Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Immigration Department Report shows Australia's population growth is irresponsible

DIAC, Australia's "Department of Immigration and Citizenship" tried to bury its own report on the Long-Term Physical Implications of Net Overseas Migration: Australia to 2050  by releasing it on Xmas Eve.  However the Report broke back into public debate last week when Barney Foran's article about it appeared on "The Punch"  and mine on ABC's "The Drum".

Barney's piece is titled "Population policy is driven by the Dolly Parton syndrome", and begins
Bigger is better even if it’s top heavy and somewhat false.

Carbon tax or not, Australia’s carbon emissions will keep rising, driven by rapid rates of population growth (A Bigger Australia) and increasing affluence.... [The Report shows that by 2050 Australia will face] a doubling to a tripling of greenhouse emissions, a looming oil dependence, increased traffic congestion and critical water shortages in three capital cities.

This is bad news for the legions of corporate suits who see rapid population growth as the only way to maintain their cash flow in an economy based on house building, personal consumption and mining....

You can read the rest here.

My own piece begins:

It has been a bad two months for Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship. First came the Freedom of Information revelation in January that senior officials had told Julia Gillard in a “red book” briefing after the election that they were quite uncertain “what level or range of NOM (net overseas migration) is compatible with sustainable population growth”.

Yet they were nonetheless so certain Australia’s labour force must “continue to grow at around 1 per cent per annum”  that they advised Julia to break her campaign promise and return to Rudd’s unpopular “big Australia” policies. (See my "Red Faces over the Immigration Department's Red Book".)

Now a worse scandal is brewing.

It seems the Immigration Department has very good reason to know that none of the levels of immigration or work-force growth it has recently pursued are either responsible or compatible with a sustainable population. This emerges from Long-Term Implications, a significant report which the Immigration Department commissioned and funded but is now trying to discredit.

Prepared by the National Institute of Labour Studies at Flinders University, its full title is Long-Term Physical Implications of Net Overseas Migration: Australia to 2050. (You can find it here ).

Like the CSIRO’s earlier Future Dilemmas report of 2002, Long-Term Implications finds that neither the environment nor our resource security nor our quality of life are likely to benefit from the very rapid growth of population that Treasury predicts — and that business lobby groups continue to demand.

The report looks systematically at differing levels of Net Overseas Migration (NOM), from zero up to 260,000 a year. It shows that all of them lead to worryingly unsustainable positions, but that higher figures for NOM lead to much worse outcomes. Water supplies to Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney for instance are insecure already, but will be far worse at higher NOMs.

None of this should surprise us. The 2010 Inter-generational Report noted that Australia’s oil – the increasingly expensive commodity on which modern civilisation runs – is expected to be gone by 2020. Indeed a graph on page 132 of the report suggests the oil situation will be disastrous for all but the zero NOM scenario. As well, nitrate fertilisers, without which Australia could not feed even its present population, are made with enormous energy inputs from oil or natural gas; and their price tracks the upward curve of energy prices.

Even more disastrously, the world is running out of phosphate fertilisers, which Australia’s soils desperately need. Price has tripled, quality is falling, and supply is erratic. Hence Long-Term Implications finds in effect that Dick Smith is right: The security of production of food in Australia (and imported from overseas) is in question, it says (pp 129-130).

--That's the first half of the article. You can read the whole piece on The Drum.