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Rudd dodges hard questions at a Community cabinet

Story by Catherine Case:
With the Community Cabinet due to take place in the city of Launceston where I live, I thought what better opportunity to ask a question of the Prime Minister about the government's obsessive focus on economic growth and their apparent blindness to the realities of ecological limits? I also wanted to try and ascertain whether they had any long term plan whatsoever to deal with projected population growth in Australia. Would they even acknowledge it as an issue? No one in the mainstream media ever asks these questions, the paradigm of "perpetual growth" goes unchallenged. It seems so blindingly obvious to me that endless growth is an impossibility. Why isn't someone - anyone - in the government facing up to reality?

Launceston community cabinet

On Wednesday 5 November 2008, I attended the community cabinet at Launceston, where I got to ask a question I had prepared in front of 400 people. Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, looked at me with total disdain and completely avoided (and in the most patronizing way) answering my question, which was:

Relentless focus on growth

"For me one of the most disappointing aspects of the Labor government has been the relentless focus and almost obsession with "growing the economy". It's as if every member has sworn to repeat this mantra as often and as loudly as possible on every occasion, as we've already heard here tonight.
Isn't about time that we stopped pretending that mindlessly chasing unending economic growth is even remotely compatible with sustainability?

Population numbers

Because underlying this whole issue is the unspeakable and forbidden P word - POPULATION

The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently projected that Australia's population could increase to 42 million people in a little over 40 years with Melbourne and Sydney both reaching nearly 7 million people each.

Is that sensible, desirable or sustainable?

Australia is in bad shape already

Aren't we as a country already seriously struggling with water supply, energy independence, food production, depleted fisheries, overloaded infrastructure and severe environmental degradation?
When will the government show real leadership on this issue and start to address the elephant in the living room that is population?

When will the government take the brave step of articulating a national population policy - one that recognizes REALITY and dispenses with the cozy fantasy that is the economic mirage of never-ending population growth?

Will this government have the courage to articulate a policy that, as recommended in a recent CSIRO publication, aims to stabilize the population of Australia to 25-27 million people by 2050?

And if not, why not?"

Prime minister Rudd responds obliquely

First off Rudd said that he and his government wouldn't apologize for wanting every "able bodied" person to have employment… the importance of strong economy, jobs etc.

Then he rattled off something about buying back water entitlements. Some more guff about signing the Kyoto Protocol. Some other far-fetched rhetoric about "sustainable development".

He said how important it is for Australians to address climate change and how the government is doing just that.

The only thing that even got close to addressing the question was something about immigration rates and how the government adjusted those in accordance with economic conditions. And Rudd cursorily mentioned "natural" population increase as if the government had no hand in promoting and encouraging it and was powerless to do anything about it.

And even though I'd addressed the question to him and the Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, Rudd quickly pointed at the next person in the audience with their hand up and didn't pass the mike on to Peter Garrett, even though he did with all the other questions to various ministers.

He struck me as a shifty, slippery piece of work. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. But I would have liked to heard Garrett's response, and I hope to follow up on this.

General problems with conduct of the Community Forum

As well as the frustration of having the Prime Minister fudge my question, I found the way the community forum was conducted disappointing. At the beginning of the forum, which was already running about 20 minutes behind, after numerous welcomes and thank you's, everyone had to listen to Rudd for about another 15 minutes telling us about all the wonderful election promises that he has kept - in some detail mind you - and all the wonderful things still to come.

Yet the Prime Minister and his entourage were supposed to be there to listen to US! It was like an election speech, anyone would think the guy is still trying to get elected. Even his ministers were looking uncomfortable and bored. I let one of his advisors know in no uncertain terms that I thought it was rude and inappropriate that he went on so much. It was pretty obvious the whole thing is a PR exercise pure and simple.

By the way, I did get quite a bit of applause after my question, so lots of people were in agreement.

Follow-up with Peter Garrett

Peter Garrett just happened to be making an announcement right next to where I work yesterday. I was able to bail him up after he'd finished his official stuff and after he had spent some time placating pulp mill protesters with his reassuring words of how diligently he would be assessing the project against the extremely narrow commonwealth guidelines and how after all, It was Malcolm Turnbull who had approved it - not him! I had heard this before. At least he made the effort to go and talk to them which I have to give him credit for....

It was quite funny because the protesters have taken well known songs and changed the words to become pulp mill protest songs and halfway through Garrett's speech they started singing them very
loudly, practically drowning him out.

