Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bernard Salt in Damage Control: re-edits his website

My posting Bernard Salt is not a demographer seems to have spooked Mr Salt. He has re-edited his website at to remove the admissions to which I drew attention.

I am going to leave that original posting of mine essentially unchanged, while dealing here with Salt's present (or future) attempts to re-edit 1. his website and 2. his facebook page (see below). I plan to keep on record some of the material he has removed from public view.

First, the story to date, in 5 short paras: ...

Big business in Australia spends a fortune on trying to convince us that we need to grow our population at at least four times the average annual rate of developed nations. It sees this as a source of extra customers, larger and cheaper choice of workers, and of course as a way to make huge sums through property speculation/investment.

We have both overt population growth lobbyists (e.g. BCA, HIA, the Masterbuilders, etc ) and what might be called  non-overt growth lobbyists who  are often presented as independent experts and who may declare no vested interest. 

 Bernard Salt describes himself on his website as a KPMG partner who heads "KPMG’s Property Advisory Services practice … a ‘Centre of Excellence’ in demographics as it relates to the business sector."
Yet few ordinary readers know this; and the seemingly endless stream of pro-population-growth articles he places in the media (currently he averages at least one a week) are often by-lined "Demographer Bernard Salt".

My original posting argued that this is unacceptable granted (a) that Salt has actually advertised on his website that he will write pro-development brochures "on commission" for developers,  and (b) that he himself has publicly recognised that he cannot and should not be called a demographer.

His embarrassment, revealed in this audio clip from last year's Future Summit, suggests that he thinks he may have a problem here.

However my posting gave him the benefit of the doubt, and suggested that he may be the victim of careless journalists or assistants, and noted that he has often taken care not to describe himself as a demographer. The obvious implication was that he should now be consistent and take care to publicly disavow any such claims made for him by others.

I am afraid he seems to be going the other way.  Let's look at his responses. In my original posting of 19 June I wrote

  Take a look at Bernard Salt’s website, where he describes his and/or KPMG’s advisory     services. At, in words that require no comment, he writes of himself:

“Bernard Salt also writes on commission brief ‘article-like’ overviews of development projects. This work is often published by the client as a brochure or booklet. These one-off publications written by Bernard Salt often receive wider media coverage. To view these overviews please visit the Reports page.”

This paragraph had been there for months if not years. I had checked it quite recently. Yet on Saturday 28th May  I discovered that Salt had removed this paragraph from his "Advisory" page.

However if you google phrases from it, you can still find it online in slighter older versions of the same website as cached by the various search engines. For instance, as late as 2 June 2011, it could still be found here.  And on 24 June I found it here.

A little later in my original posting I had written:

Among the samples anthologised there, you can find for instance the arguments he produced to justify what some would see as the destructive development of Merimbula, a pleasant seaside town on the South Coast of NSW.

This piece, paid for by the Carrington group, is titled “Marvellous Merimbula”. It contains some demographic and financial research, though with a strong brochure-ish feel, including praise of a proposed development’s leading-edge architectural design and a finding that it will provide the town with desirable “beach chic”. The main point of the research is clear from the final paragraph:
Merimbula is a pretty Cinderella town that has to date been overlooked by the property industry. Merimbula is a town whose time has finally come.

On 28 May I also discovered that the "Marvellous Merimbula" report had vanished from the Reports page of Salt's website.

However Salt or his webmaster had failed to remove it entirely. You could still (as of 29 May) find it online at -- though you needed to know the exact URL to go there. I mentioned this fact, and provided the link.

By 2 June, Bernard had removed even this page! (There's not much doubt he's reading my blog.)

However, as of 2 June 2011, a google search for "Bernard Salt" + "Marvellous Merimbula" still turned up several cached versions, like
this one. Or this.

It still contains the brochurish sentences of pro-developer rhetoric I had quoted -- seemingly incompatible with seeing Bernard as an impartial or unfee'd expert. To quote Bernard himself: "In order to be a property guru you cannot have a vested interest. A guru must be an advisor, not a developer." 

And those sentences I've quoted above are not the only ones!  Here are some more:
Aroma's coffee shop and pavement tables is a direct lift from the culture of Paris' Left Bank....The leading-edge architectural design of Merimbula's Coast  development injects "city sophistication" into a seaside village. Here is a prime example of how urban chic meets the beach: it is no less than an entirely new concept "beach chic".
The cached versions of this Merimbula article will before long disappear from the internet search engines like Google, but I have downloaded a copy and am happy to email it to anyone who wants to see it. And it is still on line here.


