Recently the right-wing governor of Texas, who just happens to be named Abbott, announced that the state will install a barrier made of buoys along a section of the Rio Grande to deter migrants from entering the US. As is so often the case his measures, which also included a commitment to spend $5.1b on other border security measures, was met with howls of indignation by immigration advocates who argued that this deprives migrants of the right to seek asylum from persecution. Those supporti
The 100 years from 1870 is described as the innovation century in which there more more inventions, starting coincidentally with the light bulb, than in the rest of mankind's history. For the most part their roll out into society was slow enough to dampen the impact of the invention, electricity wasn't connected fully in Australia until 1989. But for me there was one event that stood out and that occurred on on the 4th of October 1957 just before my birthday.
Below is an extract from The Economist whose editor bears the unlikely name of Zanny. Yes, I know it is naughty of me to point out that Zany is often associated with the bizarre, weird, peculiar, odd, and perhaps avant-garde. But its also a fitting description of her introductory comments on the US economy.
Recently the South Australian premier called for higher immigration in his water-scarce state. This was followed by a similar plea from the Northern Territory government, which is seeking more workers, and is spending $12.8m on a campaign to attract them for the hospitality industry.
Former PM John Howard's latest book, The Menzies Era, is not as you might expect, an exercise in right wing propaganda, or at least not overtly, but an historical account which jolts the mind back to things forgotten or chronologically misplaced, due to the passage of time.
Australia's high density buildings are not designed to mitigate the spread of a virus as they have poor air circulation, insufficient balconies, and are usually designed for people who are away all day and only home to sleep. Our cities do not have enough open space areas for residents in high density apartments to escape to, yet we are still inundated with business and media statements extolling the benefits of population growth that can be accommodated in ever higher densitie
New "Teal" politician and economic growthist, Allegra Spender, promotes immigration rates of 220,000 p.a. over the next 2 years, (ABC RN 9 June 22) in the context of also promoting reduction in carbon emissions, rising energy prices, and economic growth.
The Sydney Morning Herald of June 4th this year reported that Kristina Keneally, labor's Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, would advocate the economic importance of immigration - a sign the Opposition is willing to make the case for a bigger Australia as it considers its post-election policy platform. It would be a policy that was against the wishes of a majority of Australians and would be destructive economically, environmentally and socially.
The SMH of June 14th stated that the official ABS figure for unemployment had increased to 5.7% . Australia's unemployment rate is now among the worst in the developed world, according to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development of the 36 rich nations which comprise the group, Australia is now ranked 20th in terms of unemployment. Two years ago, Australia was 14th and in 2013 it was among the top 10 which does suggest we are going downhill very rapidly, especially when you consider unemployment was around 2% from the 50's right up till the oil price shock in the 70's . What makes it worse is the official unemployment figure is a very conservative estimate with others like Roy Morgan research putting it at 10.3% and also stating ;
“The latest Roy Morgan employment estimates show that 11,926,000 Australians were employed in May, down 166,000 on a year ago in May 2018. The fall in employment has led to a rise in unemployment over the last year, up by 53,000 to 1,369,000 (10.3% of the workforce) in May. In addition to the high level of unemployment there are 1,223,000 Australians (9.2% of the workforce) now under-employed for a total of nearly 2.6 million Australians either unemployed or under-employed equal to 19.5% of the workforce.”
Australia's unemployment rate is now well above other comparable nations including the United States (3.6 per cent), Britain (3.7 per cent), New Zealand (4.2 per cent), Germany (3.2 per cent) and Japan's 2.4%. It is also not uniform across the nation or demographics, with unemployment among youth in rural areas reaching over 20%, and it does not consider that around 2 million Australians are working multiple jobs or high levels of unpaid overtime. A study by the Australia Institute found that Australian employees will work a total of about 3.2 billion hours in unpaid overtime this year, that's an average of six hours’ unpaid work a week in 2018 - up from 5.1 hours in 2017 and 4.6 hours in 2016. Those worst affected include the disabled, indigenous people, and migrants, especially those on temporary work visas. Many temporary migrant workers in Australia are chronically underpaid by their employers as revealed by the 2017 report, Wage Theft in Australia. One was paid for 38 hours work when he clocked in for 70 hours over a 2 year period. He was afraid to complain because of a threat to cancel his visa and, as he said;
“But the worst part is that he (former employer) was from my own community. When our own people exploit us, then you wonder who to trust in a new country.”
