Jacob Greber’s Fin Rev article, “Why Australia needs millions more people – and is getting there fast,” seriously proposes a shocking dystopia where a constant stream of imported people continuously boosts a so-called working age cohort. In the scenario he promotes, very soon the incumbent population of today will be completely supplanted, which is tantamount to an invasion. But it won't stop there because there will be no stability at all. Everyone will be constantly replaced by new people. There will be no history and no democratic rights, just new young adults arriving.
How would such a society be governed? Only through an elite authoritarian system which, born of contempt for resistance and self-determination, would disallow these in no uncertain terms. What kinds of lives would the people in such a society have? Unsmilingly, the author evokes cartoonish values like those of Mr Burns in the Simpsons, completely impervious to human needs for freedom and political engagement. Allowing the Hobbsean fate of the lower classes we can only assume some god-like class to be in charge.
To make his arguments, Greber has mostly quoted pro-growth developers, politicians, and corporate think tanks. He has tried to make massive population growth appear inevitable, and that is the strategy of the class that is forcing abnormal rates of population growth on us - to frighten us and sap our will to fight or even argue. The author, however, has also conceded that democracy could still prevail, because he believes that the major parties only give fragile support for a bigger Australia, and that parties seeking government are likely to exploit public horror at a behemoth Australia in order to win power.
The article starts off eulogising ‘Malaysian-born entrepreneur Maha Sinnathamby’ and his privately built city near Ipswich – called Springfield (I’m not joking - maybe Mr Sinnathamby was?) for which a special Act of Queensland Parliament was made, apparently to prevent protest, or ‘NIMBYs.’ The point of Greber’s florid tribute to Sinnathamby’s city is to suggest that this is the way that you could force a huge population of about 150 million (at least) on the majority of Australians who do not want it – by making laws to override protest, and designing many new cities privately, lock stock and barrel, from the ground up, without significant involvement from any locals. These cities could be fed by a continuous stream of compliant immigrants.
By coincidence, I have actually read Sinnathamby’s ghostwritten autobiography, Stop Not Till the Goal is Reached: The 10 Principles for Fearless Success That Inspired Maha Sinnathamby to Build a City (2013) by Karen McCreadie. On the Amazon site where it is sold from, there was only one review from 2013 until recently, which describes the book as “A remarkable attempt at auto-hagiography on the part of a suburb-developer called Maha Sinnathamby with a degree in engineering.[…]”
Journalist Greber quotes Sinnathamby’s partner, Bob Sharpless and his scathing comments about the land they got for a song. These comments show the difference between engineering and developer values and ecological, nurturing, biodiverse values. Sharpless described the land as ‘underwhelming’ as a place ‘where elephants came to die,’ (such a strange metaphor for Australia and so disrespectful of elephants) and that there was ‘nothing there at all, except a prison and a mental facility,’ by which he meant that the area which had once been state forest, and was the traditional land of the Jagera, Yuggera and Ugarapul people, had almost no infrastructure. (Well, what would you expect of inland Queensland?) This notion of a deserted space aching for infrastructure (which many Australians would appreciate for its potential wilderness values) conjures a dramatic backdrop for the material and political engineering, and financing, of the subsequent synthetic city and population that Sinnathamby and Sharpless would build.
YEARS OF CONTROVERSY AND ANTI-DEVELOPMENT PROTESTS
“He and Sharpless paid the costs of fast-tracking the Centenary Highway extension. That was the turning point. In 1997, the Local Government (Springfield Zoning) Act was passed and after years of controversy, the council came on board too. Along the way, the company weathered anti-development protests, parochial tensions and a public scandal over bribery allegations about political donations […]” Narelle Hooper, “Maha's magnificent obsession,” AFR 8 July 2008.
In fact, there was a special Act of Parliament made for Springfield: Part 4C Provisions for Springfield structure plan in the Planning Act 2015. It seems crucial to know what rights citizens retain or do not retain in this privately constructed city, as regards, for instance, public space, political representation, and local government. Unfortunately, Jacob Greber does not discuss these.
