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.
Your editorial (‘‘ A bigger Australia to push up growth, pay down debt’’ , October 13) in support of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s call for 2 million more migrants, was disappointingly blinkered.
We are long past the time when we can focus only on any short-term economic benefits of massive population growth and ignore the social and environmental ramifications .
Nor can we ignore the moral aspects of poaching skilled workers from other countries while we fail to adequately support our universities, TAFEs and other training institutions to provide the skills we need.
You write of Perrottet “unashamedly” grabbing talent and capital, yet he should be ashamed, especially as an avowed Christian. Poaching, stealing, call it what you will, but what right has Australia to take the talents of other countries who have borne the cost of training them?
Both you and Perrottet ignore the fact that a number of learned economists, including Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe, Professor Judith Sloan and Professor Ross Garnaut, have cited high immigration as contributing to the past decade’s stagnant wages and rising job insecurity. And just last week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Conservative Party Conference: “What I won’t do is go back to the old failed model of low wages, low skills, supported by uncontrolled immigration’’ .
For 15 years, until COVID closed our borders, we had massive population growth fuelled largely by immigration that led to infrastructure not keeping up. That led in turn to a decline in standard of living. Since borders closed, however, resident Australians filled many of the jobs normally filled by immigrant workers.
Unemployment fell and some employers have lifted wages to attract staff.
Economists can no longer ignore the environmental consequences of population growth – not the least, the loss of habitat of other species’ habitats, including the koala from urban and agricultural expansion. And a critical issue is the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet our climate change targets. Not long ago, the NSW government increased its ambition in that regard (from 35 to 50 per cent reduction by 2030) which was admirable, but adding a million or more people is going to make that almost impossible to achieve. People need food, shelter and transport, and providing that requires resources and energy. These infrastructure costs have to be weighed against any economic gains we might achieve from a mass influx of people.
As politicians prepare to meet in Glasgow, there is an elephant in the room that no one seems willing to address.
In 1958, the world population was 2.9 billion. Now, 63 years later, it is 7.9 billion. During that time, global per capita GDP has grown more than 350 per cent. So the world has many more people and they are, on average and typically, much better off. This is celebrated as a virtuous circle that results in continuously growing affluence that is the central objective of our chosen economic model.
Meanwhile, all of the discussion regarding climate change appears to revolve around strategies to transition from one source of energy, identified as bad, to another source of energy, identified as good.
Isn’t the real problem that humans are overrunning the world, with expectations of more and more consumption? It seems to me that the focus on COin the air ignores the real problem.
A new economic model is required that incorporates a reduced human population and less consumption that also maintains the quality of life for future (smaller) generations. This is not to save humans alone, but to save the planet.
An inconvenient truth: only politicians and corporate bosses are interested in a ‘‘ big Australia” .
The rest of don’t want it because infrastructure “growth” projects are always 10 years behind when they are needed. Think Melbourne.
And overall wages have been stagnating for the better part of a decade. Why would you throw petrol on a fire ?
The issue of water supply in the Sydney region is highly contentious as shown by your article about Warragamba Dam (MPs urge for alternatives to dam wall raise, SMH 6/10/21). Our usual solution to shortages is to address the supply side. In this case raise the dam wall. Not only is this extremely expensive in both economic and environmental terms, it will probably be unsustainable in light of climate change and population growth.
The article seeks alternatives. What about demand management via the stabilisation of the population? Quite apart from ameliorating water shortages, this approach has several upsides. Think reduced congestion and housing pressure and avoiding the steep general infrastructure costs incurred by more people. As well it would be democratic since a large majority of Sydneysiders think that the city is full. Further it would be a step towards sustainability, surely of vital importance for future generations.
Growth once provided solutions, now it provides problems. Warragamba is only one example.
In their article about the 2021 Intergenerational Report, Peter McDonald and Jeromey Temple argue for a strong permanent immigration rate to avoid having three million temporary migrants in the country in 2061 (‘‘ IGR’s population forecasts rest on ‘brave’ migration assumptions’’ , June 29), because the latter would be “politically unsustainable” .
What is likely to be politically unsustainable is another 13 million people in the country, irrespective of whether they are native born, temporary migrant or permanent migrant. Rapid population growth brings a raft of problems such as housing unaffordability, high youth unemployment, congestion, pollution, loss of natural habitat and difficulty in achieving greenhouse reduction targets. Total GDP will rise with a bigger population but there is no guarantee it will translate into bigger GDP per capita, a better measure than total GDP of living standards.
Of the three Ps (population, productivity, participation), McDonald and Temple argue that the greatest of these is productivity. They correctly note that as we move to a more service-based economy it is difficult to achieve productivity increases, unlike manufacturing, where robotics can make a huge difference. What they fail to acknowledge, however, is that productivity falls in cities that grow past a certain size and, rest assured, our major cities will be the ones that absorb most of the extra 13 million people.
Recent research by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) has found that traffic jams and unaffordable housing are the cause of an apparent decline in economic growth and productivity in the capital cities. The report says that when workers confront growing housing expenses, households may be unable to relocate to where they can earn a better salary. At the same time, some businesses have difficulty obtaining employees or contractors they want at rates that allow them to remain competitive in a global market. Endless growth of our cities may not be such a good idea after all.
And let us not forget participation. As the percentage of people of working age declines from 6 to 2.7 people compared to people over 65 (as the IGR projected), wages will rise and people will be more inclined to join or rejoin the workforce – to participate. Perhaps in the end, of the three Ps, the greatest will be participation.
Full marks to Ross Gittins for explaining some basic economics that dispel the ill-founded panic about our decreased immigration and population growth and the increased ageing of Australia’s population (SMH 30 June). Some basic ecological demography is also relevant; no population can grow forever. Once the carrying capacity is exceeded, our life-support systems decline to the detriment of future generations and nature in general. This is happening now and yet senior politicians and bureaucrats cling to the populate or perish, growth at all costs dogma.
A hopeful sign arises from the lived experience of Aussies who suffer the unsustainable socio-ecological costs of excessive growth. A large majority now believes we don’t need more people. To this end we can see reduced immigration as a silver lining to the dreadful Covid pandemic rather than impending doom.