During the run up to the 2019 election, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, continually referred to the issue of employment using the tag, "Jobs and Growth," and claiming that over the last five years the government delivered more than a million jobs. However almost half of the new jobs created between 2013 and 2018 were part-time, and the share of part-time work in total employment grew notably. Greater reliance on part-time jobs transforms a given number of hours of work into a larger number of jobs — but at the cost of reduced income, insecurity of employment, and underemployment. Even so a million jobs does sound significant until you take into account that our population grew by 1.7 million in that time and according to Commonwealth Bank senior economist, Gareth Aird, a million jobs is really only about enough to keep the unemployment rate flat.
A cynic might argue that high unemployment maintained by high immigration rates is the stock and trade of the coalition government, who use it as a tool to control wage growth and provide the likes of Adani with desperate job seekers. It is however harder to rationalise why the labor party would acquiesce to such a scheme, given its potential impact on employment, although market economics still dominates their policies. The Labor Party would argue that high population growth increases GDP - but our GDP growth has been lacklustre and, more importantly, the per capita GDP growth – which is a more useful indicator indicator – is only 0.3% compared to the UK's 1.2%, US 1.6%, Japan 1.9% and Germany's 1.7%. The last two nations in the unemployment list I quoted managed this with declining populations and declining greenhouse gas emissions, Germany 31% reduction since 1990, and Japan 8.2% in the last 4 years, while Australia's emissions continue to increase.
There is an accepted truism that when it comes to politics what appears to be a conspiracy is usually just the result of poor government decisions. It is a logical conclusion given that conspiracies require clever conspirators and politicians are generally not seen as being clever. This of course is not correct, its a belief acquired because politicians are continually criticized by the media and even more so by their colleagues.
Like or loath him John Howard was a smart politician – he did after all survive 10 years as PM and won an election after involving us in an illegal war in Iraq. Having said that, how many bad decisions can be made on one issue before we have to conclude that no government could be that incompetent without intent?
And how many bad decisions are allowed to continue because there has been a conspiracy of silence enforced by the need for party unity and the lack of whistle blower protection? Malcolm Turnbull managed to delay an inquiry into the banking sector, perhaps the only time he ever had the support of his entire party colleagues.
The fact that the then government was hounded by the opposition to hold the inquiry is seen as a vindication that a multi party democracy is self regulating and cannot provide the cross party cooperation needed to sustain a conspiracy.
Bipartisan adherence to Milton Friedman doctrine
However there have been instances when such cooperation feeds mutual self interest such as political donations or adherence to a mutually shared doctrine like market economics, something that occurred when Keating embraced the market ideas of Milton Friedman.
This meant there was no political party able to challenge the dangers of free trade or the reliance on an economy dependent on growth. Markets are about money, not morality.
Australian manufacturing past history
In 1970 475,000 cars were made in Australia, the 10th highest rate in the world producing an export industry which saw cars shipped to Asia, NZ and the US. Australia was one of only 13 countries with the capabilities to design and develop mass market cars from scratch.
Much the same applied for rolling stock, buses, tractors and shipbuilding, which contributed $1.7 billion directly in value added to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product. At its peak, the ship construction industry employed approximately 14,600 people across a variety of occupations such as shipwrights, engineers, and naval architects, and supplied a defense industry as well as the local shipping industry, that is now almost all foreign owned.
Shipbuilding, like any manufacturing industry is a driver of innovation and we became the worlds best at producing fast ferries one of which (Incat) held the coveted Blue Riband award for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic ocean and was later acquired by the US navy, where they were built in the US under license.
We were also the 3rd nation to launch our own satellite from our own country because we had at that time a space industry.
Australian manufacturing now
Australia has now become a resource mine for the rest of the world, which leaves it unable to wean itself away from a resource based economy, and highly vulnerable to price swings in just a few commodities. This switch from a diverse economy was achieved through a number of economic decisions, which had the cumulative effect of limiting export opportunities and exponentially increasing our demand for imports.
In 2018 our total imports came to $A314.0b or about $A12,560 per person. But these were made up largely of goods we once manufactured in Australia: Machinery, cars, white goods, furniture, bedding, lighting and electrical components necessary to supply the 221,877 houses we build every year.
Australia now imports over 1million cars at a cost of US $29.4 b as well as $4.4b in spare parts which could have been made locally, all of which has to be paid for by exports, which are are predominately resources with coal, ores, precious metals and gas making up the majority, while Food (grains, meat & primary products) make up only another 13.9%. We are now one of the world's biggest exporters of non renewable resources with Newcastle as the worlds biggest coal port.
