Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Growth lobby can’t get its story together. Urban Task Force versus UDIA

Spooked by the fact that 70% of us think Australia has enough people already, and by a fall in the immigration figures to September 2010, two branches of Australia's well-funded growth lobby brought out media releases this week. They managed to contradict each other utterly. 
You can find both described on page 48 of Tuesday’s (March 30th) Financial Review. “Developers push for bigger cities”.

The “Urban Development Institute of Australia” tried to run Peter McDonald’s line of  selective fatalism, whereby it’s no use arguing with them because population growth is inevitable.
In its submission to the federal government’s Sustainable Population Strategy for Australia, the UDIA said population growth beyond 36 million was inevitable. [ Note: 36 million is the figure that Treasury projected for 2050 in its 2010 Inter-generational Report – a 60% increase on the present 22-23 million. This would require net migration of 180,000 a year, just under the latest figure from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.]
‘The arguments are not around the forecasts… the arguments are now around what this means for the future of Australia,’ said the UDIA.

The Fin. Review described UDIA as a “lobby group which represents those in the development industry”.  Predictably UDIA  went on to argue that government should somehow provide infrastructure for all these new people, despite Jane O’Sullivan having proved that this is financially impossible at recent growth rates [http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=10137&page=0  ].  

UDIA then bizarrely claimed that “Sustainable population [sic!] would also require that new home buyers not pay for so much new infrastructure” – presumably because this would make them less able to pay developers’ prices for housing. [A recent study from Curtin University suggested that the infrastructure cost of connecting up each new house in Perth was now around $300,000!  -- a cost that UDIA would rather see the tax-payer required to cover most of.  It then suggested we need more skilled building workers (no doubt so it could keep wages low) and saluted the shibboleth that “urban policies should be integrated and support growth in regional centres”.

To further reduce to meaninglessness the concept of Sustainable Population, UDIA "argued that a sustainable population policy would include education [sic]  about the benefits of a larger population; identification of required infrastructure; and faster rezoning, approval and development" Truly, the voice of greed is rarely soft or subtle!

Unfortunately Aaron Gadiel of the absurdly-named “Urban Taskforce”, another lobby group which describes itself as "a non-profit organisation representing Australia's most prominent property developers and equity financiers",  had decided to take an opposite tack. So far from such huge population growth being inevitable, there was a terrible risk that government would “cap the populations” of our capital cities at once, causing a fall in property values. 

The one scenario was as childish as the other. Yes, government can largely determine our future population by setting immigration quotas and by not paying  baby bonuses. But it does not have the power to stop population growth on a dime. 

There is almost no chance that the Gillard government is considering a move to zero net migration (which means not no migration, but the same number of people coming in as going out). 

Even if it did, our natural increase (the surplus of births over deaths) is currently well over 100,000 a year; so such a sudden stop  is simply not on the cards.  

For further absurdity, Gadiel claims to have got his figures about the dire effect of capping population  from an “independent economic authority” which turns out to be Brian Haratsis’s Macro-Plan. Haratsis, as his website will confirm, is an extreme proponent of high population growth, in which of course his company has an obvious interest.

In any case, as Jenny Goldie remarked in a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Urban Taskforce Australia claims if there were a cap on population then Sydney house prices would fall 18 per cent (Cap on population in cities could slash the value of houses, SMH, March 29). With such a vested interest, they would say that, wouldn't they?

Your paper reported on 24 January this year that
'Sydney ranks as the second-most-unaffordable housing market in the English-speaking world, stoking fears runaway price increases have made Australia a less equitable country' (The second last straw in affordable housing). In the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey of 325 English-speaking countries, Sydney ranked 324 and Melbourne 321. 

More recent reports reveal that such essential  workers as nurses and teachers can no longer afford to buy a house in these major cities.

Cap population and bring down house prices? What a good idea!

The on-line response to Gadiel’s nonsense was typified by this posting:
Shelter would be less expensive? Young families could afford a place to live? People wouldn't have to be slaves to banks for as long? We must stop this immediately! Can't the government borrow money in our kid's names to make shelter more expensive like it did in 2008?

Well done, Fin. Review for correctly identifying these two voices as lobbyists and in effect, hired mouths. Brickbats to some other media that were conned into reporting them as if they were expert opinion.

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. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Megalogenis's growth propaganda rebuked - Quarterly Essay

[Note: George Megalogenis is a journalist who writes for Murdoch's Australian newspaper, and embodies many of its views. For background see my previous posting: Murdoch's Australian pro-growth propaganda machine.]

I had not particularly focussed on George Megalogenis's views till he became the author of the summer edition of  Australian Quarterly Essay (no. 40).

In the following issue, no. 41, just out in early March 2011, I published a lengthy rejoinder dissecting his views and showing how little substance there was behind his confident front.

