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Interview with William Bourke, leader of Stable Population Party Australia

On Monday 17 May I interviewed William Bourke about himself and his party and his views on the politics of the current population debate. He described concerns about the impact of population numbers since the 1990s, but said that reading the book, Overloading Australia, had really galvanised him to do something about this.

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William comes across as soft-spoken, pleasant and focused, with a careful and businesslike approach to the task in hand of building and running a political party, to help deal with a grave national problem which has been kept off the democratic agenda for too long. I came away from the interview with confidence in his ability to represent Australians and head a party.

SHEILA NEWMAN: How are the membership numbers going for Stable Population Party Australia?

WILLIAM BOURKE: We are on the cusp of achieving 500 members. We are hoping to lodge a formal application to register Stable Population Party of Australia in June.

SHEILA NEWMAN: How do you feel that your party’s readiness and ability compares with other parties also looking at population numbers?

WILLIAM BOURKE: We are ticking the boxes and we are well prepared.

SHEILA NEWMAN: Will you be fielding candidates in every state?

WILLIAM BOURKE: We hope to. We will be focusing on that issue after we lodge our registration. We have, of course, been approached by a number of people seeking candidature.

SHEILA NEWMAN: Which state is most strongly represented in your membership or seems to feel most strongly about stabilizing population?

WILLIAM BOURKE: We have a good spread around the country.

SHEILA NEWMAN: Have you found any likely candidates in Victoria?

WILLIAM BOURKE: I must emphasise that we haven’t fully reviewed every possible candidate. We have had contact from possible candidates in Vic – and elsewhere – including some with political backgrounds. In June we will follow up on this part of the process.

SHEILA NEWMAN: You’re not in a hurry?

WILLIAM BOURKE: We have to manage the candidate process properly, like everything else. The good thing is that we know who is genuine and who isn't. We have a good process for selection.

SHEILA NEWMAN: When did you first become aware that Australia's population numbers were getting too big?

WILLIAM BOURKE: I have newspaper clippings from the mid-nineties, when it really started to become a major issue. Those newspaper clippings outline the same problems that we are discussing today but they are now much worse.

SHEILA NEWMAN: How old are you?


SHEILA NEWMAN: What population impacts bother you the most?

WILLIAM BOURKE: I have a business background and the thing that initially struck me is that population growth is an economic disaster. The trade deficits, skyrocketing foreign debt, overloaded infrastructure, and impoverished government budgets – population growth is a false economy. Through my small business, I am in a position to experience the importance of how $12.9b per year is lost in economic activity due to infrastructure overload like congested traffic.

I also have a passion for the environment, especially our native wildlife. One of my favorite activities is bushwalking in Ku-Rin-Gai National Park. I like to think I have a strong environmental conscience, going back to the days where I used to drive my parents mad policing the kitchen recycling program.

SHEILA NEWMAN: What line of business are you in?

WILLIAM BOURKE: I have been in accounting and finance and currently run a small business in marketing and communications. Rising energy costs, water costs, rent costs, car-running costs, negatively impact on my business and these growing expenses are clearly related to population increase.

SHEILA NEWMAN: Where do you think the government is going with its policy on population at the moment?

WILLIAM BOURKE: I think they are trying to neutralise the issue, but we offer a real alternative without band-aids which will contrast well with the government’s patched-up alternatives.

SHEILA NEWMAN: Where do you think the opposition is going with the population issue?

WILLIAM BOURKE: It seems to me that they are trying to mimic the John Howard tactic of muscling up against refugees and hoping that will give the impression that they can manage population growth and immigration. In reality we know that John Howard was the leader of the party which actually opened the floodgates and that Tony Abbott would maintain this.

SHEILA NEWMAN: What do you think of Labor MP Kelvin Thomson's views and his role?

WILLIAM BOURKE: I think he is a true leader and that in time he will be appropriately judged.

SHEILA NEWMAN: What did you think of the Population Reform Forums run on the 7th of May in every state by Kelvin Thomson, Dick Smith and SPA?

WILLIAM BOURKE: Dick Smith was, of course, fantastic to listen to. I also thought that Rob Oakeshott, the Independent for Lyne, spoke very well and is the sort of person we need in Federal parliament.I think the media coverage of the actual event was a little disappointing, especially considering the great speakers – at least those I heard at the forum I attended in Sydney.

