Letters to the editor
Letters to the editor from SPA members, supporters and others are a rich source of community insights and concerns about population issues. The SPA web site maintains an archive of published letters.
The loss of thousands of trees due to massive infrastructure projects as reported in Monday’s Age is yet another reason our high levels of population growth and consumption are unsustainable. Tree planting projects in other places do not compensate for the habitat loss of mature trees.
Our cumulative footprint erases those of many other species, unbalancing ecosystems, which will inevitably lead to our own demise, eventually.
Bob McDonald (Letters, January 4) doesn’t like repetition and criticises Mr Mackenzie for so doing on climate change.
Yes, repetition does wear one down, but might Bob’s real motive be disbelief in anthropogenic climate change, in common with those governing Australia?
And if so, when ScoMo et al continue repeatedly to evade balanced debate on the subject, and repeatedly promote fossil fuel energy, does Mr McDonald object to that repetition?
Do those with contrary views, and there are many, have any alternative but to emulate ScoMo’s repetition?
Another area of repetition is opinion on Australia’s human numbers and their rate of growth. Debate on that at the political level is selectively confined to the short term supposed economic benefits of growth, all social and environmental impacts ignored. Why?
Because full debate would offend big money interests and the property and construction industries, all beneficiaries of rapid growth. No surprise they are so influential in shaping immigration fuelled “big Australia” government policies. How they must be hating COVID-19.
Those with longer term, more balanced, views embracing society and looming water shortages, have no alternative but to promote them by repetition.
John Quiggin is one of Australia’s finest economists whom I have admired for a long time. His article (“Can’t we just keep families together?”, December 31, p26), however, exposed that divide between economist and ecologists that he has sometimes bridged, but not on this occasion. Quiggin looks at immigration with his economist blinkers on but fails to see the overarching issue of population, and how many people this nation can sustainably support.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic complicates things, closing borders that might otherwise be open. Nevertheless, immigration policy must be set in the context of a broader population policy. Quiggin is simply wrong to assert that the “number of people that actually want to migrate for personal and family reasons is limited”. The number of people on the spouse waiting list is in the tens of thousands. And no doubt a lot of the 26 million refugees in the world and 79.5 million “forcibly displaced” would like to come here to have a better life.
This is not an argument to keep our borders closed once the pandemic has passed. Any nation, however, has a responsibility to control its borders, not only to protect its existing citizens from excessive competition in the labour market, but also to protect the habitat of other species from being destroyed for urban expansion, a corollary of rapid population growth. Most of us who support controlled borders are neither xenophobes nor racists, rather, citizens who see the social and environmental downsides of the kind of rapid population growth that has characterised Australia since John Howard’s government.
Immigration is a mere subset of population – the other half is natural increase that can be affected by such social policies as baby bonuses, for instance.
It is thus a pity that, in the recently announced Morrison government, there is no minister for population. Alex Hawke is Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, but not population. And he’s in the outer ministry, so has less influence. Anne Ruston, on the other hand, is Minister for Families and Social Service – a portfolio that may affect population policy – and is in the ministry itself.
Let’s hope that ministers Hawke and Ruston talk to each other.
Tom Dusevic’s article “Does the pandemic mean the end of Big Australia?” (26-27/12) is a fine exploration of Big Australia. It draws on the extensive knowledge and wisdom of Bob Birrell and Katharine Betts, but Dusevic offers his own insightful commentary as well. Gary Banks’s comments on the limited economic advantages of high immigration were also significant; my wish was that he had said as much — and often — when head of the Productivity Commission.
Dusevic describes the fault-lines in the population debate. On one side, those who “see” high immigration as ecologically unsustainable, a threat to the social fabric and a Ponzi scheme to perpetually pump up our market size. A fair description, but, on the issues of sustainability and the borrowing-from-the-future economics of an immigration-fed growth model, “knowing” is a more accurate descriptor.
On the other side, Dusevic nominates the pro-growth coalition of big-business, property developers and globalists. He does not identify the hallmarks of the latter’s belief system, but it can be reasonably interpolated these would include such terms as “vested” and “self-interest”. This side’s profound indifference to all things environmental was illustrated by another of Dusevic’s contributors, the US Studies Centre’s Stephen Kirchner.
In short, there was (or is) no comparable merit between these two points of view. One gives us a sustainable future — to be experienced within a diverse, robust and abundant natural environment. The other does not. This difference matters.
Your newspaper is to be commended for the series of features on population this week. I disagree that we need more fertility incentives to boost the youth of our population. A gradually ageing population is not a cause for panic. Concerns raised about the dependency ratio are a furphy. In Australia today, there are more people of working age who are not working than there are people over 65. A recent study by Sustainable Population Australia shows that a reduction in the proportion of people of working age is likely to reduce unemployment and underemployment because the labour market will adjust to the forces of supply and demand and more people will be attracted into the workforce. This is surely beneficial.
The considerable cost of extra infrastructure to support population growth outweighs the small extent to which that same population growth could lessen pension, health-care and aged care burdens. And that is not even including the often-ignored cost of continuing environmental deterioration caused by population growth.
Having fewer babies would be the best gift Australians could give their children. Demographers Peter McDonald and Liz Allen are wrong to say that low fertility shrinks the workforce (“Fertility policy ‘to drive Big Australia’, 23/12). Countries with low fertility don’t have fewer workers, they merely have fewer people unemployed. Countries with rapidly growing working age populations — such as Australia — have greater income inequality, as workers compete for scarce jobs. Economic models assume that the extra labour force creates their own jobs. This is far from reality, where even the gig economy (a last resort for many) is collapsing under the weight of job-seekers. And nobody enjoys the traffic jams, unaffordable housing and environmental destruction that comes with “Big Australia”. They tolerate this only because of the scare campaign about an ageing population, which is divorced from real-world experience.