After that introduction extolling Springfield, Greber gets back into the main Big Australia promotion. He refers to ‘cracks emerging’ in a ‘fragile major party consensus on a bigger Australia,’ whilst saying that the Albanese government knows it needs to ‘accelerate foreign skilled-worker’ migration to fill vacancies in ‘sectors such as aged care.’
Such statements about economic imperatives for more migration are typically vague. In fact, if land prices were not kept horrendously high by population growth-induced demand, the cost of living, hence nursing homes, other businesses, and wages, would go right down. Not needing to work so hard to survive to pay over-the-top mortgages and rents, people would have the time to look after their infirm elderly and, were it not for the manic commuting that characterises the haplessly atomised Australian workforce, they might still live nearby. People would leave their homes to their children, rather than to nursing homes and banks, and pressures on affordable housing would decline. An Australia with less materialistic values would be able to reemerge.
Well, the growth lobby sure does not want that to happen!
Noting that Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is exploiting the obvious problems involved in providing housing for massive migration-accelerated population growth, Greber suggests that there should be more parliamentary Acts to give extensive powers to developers, and less to citizens, now known as NIMBYs, so that new cities like Springfield could spring up everywhere wherever developers wanted – like “SimCity” – a kind of computer game of building virtual cities. See https://www.gameinformer.com/games/simcity/b/pc/archive/2013/01/25/what-you-need-to-know-about-simcity.aspx.
That’s the big danger: The population growth and housing lobby obviously does not think that residents should have democratic rights to self-government at local or any other level. More 'cities' like this mean more authoritarian governments with Springfield-type Acts and fewer land and civil rights. In an Australia redesigned by people along the lines of SimCity, the humans are just props for the god-like players.
The article below has nothing to say about Greater Springfield's demand on Queensland water, but we know that Queensland is now talking about incredibly expensive desalination plants.
SARDINE TIN STANDARDS
Greber raves on:
“Springfield is one of a handful of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, alongside burgeoning communities around Sydney’s new south-west airport, and Melbourne’s Tullamarine-Broadmeadows region. They represent the front line of Australia’s urban expansion, real-time experiments in how the country might accommodate a much larger population. And they demonstrate that despite considerable political tension over the nation’s ballooning numbers, and a dramatic shortage of housing stock, the country is still a long way from full.”
The author needs to supply a definition of 'full.' On the one hand he admits that Australians are terribly worried about the 'nation's ballooning numbers,' and on the other, he implies that these population-growth-engineered overdevelopments show that we can fit more in. The author continues to note that what the growth lobby want is not what most Australians want. This heedlessness of self-determination and democracy is the most worrying part of the whole growth push.
“Most politicians regard such talk as a lethal third rail because of public unease over Big Australia predictions. But Springfield’s story suggests that when done well – with the right policy and institutional frameworks – the future needn’t be a dystopian hellscape or Utopia TV show parody. It also highlights the role private sector investment will have to play. Because whether critics like it or not, avoiding a bigger Australia is not really an option.”
... And the hell with democracy.
Perhaps because there really are very few even apparently plausible excuses for massive population growth, Greber keeps returning to the aging population furphy, despite the fact that real population trends show that more migrants actually mean more population aging. Since 1788, we have had continuous, increasing migration to Australia, now to the point of close to two thirds of population growth, yet we still hear that there is an aging population problem. So, migration does not alleviate aging. Migrants age too and they arrive here older than new-born locals.
The problem of infirm older people is a medical one that has many solutions and is frequently avoidable. The problem of supporting pensioners will only increase with population growth, due to population pressure’s inflationary effect on land and other resource prices (which is what the growth lobby wants because they hope to control those resources). Without population pressure the cost of living and the possibility of saving for one's old age and living well, will become far more manageable.
The author also pretends that our economy will continue to need lots of old-fashioned labour and more 'productivity' far into the future, despite automation, fuel shortages, or climate constraints.