SHEILA NEWMAN: Could you name a book or a film or a public figure that has inspired you?

WILLIAM BOURKE: Overloading Australia by Mark O’Connor and Bill Lines made a big impression on me. Reading it was really the straw that broke the camel's back and led me to do something about the problem of Australia’s unsustainable population growth.


This is positive feedback on yes "a grave national problem" which is encouraging to have come from a new political party in Australia. Australia needs a paradigm shift away from irrelevant dominance of a post-war Lib Lab two party system. It has become self-serving.

Bourke would do well to research the economic theories on growth and the relationships to population growth, so that he can enunciate in economic terms the problems. For instance, what does Bourke mean by "population growth is a false economy?"

Is strong economic growth a desirable end on its own? Is not the ultimate goal of government a higher per capita standard of living; that is a per capita outcome, not an aggregate outcome; that is a broader long term social outcome, rather than a short-term, economic metric? The originator of GDP post-Great Depression never intended GDP to be a stand-alone indicator of a country's fortune or success.

Another perspective: where is there current evidence of bigger being better? Where is there current evidence that a denser population is better? How does one compare the success, prosperity, wealth, sustainability, happiness or any other measure between say the Sydney CBD and Bathurst?

Why do we have to become big so that we can compete on scale internationally? This is a commoditisation strategy where the only advantage is volume to achieve low unit costs of production. It is ludicrous that we have to become as big as China and the US to compete on a level playing field, yet this is the presumption of free trade. NAFTA has proven that free market free trade just breeds monopolies allowing the big players to win like the US, while the small ones lose - like Mexico and Canada.

Ought Australia not differentiate based on quality and niche market focus on high value add products and services that we have an existing competitive advantage in?

Immigration is not a panacea to derive more tax revenue to fund our increasing number of retirees. Australia's retiree issue is separate and unrelated, yet one conveniently used to justify increasing immigration. The government should take full control and ownership of a compulsory contribution guaranteed superannuation scheme to ensures that by retirement age each Australian has an indexed pension annuity equivalent to the average real wage (as a minimum). Today that would equate to about $52,000 p.a., and more if one contributed more throughout their working life. (i.e. separate issue, unrelated to immigration).

This issue deserves to be on both national and state agendas, and recognised a the prime driver of social stresses - cost of living, congestion, public infrastructure, social problems, etc.

I am interested in where this new party is going and shall check their site.

What is important, is to separate the issue of the few thousand or so asylum seekers, which is an humanitarian problem and an international one for Australia to engage more proactively in. It is distractive nit picking on less than 1% of the immigration problem. Focus on the other 99%!

Population growth in Australia is primarily driven by economic immigration facilitate by the 457 Visa Programme - the full name being 'Temporary Business (Long Stay) - Standard Business Sponsorship (Subclass 457)'.

A key issue is that certain industries in Australia are seeking skilled workers, yet Gillard's supposed 'Education Revolution' is not matching and timing vocational training to those needs. The bandaid stop gap is for the Australian Givernement to import the skills. But this bandaid job fill has costly triple bottom line implications which the government treats as out of scope of its Immigration responsibility. Governments seemed to have conveniently forgotten the concept of triple bottom line accountability.

Government immigration responsibility continues long after passing through the international arrival gate. The terms of immigration/residency/citizenship, government support, adjustment, training, resettlement, assimilation, acculturation naturally varies on a migrant case by case basis. Immigration needs to start being recognised at this granular level for it to be rich and workable. The full cost of settlement and impact on local society is the real aggregate cost of immigration to Australia.

Is it correct that human-induced "global warming" kicked in around 1975 (?) when the world population was around 4 billion? Is it correct that temperatures have sufficiently increased since then to raise scientific alarm and today's resultant energy austerity measures?

The world population was 4 billion in 1975. Since then it has increased to almost 7 billion.

Is there any correlation between a 3 billion growth in human activity over the past 35 years, and recent "warming" signals?

If there is a 3 billion human activity connection during the last few decades, then wouldn't a staged population reduction programme entirely halt "warming", resulting in maintenance of present living standards?