How dumbing down our manufacturing sector affects action on climate change
So if we want to take action on climate change we must buy the solar panels that were once made here, as well as the wind turbines and much of the electrics. We will have to pay for these with our resource exports by increasing mining or land clearing and then pay again for the machinery to dig out the minerals. And for every increase in population we will need to pay for that extra $12,560 he or she takes in imports. With a population growth of 395,100 last year this is obviously impossible. We have been conned by economists who used GDP as a indicator of success while aware that it remained insensitive to poverty, unemployment, mortgage debt and balance of payments.
To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, six million ha of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12 million ha are lost every year through soil degradation. Australia lost 36 million ha of agricultural land in just the four years from 2005 till 2009. Some of this lost land has occurred because of urban sprawl which is swallowing up some of our best soils close to cities that used to supply the fresh fruit and vegetables. A scathing report by the Royal Commission has gone as far to accuse the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) of negligence and being "incapable of acting lawfully," apparently because they overestimated the amount of water returned to the river by a factor of ten. The many warning signs all around us are continually ignored by politicians obsessed with economic theories that defy even the basic laws of mathematics.
Australia is mostly a big desert
Australia is the sixth largest country in the world and also the driest inhabited continent on earth, with the least amount of water in rivers, the lowest run-off and the smallest area of permanent wetlands of all the continents.
Its ocean territory is the world's third largest, spanning three oceans and covering around 12 million square kilometers.
One third of the continent produces almost no run-off at all and Australia's rainfall and stream-flow are the most variable in the world.
Australia also has some of the oldest land surface on earth and, while rich in biodiversity, its soils and seas are among the most nutrient poor and unproductive in the world. This is due mainly to the country's geological stability, which is a major feature of the Australian land mass, and is characterized by, among other things, a lack of significant seismic activity.
Only six per cent of the Australian landmass is arable. As a result, agricultural yields are low compared to other nations: German farms produce over nine metric tonnes/ha compared to Australia's two tonnes.
Australian soils are highly dependent upon vegetation cover and insect biomass to generate nutrients and prevent erosion. It is the native vegetation's long root systems that help break down the sub soil and bring nutrients to the surface, while insects, bacteria, and small animals, reduce ground litter and add nitrogen.
Land clearing, water extraction and poor soil conservation are all causes of a decline in the quality of Australia's soils, now the collapse of insect populations adds another blow. 
What causes land-degradation in Australia
The two most significant direct causes of land degradation are the conversion of native vegetation into crop and grazing lands, and unsustainable land-management practices.
Other factors include the effects of climate change and loss of land to urbanization, infrastructure and mining.
However, the underlying driver of all these changes is rising demand from growing populations for food, meat and grains, as well as fibre and energy. This in turn leads to more demand for land and further encroachment into areas with marginal soils.
Market deregulation, which has been a trend since the 1980s, can lead to the destruction of sustainable land management practices in favor of monocultures and can encourage a race to the bottom as far as environmental protection is concerned. The 2016 State of the Environment report noted that:
”Current rates of soil erosion by water across much of Australia now exceed soil formation rates by an order of magnitude or more. As a result, the expected half-life of soils (the time for half the soil to be eroded) in some upland areas used for agriculture has declined to merely decades.”
Our soils are losing their fertility
The carbon content of Australian soils, which is a measure of fertility, is now some five to 10 times lower than when measured in 1845. The UN has warned that there could be as little as 60 harvests remaining before the world's soils in places like Australia reach the limits of agricultural production.
To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, six million ha of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12 million ha are lost every year through soil degradation. Australia lost 36 million ha of agricultural land in just the four years from 2005 till 2009. Some of this lost land has occurred because of urban sprawl which is swallowing up some of our best soils close to cities that used to supply the fresh fruit and vegetables.
Despite this, agricultural products accounted for 15 per cent of Australia’s total exports in 2015-16, and the gross value of farm production was more than $63 billion largely because we currently have around two ha of arable land per person, one of the highest rates in the world.
Murray Darling Basin
However 40% of that production came from the Murray Darling irrigation area which had high production based on historic over-allocation of water, something that has now come back to bite us. A scathing report by the Royal Commission has gone as far to accuse the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) of negligence and being "incapable of acting lawfully," apparently because they overestimated the amount of water returned to the river by a factor of ten.