Although published in the Financial Review, which has pretensions to sophistication, Greber’s very long piece smacks of the usual cobbled-together argument that the growth lobby has trotted out for years, but stripped now of any civil veneer:
“While most Australians would shudder at the thought, imagine for a moment the population was more than five times larger than today, at 150 million. Instead of 25 million, the country’s citizenry would be closer to Japan’s (at 126 million), and materially larger than that of Germany (83 million), France and the UK (about 67 million each).”
Despite thus consigning Australians to utter misery under authoritarian regimes of privately controlled cities, Greber enthuses that “Australia’s economy would have transformed from a remote global supplier of dirt and energy into a diversified powerhouse.”
We could debate that statement in itself, but when Australia had seven million people and public land-development it had a more diverse and productive local economy than it did before becoming a deregulated houses and holes economy. But who’s kidding whom? The growth lobby doesn’t want a diverse economy: they want more houses and holes.
Aboriginal land-rights are also unlikely to improve with 150 million people and continuous rapid migration – but Greber doesn’t mention that either.
Is the economy there to serve society or are people there to serve the economy and make the growthists rich? (Greber writes that Greater Springfield’s ‘total potential end value has been put at $88 billion, entrenching Sinnathamby’s position on the Financial Review Rich List.)
“Alongside a vast consumer base, the country would have broadened local manufacturing, seen its enormous superannuation savings form the core of a deep and liquid global capital market, and confirmed its geostrategic heft as one of the primary defenders of western democracy in the Indo-Pacific. Nobody invades countries with militaries backed by a tax base of more than 100 million people.”
Above, the author drools about a vast consumer economy into perpetuity, ignoring all the obvious growing constraints of soil scarcity, food scarcity, water scarcity, materials scarcity, rubbish disposal logistics, climate change and, of course, self-determination.
HAVING AN INVASION TO PREVENT AN INVASION
Whilst advocating a literal invasion via authoritarian-imposed mass migration, Greber illogically also trots out the hoary old defence argument of having more people to prevent an invasion, concurrently ignoring the fact that even 150 million people are nothing in the face of China or India's population, were they to carry out a hostile invasion (when they can legally migrate), and ignoring the reality that defence depends on trade and diplomacy, not war.
“With population comes scale, and scale is a tremendously positive economic force,” says economist Steven Hamilton. “The reason Australia does not have a car industry is not because there’s something about Australia that is unusual or that cars are cheaper to build in China. It’s that Australia does not have the scale to support a car industry.”
Well, we had a car industry years ago, when we had a much smaller population. What we don’t have, and neither does China, is a car industry without programmed obsolescence. And there are no cheap cars in Australia due to the very high taxes on them. Also, what happened to virtuous values about having fewer cars? What about fuel shortages? The flimsy substance of this entire article is built on a 1950s ideal of continuous overconsumption. And the growth lobby won't ever be satisfied, no matter how big the population becomes, because what it wants is the demand that growth causes. Even the biggest population will stabilise its demand, unless you keep growing it. Of course, lurking behind all these words is the sorcerer’s apprentice problem of how big urban populations develop inertia where almost nothing can stop them from growing.
Greber throws more wood on the fire:
“According to the Grattan Institute, increasing the size of permanent migration intake to 200,000 from 160,000 could offer a $38 billion boost to federal and state governments over the subsequent decade. That’s because young, skilled migrants contribute more to the fiscal pie than they consume.” [The Grattan Institute has the Scanlon Foundation https://candobetter.net/node/1928, as well as banks and mining corporations among its supporters.]
This conjures up a real dystopia. A constant stream of new citizens to continuously boost an age cohort. Very soon the incumbent population of today would be completely supplanted, which is tantamount to an invasion. But it would not stop there because there would be no stability at all. Everyone would be constantly replaced by new people. There would be no history and no democratic rights. How would such a society be governed? Only through an elite authoritarian system which, born of contempt for resistance and self-determination, would disallow these in no uncertain terms. What kinds of lives would the people in such a society have?