In his right of reply (in the same issue)  Megalogenis tried to slide past my criticisms, "I enjoyed Mark O'Connor's contribution, even when it got a tiny bit personal". But he has clearly learned nothing. He was soon using the same kind of circular logic, plus factitious accounts of  Australian political history similar to those I had dissected in his original article. For instance:

"There are too many examples of Australia taking the soft option in its history. Slowing population growth and erecting the tariff wall were the easy things to do after Federation... That's why I err on the side of growth; it helps keeps Australia younger than most and increases the chances that one of the new intake, or their children, or one of their locals, will come up with a smarter way to live with our boom-bust ecology. Then there is the live case study of New South Wales, the only state in the federation that actively pursued a slower population-growth policy over the past decade. Two things happened to New South Wales. Its population grew at half the national figure --as intended -- but so did its gross state product. [Fancy those frustrated Sydney commuters not realizing that their problems were due to Sydney not growing fast enough !]  ... All roads in the reform debate lead to the dead end of New South Wales, the state with arguably the shortest attention span. The NSW disease infected national politics under Howard Mark II, Rudd, and now Gillard...."
Like Colonel Gaddafi, George Megalogenis often seems to inhabit a parallel universe where laws of logic and relevance do not apply, and where a version of history can be found to validate whatever one wishes to believe.  Perhaps it was a waste of my time to take issue with someone like this. But here is my rejoinder to his original article.
George Megalogenis's essay  Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the end of the reform era  
(Quarterly Essay  no. 40,  December 2010)
George Megalogenis is a very talented fellow. Astute and witty, sane yet mordant, he illuminates the oddities of Australian politics. He plows through political exchanges most of us never got to the bottom of; yet he keeps us entertained, and every now and then flashes out with a witticism Oscar Wilde might have envied.  Thus he remarks on the Menzies-Murdoch controversy “I think a reverse burden of proof should apply in these cases: a politician should be assumed to be paranoid unless he can prove otherwise” (page 81).  He also describes Hawke and Keating last year as “Like two old bulls who didn’t know when to stop charging”.  One can forgive the odd oversimplification when it leads to quotes as memorable as these.
          Such were my first impressions as I skimmed the piece.  Then I got a jolt on page 24 where he accuses Julia Gillard of  “joining the dots from the boats [i.e. boat-people] to the immigration numbers to the population debate”,  and claims in the same breath that  “the notion of a sustainable Australia” was “a dogwhistle” that Julia herself had invented.   This is simply too tendentious to pass.  The fact that Megalogenis has (fairly clearly) no understanding of the sustainable population issue does not give him the right to malign those who do see it as a major policy issue; and the implied conflation of boat-people and immigration numbers is simply innumerate. Boat people number in the very low thousands a year, whereas gross immigration has been over 500,000, and net migration close to 300,000. The boat-people are all but irrelevant to the population debate; immigration numbers emphatically are not. Differentiation please, George!
As yet my response was not so much annoyance as an old editor’s instinct to protect authors from themselves, to say in effect: “Hang on! Do you need to say that? You just might be losing (or confusing) half of your audience there.”  —Or in this case at least 70%. Research in People and Place[i] shows that barely 30% of Australians accept George’s view that Australia needs more people, and one might suspect only a minority of that 30% would deny that the sustainable population camp has a valid point.
Yet, the problem recurred.  Population policy, it seems, is his King Charles’s head — it gets in everywhere; and each time it does, there is something strange about Megalogenis’s take on it. Oddities start on page 1 with his imaginary letter to Murdoch during the 2010 election campaign: “Dear Rupert … Neither candidate deserves to win. Julia won’t talk the country up, Tony keeps talking it down.” This is simply untrue unless he is referring not to nationalist rhetoric but specifically to Murdoch’s and the Australian’s  agenda of promoting indefinite growth of Australia’s population  under the slogan of  “big Australia”  —in which  case it is also untrue. Neither leader promised any end to Australia’s rapid population growth, only a certain scaling back in the speed of it. Neither would stop paying baby bonuses. We need to remember that Australia’s annual rate of population growth has been running at nearly twice Indonesia’s, and between four and six times the average of industrialised countries.
A few lines later Megalogenis goes further, asserting that in the election campaign both leaders screwily “competed for the right to shrink the nation”.  This again makes little sense unless he is talking primarily about population — in which case it still makes little sense! With natural increase (surplus of births over deaths) running at well over 100,000 a year, no political party, not even the new Sustainable Population Party which wants to keep net migration (immigrants minus emigrants) around zero, does or could offer any current program for “shrinking the nation”.  The statement, as made, is innumerate, and extremist.
A central thesis of the Essay is that our politicians showed lack of courage and idealism by giving in to those who made the most noise on (a) population and (b) emissions.  Yet Megalogenis’s easy amalgamation of these two causes makes little sense. The climate sceptics party in 2010 got only 0.03% of the vote, as he himself admits; whereas those who want population growth scaled back are not some claque but a vast majority of Australians, and even of immigrant Australians, and are backed by an array of experts. 
Though he can’t leave the topic of population policy alone, Megalogenis shows no signs of having done his homework in the area. I get the feeling that it’s an emotional issue for him, one on which he can’t bear to read those who disagree with him. There is, for instance, no reference to Flannery, or to Barry Jones.  The Australian Academy of Science’s warning that to push population beyond 23 million (not far from the present 22.5 million) would damage both the environment and the quality of life of future generations, has clearly passed him by.[ii]  So has Birrell and Healy’s demonstration that it is simply impossible to reduce our greenhouse emissions in the way Rudd promised if we let population blow out towards Treasury’s prediction of 32 million by 2050. Also missing is CSIRO’s Future Dilemmas report —still our most detailed look at Australia’s future options.
Megalogenis ignores the Australian Conservation Foundation’s formidably documented nomination of population growth as a threatening process for the Australian environment, and likewise the stern warnings about population growth in Australia’s recent State of the Environment reports and in Australia’s official report to the UN on its rapid loss of biodiversity. He seems unaware of resource depletion and Peak Oil; and he badly needs to read the Carr Report’s lucid warnings against the Ageing Population Scare, and against the myth (which seems an article of faith for Megalogenis) that pushing up population makes us wealthier.[iii]  
Indeed this growthist view, though universally advocated by the Murdoch Press’s economics and politics writers, has only patchy support from economic and political writers elsewhere in what I am tempted to call the free press. Economists as varied as Saul Eslake and Richard Denniss demur. As Ross Gittins puts it, “the economic case for rapid population growth is surprisingly weak”; indeed two recent comprehensive articles by Gittins leave the growthist case in tatters.[iv]
Interestingly, this Essay’s publication coincided with the latest edition of Dissent, in which the former Queensland Labor Minister Andrew McNamara argues that "Any talk of sustainability without a commitment to population stabilisation is not just spin; it is a dangerous lie", and accuses Gillard, Abbott and the Greens of  failing “to call for the massive cut to immigration levels that is necessary to be creditable on the environment”.   