With our highly variable surface water supply, groundwater resources are critical for many Australian communities and industries. In some cases, groundwater is the only reliable water supply available to support towns, agriculture and the resources sector. Australia is a very dry country so groundwater is extensively used right across the continent.
Perth relies heavily on the Gnangara Mound aquifer for its water supply, but the water table has been dropping for the past 40 years or more because of reduced rainfall, increased extraction, and decreased recharge.
The Great Artesian Basin, underlying about 1.7 million square kilometres of Australia, contains about 65,000 km3 of water, but it is a “Fossil water”, being up to 2 million years old, so extraction is far faster than replenishment.
It is not widely understood that vegetation and many streams and rivers are supported by the availability of groundwater, either as discharge into streams and rivers or through groundwater uptake by plant roots directly.
In the Northern Territory, Palm Valley has an average rainfall of only 200mm, but spring fed pools allow its unique flora to survive. The same applies for the Doongmabulla Springs Complex, a one-square-kilometre expanse of nationally important wetlands near the proposed site of the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, which would probably be destroyed if Adani is allowed to extract the water it needs.
As the pressure in the Great Artesian Basin has declined and the water table drops, mound springs (where groundwater is pushed to the ground surface under pressure) have begun to dry up in South Australia and Queensland.
Associated paperbark swamps and wetlands are also being lost and it gets more and more expensive to extract the groundwater for irrigation and other commercial applications. On average, rates of groundwater extraction across Australia have increased by about 100 per cent between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, reflecting both our increased population size and the associated commercial usage of groundwater stores.
We are also putting these resources at risk from pollution. Already there have been many incidences of ground water being polluted by petroleum products, chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, salt and even nuclear waste. However the main aquifers are being put at risk from fracking, acid leaching of minerals like uranium and underground coal gasification.
Converting the aquifer’s recharge area into farmland is likely to increase the level of nitrogen compounds while the large blasting used in open cut mining is fracturing rock formations deep underground, allowing contamination of water from above or intermingling with salty water.
Growth economics deaf to reason
All of which explains why scientists have been warning us for years that we cannot continue to grow without doing great damage to our fragile nation, but they are continually ignored by politicians obsessed with economic theories that defy even the basic laws of mathematics.
Underground Coal Gasification was trialed and was proved to have failed in three sites in Queensland with the operator gas company Linc Energy charged with five counts of wilful and unlawful environmental harm. They faced penalties of up to $9 million but were declared bankrupt, leaving the Qld government with a clean up bill of $80m.
Despite this, a similar plant at Leigh creek has been given the green light after a failed challenged by the Adnyamathanha people in the Supreme Court of South Australia. The chairman of Leigh Creek energy claimed that Linc energy was a great company and that there was no environmental damage. Well he would have to say that since he was also chairman of Linc before they went broke.
This article provides a quick analysis of the 128 page document, Creating Liveable Cities in Australia. Although it does not provide a complete picture, it finds many obvious flaws which suggest that it should not be accepted at its face value.
Creating Liveable Cities in Australia [download from http://cur.org.au/project/national-liveability-report/] bills itself as "the first “baseline” measure of liveability in Australia’s state and territory capitals. It represents the culmination of five years of research." It warns that, "by 2050 Australia’s urban population may double, increasing pressure on transport, congestion, infrastructure and housing affordability. Planning that creates compact, pedestrian-friendly and inclusive cities is essential since liveable cities are recognised as part of the solution to chronic disease and health inequities."
The full report is at: http://cur.org.au/project/national-liveability-report/
This report also contains a summary of the key points of ‘Creating liveable cities in Australia: Mapping urban policy implementation and evidence-based national liveability indicators,’ October 2017.
The government asserts that:
• Governments in Australia and internationally recognise the benefits of urban liveability.
• Liveable communities are good for the economy, social inclusion and environmental sustainability, and promote the health and wellbeing of residents. They have affordable housing linked by public transport, walking and cycling paths to workplaces, public open space and all the amenities required for daily living.
• The ‘Creating Liveable Cities in Australia’ report details the first measurement of liveability in Australia’s state and territory capital cities.
• The report maps policy standards designed to create liveable cities and seven domains of urban liveability that also promote the health and wellbeing of Australians – walkability, public transport, public open space, housing affordability, employment, and food and alcohol environments.
• The report also assesses policy implementation.
• In many cases government planning policies are failing to deliver liveability equitably across our cities. Measurable spatial policy standards were identified for only three of the seven key liveability domains.
