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An ecological and humanistic response to Breunig & Fabian's defense of massive immigration to Australia

I found what struck me personally as egregious growthist propaganda dressed up as an academic research article on The Conversation, yesterday: "Blaming immigrants for unemployment, lower wages and high house prices is too simplistic." [February 23, 2018 11.26am AEDT]. The article was headed up by professor of economics, Robert Breunig from the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, and co-authored by Mark Fabian, Postgraduate student, Australian National University. Professor Breunig disclosed that he receives funding from the Productivity Commission, which I think is a leopard with continuously changing arrangement of spots according to whatever political background it needs to blend into for survival. Leith van Onselen's debate with Migration Council's CEO Carla Wilshire of the on the ABC’s National Wrapdocumented here, seems to illustrate this, but for all I know the professor and his student actually believe what they write.

Jobs! The plaintive refrain and the crocodile tears...

Criticising ex-PM Tony Abbott's extremely belated calls for reducing Australia's immigration-fed overpopulation problems, Breunig and Fabian write, “But migrants also bring capital, investing in houses, appliances, businesses, education and many other things. This increases economic activity and the number of jobs available.” It sounds like they are describing molecules in a heated gas.

Increasing economic activity increases impact on our environment and politically disempowers us

Increasing economic activity increases impact on our environment and politically disempowers us. Massive population growth in this country is removing our choices of what we can buy with money, whilst inflating the cost of the reduced amenity and shelter that population growth is causing. That's impoverishing. Just on the business side, the cost of premises and paying wages so that employees can afford housing makes Australian businesses globally uncompetitive and provides an explanation for their mysteriously high rate of failure.

I am going to talk about how changes to laws and standards as to how our natural environment and urban spaces are treated and our rights within them are taking place without any meaningful public discussion or empowerment in order to allow growth to proceed.

Breunig and Fabian's article completely ignores the beautiful non-human environment we have in Australia, the green bits of which are being cut up into biogeographical islands, then paved over, subdivided and sold for ever higher monetary value. I suspect this failure to engage with nature is because its writers currently live in a bubble and simply don’t know or care about wildlife or green spaces or have compartmentalised this reality. So they are writing without my values or those of many other Australians or the values that attracted many immigrants.

Although there are laws for the protection of wildlife in this country, they are simply not applied. This is one reason that population growth can continue, for the recently beefed up Prevention of Cruelty Act 1986, the Fauna and Flora Guarantee Act 1988 and the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 would otherwise prevent the big business and government agenda for a big human population and infrastructure expansion.

Who cleans up the blood and guts as humans overrun nature?

I am, however, acutely aware, because I am involved personally, of how various authorities and contractors are expecting local wildlife carers and rescuers to clean up the huge callous mess and damage to flesh and blood that they are causing. Carers and rescuers are paying for artifical nests, feeding, nursing and medicating so many injured and displaced animals. Then those carers have to find some other place to release them, as habitat is destroyed all around them, whilst people like the authors of this article I am commenting on are claiming that the only problem about housing is failure to release land. We on this side of reality are fighting to stop the ‘release’ of land to bitumen and profit for a few in the growth lobby. (I am also qualified to talk about the growth lobby because I was the first person to write about it in Australia in a 2002 thesis - The Growth lobby in Australia and its Absence in France - which compared our system to the French one, which latter costs population growth as a cost to the public purse.)

Here are some examples of the callous vandalism that is taking place as we speak:

I live in Victoria and currently VicRoads and Melbourne Water are removing an extraordinary number of trees. For the expansion of the Melbourne metro rail project (which aims to cater for our artificially stimulated population growth) I have been informed that around 800 trees are being removed from urban Melbourne. Most of these are large mature trees, which have provided shade and enjoyment to people, and habitat for Australian wildlife, including birds and mammals. The public has not been consulted in any meaningful way about this. The St Kilda Road Avenue that leads to the war memorial and the botanic gardens, has been vandalised for this purpose. This avenue is a feature of Melbourne not unlike the Champs Elysees of Paris. To vandalise this is equivalent to a resounding slap across the face by Melbourne Planners of citizens who grew up here. Many find it shocking and distressing as a recent protest shows. https://candobetter.net/node/5413

But wait, there's more....

