has devoted his entire life to marine conservation.

Cousteau said. "We must alert and organize the world's people to pressure world leaders to take specific steps to solve the two root causes of our environmental crises - exploding population growth and wasteful consumption of irreplaceable resources”. He says “Over consumption and overpopulation underlie every environmental problem we face today".

I defy anyone to challenge the environmental credentials of Captain Paul Watson, the Founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who has spent his life risking injury and imprisonment to harass Japanese whalers.

He says quote “the accusation that a stand to reduce immigration is racist is music to the ears to those who profit from the cheap labour of immigrants. They are the same people who love to see environmentalists make fools of themselves. And there is no environmentalist more foolish than one who refuses to confront the fact that uncontrolled human population growth is the number one cause of the world's increasing environmental problems”.

And does anyone think Sir David Attenborough, with a lifetime behind him of educating and advocating for the protection of our rainforests and other wilderness areas, a bogus environmentalist? David Attenborough has described global population increase as frightening, and said the following. “I've seen wildlife under mounting human pressure all over the world and it's not just from human economy or technology - behind every threat is the frightening explosion in human numbers. ". He said " I've never seen a problem that wouldn't be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more".

Well I am not scared of being called names. I don't enjoy it, but I dislike a whole lot more the fact that instead of the optimistic view I had of political progress when I was young, that we were getting better at looking after the environment and had learned from our mistakes, that we were going to stamp out global hunger and poverty, that we would stop going to war, that in fact we are going backwards. On the Environment, war, waste, terrorism, global poverty, extreme weather etc.

And I dislike more the fact that this has happened during my political career and that I have been quite unable to stop it. Being an MP is a great opportunity and privilege, and with my remaining time as an MP I want to do everything I can to turn this around.

I want to put forward an alternative, a smart alternative, to the direction we are going now, which I absolutely believe is the wrong direction. At the heart of this smart alternative is the idea of stewardship. I got the word from my sister Jaquie. She is a strong Christian, whereas I don't have any religious beliefs. But you will have heard the phrase, we don't inherit the earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children, and I think that it is spot on. We don't own the place, we have the privilege of managing it for a while. And I have regularly finished speeches by saying that we have an obligation to hand down to our children and grandchildren a world in as good a condition as the one our parents and grandparents left to us.

I think stewardship is a good word to express this fundamentally crucial idea. I've decided I like it better than sustainability.

You could fill libraries with the work done on sustainability, and properly understood it is indeed a powerful and useful idea, but sadly it has been so used and abused and prostituted, including by the forces of darkness, that it has become an Alice in Wonderland word - you know, when I use a word it means whatever I choose it to mean, so nowadays pretty meaningless. So when you hear the word sustainability in future, substitute for it the word stewardship - I find it works pretty well.

The second thing about my smart alternative is that it is very mainstream or middle of the road. I believe in giving the voters what they want. People who believe in giving the voters what they want are, again, at risk of being called names - for example, populist. But the people who scream populist are essentially trying to fool us into supporting ideas that are not in our own best interests. The people who scream populist reveal a basic contempt for the people and their ideas, and a lack of respect for democracy. Again, if we are going to succeed, we have to be strong enough to put up with a bit of name calling. Because population is not about race, it is about stewardship.

Some people will think my ideas radical, because they are very different from the path we are on at the moment. Some will think them conservative, because they place a lot of value on our heritage and value the past and are sceptical about the changes that are happening in our world. Indeed I often think my ideas are more conservative than the Liberal Party, better for workers than is the Labor Party, and better for the environment than are the Greens. But at their heart is giving the voters what they want, not what some billionaire or their media puppets think is good for them.

And another element of my ideas, again consistent with giving people a genuine say, is making things as small, and local, and self-sufficient, as we can be. Globalization has helped a lot of people, but it's also harmed plenty, and in the world of the future we will be better off retaining as much independence and self-reliance and self-sufficiency as we can.

And given that, and because we have to start somewhere, I want to focus on Victoria First. Victoria has a greater population increase each year that any other state or territory, driven by having the largest migration intake.

What on earth is the value of this?