Megalogenis suggests that Gillard’s populist cowardice led her to invent an imaginary population problem, or alternatively to project upon other Australian cities an urban congestion problem that primarily affected Sydney. (“Gillard’s Sydney-led race to the bottom on immigration”, page 22).  This sounds tendentious. In fact FOI material recently obtained by the West Australian shows that the Prime Minister’s own department warned her that “demographic pressures will negatively affect living standards, particularly in cities, as housing prices rise, congestion increases and it becomes more difficult to access services." Also that voter anger is rising, based on “the perception that the quality of city life is declining [which] is supported by declining measures of liveability (including from greater congestion and longer commuting times) … and a lack of affordable housing." [v]
Yet Megalogenis talks as if population growth was a sort of free lunch to which only foolish populists could object. There are paragraphs of pure Murdochery like the claim on page 25 that “We should be expanding the immigration program to mine the youth belts of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Continental Europe…  Pay their airfares if need be”. Concerns about urban congestion and commute times are sneered out of existence.  (“Voters were more worried about congestion, about asylum-seekers, about any damn thing really.” p. 21).  
As for the environment — who cares if it takes another hit? Treasury Secretary Ken Henry admitted in 2009 to being appalled at the thought of  the further damage population growth to 32 million by 2050 would probably do: Must it mean an even greater loss of biodiversity - difficult as that might be to imagine, given our history of species extermination?”  Megalogenis magisterially brushes the issue away. “I’m prepared to argue that Australia is better off putting the people ahead of the services, and taking the risk of straining the environment  in the short term” , he says on page 24. (And just when would this short term be over?)
There follows a seriously loopy attempt to claim that Sydney’s congestion is due to Labor’s not being willing to grow the city as fast as Brisbane.
None of this shows any lack of intelligence; but there is willfulness, and a lack of rigor. Argument is largely lacking in Megalogenis’s essay. Mostly he just asserts, or else narrates a highly selected story. There is of course some awkwardness in a Murdoch journalist offering us an account of how our politics are corrupted by media influence and plutocracy . . . 
The oddities of viewpoint grow as the Essay proceeds. Gillard’s “back-sliding on immigration”, he tells us on page 11, reflected “the policy cowardice of the times.” Well yes, Gillard did backslide, in the face of business and media pressure (some of it applied by Megalogenis himself) on her initial promise to break with “big Australia”. 
When Scott Morrison persuaded Tony Abbott, shortly before the 2010 election, to promise a small but symbolic reduction in the Immigration Department’s projected future levels of net migration (from 190,000 a year to 170,000), she refused to match it. But one gets the feeling that this is not what Megalogenis means.  In his lexicon, ‘backsliding on immigration” means suggesting the public’s wishes should be respected.  
Gillard’s real backsliding came at a cost. The population vote, which she had seemed sure of, slipped away while she and Tony Burke havered; and most of it wound up with the Greens, nearly costing her government. But Megalogenis can’t accept this moral. He pretends it was her initial promise to break with big Australia that cost her the public’s respect. Granted that the public solidly opposes big Australia, this is implausible.
But then, Megalogenis is ambiguous about public opinion, and indeed democracy. To the business Right (by which I mean roughly the ideology that emanates from the Australian newspaper) democracy means not government by the people or for the people so much as government of the people by those who know best. 
When he does try to take on the other side in this debate, it becomes clear he has only the vaguest idea where they are coming from.  For instance, one deep concern about Australia’s rapid population growth  is to do with house prices, “mortgage slavery”, and the pressure on marriages, families, and quality of life as both partners are forced to work full-time and overtime, etc.   Yet Megalogenis tells us we should be grateful (page 21) that “large-scale immigration kept our house prices rising”. He slightly distances himself (page 25)  from “the business case for immigration”, but still sees nothing much wrong with the argument that we need the world’s highest per capita immigration rate “because they [the immigrants] will pay well above the reserve for your house.” Note that “your”. It is assumed the reader is a house-seller, or a house-speculator, rather than a house buyer.
There are odd points in the piece where he suggests that he sees himself as being roughly where he claims most Australians are: a little Left of centre. He could not be more wrong!  George is clearly of the big-business Right — by which I mean not necessarily intolerant on social issues, but anti-populist, rigid in its belief that what matters most is the economy, and pro whatever conditions help the rich (and therefore, he would argue, most of the rest of us) get richer.  These conditions, it seems, include indefinite growth of GDP and of population.    
In an essay full of false segues, the crucial failure comes on pages 17-25, just before he asks “So when did polling gain the right of veto over policies such as immigration and climate change?”  Megalogenis tries to show that Gillard’s and Abbott’s hostility to immigration was based on slavish following of the polls when evidence and logic pointed the other way.  But neither is in fact hostile to immigration; both seem to be partly defying the polls on both issues; and Megalogenis fails to show that much evidence or logic are on his side. At this point his essay’s structure is in tatters. 
It’s not that one couldn’t tell a fascinating narrative — beginning perhaps with the Howard Government’s 1999 promise that Australia’s population wouldn’t need capping because it was only heading for 23.5 million[vi] — about how our politicians sold out the national interest on population policy. But first Megalogenis would need to make a cogent argument (a) that the national interest demands rapid population growth, (b) that the politicians knew that, and (c) that they found or were offered improper inducements to change what should have been their decision.  
Megalogenis does none of these things, and especially not the last, because of course the truth is the reverse of what he claims. Strong inducements were offered, especially in the form of electoral “donations” and media support (both carrot and stick), but these were offered by those on his side of the debate.  His essay tells us nothing of the tactics (which Dick Smith has described) by which various vested interests (employer groups, white-goods sellers, property speculators, media moguls) constantly badger the government to increase population growth.  Instead he attempts to invert the story. The entire blow-out in immigration under Howard and Rudd seems to be (to judge from his sub-title “leadership and the end of the reform era”) a “reform” carried out by decisive leaders. 
I had no idea, when I began to pull at some strands in Megalogenis’s logic, that a full analysis of it would prove so destructive. The experience was like trying to pull off a surplus thread from one of those magnificent bulky-knit sweaters — only to find that instead of perfecting the garment’s appearance you have somehow tugged loose what binds it, and are left with a mess of tangled threads.
So what remains of Megalogenis’s thesis? The fact that Australian politics is in a cowardly and mendacious and media-driven phase? True, but as he says at the start, we knew that already. What his Essay might have offered was a philosophically accurate account of the moral mess, plus an authoritative history of how it got that way, and some possible remedies. That task is largely still to do.