• Current policies and guidelines do not appear to be informed by the growing body of evidence about how to achieve healthy, liveable cities.
• No Australian capital city performs well across all the liveability indicators, with many failing to meet their own policy targets designed to create liveability.
• There are geographical inequities in the delivery of liveability policies within and between cities, with outer suburban areas generally less well served than inner-city suburbs.
• Evidence-informed policy and practice are needed to maintain and improve urban liveability, improve the health and wellbeing of residents, and ensure that people’s quality of life is maintained as our cities grow.
• All Australian capital cities appear to value walkability and liveability, but there is little evidence that the policies reviewed are sufficient to create, maintain and enhance urban liveability in Australia.
There is also little evidence the policies are informed by the growing body of evidence on how to create healthy, liveable and walkable cities.
• No measurable spatial policy standards were identified in any capital city for promoting local employment, housing affordability and access to healthy food choices, or limiting access to alcohol outlets.
• Policy standards for walkability, public transport and public open space varied markedly in the specific urban characteristics measured and their level of ambition (e.g. residential density targets varied from 15 dwellings per hectare to 30 dwellings per hectare, in the case of urban areas in Brisbane).
• Some states had similar policies but different targets. For example, WA’s target for access to public transport is that 60% of dwellings should have access to nearby public transport, while NSW’s target is much more ambitious and less achievable i.e. that 100% of dwellings should have access to nearby public transport with frequent services.
• In Melbourne, nearly 70% of dwellings had access to a nearby public transport stop in line with the policy. However, once half-hour service frequencies were included, this dropped to only 36% of dwellings having access to a frequently serviced stop. How our cities are performing
• Cities with less ambitious policy targets were meeting their targets, but generally not performing as well as other cities with more ambitious targets in terms of creating healthy liveable communities.
• No city performs well across all the policy and/or evidence-informed liveability indicators. For example, Perth has some walkable neighbourhoods on the urban fringe, but these areas have poor access to public transport.
• There is also substantial variation within cities, with inner-city areas (and many middle-level suburbs) substantially better served than outer suburbs by the urban design, infrastructure and land use planning policies needed to create liveable communities.
The study identifies many problems, such as the need for access to public open space and the excess of fast food and liquor outlets (which are not seen as a health problem). (In Perth, Sydney and Brisbane, on average, there are more fast food outlets than supermarkets within 3200 m of residents’ homes, see p.78 of the report). The report does not mention our large gambling industry which is able to manipulate planning deals gaining access to public land.
Competition among commuters
There are many references to walkability in cities, which should include all forms of active transport, such as cycling, which was mentioned only once. However these all have different requirements. Cycling is better for commuting than walking and should be isolated from vehicles on dedicated cycleways. Shared paths create problems as human densities increase. No mention that the higher the density, meaning more people, the more important transport systems, including cycleways, will become, and the harder it will be to find land corridors for all forms of transport . There is also a need to address the requirements of new technology especially when it comes to defining what is “active transport,” since there are now a large variety of electric powered devices like scooters, skate boards and segways, all of which are fast and incompatible with walkers and cyclists.
Pets left out of this ‘vision’
There was no mention of the health importance of pets and their requirements, such as leash free areas, poo bag dispensers. Nor was there mention of the benefit of domestic animals like chooks, ducks, and even goats. These bring benefits both as pets and as providers of fresh food but become difficult or impossible in high density areas.
Dangerously overcrowded footpaths
The report also argues that “walkability” [ hence liveability] in cites is directly related to densities and that this requires densities higher than 15 dwellings/ha. While this is true in terms of accessing shops, cafés and other venues, it ignores the casual walker who simply walks for pleasure. Nor does it address the issue of congestion which will deter walking or lead to increased risk of injuries. New York State averages nearly 300 pedestrian fatalities annually because footpaths have become so crowded that people are forced to walk on the roads. See, for instance: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/01/nyregion/new-york-city-overcrowded-sidewalks.html and https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/11/opinion/unjamming-the-sidewalks-of-new-york.html and NYC Bill Would Improve the City’s Dangerously Overcrowded Sidewalks.
Public Open Space (POS) set to decline
While admitting that, as our cities increase population densities, they will need more public open space to avoid a decline in the amount of POS per person, they do not say how this can be done, except in new suburbs. For inner suburbs with ever increasing densities there can only be a decline in POS/person.