Anyway, I got round to saying to Garrett that I was the person who had asked the question the night before about population and that I had been disappointed that he didn't get a chance to answer it.

"Well," he said, "I'm in complete agreement with the Prime Minister."

Population was not a problem!! It was more important to address issues like environmental impacts and other things.

"But" I said, "Surely you have to take population into account, it's a major factor?" Did he really think that Australia having 42 million people was a good idea given the already existing environmental problems?

My recollection is that he said that he was not going to "talk numbers", that it was "not about the numbers". He reminded me that he had been President of the ACF for a number of years, arguing that this had acquainted him well about population as an issue, but it's not "the problem".

He disagreed with my "opinion" about population.

I said, "Well it's not just my 'opinion'; what about the CSIRO? They're recommending that this be addressed."

My impression was that he totally dismissed this point, and that he walked away from me, still pronouncing what sounded to me like platitudes about consumption, sustainable industries, etc etc.

Oh well....

My next thing is to fill in the form that they gave out at the forum and send it to him with some more specific questions. I want to see what he says when he has to put something in writing.

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Comments

Like smoking, only the "good" side is evident at the time, and the "bad" effects too far off to worry about! This is the same as immigration and environmental threats. The "good" side is commercial as more people prop up the demand for goods and services. The long term implications are too "far off" and abstract for our politicians to ponder! They will be well and truly superannuated off by the time our food shortages hit us, and climate change makes survival more difficult and the cost of compensating for it too expensive! It is easier to understand the financial figures of economic growth! Long term planning and livability is not on their agenda - only short-term gains and a "happy" electorate that will return them in the next election!

Good analogy!

And the short term "good" effects are illusory anyway!

The people who must have some inkling of the ramifications just put their collective heads in the sand. You'd think it would be hard maintaining that degree of denial!

Hi Catherine,

Sensational Post! Unfortunately, Mr Rudd and his predecessors are all too familiar with the psychology behind 'the amygdala', that part of the human brain that still dominates the masses behavior, primarily from the perspectives of 'fear and greed'. I know, he said those words recently in relation to the so called 'financial crisis', but I wrote the original article entitled 'Fear and Greed', for Margo Kingston's Web Diary, back in 2002. If you'd like me to post a copy to 'Can Do Better', let me know.

Anyhow, we can only hope that one day the masses will reach the point where they can engage their frontal cortex in order to 'think' with a degree of consciousness, about these issues. Humankind has unfortunately, only managed this level of awareness three (3) times in its entire history. None of those occasions were driven by people who desired the 'scientific management' of the people. Those occasions were educed by philosophers!

Alas, I fear my time may well end before I see the Renaissance!

Kindest Regards

Andrew

Re: Vivienne's observation, it may be that those who aspire to reform various conceptual values simply go about it the wrong way.
I am yet to see a concerted, broad scale attack on the growth paradigm stated in terms of a measured iteration of growth in the day-to-day negatives that are concomitant with growth - like a direct antithesis to the notionally positive but largely meaningless growth figures that blare incessantly from the prominent growth advocates.

Critique, to the terribly small extent it does occur, tends to stray toward scalar and end-game scenarios that are both obscure and repellent to common consciousness. Even within more 'normal' advocacies, such as for nature conservation, activists exhort their campaigns in difficult terms of intrinsic values rather the extrinsic factors of value recognisable within DAILY human life which can most easily penetrate and resonate within average thinking.

Re 'The Amygdala', it clearly controls the consciousness politicians as much as it does the masses. That is to be expected as both groups are human.

The problem is not the effective dominance of the Amygdala within the various behavioral choices. It is the negative and alienated environment prevalent within and between the various groupings confabulated within the one enormous body politic. The 'masses' are both too massive, and too remote from their careless leaders to be functionally competent in their social synthesis and embrace of 'the truth' in any matter. Additionally, the dynamic architecture of these matters is generally too complex and too remote from peoples' daily lives to successfully grasp within social processing modes.

The notion that people can successfully interact as rational individuals, and thereby successfully manage complex socio-political conditions is one that many thinking people irrationally believe.

All available evidence suggests that, to be effective, society must be functionally autonomous at a scale that is sufficiently intimate, inclusive and interpersonally accountable to enable the full inclusion and genuine respect of the emotional realities operative within the ALL of the human consciousness affected by the matters being decided.

Such engagement generates social interest, participation and, thereby, applicable knowledge. The vital but entirely enigmatic question is how to get to that scale of decision-making from where we now are.