[i] See  Betts, K 2010b,  ‘Attitudes to immigration and population growth in Australia 1954 to 2010: an overview’ in People and Place, 18(3), 2010, pp. 32-51.
[iv] See “Punters well aware of economic case against more immigration”, SMH November 24, 2010;  and “A few facts would be useful in the migration debate”, SMH December 11, 2010.
[v]  City life in decline, PM warned”, by Shane Wright, Economics editor, The West Australian December 20, 2010, http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/breaking/8536559/city-life-in-decline/  
[vi] Australian Government response to the Jones Report on carrying capacity, AGPS, 1999.

Murdoch's Australian pro-growth propaganda machine

Perhaps the most blatant misuse of media power in Australia today is the Murdoch Press's pro-growth propaganda.

It is an open secret that no one gets a senior  journalistic position in the Murdoch Press (at least in any of the areas related to economic or political news) who is not a proponent of endless growth. Editorials regularly demand "growth" and excoriate doubters. Writers often see themselves not as investigative journalists -- there is less and less of that -- but as Murdoch's cattledogs, whose job is to herd politicians and public figures in the right direction, and to punish with a sharp nip on the rump anyone not actively attending to the boss's agenda. Growth is understood in the simplest and naivest terms, not even as GDP per capita but simply as gross domestic product.

It is not hard to see how this benefits Murdoch's interests. You don't get to own so much of the world's media without aggressively leveraging your initial capital. In plain English, you take risks, and possibly larger risks than your shareholders or bankers would be happy with if they knew what was going on. Many such venturers crash and wind up in jail; and even many who seem to have made it to the top, like the Canadian media tycoon Maxwell, eventually take one chance too many. Any sort of downturn in economic growth threatens such men (they are almost all men to date) because that's when bankers become narky about loan security, and start refusing to renew loans. Hence such fast-mushrooming tycoons  loathe any notion of economic downturn, or even of a level or Steady State economy.

As well, of course, a media tycoon benefits directly from population growth. More people equals more customers, and also more stuff being sold (and hence more advertising revenue). In particular, population growth inflates house prices, and the steeper these become the more lavishly house sales are promoted, and the greater the revenue from real estate advertisements.