Housing unaffordability acknowledged but main cause avoided in this public discussion document
The health impacts of housing affordability were discussed but there was no explanation as to why houses were expensive, nor was unaffordability linked to population growth. The report also failed to cover the increasing rates of psychosis and depression associated with increased densities. See, for instance, Kristina Sundquist, Golin Frank, Jan Sundquist, “Urbanisation and incidence of psychosis and depression: Follow-up study of 4.4 million women and men in Sweden,” The British Journal of Psychiatry Mar 2004, 184 (4) 293-298; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.184.4.293 and Lederborgen, F. et al. 2011. “City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans,” Nature 474, 489-501, 23 June 2011, cited by Tony Recsei in Health, Happiness, and Density, New Geography, 2013..
No mention of danger of developer-related money-laundering or corruption in safety
There was no mention of how densities, height limits or heritage restrictions can be changed by developers or how some suburbs seem to remain immune from consolidation. Importantly developer-related corruption was ignored even though this has created many of the problems that have arisen including shoddy buildings, money laundering, and even buildings that are unsafe, a situation made worse by government policies of de regulation and privatization.
Failure to consider heat-island climate impact
However the biggest flaw in this research paper must be its almost complete failure to consider the effects of climate change on cities even though they are already apparent. There was one mention of the Urban Heat effect which could see temperatures reach 50 degrees, enough to cause breakdowns in important facilities like power supplies , fires to become uncontrollable, and cities unlivable According to a UN report
The effects of urbanization and climate change are converging in dangerous ways. Cities are major contributors to climate change: although they cover less than 2 per cent of the earth’s surface, cities consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of all carbon dioxide and significant amounts of other greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through energy generation, vehicles, industry, and biomass use. At the same time, cities and towns are heavily vulnerable to climate change. Hundreds of millions of people in urban areas across the world will be affected by rising sea levels, increased precipitation, inland floods, more frequent and stronger cyclones and storms, and periods of more extreme heat and cold. Source: “Climate chage – UN-Habitat, https://unhabitat.org/urban-themes/climate-change/
To combat climate change cities need to become more energy efficient and less dependent on external services like power, water, food, waste disposal and sewerage. Increasing density through high rise apartments does not do this. In fact, it increases reliance since they lack enough roof area to collect rain water or solar power for all residents. They often are impossible to design with flow-through' ventilation and thus become dependent on air-conditioning, while the exhaust from the condensers pushes hot air into the streets or other units.
The above comments were a quick analysis of the 128 page document and do not provide a complete picture. However considering the importance of the report there are enough flaws to suggest that it should not be accepted at its face value.
You probably would have noticed the media attention given to the Australian economies historic 26 year reign of economic growth which has been claimed is breaking that held by the Netherlands. Apart from being incorrect, (The Netherlands’ real GDP declined by 0.3% in the June quarter of 2003, and by 0.01% in the September quarter of that year) that record should go to Japan. In fact, if Japanese GDP data were available on a quarterly basis earlier than 1960, it’s likely that this run of continuous economic growth would have been even longer, perhaps as long as 38 years, inferring from annual data available back to 1955. Not bad for a nation mocked for its decision to abandon population growth and actually reduce its population.
Our current reliance on GDP as an economic indicator harkens back to a war-time measure where it was considered necessary to measure production (of war material) in order to fight the war. After the war finished it seems logical to continue to use GDP in order to create the materials necessary to repair shattered infrastructure, a situation that is no longer logical when we should be caring for the economic casualties of this process.
The weakness of GDP as an indicator has been pointed out by many, none better than US senator Robert Kennedy who said "GDP measures everything but tells us nothing," and it certainly does not show growth was achieved or even if it was beneficial. Switching to non-sustainable resource dependency was certainly not to our long term benefit and while the total value of goods and services has increased due to population increases so has income inequality, poverty, homelessness, mortgage stress and many more unpleasantness including government corruption. Perhaps more importantly all this growth in GDP came at the expense of a government debt of $551b and a household of about $2t - the third highest in the world - leaving us vulnerable to a housing bubble implosion. Then there has also been a welter of public asset sales - now called recycling - often used for re-occurring expenses just to keep governments functioning. Many of these sales, like our gold reserves that were flogged off by Peter Costello or the GPO which went for a paltry $150m, indicate that we are not getting good value for our assets, despite the $3.5b that went to financial advisers in order to facilitate these sales.
Scarcely a recommendation for good governance.