Obviously, the author represents the ideals of a cohort completely impervious to human needs for freedom and political engagement, which presumably imagines it will always emerge on top of this pile of dehumanised pawns, and control them with smart-city xbox technology.
Greber skilfully evokes our gut-reactions to the pervasive threat of overpopulation. (Perhaps he has human reactions after all, but journalism is a job and journalists have mortgages too.)
“For many, such talk is deeply unsettling. It triggers top-of-throat anxieties about what a larger population would mean for Australia’s identity, lifestyle and environment. Most Australians have little concept of – and indeed are repelled – by the kind of social rules and conventions that organise high-density societies.”
This covers everything from being far more communitarian about resources such as housing to the unwritten codes of conduct that emerge when living in tight proximity with others. Watch Japanese line up on a packed rail station platform in Tokyo for a masterclass in respecting boundaries. That aversion explains why the population issue continues to lurk beneath the political landscape like an unexploded landmine. Only a tiny handful dare poke the bear.”
As for densely populated Japan, journalist Jospeh Greber overlooks the fact that many of the atomised urban Japanese, like Australians, remain unmarried and nulliparous, presumably reacting to overcrowding and high cost of living.
Greber quotes Kevin Rudd, that hyper of borrowed old ideas:
“I do not believe we can safely guarantee the nation’s future in this deeply uncertain world unless we become much bigger than we are,” Rudd wrote in his 2021 book The Case for Courage. “Precisely how much bigger will be a matter for detailed research on what we will need for our future national capacity, although a figure of 50 million people should be within our reach for the second half of the century. That would begin to place Australia in the same league as France, the United Kingdom and, in time, Germany.”
Germany and France are going backwards economically due to allowing themselves to be conned into surrendering sovereignty to a warmongering United States and NATO. The Australian Government apparently longs to follow suit.
“Rudd believes that number would provide a minimum level of economic mass needed to “sustain our long-term social expenditure to support our ageing population,” quotes Greber.
Again, the aging population furphy, absurdly highlighted against the background of massive inflationary demand of constantly growing populations and ballooning military industrial investment. In such a society, surely no-one is going to look after the infirm elderly anyhow. They will probably be expected to eat them in order to increase productivity. It's all looking like Soylent Green.
“Irrespective of how much such talk angers people and invokes fears about how to house those masses, or raises questions about where they would come from, Rudd’s future is the one we’re hurtling towards. The government’s latest population statement – released during the traditional summer holiday silly season – shows the population is expected to reach 30 million within 10 years, or by 2033. Chances are high that even that prediction ends up surprising us on the upside.”
PROPAGANDA-DEMOGRAPHICS AND AUTHORITARIAN TRENDS
Greber correctly quotes several past population forecasts, which all undershot the real trajectory. These so-called forecasts were a kind of propaganda-demographics based on past trends, and the population trajectory changed as it was engineered by increasingly authoritarian Australian governments and media. The population problem is above all a democratic problem.
“Sam Roggeveen at the Lowy Institute says both parties agree that immigration makes sense for all sorts of reasons – “except that they just agree to not talk about it. We basically run a very aggressive immigration policy by OECD standards. We’ve got some of the most rapid population growth of any OECD economy, and yet we never talk about it because as soon as you ask Australians, they say we don’t want it.””
The Lowy Institute was established by a major property developer who was known for creating vast shopping malls. It is not surprising that this research institute reflects those values and business priorities that depend on growing consumers and consumption.
“Roggeveen says the major party collusion on immigration means Australia never reaches a public consensus on the topic. That’s a problem, he suggests, in the same way that Britain’s failure to build a public majority in favour of European integration eventually backfired by creating an opportunity for opponents before the Brexit vote.
“Brits aren’t particularly anti-European. But what they objected to was that they were never asked, and what they wanted to do was stick one on the political class.””