It is to the credit of the Fairfax papers that while basically pro-growth they allow alternative opinions. The economics editors of the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald seem to speak from another world.

Senior Murdoch journalists know that they would not have their jobs if they did not follow the Murdoch line, and in some cases might not be able to get jobs as journalists or as senior journalists at all without their willingness to write to order. They cover any sense of inferiority and any pangs of conscience with an aggressive and often hysterical defensiveness. Anyone who questions their peculiar mindset must be scoffed out of existence or represented as an extremist.

Within this narrow church there are individual differences of viewpoint. Even Murdoch cannot get a staff of fellow tycoons to write for him, and so he must often use journalistics whose conservative or rightwing views come from a slightly different source than his own. Conservative Catholics like the Shanahans are prominent on the staff of The Australian. These sometimes have reactionary views on, for instance, global warming that Murdoch himself does not share. Others get away with being less socially conservative, so long as they are firmly with the business Right on issues like the need for endless growth of population and GDP. . .

[I wrote the above originally as a lead-in to the piece on George Megalogenis, but decided it is better as a free-standing comment.]


A day before I published this post (I have since discovered) Bob Ellis published on ABC's The Drum a piece called Murdoch at 80: Lear on the Heath.  It attacks not so much Murdoch's Australian newspapers as Murdoch and his international operations. It's a wild and whirling piece, in typical Bob Ellis style, but worth a look. It certainly makes my criticisms look restrained, even though (as one would expect with Ellis) it is largely uncritical of Murdoch's growth-propaganda.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A graph of Australia's recent population growth.

It's surprisingly hard to find a clear graph of Australia's recent population growth. (See below).

A little background. Australia's annual rate of population growth is bizarrely high. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures for recent quarters have fluctuated between 1.8, 2.1% and 1.7% (the most recent). Depending on which table of world statistics you use, this is between 6 and 4 times the average rate for industrialized countries. Indeed many Third World countries have lower growth rates. For instance Australia's neighbor Indonesia is growing at about 1.2% a year, and making efforts to reduce this figure.

 I went looking for a historical graph of Australia's population,  googled "graph of Australia's population", and was amazed to find nothing very clear or recent. Though the data is readily available from Wikipedia and ABS, no one seemed to have turned it into a graph, except for a rather miniature one labelled "ESTIMATED RESIDENT POPULATION" that ABS provides (for the years 1989 to 2009).

I am indebted to R. Cully for the larger graph below, and for permission to put it in the public domain. Also of course to ABS for the underlying information.  So now we have a good historical graph of how Australia's population has grown over the past 110 years.

From the same sources, here are two maps that disprove two other common myths: 

(1)  that Australia's population growth is due purely to net migration (the surplus of immigrants over emigrants) and owes little to natural increase (the surplus of births over deaths). 

And (2) that the government should pay a baby bonus, because "births in Australia are not keeping up with deaths" (Costello, Bracks, and various lobby groups).

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ken Henry, Treasury Secretary, says Australia's sustainable population is about 15 million.

Ken Henry has delivered his last speech as Treasury Secretary, and in it has suggested that Australia's sustainable population is about 15 million persons, some 8 million less than currently, and less than half what it is predicted to have by 2050.

In 2009 Ken Henry ignited the population debate by remarking that he was "profoundly pessimistic" about Australia's ability to safeguard its environmental heritage if population grew as predicted.  (He was referring to a Treasury projection that Australia's population might grow from 22 million to 36 million by 2050.) 

As a result, ABC TV's veteran current-affairs presenter Kerry O'Brien woke from a 20-year slumber on the population issue and asked Prime Minister Kevin Rudd a question about Ken Henry's remarks.  Rudd, whose minders seemingly hadn't briefed him to expect a question on population, promptly claimed responsibility for the recent blow-out in Australia's annual population growth.  (This had reached a more-than- Third-World rate of 2.1%, and without the slightest electoral mandate. Rudd when running for office had concealed his intention to raise immigration). Public reaction was savage. Even the pro-growth Australian newspaper admitted in an editorial that "Labor's focus groups went ballistic".  Rudd's stock's tumbled, and Labor's approval rating never again passed 50%.

Six months later Rudd fell, nearly taking Labor with him. The story is told at more length in the preface to the 4th edition of Overloading Australia: How governments and media dither and deny on population, by Mark O'Connor and William Lines, available from http://www.australianpoet.com/docs/oa_order_form.pdf  

Now in a speech on March 4th, his last working day as Treasury Secretary, Henry has returned to the population issue.

According to a transcript of the ABC TV program Lateline he told his audience at the Giblin Lecture:

A sustainable population for Australia, well I don't know, maybe 15 million, something like that, that's one-five not five-zero.

It is evident in the environmental degradation that one sees, the loss of biodiversity, species extinction and so on, it's very clear that the population growth that we've experienced to date, to give us a population of 21, 22 million has not been sustainable population growth in that sense.

However Henry seems to have something in common with those growth-economists who assure us that environmental problems can be solved by good "planning",  without the need to cap population, since he added

And yet I can imagine a set of policies, a set of regulations, a set of taxes which would be commensurate with a sustainable population considerably larger than the one we have today.