Australia may have the world’s highest debt to GDP ratio. We have the lowest ranking in the region (61st) for income security. Our social expenditure is behind Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy's. The OECD has ranked Australia second last in government funding of public education.
The treasurer, Scott Morrison, has just informed us that we have had 25 years of economic growth and the economy is now growing at its fastest pace in four years, meaning we may well set a new record for the longest period of sustained growth.
Well that’s great for the treasurer, he may even get the coveted treasurer of the year award, but for many people growth, fuelled mainly by population increases and their spending on housing, bears no relation to their wellbeing.
There are almost 2.5 million either unemployed or underemployed. Homelessness increased by 20% in the last 5 years, house prices have risen 147% but incomes have only risen 57%. A whopping 720,000 households spend more than 30% of their income on mortgage payments and 850,000 households are at risk of financial hardship and poverty, creating what is now recognised as “Housing Stress”.
Our major cities have sections zoned for densities far higher than would be allowed in Hong Kong and with open space at 0.1m2 per person. Private debt to the banking system, mainly from mortgages, is $1.7trillion - that's 1.7 followed by 11 zero's - which possibly makes Australia the nation with the world’s highest debt to GDP ratio of 123%.
Those are just the visible signs. Using growth as a means of qualifying economic performance is an absurdity, as it reveals nothing of importance.
In terms of expenditure on research, Australia ranks 18th out of 20 OECD countries. Australia's spending at 0.441 per cent of GDP in 2013 was ahead of only Greece at 0.391 and the Slovak Republic at 0.369. That year Japan's expenditure was 0.754 per cent, the US 0.795, and Germany 0.917% of GDP. Recent funding cuts to the CSIRO will see about 36 agricultural and bio-security researchers at the infectious diseases health unit laid off. This is our only facility capable of handling outbreaks like Ebola or Zika. The cutbacks to climate research coincided with an increase in spending on wind turbine noise and coal seam gas research suggesting government intervention on research priorities.
Our record on education is worse. A report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) , which looked at government funding of public education, ranked Australia second last, putting Australia among only a handful of countries where less than half the cost of tertiary education now comes from the public purse, with a higher than average amount directed at private schools. The report also singles out Australia for putting more costs onto university students, part of a policy of both coalition and labor governments, which used full fee paying O/S students to bolster University funding. Overseas student numbers were bolstered by the linking of immigration with study, a process that promises the proliferation of “Mickey Mouse” courses and wide spread cheating. Private educational facilities have been described as the biggest rort in Australian history, one that targeted the most vulnerable in our community and created an estimated $16.3 billion in VET FEE loans by students.
Australia also has the highest proportion of international students, with 17.3 per cent of the campus population coming from abroad. In contrast, the US has just 3.4 per cent of overseas students. Almost all these students are full-fee paying. The figures underscore the degree to which Australian universities are hostage to the international student dollar.
The OECD also collects a wide range of data on government and private spending on social programs. Its latest report shows the Australian government's social expenditure (includes age pension, veterans' pension, disability support pension, unemployment benefits, study and carers' allowances, and other payments) is 19.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), which puts it at 13th in the OECD nations behind even Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy, (28%), countries considered to have lower GDP growth than Australia.
We also have the lowest ranking in the region (61st) for income security, which measures older people’s access to money and their capacity to spend it independently and the highest old age poverty rate in the region (35.5 per cent), while our pension coverage (83 per cent) and welfare rates (65 per cent) are below average.
Scarcely anything to be proud of.
 Candobetter.net Ed. "both coalition and labor" inserted after clarification with writer on 9 August 2016.
Arguably one of the most successful actions of the Australian Greens has been the reaction to their Democracy for Sale website. This site allowed the media and public to readily access information on ‘who gave what to whom’ and has, (albeit grudgingly), forced some governments to make changes to the funding regime. But more importantly it showed that political donations were not just for buying favours, they were also about changing government policies or legislation to suit the donor at the expense of the general public, including their right to protest. And when it came to getting legislation changed there was none more successful than the development industry. Paul Keating became involved in 2006 saying that New South Wales (NSW) property developers were sending a wall of money to the planning minister. Of course is wasn't only in NSW, West Australia (WA) was the home of the infamous 1980s “WA Inc.”, referring to corporate deals with government under Premier Brian Bourke. WA Greens Senator Ludlam would know this from the findings of the WA Corruption and Crime Commission report.