Here Greber recognises the democracy problem, but what does he propose should be done about it? Oh, I see, he writes as if he expects it to be an issue in the next election and as if he hopes that somehow the growthists will manage to get the outcome they want.
There are really very few arms to the ‘Australia needs a massive population argument.’ One is about an aging population disaster, and another is that we have to show the world that we are not racist. Both are ridiculous but they are all the growthists have, apart from vague promises that bigger means a more diverse economy.
So, Greber predictably next reruns one of the 'racism' furphies, suggesting that if the electorate manage to bring about a halt to population growth, our international neighbours will take this as an insult because we currently have an 'open' migration policy (by which he means non-discriminatory on race) and to cut back on immigration numbers would somehow then mean we were discriminating on race. This is sort of a peak in crazy dishonest argument.
“A larger population would not necessarily mean Australia would need to maintain a larger military either. “Australian defence is not particularly labour intensive. It’s capital intensive. So the point here is to grow the tax base.”
'Growing the tax-base' whilst shrinking the personal space. A nation like a crop - of humans.
Greber next carries on vaguely about technological solutions for an overpopulated Australia, all of which tend to be very expensive, logistically problematical, and dangerously vulnerable to social, economic, climatic, and civilisational decline.
Having acknowledged that most of us live on the [not-so-green] greener coasts and that the rest of Australia is largely desert, Greber then tries to float a typically absurd population density argument based on averaging current and his proposed future population over the entire land, including deserts - although he is comparing it to the densities of green Germany and Japan. Which reminds me, Greater Springfield private city in Queensland was not built in the desert. It still uses public water catchments, and its population is driving up the cost of water for all Queenslanders.
Greber follows up with a nightmare description of a human footprint ballooning over all the inhabitable land and cancelling all forests, farmland, and native habitat. And for what? For more of the same but less for all except a greedy elite of technocrats and developers. A vision that has no real justification except greed. A vision that holds most humans in contempt as no more than a crop to be picked and replanted with new seed, like a machine going faster and faster until it has consumed everything in sight.
“Even if you found a way of putting the entirety of Australia’s future mega population into Victoria alone, the state would have a lower density – at 660 people per square kilometre – than Singapore (7919) and Monaco (18,215). The real goal would be to encourage growth where it now does not exist, even while making current population centres more efficient, both in terms of land but also productivity."
Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane would expand to attain “megacity” status – probably with populations in the 10 million to 15 million range. Their inner and middle rings would have become high-density urban employment growth centres. Their boundaries would have blended into larger agglomerations. Brisbane might stretch to the Sunshine Coast, westwards to the Darling Downs and southwards into northern NSW.
Sydney would run from Newcastle to Wollongong via the eastern edge of the Blue Mountains. Melbourne might become the midpoint of a Geelong-to-Ballarat super triangle. And Australia would need to accommodate a further 500 fully grown Springfields.”
Needless to say, (although Greber doesn’t even mention it) there would be a native animal and tree holocaust.
Singapore and Monaco populations depend on farms, mines, accompanying infrastructure, and other necessities outside their borders. In Greber’s scenario, so would Australia. One needs to be more thoughtful and educated in ecology to realise that population density is a reflection of local soil, water, climate and terrain. Leveraging that by an order of magnitude on human engineering is an Icarus project that can damn generations.
Greber raves on:
“We need to do all the policy stuff anyway, like liberalising land use regulation, transport, infrastructure. They’re no-regrets decisions. We should do them, and then we could double the immigration intake without problem.”
Except of course for causing the death of any democracy in Australia.
It's like watching a pyromaniac with a box of matches claiming he can control bush fires single-handed.
He concludes, like a true gambler:
“It would be all gravy.”
For developers and those with their clutches on the resources. Misery for the rest of us.
 Jacob Greber, 'Why Australia needs millions more people – and is getting there fast', The Australian Financial Review Magazine, July 27 2023 https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/why-australia-needs-millions-more-people-and-is-getting-there-fast-20230612-p5dg0n