Perhaps he differs from the extreme optimists, like Glenn Withers and Peter McDonald, in his willingness to recognise that we have limited ability to improve the current system, and that therefore under current circumstances more people = more environmental damage.

An Environmental History of Australia

  A Short Environmental History of Australia

by Mark O’Connor

As published in The Edinburgh  Review, no. 128, February 2008 -- (A special edition about Australia).  

There are few things more pleasing than the contemplation of order and useful arrangement arising gradually out of tumult and confusion; and perhaps this satisfaction cannot anywhere be more fully enjoyed than where settlement of civilised people is fixing itself upon a newly discovered or savage coast. The wild appearance of the land entirely untouched by cultivation, the close and perplexed growing of trees… are the first objects that present themselves… But by degrees large spaces are opened, plans are formed, lines marked, and a prospect at least of future regularity is clearly discerned.
(Captain Arthur Phillip, first Governor of New South Wales, describing the new colony, 1789)

When you, gentlemen, first got your estates your ground was well furnished with beautiful shrubs. You ignorantly set the murderous hoe and grubbing axe to work to destroy them, and the ground that had been full of luxurious verdure was laid bare and desolate… No person of taste who has seen the rocks which border the shores of Port Jackson [Sydney Harbour], and the beautiful trees, flowering shrubs, rock lilies and other plants growing there indigenous in masses and groups, unequalled by the art of man, must but admire them. No rocky scene in England or Scotland can be compared with it.
(Thomas Shepherd, Australia's first professional gardener, 1830s)

Since 1788 the ecology of Australia’s dry continent has been profoundly affected by the verbal filters through which Anglo-Celtic or English-speaking Australians perceive it.

Many of the terms they found for Australia’s strangeness, like ‘Down Under’ and ‘Topsy-turvy Land’, were unhelpful, even silly. The best term was already in use for one of Britain’s earlier conquests: ‘the new world’. North America was the new world only in the sense that it was like the old world, being a sort of second Europe, with (thanks to a recent land-bridge across the Bering Straits) much the same trees and animals.

But Australia was genuinely new. It was hard for folk from the UK to understand its climates (forever alternating between droughts and floods), its rivers that flowed inland and vanished, its eucalypt forests that seemed immemorial yet might burn to a cinder tomorrow, and its lack of topsoil (or of the rich glacial and volcanic sub-soils of other continents).

Above all, in its extraordinary biology, Australia seemed like a second and separate creation. Gone were the placental mammals of other continents (apart from a few rodents that had been rafted there, one of which was evolving into a sort of otter, plus of course the recently introduced dingo). In their place was a whole suite of marsupial grazers, predators, and arboreal animals. Plus platypus and echidna, two diverse survivors from an unknown era when mammals laid eggs. A symbol of Australia’s otherness might be the bounding two-legged gait of the kangaroo, so different from that of European ungulates, yet clearly and robustly efficient.

Australia was, and still is, even though much trashed and abused, a treasure-house of biodiversity. Its biological regions vary from high mountain snowfields to tropical rainforests, and then to tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate deserts, sclerophyll forests, and grasslands. Indeed it was taken and settled by Great Britain partly for ecological or botanical reasons.

Sir Joseph Banks, a passionate botanist, paid £10,000 towards (and to be part of) Lieutenant James Cook’s expedition that explored eastern Australia. It was Banks who some years later (in 1786) helped make sure that Britain’s next colony would be in Australia, and at one of his two landing spots. He misinformed HMG that the climate of Botany Bay (Sydney region) was ‘similar to that about Toulouse in the south of France’– though he knew that the real parallels in latitude were with North Africa. Intending colonists were fed a similar line. To this day Australia’s first and most populous state is known as New South Wales  (hereafter NSW) rather than, say, New Morocco or New North Africa.

The botanic riches of Australia probably lay behind Banks’s recommendation. The lure of finding new species glittered like gold in people’s imagination then – a point well made in David Attenborough’s Amazing Rare Things exhibition, which was recently on show at the Queen’s Gallery, Edinburgh. And Banks had a special interest in ‘economic botany’. He understood, perhaps better than anyone else in Britain, how much the wealth and power (and the populations) of the empire depended on certain new plants that Columbus and others had found in the Americas. Beans, pumpkins, maize, pawpaw, potato, tomato, tobacco, peanuts, sweet potato, were already important; but Banks might have guessed the future rise of crops like capsicum, avocado, custard apple, passionfruit, rubber, blueberry, cranberry, asimina (‘North American pawpaw’), tomatillo, pepino, cherimoya, quinoa, yacon, oca, pecan, naranjillo, hickory, casimiroa, feijoa, tamarillo, casana, cocona, cocoa, and more. Once enough new-world crops had been added to the existing old-world range, there was a profitable crop for almost any region, from the acid peats of Ireland to the alkaline soils of coral atolls. The sweet potato, for instance, had led to the clearing and farming of much of upland Asia.

Union of these two crop-suites is still far from complete, even after 500 years. It was delayed by the old world’s sluggishness in accepting new and often frost-tender crops. It became not an explosion but a sort of steady propulsion down the centuries behind humanity’s rocketing growth. As the Australian National University geographer Michael Bourke points out, the modern world is still living off the dividends.