Would initial incentives towards zero population growth, then further steps towards population reduction, be a more sensible and feasible option than the chaotic, costly and highly doubtful sustainable energy plans currently proposed?

It's all pollution. 'Climate change', 'global warming', whatever the label, it is still just pollution - the problem that was apparent in 1975.

Where do the climate change deniers think smoke, fumes, exhaust goes?
Just because the next day has a blue sky morning doesn't mean the pollution has vanished. It has just been spread around the globe in the atmosphere.

It has been blowing around since the linen mills, then the coal fired power stations.

And since the Industrial Revolution, human population has grown with 'progress'.

Electric car technology is available and denying family benefits after two children per family would start to make a difference. The problem lies in greedy selfish people, greedy selfish corporations and a political lack of will. Look at the families complaining about expensive child care as if it were a right after people decided to have multiple children, or the power stations complaining about a emissions tax as if they had a right to pollute.

The politicians certainly do need to be strong will to stand up to greed.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

Electric cars, of course, run off coal-fired power generation, or nuclear. And the more coal we use the worse the quality gets.

Air cars are a pretty interesting development, except that you need electricity to compress the air.
However, society organises according to fuel sources and cars are a feature of the Petroleum Age. With no cheap and abundant petroleum, cars are not a given. They may become fundamentally rare or disappear entirely.

The whole area of energy sources is vastly under-discussed.

Do computer users contribute to pollution levels? What about those who use local sewerage services? How about radio, television, electric and gas cooking? The dentist's drill? The lights and equipment used to keep us alive inside emergency wards? When populations were smaller, wood heaters kept the kids warm until high density living became the norm.

Are we not carrying the downside of human activity to ridiculous lengths?

I ask: what does science say about levels of human induced pollution, should world population be gradually reduced to pre-1975 "global warming" levels? Has science said anything?

I shall continue to let my porch light burn so long as F1 and V8 supercar races race. And I don't mind if Iceland's volcano grounds ozone-depleting airlines. Rail is superior, more energy efficient and door-to-door convenient for cross-land transport. Lufthansa, United Airways and Virgin could invest in rail if they wanted and foresaw peak oil.

Bushfire agencies are allowed to burn millions of hectares of forest without account of the tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions they cause. Ain't relativism convenient?

Governments react to catastrophe, so bring on GFC2 and 3 to expose the one-eyed reality of economic classism. Stop 'progress', 'growth', 'pollution' 'population' and think what matters to ordinary people.

I care more for the energy waste and the ordinary locals excluded from the South Africa world cup, than who plays or wins in Johannesburg. International sport remains an extravagance that humans follow to distract them from reality.

Let ants poo and cast all care to the wind.

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885

I agree with you here - I have asked the same question! Why are car & boat racing allowed to continue - with the shortage of fuel and emissions caused by this banal form of ... sport?!!?

There's nothing sportsman-like about brazenly and extravagantly using up valuable resources.

There is an arrogance and insupportable audacity attached to the presumption that it is quite alright for rich men and their so called sports to continue.

Meanwhile Ordinary Australians - indeed Ordinary Citizens of the planet- are expected to cut back on the use of the worlds' resources - acknowledged by communities to be much needed elsewhere, in order to maintain our current level of civilization.

Indeed, where is the incentive to turn off the porch light or cut back on the use of water when our Honorable leaders condone large scale, lavish, and immoderate use of our resources?

We can now officially announce that the Stable Population Party has achieved the 500 members required for federal registration as a political party.

On 31 May 2010 we lodged our application for registration with the Australian Electoral Commission.

Thank you to everyone who supported the membership drive. It has been a big project with a range of invaluable contributions.

Here is a link to the latest newsletter from the Stable Population Party with the announcement:

It is my view that an election in August is quite possible - perhaps 50/50 - which would prevent us from standing candidates under the party name. We need to complete the (approximately 12 week) registration process before the election is called.

That is out of our hands, so we will now progress with other aspects of the party's development and wait for news from the AEC and the Rudd Government.

Kind regards

William Bourke
Stable Population Party of Australia

Short but superb SBS Interview with William Bourke of Stable Population Party of Australia

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
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