All of this makes it surprising that Senator Ludlum , when speaking in parliament about the Transforming Perth Study (a joint study by the Property Council of Australia, the Office of Senator Scott Ludlam ) would state:
“ It has been an unexpected joy working with the Property Council and a cohort of developers that they brought in to keep our feet on the ground. My thanks go to William De Haer and to Joe Lenzo, the Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia, for their committed work in bringing this report to fruition...”
Although this plan, ‘Transforming Perth’, did include provisions for light rail, cycleways and green ways, and aimed to stop urban sprawl by utilizing existing infrastructure, it was still Urban Consolidation, a term that has become synonymous with ‘Sardine suburbs’ and is now replaced with a less confronting name –‘Smart Growth’. But when you consider that developer-related corruption in NSW recently saw 11 Liberal politicians resign or stood down in just 9 months, 8 councils sacked in 5 years , 19 corruption inquiries by ICAC that led to 14 prosecutions, then Senator Ludlum’s gushing endorsement of developers suggest he is at best naïve. He is also at odds with some of his Green colleagues, like David Shoebridge, who argued that:
“ the Greens continue to press for community need to be put ahead of developer greed at this most grass roots level of government”
During his speech Senator Ludlam went on to say:
“This new study was commissioned... to take a long, hard look at what has happened in Australian cities in the last 50 or 60 years... Perth does have a good public transport network, but it simply has not kept pace with the growth of the city...”
Well what happened in the last 50 or 60 years was that the population of Australia grew from 7.5 to 24 million. Perth now contains over 2 million with a growth rate that reached 2.5%, the fastest in the nation, adding 346,000 more people in the decade since 2001. This explains why the transport system was overwhelmed. NO major city in Australia has been able to keep up with the extra infrastructure demand created by explosive population growth. Advocating, or even accepting accelerated population growth as a norm is tantamount to endorsing the unsustainable growth economics of the major parties, whose policies create all the environmental mayhem that the Greens deplore. As an example the water flow into Perth's dams has slumped by 80% since 1970 and is predicted to decrease even more in the future. Desalination plants, re cycling and underground water supplies help but are energy intensive and cannot supply cheap water to manufacturing, let alone agriculture.
Preventing urban sprawl is of course essential because we cannot afford to lose our best agricultural land, native forests or open spaces to endless housing. But Perth's sprawl has now extended in a strip 240kms along the coast. This has occurred because people want to live near the beach, where it is cooler. Temperatures across the world are rising due to climate change but in cities they have climbed much faster due to the Urban Heat Island effect – the heat retention created by roads and buildings and loss of vegetation which is more prevalent in regions with higher density housing.
But the most alarming section of Senator Ludlam’s speech was the scale of the proposal:
”The Transforming Perth study identified more than 1,500 hectares of land along seven high-capacity transit corridors in Perth and showed that if you built medium density dwellings, .....along these corridors-of four or five storeys, you could potentially fit between 94,000 and 250,000 dwellings along these corridors...”
Using the lower figure of 94,000 dwellings that equates to about 200,000 to 300,000 people and will require employment for around 100,000 in a state with sharply declining opportunities. The term ‘Smart Growth’ was coined as a way of convincing sceptical residents that putting more people into their suburbs was the right way to go, that it would utilize existing infrastructure and cut transport problems. But it hasn't worked out like that because existing suburbs lack the infrastructure for such increases in population. There will not be enough schools or hospitals, water, sewerage or power facilities. Furthermore their construction will be more expensive because of the higher land prices, because land prices increase in proportion to population density. Medium density housing is not, in fact more affordable because prices are a function of supply and demand. Nor is it a ‘green’ solution since it does not reduce the human footprint (currently estimated at 6.25ha./person in Australia). Instead, medium density adds to the Australian footprint since higher densities provide less opportunity to collect enough solar or water. They are unfriendly to vegetable gardens, they don’t permit outdoor clothes-drying and they are more reliant on air conditioning. New house construction also adds to Greenhouse emissions. A two bedroom house creates 80 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Our economic dependency on housing has left us with high personal debt – totalling $1.8 trillion with one of the world’s highest debt to GDP ratios, setting Australia on a course of reduced personal wealth for the bulk of Australians and the prospect of ever rising greenhouse gas emissions.
On the plus side Senator Scott Ludlam received the Planning Champion Award for his collaborative work with the Property Council and AUDRC "Transforming Perth". It is a plan which will cater for population growth (of which more than half is government-engineered) for perhaps 10 years. After that, well perhaps we go to 10 stories? And after that…?