But it is not just rail changes that are destroying wildlife habitat. Melbourne Roads have recently changed their policy on roadside and median strip vegetation, with absolutely devastating results for local climate, ammenity and habitat: https://candobetter.net/node/5304

Then Melbourne water is now treating small local retardant basins as major dams, under the ANCOLD guidelines. Why are small retarding basins being treated as major dams? Because our 60% immigration fueled population growth has caused urban densification and the proliferation of hard surfaces. Although this was predicted by residents with foresight in many VCAT battles, these hard surfaces now carry the threat of major floods, so the small retarding basins that were adequate for many decades, now are deemed in need of reinforcement to bring them up to major dam status!

What has this got to do with trees and wildlife habitat and human amenity, you ask?

These new ANCOLD guidelines require the removal of all trees from ‘batters’ or dam banks. Since previous thinking caused the planting of trees because trees stabilise earth-forms, this ‘new’ thinking requires the removal of another huge quantity of mature trees, denuding much parkland throughout Victoria. Can you blame me if I suspect this is also to suit private developers and people who want land ‘released’ [from the commons and nature]?

The implications of these ANCOLD guidelines (which are now an Australian standard that is threatening green spaces all over the green bits surrounding this 70% hot desert and rangeland island) are staggering for the green wedges that follow Victoria’s rivers and creeks, their canopies cooling our environment through transpirational heat exchange, lowering water tables through the same transpiration, providing habitat for our wildlife and a green commons for our human spirits. Melbourne Water is in charge of more than 200 such basins. It pretends to follow guidelines to protect the displaced wildlife but in fact it does not have plans in place for their survival and reestablishment. It invites people to ‘revegetate’ what it has devastated, but our wildlife cannot wait for 25 yrs while trees grow to maturity, or 100 yrs plus until natural hollows occur. And the cheek of Melbourne Water to invite the people for whom its works have diminished their natural ammenity to replant such areas and not be paid! Insults added to injury. If you want to read more about this scandal, and its impact on wildlife, community and democracy, have a look at https://candobetter.net/node/5401 and https://awpc.org.au/awpc-to-melbourne-water-response-on-tree-removal-lee-st-retardant-basin/. Furthermore, there is a rumour that the Federal government is planning to make work like tree-planting mandatory for environmental organisations to qualify as tax-deductible. Slave labour for public works damage! And when every government leads with the plaintive cry of "Jobs!" This is where the labour is required.

Still more ... Cull permits for gentlemen farmers

And it doesn’t stop there. Big money in densifying rural areas is impeding the passage of kangaroos to their feeding grounds, with the usual myth [See https://awpc.org.au/roo-scientists-admit-industry-stimulates-roo-population-growth-whilst-calling-roos-pests/ ] that there are ‘too many’ - a hollow farce familiar to the wildlife carers who must deal with the injuries that come from ‘gentlemen farmers’ taking potshots with permission from the ever generous and poorly overseen permissions to cull issued by DWELP: https://awpc.org.au/awpc-speak-out-against-the-culling-of-kangaroos-in-cape-schanck/.

And more ... Freeways and tollroads devastate our landscapes and wildlife

And then there are there is the devastation caused by freeways and tollways created to ‘solve’ the congestion problems created by overpopulation. Money given to Parks Victoria by Peninsula Link for predator proof fences around scarce bandicoot habitat has been diverted to another program far from the original area, consolidating the damage that wildlife campaigners thought they might have mitigated in this place.

And don't rely on Parks Victoria to help the situation ...

Of course the public think that Parks Victoria is looking after animals in the parks it manages for ‘healthy people’, but we cannot rely on Parks Victoria. See https://candobetter.net/node/2376 and https://candobetter.net/node/2377.

Australian Wildlife Protection Council

And the examples I give here are actually taking place at the mouth of the Mornington Peninsula Biosphere - scheduled for densification, of course. Shame!

