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More chickens of population growth come home to roost in Queensland

Had the promises of the growth merchants over past decades been realised, Queenslanders, having had their population more than double from 2 million in 1972 to its current 4,258,3511, would today be enjoying a blissful carefree existence together with unprecedented prosperity. Somehow, it has turned out differently.


"One of the questions that is not put in the political process by either side of politics, let alone answered, is: Towards what are we striving to grow?" - Brendan Nelson.
for more, read "When growth turns into a monster" by Ross Gittins

Almost every day of the week, Queenslanders are greeted in the Brisbane Courier Mail newspaper with ever more stories which chronicle their declining quality of life. The Courier Mail of Tuesday 13 May was no exception. Such stories included: "Price Surge - Water costs to rise beyond all promises" on the front page, a related story about the Sunshine Coast, "Coast pays as it gives" on page 4 and "Council's bus squeeze crisis keeps commuters stranded" on page 13. In the online version of 13 May, is the story "Newman's rates warning" about how Lord Mayor Campbell Newman intends to break his election promise made in March not to increase council rates above the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Only on Saturday, yet more stories "Long wait for hospital cure", "Surgery blowouts hit reform agenda" (page 15) and and a related editorial. Over previous weeks, the pages of the Courier Mail have been full of stories about traffic congestion and skyrocketing housing costs.

Water charges to increase

In the front page story "Price Surge - Water costs to rise beyond all promises" Steven Wardill Rosemary Odgers report:

HOUSEHOLDS will be forced to pay much more on water bills than the Government promised because of a blow-out in the cost of drought-proofing infrastructure.

The Government yesterday revealed average household bills across the region would rise from $483 a year to $750 a year over the next five years to pay off its $9 billion water grid.

The rise in bulk water costs, which are charged to councils and passed on to households, is significantly higher than the Government claimed last year when it estimated the average bill would rise to only $525 by 2013.

Rising council water charges, soaring capital costs, inflation and interest rates have all been blamed for the blowout in the price of turning on the tap.

The story also notes that these costs are in addition to electricity and gas charges which have “both recently risen despite the Government saying that they would probably decrease under regulatory reform.” In fact, these are indirectly related to the population growth as these increases would appear to be a consequence of the privatisation in 2006 of Energex and Ergon the retail arms of the respective publicly-owned electricity and gas utilities. The reason proffered at the time by the then Premier Peter Beattie was that the sales to pay for the damming of the Mary River which was necessary to solve the water crisis. So, in addition to the loss of the rich agricultural soil of the Mary Valley, the destruction of a rural community and the threatened extinction of the the Mary River Cod, the Mary River turtle and the lungfish, Queenslanders are expected to also pay for population growth by selling off ever more family silver.

A related story "Coast pays as it gives" on page 4 tells of how, according to Sunshine Coast Mayor Bob Abbot, his constituents are to pay icreased rates to have their water piped off to cope with the water requirements of Brisbane's additional population. Annual rates for Caloundra will jump from $356 to $386 in 2009-2010 and to $550 in five years. Noosa's will skyrocket from $407 to $601, and Maroochy's are expected to be $584 in five years' time.

The public transport crisis

"Council's bus squeeze crisis keeps commuters stranded" Melanie Christiansen reported that last month 1800 buses left commuters because they were full. This was a jump of 60% up from 1128 in March, although Council's public transport chairwoman Councillor Jane Prentice attributed this spike to a new accounting system, which made it easier for these statistics to be recorded by bus drivers and that 30 buses had been taken off the road in April rising to 63 in May as a result of a gas cylinder explosion at a major depot.

To this the Opposition transport spokeswoman Victoria Newton responded that as April was a traditionally a quieter month, so the 60% spike was still alarming.

With 63 buses off the road in May, Jane Prentice warned that this month's figures are expected to be even worse.

Financial crises driven by population growth and resource-shortages

In the online version of the Courier Mail, presumably to be printed on the 14th, is the story "Newman's rates warning" about how Lord Mayor Campbell Newman intends to break the solemn promise he made during the election Campaign of March 2008 not it increase council rates above the CPI.

Lord Mayor Campbell Newman has backed away from promises he would not raise rates above a low single digit, claiming after learning of the new forecast for inflation, "all bets are off".

The excuse given by Newman was that soaring costs of infrastructure exceeded the CPI. However, this should have come as no surprise to Newman. On 15 Feb 2008, Prior to the 2008 election, the local government association.warned that council costs were rising in excess of the CPI and during the election campaign as an independent Mayoral candidate I warned both in an interview given to the Courier Mail newspaper and in published documents that after the optimum population size, long ago surpassed in South East Queensland, had been reached, population growth actually causes per-capita costs for services to be increased.

Opponents of Newman's extravagant white elephant projects such as the Hale Street Bridge and the North South Bypass Tunnel have for years warned that these projects had not been properly costed and that costs were likely to escalate due to increasing costs of petroleum and other increasingly scarce commodities, but Newman together with the Labor Council majority and the State Government, ignored these warnings and continued both to encourage population growth and in the construction of infrastructure ostensibly aimed at alleviating the symptoms of population growth and Queenslanders continue to pay the price.

In spite of the copious evidence of the harm caused by population growth, even within its own pages, the Courier Mail adamantly refuses to point out the obvious link to its readership. Instead, it relentlessly propagandises in favour of population growth2. In its editorial of 10 May "Fix the health system, Minister", referred to above, can be found an example of the more subtle and insidious form of propaganda, with which the Courier Mail, the rest of the Murdoch newsmedia3 excel, that is, to pretend that population growth is a given over which none of us have any choice:

Furthermore, the health system is struggling simply to keep pace with the strain caused by a rapidly growing – and aging – population.

During this time, the population increased by some 100,000 people.

In fact, it is the Courier Mail, together with the pro-growth politicians and the land speculators and property developers whom they all serve, who have decided, behind our backs, to promote the population growth, without which the health4 and other crises that the Courier Mail regularly rails against with seeming indignation, would not even exist.

Footnotes

1. See population clock on www.oesr.qld.gov.au [back]

2. Some examples of overt propaganda (although dated by now) are to be found in the article "The Courier Mail beats the drum for more Queensland population growth" originally written in January 2007. [back]

3. See also The Australian laments outcome of Queensland local government elections [back]

4. A letter in the Courier Mail of Tuesday 13 April, whilst not arguing against population growth, pointed out: “ … the tables you published confirm the excellent job being done by Queensland Health. They show the health budget per-capita has grown from $1190 in 2004-2005 to $1673 in 2007-2008. There are more doctors, more nurses and more allied staff. The fact that Queensland's population has grown exponentially in the same period has not been given the weight it should be to make the article a balanced or reasonable critique. … ”
Comment:In fact, this still begs the question as to why, if per-capita spending has increased, the waiting lists are still growing. It would seem to lend further weight to the argument put above that per-capita costs of services increase rather than decrease as population grows beyond an optimum size.[back]