We are told the big increase in Australia's migrant worker programs is to meet the needs of the mining boom, and to find workers for remote and inhospitable parts of Australia that locals won't live in. That's the myth.
The reality is that more people come to Victoria than anywhere else, and that Victoria ends up with all the problems associated with this rapid population growth - Melbourne grows by 200 per day, 1500 per week, 75000 per annum. In my view Melbourne and Victoria is the archetypal example of the folly of rapid population growth, and for me as Melbourne and Victorian born and bred, it is exactly the place to start a fight back and push back against this foolishness and short-sightedness.

So what is Victoria First going to do? There are many things we could do, but first and foremost we have to grow. You probably know that exponential growth is behind the population problems the world has. But I want us to make exponential growth work for us.

How will we grow?

Of course any and all suggestions to do this are welcome. I need and value your assistance in this mighty enterprise. But my ideas are as follows. First, enjoy the summer. I love the Australian way of life. The warm summer nights, the caravan parks by the beach ( not sand overshadowed by high rise) the cricket on TV. I want to save that, not spoil it. So have a rest and enjoy the summer. But I do want you to do three things over the summer.

First, join. It costs $10. But this is not about money. It's about your time and your energy and your various abilities. If you don't join today, please take a membership form and join later.
Second, take one or more of the takeaways, speeches etc. on the table and read them one day when you're sunning yourself somewhere.

And third, when you have those family or office or neighbourhood get togethers, or you're down the beach or up on the Murray River talking to someone in the tent next to you, get them gently, GENTLY - don't ram it down their throats, no-one likes being lectured - onto the topic of population and stewardship. And somewhere, in your family, or your workplace, or your street, or your holiday spot, find someone else who will join up.

If you all join up, and the people who are apologies who've told me they'll join up join up, we'll start with over 100. But by February 1st next year, let's make it 200. If everyone here finds one other person in the next two months, we'll have that.
And with 200 people we can letterbox a Federal electorate. Now it's up to me to find the money and get the leaflets printed - all help gratefully received! But it's up to me to accomplish that. And of course not everyone can letterbox, but I'm hoping that in your elaborate network and complicated circle of obligations and favours given and received that you can find someone to do that for you.

And if we can do this every month or couple of months next year we could build up to 1000 by the end of the year. They might prove to be very easy, or it might prove too ambitious, but it is a target, a goal.

And then the year after that, we will use our 1000 members to build up to 10000. Because then we will be taken seriously. We could have a rally now, but we will be ignored, almost certainly by media and certainly by governments. And even with a membership of 1000, in a state of several million we will still be ignored and overlooked. But if we have 10,000, and can turn out half of them to a rally outside Parliament House or the Melbourne Town Hall or the Property Council - then they will listen to us.

Of course we can support and be involved in campaigns which reinforce our message. A few meters from here they want to build a freeway through Royal Park and over what's left of the Moonee Ponds Creek.

It's a disgrace. Let's fight that. And my Council, Moreland, has released draft Planning Zones, or daft Planning Zones, that would enable high rise to move right through beautiful single story detached dwelling suburbs like Brunswick West, Pascoe Vale and Oak Park. Let's fight that.

And I'm up for innovative ideas on spreading the message. Use social media, of course. And taking our leaflets and membership application forms to places where people are feeling the sharp end of population growth - CBD car parks for motorists who've been stuck in traffic jams, Council meetings and VCAT hearings where residents are being done over by developers, universities, where students are facing ferocious competition in the job market, maybe auctions where young people are missing out on a home of their own, senior citizens clubs where older people struggle to pay the bills for our infrastructure expansion.

We need to find the people who are suffering from rapid population growth, support them, and recruit them.

CONCLUSION Edward Kennedy's speeches were undoubtedly some of the finest of the twentieth century, and everyone knows two passages from his speech about his second assassinated brother Robert, - ' my brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, but be remembered as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. And secondly, "some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were, and say why not?

But before he said those things in this most memorable of speeches he said the following.

"Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe".

I believe that as well. My fellow Victorians, it is time we went out and found ourselves some companions in this little corner of the globe.

Image icon kelvin-thomson-1-tiny.jpg4.58 KB