It is not the big-name conservation organisations but the hands on volunteers in organisations like AWPC (whose articles I have used as examples) that are doing the hard yards in this vicious losing battle against a delusional ideology fueled by speculative money that wants to increase human population despite our population being bigger by an order of magnitude than it has ever been for the bulk of its history. Does economics totally lack a sense of proportion or irony? The King Midas myth and the magic pudding pale against the science of modern economics which seems so similar to 17th century economics and official religion.
The notions put forward in the article I am commenting on simply stagger me in their unreal, coldly irrational model of the world we live in, biological human values, and what passes in The Conversation for research and analysis. Unfortunately these are the dominant models and values that are then acted on by governments and their contractors, in a great tragedy for this beautiful and fragile land that gives us all life.

Comments

Sheila, your post is an eloquent, beautiful and heart-wrenching piece of writing. Thank you for expressing what so many of us feel, and yet which somehow does not enter the consciousness of many highly educated, intelligent professionals who still think it is ok to feed the growth megamachine, using the justificatory tools of economics in particular.
I also loved the video which was part of your post -- really outstanding.
By the way, does the candobetter site have a facility to share via FB and to Tweet your posts? It would make it easier to get the message out.

Hi Peter, see https://www.facebook.com/Can-Do-Better-1465862880372204/.

Thanks for commenting. I've become aware of the legislation and the animal rescues on the ground only recently. AWPC has a new president and secretary who are both experienced animal rescuers and carers and we have been really into detailed confrontation with the various cruelty laws and their administration and failure to enforce. We interact with a number of other wildlife rescuers etc and this has been a fascinating revelation of the level of unofficial harassment and exploitation of wildlife rescuers and carers from government departments as well as callous failure to enforce laws. As for the film, as you can see it's old, in an old format, and when I uploaded it there were restrictions on the size, therefore on the definition, unfortunately.

But it is true that that film shows how I feel. The footage of new housing and land being torn up was done at the beginnings of the Cranbourne and Berwick housing tsunami which now spreads like an ocean of dead material.

This article is an excellent overview of current destruction of the local environment in Victoria and most likely other states. It is not comprehensive of course because there is always more; our forests, our waterways and our oceans too are suffering from human impacts. If we do not reverse this fast , we are in terrible trouble. Where do we turn to? Everywhere we think we should be able to turn,it's as though the establishment is run by drunks , drug addicts or sleepwalkers. The people trying to correct the steering on the terrible wrong turn or deal with the fallout are all volunteers. No authority is taking care of us or our fellow creatures.

Thanks for the comment, Simone. In part the article's focus was to link isolated events that have caused protests, with wider government policies behind them, which most protesters are still not aware of - often because they simply cannot believe that their governments would do this to us. Also, I wanted to show how population growth is now directly causing tree clearing on a grand scale, due to changes in policy to adapt to greater volumes of traffic and runoff. The thing that alerted me early to what I would call overpopulation in Australia was the effects I could see on habitat and less frequent sightings of wildlife, more rabbits and rundown farm properties near towns, changes in the 'demography' of rural areas, with 'sea-change' and retirement villages popping up in once-was farmland, rabbits and rats all over the place. I remember a one-eyed half-starved wallaby trying to eat a watermelon husk on the outskirts of a camping ground. If I went into the bush, sometimes I did not even hear birds. Giant ferns in once perfect coast forests started to dry and weed species competed with them. I'm thinking of changes to between Waratah Bay and Cape Liptrap, actually. That is where I first noticed them, beginning in the late 1980s - after coming out of a long period more or less marooned in urban Melbourne. I also began to notice the effects of fires; there was less and less undergrowth. Large trees few and far between.

Candobetter.net Editor: This timely comment has been republished as an article, here: "Diversionary tactics, smokescreens and the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Bill 2017".
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My first glimpse of the political gravy train (game of mates) in Australia was back in 1992 prior to Jeff sacking Victoria’s councils. As a bastard from the bush in the State seat of Rodney I’d joined the National Party who at the time was doing some good work for the farming community. The local branch had called an open meeting for all members and prospective members to attend to hear from speakers Noel Maughan (MLA for Rodney) and Bill Baxter (MLC for North East Province) regarding the forthcoming election.

