This article Oz Population Growth Lunacy is a nice example of the scrambled head-space of some journalists. Yes, Monica Attard (ex ABC, now working for the Hoopla website) can see David Attenborough's point that population growth can't go on for ever,and she can even see that "It’s hard to fathom how governments (all levels of them) can act fast and smart enough to ease the congestion we are seeing in the major cities across Australia, the spiraling cost of housing and an environment which looks stressed."
Yet if a government-appointed committee says it's all right then it must be. She can then go back to suggesting it's just as well not to think too much about these things because that might lead to encouraging people who . . .well . . . think too much about them. Or are "anti-immigration" ---a term which she seems to equate both with anti-very-high-immigration and with anti-immigrant.
I did learn one thing from this piece of hers (of May 28th) that has just come to my notice. It seems that one of the initiatives of the now half-forgotten Ministry for Sustainable Population (headed by Tony Burke, who never even met with anyone from Sustainable Population Australia, and whose Sustainability portfolio vanished under Rudd) was to set up last October a "National Sustainability Council" (whose members Burke chose). This Council, it seems, has put out a report that has been so largely ignored that till now I never heard about it. (However you can find a summary of it here. It's pretty anodyne.)
Yet it seems the Report contained all the re-assuring and distracting noises that Monica needed to calm her disquiet on this issue. As she reports: "Though the Sustainable Australia report itself steers well clear of taking a position on what’s best – big population or small population – it does give us a glimpse of what it might be thinking. One point it makes clearly is that there seems little point in setting population targets because there are too many factors which are always in a state of flux – like fertility rates, longevity and emigration, all of which are unpredictable".
Monica swallows this cop-out. Then, throwing in some caricature of her own, assures her readers that "Someone should tell Sir David, Australia is thinking about these issues. Specialists and bureaucrats are working on how to deal with what lies ahead without having to resort to a Chinese style one-child policy!"
She also claims that, "Migrants not only contribute to higher levels of productivity and to labour force participation and growth." [For a simple refutation of this PR stuff, see “More bills than skills from this migration”, The National Times, 19 July 2011. http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/more-bills-than-skills-from-this-migration-20110718-1hlgk.html ] Attard continues: "According to the Sustainable Australia report: “Migrants have also increasingly been contributing to growth and development in regional Australia. One in every six new permanent arrivals is now settling in a regional area.”
[ -- but not, it seems, necessarily staying there.]
She also meekly accepts the Tony Bourke line that it's not a matter of how many people we have but of where and how we put them. "As the report emphasizes, population change isn’t only about how many people Australia ends up housing at any particular point in time."
Oddly enough she doesn't accept the common line that we need a bigger population to stop our labour force aging, but somehow manages to twist the opposite view into yet another argument for population growth:
"But on the upside, being so healthy means “the proportion of working aged citizens is high compared to the number of non-working-aged people, resulting in high rates of productivity and economic growth” according to Sustainable Australia: a tick for the economy and the flow through effects which could make us better at getting bigger."
Heads I win, tails you lose! And by the end she has come round to the common innumerate belief that good management will enable Australia to take in the populations that the rest of the world can't accommodate, without any fall in our quality of life -- or presumably any important damage to the natural or the urban environments:
"Sir David Attenborough might think the debate isn’t worth having. But with such a large expanse of land and so many people the world over searching desperately for a new chance at the good life, it’s over to government to figure out how to make it work so we all get to live – sustainably – in the manner to which we have become accustomed."
So now it's David Attenborough, not Monica and not the government, that is refusing to think about population. Perhaps Monica failed to check who selected these experts [in fact a mixed group, who as Tony Burke well knew would produce a rather mixed message, which would leave the government free to do pretty much as it wished] and why their conclusions were so different from those of the Productivity Commission, or the Immigration Department's "Redbook" advice (which told incoming PM Gillard that there was no real prospect of preventing immigrants settling overwhelmingly in the already crowded capital cities).
This article was written by Mark O'Connor, who is running as a candidate for the Stable Population Party in the A.C.T. in the Federal Election. More information here.