Meanwhile, I was sent Giuseppe Tauriello's article in the Adelaide Advertiser, about how Salt was targeted by activists when he appeared at at a "Sustainable Communities Symposium" (sic) in Adelaide.  (Someone has dated this PDF, as it appears on line, "8/7/2011, but I believe it in fact appeared on 8 June 2011.) The Property Council, which arranged this event had billed him as a demographer, and the protestors objected.  

Tauriello claims Salt told him "I have in no part presented myself as a demographer". However Michael Lardelli of Adelaide University suggested to Tauriello that Salt's assurance might be equivocal.

 Salt's Facebook page is called "Demographer Bernard Salt".

This facebook page, like Salt's main website, has been much re-edited. In particular, several postings have vanished since Kate Case asked him why he was calling himself a demographer.

Bernard seems to have realised that his own attempts at justification (and her rejoinder)  might do him more harm than her initial query. So his current policy seems to be to leave up the initial query but remove most of what followed. 

 In fact the page has been changing so fast I may not be able to keep up with it -- he has more motivation to keep changing than I to keep recording. But here are the public postings that I have recorded, in sequence:
Kate Case
 At the DAVOS Future Summit conference in Melbourne on 25 May 2010, you apparently stated :

"I’m not a demographer at all and I’m sure real demographers . . . er . . . I’m sure real demographers er . . . are amused by that tag in the media. I’m actually a historian. I have a master’s degree in urban history, specialising in Australian urban history, so a very good sense of where we’ve come from and where we're going to."
Yet here you are using it as your description. What gives?

May 26 at 7:39pm · Like · Comment

[Currently -- 7 June 2011 -- this is the only part of the exchance I can still find on Salt's Facebook page -- or am I missing something?  Salt's reply can however be found cached on the search engines like Google. -- M O'C]

Salt replied on the 2nd of June

"Bernard Salt Demographer wrote "Hi Kate, sorry for the delay in responding. I have been busy with the new book. I have no qualms about expalining to the world what my academic qualifications are and are not. The fact is that i am known, rightly or wrongly, in the business and media community as a demographer. The Australian coumn is pitched to the business community so the editor gives me the tag of demographer. I tag myself as KPMG Partner. Thisfacebook page was set up as a forum for comments for, dare I say it, fans of column and which is tagged Bernard Salt Demographer. Simple really. I suggest you also read my column today as Dick Smith has had similar concerns. And to be fair there is confusion on this issue. Dick refers to Professor Bob Birrell as a demographer (which i think is fair since his body of work is clearly demographic). In either case I would be very pleased if you would come to the dinner as my guest. Hope this response provides all the answers you were looking for.
Kind regards,
Kate, see today's column at It's the Bernard Salt versus Dick Smith book fest. See my column in today's Australian at"

[I have added the underlining for emphasis. Note the suggestion, which also appears in his article of 2 June in The Australian, that it's alright to use the term demographer more loosely when you're writing for the business community. MO'C ]


Kate Case responded:

I guess my objection stems from someone calling themselves something but it is not acknowledged that they don't actually have a formal qualification in that field. And yet they are labeled as that in media articles, interviews and even in a column they write for a national newspaper. Usually such titles would be reserved for an appropriately qualified person, someone who has done advanced study in that specific area, published articles in peer reviewed journals etc wouldn't they?
You seem to be saying that your editor and others have arbitrarily decided to call you a demographer, and that is ok, because that is how you are generally known in the public arena. But you are only known as that because, presumably, at some stage, you must have called yourself that. Your facebook page is very explicit in its use of the label. The medias' continued use of the term must have your approval, implicit or otherwise.
Dick Smith has just written a book on population, does that mean he can now call himself a demographer?
Bob Birrell has a PhD in Sociology and has headed up the Centre for Population and Urban Research since 1991. He has served as Federal government advisor and served on the Commonwealth National Population Council from 1987 - 1993. Recently he was a member of the independent Review of the General Skilled Migration Program which reported in May 2006. (from Monash Uni website)
I don't know whether all of the above makes him a demographer in the strictest sense of the term. But as an academic, he would have to be independent. He's not employed by a corporation which has a vested interest in promoting their own agenda, and that of their clients.