As enticing as it may seem as a way forward, rational engagement, and arguably the human evolution necessary to fully enable it, is a popular fantasy that offers no real opportunity.

BTW, Garrett is a lawyer, ex-rock star, and born-again Christian. What reason or ethic does that portfolio demonstrate and where does anyone get the idea that he has been so suddenly slipstreamed into such high office for any other reason than the grandeur and prominence the gig offers him, as well as the public glamour and the willing compliance he provides to his employers?

I largely agree with Greg's comment.

However, the danger is the implication contained within it that it may be altogether impossible for grass-roots activists to stop our society heading towards the cliff as it appears to be because of the scale of our political structures which are the consequence of overpopulation. As Greg put it:

... The 'masses' are both too massive, and too remote from their careless leaders to be functionally competent in their social synthesis and embrace of 'the truth' in any matter. Additionally, the dynamic architecture of these matters is generally too complex and too remote from peoples' daily lives to successfully grasp within social processing modes.

The notion that people can successfully interact as rational individuals, and thereby successfully manage complex socio-political conditions is one that many thinking people irrationally believe.

All available evidence suggests that, to be effective, society must be functionally autonomous at a scale that is sufficiently intimate, inclusive and interpersonally accountable to enable the full inclusion and genuine respect of the emotional realities operative within the ALL of the human consciousness affected by the matters being decided.

It may prove to be correct that we simply won't be able to 'successfully manage complex socio-political conditions', but we don't yet know that for certain and unless we do we stand no chance of being able to pull our society back from the brink.

So, it is imperative that all of us engage together with other like-minded people with whatever political institutions we can until we have taken control of those institutions out of the hands of our global wealthy elites before it is too late.

Ideally it should happen in local communities where the scale of political institutions are (or were before the enforced council amalgamations of 2007 in Queensland). However, this is not possible for many. Often the local communities themselves have become corrupted and grass-roots activists find themselves in the minorities and often ostracised at that. Even when this is not the case, local Governments can still be over-ruled by their state and federal governments who tend to be more firmly in the pockets of corporations.

So, one way or another, we have no choice but to engage with these 'complex and remote' institutions such as state governments, federal governments and even such international governance bodies as the United Nations.

Copyright notice: Reproduction of this material is encouraged as long as the source is acknowledged.

James
The comments of mine that you have quoted and replied to do not aim to declare a futility in trying, although that does render as a tearful watermark to the more 'positive' implication.

That more positive implication is a view of the necessary targets for our action and intended outcomes. Social processes and structures have to be configured and demanded such that they correlate with evident human reality. We have to stop tolerating or postulating toward things that experience clearly proves cannot be humanly managed. We just dig the hole deeper at best and consign ourselves to oblivion at worst.

The scale problem, as Greg intimates, is huge, and the drive to replace local government with state government increases that gap. The less direct control communities can have over their representatives, the less possibility for real input. The futher away from communities they administer the politicians and public servants are; the less they care about the impact their stupid policies have. Big government is very close to big business.

The solution is to relocalise; to put everything towards downsizing and relocalising government; catchment areas and business operations.

This also will assist with sane policy on environment, population numbers and transport, energy, biodiversity and agriculture.

The ultimate dilemma is positioned beautifully between two excerpts from Greg’s post.

“The notion that people can successfully interact as rational individuals, and thereby successfully manage complex socio-political conditions is one that many thinking people irrationally believe.”

And

“BTW, Garrett is a lawyer, ex-rock star, and born-again Christian. What reason or ethic does that portfolio demonstrate and where does anyone get the idea that he has been so suddenly slipstreamed into such high office for any other reason than the grandeur and prominence the gig offers him, as well as the public glamour and the willing compliance he provides to his employers?”

Which of these is true?

Because of the complex "chicken or egg" issues surrounding the Amygdala, I agree with Greg’s critique that the
"end game" scenario’s that dominate the leftist cyberspace are of little or no value. In fact, they simply add to the emotional attachment that most Human’s have to their Amygdala. It is only when one comes across publications at a local level, namely those of "The Anarchist Savants" February 2008 Edition, that one starts to understand that if change is to occur, it must occur through good quality information at "a local level".

But there appears to be no end to the number of "intellectuals" interested in critiquing other "intellectuals" comments, far more than there are those who are actually do the "educing" work at a local level.

In relation to James's comments, we do have a choice as to whether we interact with remote institutions, what we frequently don't have is the courage to realize that we can make the choice not to and to get on with the job ourselves.

Regards
Andrew