The spectre of Council Amalgamations was in the wind and at the meeting we were informed by Bill Baxter with great emphasis that the National Party would not tolerate Council Amalgamations in any shape or form whatsoever. Within 2 years Council Amalgamations were rammed through parliament with the National Party’s blessing. At a subsequent meeting of the local branch of the Nashos when it was put to Bill Baxter regarding the obvious about-face, flip, sell-out, he refuted (lied) that he had ever given the aforesaid commitment. The meeting degenerated into a farce with Bill being ushered out the back door and many members including yours truly resigning their membership in disgust!

I came to realise over the ensuing years that all of the major political parties carried political baggage similar to that of the National Party. The (once) Liberal Party had morphed into a conservative organisation taking the nashos with them (or Vicky Verca), the Labour Party sold out the workers, both parties adopted neoliberal principles and the Democrats were on a hiding to nothing trying to keep the bastards honest. The neoliberal mantra under the Hawke/Keating Federal Government and the Kennett State Government redefined the political landscape dramatically during this time.

Today the landscape has only changed in the fact that the Demos have gone and have been replaced by the “Greens” who are also neoliberal despite somewhat honourable beginnings. Politically Australia has become a backwater of neoliberalism similar to North America and most of Europe and is suffering under the yoke of American hegemony, Chinese influence, neo-classical economics, overpopulation driven climate change and political indecision on all facets of the home front.

Much of what passes for legislation at federal level today is aimed at putting out spot fires or shoring-up community/electoral support for the Turnbull Government. Similar to the State Governments of both Baillieu and Napthine, the Abbott and Turnbull Federal Governments have been do nothing ministries. There has been no significant legislation that these Premiers/Prime Ministers could or can hang their hats on, nothing, nought, zip, zilch!!

They have gone from proposing the ludicrous to the unworkable, shoring-up their support as they go! As spot fires break out around them their time and energy is consumed putting them out. In an effort to achieve this, diversionary tactics or smoke screens are often employed to take the community’s/electorate’s eye off the ball. The classic here was the “Same Sex Marriage” bill which was always going to get up, being taken to a (“referendum”) postal vote. This took some of the heat off the Feds for 6 months wasting time and money. In the meantime, Australia, as a nation, just drifted along with the Yanks pulling us one direction and the Chinese the other.

I read with interest the excepts from Clive Hamilton’s book “Silent Invasion” in Saturday’s Age and am currently reading Robert Macklin’s “Dragon & Kangaroo” and I’m beginning to understand an aspect of Australia’s history they I hadn’t grasped previously. Unfortunately, there is not much to like in what I’ve read so far and combined with our colonial sycophancy and our current obsequiousness to the good old USofA, we are sadly lacking especially when it comes to leadership of the nation.

To me the “Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017” is more of the same – putting out a spot fire/diversionary tactic. The bill may be aimed at so-called charities that provide political advocacy while at the same time accommodating such advocacy through the back door, the bill may claim some smaller fry that are, to the government, collateral damage. Instead of addressing political donations head-on, we pathetically tinker around at the edges. As the dust settles the sharks that were dominating the pond are still there while the sardines have been thinned out!

However, I do believe that any bid to curb the right of individuals to collectively provide alms and benevolence or to protest by either the Federal or State Governments to be an infringement of our civil liberties. This where the Australian constitution is an absolute dodo. Similar to the constitution not recognising First Australians, it doesn’t recognise the civil liberties of all Australians. As the constitution continues to fail all Australians and it will increasingly do so in the future, the more ordinary Australians and groups of Ozzies including charities will come under the spotlight. These individuals and groups will then be put under the microscope while those with money, power and political clout will able to evade this bandaid legislation and carry on as if nothing has happened.

Meanwhile the yawning gap between the haves and the have nots widens appreciably. As the middle class become trapped by the zombie neo-classical economics, climate change tightens its noose, environmental degradation continues unabated, resources become depleted, civil unrest mounts as people go hungry, fresh water diminishes and spills over into war and mass migration. This is the leaderless society that is being thrust upon us. Overpopulation is a killer!!

John Bentley