 With respect, Bernard, the work you do for the corporate sector means that you can't claim to be independent. Obviously your clients and your employer are going to want to promote population growth, that means more bucks for them. Your promotion of that same growth is totally in line with their interests. This is why your continued use of the title "demographer" (with all its connotations) is inappropriate.
Thanks for the offer of dinner, it would be most interesting to discuss some of this in person. Alas, I am in Tasmania, so a bit out of the question. I hope it goes well.See More
 Friday June 3 at 7:42pm


Salt replied:

Bernard Salt Demographer wrote "Thanks Kate. The bottom line is this. Business call people like me demographers. I write a column in the business part of the paper. This facebook page is an extension of the column. I freely and repeatedly explain that I have no 'demographic qualificatgions' including on this facebook page, in my coliumn yesterday and as you yopurself cited a year ago at the Future Forum. I am hardly putting up a charade. I find it odd that you would be so hard line on the demographic qualification line with me but happily accept Bob Birrell the sociologist as a demographer because of this body of work. Are you aware that i have written and have had published by the AGPS research reports on internal migration, that I have advised Tony Burke on population, that I have advised Anna Bligh on demographics, that I was asked by government to represent the population stream at the 2020 summit. Let me also say that my views on Australian demographics are my own. By your logic the only people commenting on this issue would be academic demographers employed by government or universities. In a democracy everyone gets a say; even those whose views you may not like.

My offer of coming to dinner still stands; I am in Tassie quite regularly; if you would like to discuss this personally of if you would like to hear me speak there drop me an email at"

Kate Case replied:

"No I'm certainly not saying that people can't comment on this issue if they are not a demographer, of course not.  Only that labels should be accurate, especially ones that relate to qualifications.  I don't believe I said that I accepted Bob Birrell as a demographer, I only pointed out his relevant professional experience and the fact that his academic position makes it incumbent upon him to be independent.  

By the way I was somewhat amused (bemused?) by your call in the article for the business community to be more vocal, when we saw such an orchestrated and coordinated barrage of commentary hit the media in the immediate aftermath of Tony Burke's report.  They're not exactly being shrinking violets when it comes to getting their message out there :-)  

Thanks again for taking the time to respond."

Salt replied:

 "Thanks Kate. I really do appreciate your feedback. I thionk we've both aired our views. I am serious about inviting you along to one of my Tasmanian presentations. And the dinner. But I appreciate tyhat you might not like to fork out for an airfare to hear me speak. Then again the offer is there."

[Note by Mark O'Connor: Salt's remarks about Bob Birrell fail to help his cause.  On Birrell's very real qualifications to be called a demographer see my other posting: Bernard Salt abandons his "baby bust" thesis. ]


I have taken the precaution of downloading the cached copies of the pages Salt has altered, so that I can demonstrate the comments in my original posting are accurately based upon what Salt has revealed about himself.

In another worrying sign, Salt published a piece in The Australian on 2 June 2011 called "Let Dick Smith  have his say, but case for growth is overwhelming". 

In this he expresses concern that

Salt then tries to resile from his admission last year that he is "not a demographer at all" and suggests that if people accept him as a demographer then he can be considered one. He even offers the odd argument that:


Recent revelations about Salt have come at an awkward time for CEDA, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. CEDA had given Salt pride of place (as an expert speaker) in its advertisements for a major conference on Australia's future (20-21 June 2011, Hotelm Realm Canberra).  Indeed the reverence with which the big end of town treats advocates of growth and of "business as usual" helps explain, if not excuse, Salt's view that it's alright to call yourself a demographer (or at least to let others do so) if you're only talking to the business community.

Christopher Dorman who attended that CEDA conference described it as
"The big end of town, as they say.  Government ministers falling over themselves to be seen there.  No less than 4 government ministers and the Shadow Treasurer."
Dorman asked Salt some questions about his claim that Generation Y is not big enough to replace the baby boomers in the workforce. He reports that Salt did not defend his claim but skipped across to the plain vanilla version of the Aging Population scare, as described in my posting on the supposed Baby Bust crisis.  One wonders how many members of CEDA noticed.


One of the problems Dick seems to have with me, as evidenced by his ABC documentary Population Puzzle, screened last August, is that I am not trained in demography.


  1. Business people may be right in worrying that population stability or reduction will produce a recession, but it is the “recession we have to have” to avoid catastrophic consequences for our children and grandchildren.

  2. well done Mark!! Sooner or later the message will get through. Funny how no-one I talk to is in favour of yet more traffic, more crowding, paying more for groceries/petrol/electricity ... the list is endless. Fortunately, even though many don't even consider the population side of the argument, more seem receptive to the issue.

  3. We should contact newspapers and television to point out that Bernard Salt is an historian and not a demographer. Maybe the message will eventually get through.