Banks might have been even more excited had he known the truth (which perhaps he glimpsed at Botany Bay). Australia is not, as the maps of his day suggested, a mere extension of SE Asia, but a drifting relict of Gondwanaland, and the world’s most long-isolated habitable continent. Radically new crops and herds might come from such a place. Moreover, the separation between Australia and the much larger continent of Antarctica is quite recent. (One side of the rift valley produced is still visible in the spectacular cliffs of the Great Australian Bight.) If the innumerable lost species of Antarctica, which was not always polar, are to be found other than as fossils under Antarctic ice, it will be in Australia. What riches might Australia’s vastness, once properly explored, bring Britain and the world?

The explorers did meet plenty of promising species. Australia had mound-building ‘scrub-hens’, which consort readily with domestic hens and lay excellent eggs a third their own body-weight. It had edible wombats and emus, almost begging to be domesticated—in vain. It had geese, ducks, and ‘plains turkeys’. It had over a hundred edible fruits, including a collection of wild citrus and rubus as promising as any continent’s. One of its so-called ‘native grapes’ Tetrastigma nitens was already comparable in size and flavor with the best domesticated grapes. It had delicious chestnut-sized bunya nuts, and heavy-bearing large-seeded acacias from whose seeds Aborigines made high-protein flour. It had wild grasses, unrelated to those of the fertile crescent, whose grains had long been a staple for desert Aborigines. Even its spectacular semi-edible ‘kangaroo apple’ Solanum aviculare was at least as promising a candidate for domestication as the original tomato, being productive, perennial and frost-hardy to boot.

The hungry settlers did eagerly sample ‘native fruits’, yet found most of them disappointing. In Asia monkeys and apes offer rapid dispersal for seeds, and trees respond by evolving large sweet fruits to tempt them. Most Australian trees relied on birds, and produced small acrid or sour fruits. Above all, the Aborigines who had occupied Australia for about 60,000 years (far longer than Europe has been habitable) seem not to have cultivated trees or developed varieties. It was as if the apple, instead of being steadily improved for millennia, had been left in the same semi-edible state as the rowan. By contrast in New Guinea, a part of the Australasian plate that became a separate island only about nine thousand years ago, agricultural societies did develop, and numerous crops were found. Sugarcane, taro, bananas and breadfruit may well have originated there.

Yet in every case the early settlers, faced with the problem of quickly establishing themselves in a harsh environment, preferred to use or adapt already familiar crops. They simply could not afford the many generations of selective breeding (even if they had fully understood the process) to turn wild plants and animals into reliable crops or flocks. The same globalisation that had brought the British to Australia was making it impossible for the world to adopt new crops, unless a wild fruit or grain was already comparable to what centuries or millennia of improvement had achieved with domestic species. (One need only consider the ongoing neglect of so many of the ‘lost crops of the Incas’, and of two of the world’s finest fruits, cherimoya and feijoa.) Only one Australian species, the macadamia, a sub-tropical nut as good as domesticated hazels, proved competitive without much alteration. (Yet there too the early settlers were out of luck; they did not realize it was safe to eat.)

Thus ‘Botany Bay’ became a receiver rather than a donor of new species. The settlers embarked on an orgy of often disastrous introductions: starlings, sparrows, mynahs, rabbits, foxes, trout, water buffalos, camels, prickly-pear cactus, scotch thistles (introduced by a sentimental Scot); and later two bizarrely misconceived ‘biological controls’, gambusia fish (‘mosquito fish’) and giant toads; plus the unintended stowaways: rats, mice, garden snails, and weeds galore… as well, of course, as more useful crops and herds. (One of the latest arrivals, courtesy of container shipping, has been the European wasp.) The settlers did adapt many of their new crops to Australian conditions. Famously, they replaced the UK’s lanky wheats and stubby sheep with short drought-adapted wheats and long-legged merino sheep.

It was only in recent decades that CSIRO (Australia’s premium scientific research body) set out to help some Australian species ‘catch up’. They started with the desert quandong, a relative of sandalwood, that boasts an appealing cherry-sized fruit as well as an almond-sized edible nut. There were a series of steps: identifying economic potential, solving the problems of propagation by grafting or tissue culture, then having knowledgeable botanists collect cuttings or seed from promising trees across the species’s wide range, and finally growing a large orchard of such trees from which one or more cultivars might be selected. The ‘winning’ specimen promptly became the world’s most amputated tree, supplying twigs for hundreds of grafts. Quandong orchards are now in fashion, and many thousands of the new cultivar have been planted.

There have been similar successes since, most recently with the Australian desert lime Citrus glauca, both a good fruit and a promising rootstock for other citruses in dry or alkaline regions. There are many others – details can be found by googling ‘bush food’ – yet most of the new crops are as yet largely of ‘boutique’ or gourmet interest.

To return to the pioneers. Those who would soon call themselves the Australians found they now owned the partly unwanted and sometimes resented heritage of a stunning biological richness but one that was not much suited to feed or clothe humans.

