“The compelling case for the planet is that if we’re going to have 9 billion people by 2050, and the food task doubling at 30 per cent of the productive land of Asia, where two-thirds of the world’s population will live,” he said. “Australia has some responsibility … in developing the potential it has.”
Northern Australia contains significant RAMSAR Convention sites and World Heritage areas such as Kakadu National Park, and is of great cultural and environmental significance to both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
A recent CSIRO report on water included rapid population growth as one of the key environmental issues in this area.
The report also says there are significant constraints on the viability of surface water storage in northern Australia. Floods are essential to sustain ecosystems, it says, and the consequences of flow changes on ecological systems are largely unknown.
Heffernan accepts that high population growth rates mean more food will have to produced, and more agricultural land will need to be ‘opened up’ to do this, including areas that are currently highly valued by Australians for non-agricultural reasons.
Heffernan, though perhaps more upfront in his views, is effectively expressing what most Australian politicians are already implicitly supporting by their silence. By not working to formulate a population plan for the country now, they are accepting that eventually, though not in their political term, northern Australia will become another Murray-Darling. As a nation, is this an acceptable future?