Creating wealth and comfort involved introducing domestic animals, from honey bees (originally absent) to cattle, and destroying native ecologies. So began the age of introduced animals. Humans would in the long run prove the most damaging of these, with their endlessly expanding demands for consumer goods, food, and export earnings. Yet stunning damage was quickly done by three other early arrivals: fox, cat, and rabbit.

Early explorers reported dozens of small native marsupials, both herbivores and carnivores, that they saw every day: wallabies, bandicoots, potoroos, bettongs, bilbies, quolls, numbats, ‘hopping mice’, etc. Within decades almost all had vanished – down the throats of introduced cats and foxes. (The selfishness of those who introduced foxes to mainland Australia, so that gentlemen could have a more familiar animal to hunt, has been surpassed only by that of those as yet unknown persons who recently introduced foxes to the island state of Tasmania – perhaps as a revenge on conservationists. It is also difficult to praise the Tasmanian politicians who did not then make fox eradication a priority.)

 Yet predators, however efficient, need their prey animals, and can rarely wipe them out unless there is some other source of food. That source was the introduced rabbit, which bred unstoppably, having left behind its own diseases and parasites. The damage done by rabbit plagues is famous. What we may never know is how many plant species they wiped out as they ate the country bare. This went on till the 1950s when CSIRO introduced a lethal strain of myxomatosis, and then around 2000, as rabbits began to develop immunity to ‘myxo’, calicivirus. The rabbit plagues had a faint silver lining. Nobody starved in Australia during the Depression – though many got awfully tired of eating rabbit! CSIRO had another great success when it introduced the cactoblastis insect and saved much of Australia from vanishing under prickly-pear.

With fox and cat, it seems it was the combination of two unfamiliar predators that drove most species to extinction. In Tasmania, in parts of the central deserts where foxes cannot find drinking water, and in parts of northern Australia that foxes seem to find too hot, many more small marsupial species survive. Elsewhere the small species vanished and were soon forgotten, but the big kangaroos that live in the open often proliferated as the land was cleared. Thousands of small dams, intended for cattle, allowed kangaroos to live permanently in the semi-arid regions and to exterminate many plants during the droughts. Kangaroo and emu became the iconic Australian animals, that hold up the Australian coat of arms. The ‘real’ mammal ecology of Australia had largely perished by 1900. Or perhaps it had vanished thousands of years earlier, when the diverse marsupial megafauna ‘vanished’ (as some prefer to say – though there is little doubt that in Australia, as on some other continents, hunting by early humans was a major cause). The ‘giant’ kangaroos of today, a little under two metres tall, are really the babies of the kangaroo set.

The ecology European settlers encountered was already much modified, not just by the omnipresent Aboriginal hunters but by the fire regime they imposed. In Australia one should not ask ‘Has this forest been burned?’ but ‘When was it last burned?’ The dominant eucalypts (‘gum trees’) are what Californians have recently learned to call ‘fire weeds’. Their inflammable oils create hot fires that destroy other species (and often themselves). Phoenixes of the tree world, their seeds usually germinate only after fire, and from their own ashes. The giant Eucalyptus regnans, the world’s tallest flowering plants, reach sequoia-like heights in just 300 years. Yet they are dead of old age by around 400 years. 500 years without a major fire might see them extinct. But these are plants of semi-rainforests. For smaller eucalypts growing in drier areas, fire may be needed each hundred years, or fifty, or even ten!

The Aborigines obliged. In several regions they constantly set fire to the country as they travelled across it. They did this partly so they could always tell where the rest of a foraging band were, and partly to maintain habitats or to ‘clean up the country’ – to make it passable and to bring on green grass for the animals they hunted. (They also used fire as a hunting tool.) As a result, some researchers believe, dangerous large fires were rare, and much of the country was a varied mosaic of patches in different stages of recovery from relatively cool blazes. (The archaeologist Rhys Jones dubbed this ‘firestick farming’.) Early explorers often described the resulting effect as ‘park like’, and imagined that it was natural. The numerous small marsupial species they found were the survivors that had adapted to these conditions.

Today those who seek to preserve Australia’s forests indefinitely from logging and woodchipping are often accused of folly. ‘If you don’t harvest it, it will burn sooner or later, and the carbon will go into the atmosphere.’ (Not that the loggers show much willingness to leave the ‘old-growth’ rainforests alone.) Fire-fighting techniques keep improving, but there is such a thing as ‘fire weather’, especially during Australia’s el niño years, when forest fires can be unstoppable.

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I have taken a detour through ‘economic botany’ in part as preparation for a theme that runs through Australia’s ecological history: the clash between the desire to protect biodiversity versus the need of an ever-growing ever-richer human population to make a quid from it. Australians are genuinely proud of their wildlife. They protect it, and allow only a handful of its species to be shot. (As a magistrate’s son, I remember how often during the 1970s recent immigrants from Europe were up before the beak for assuming they could go out and shoot the birds ‘for sport’.) Most graziers like having a few kangaroos on their property, and urban gardeners tolerate the nightly rampages and unwelcome prunings of the omnipresent brushtail possum – a protected animal. The extreme case of tolerance is found in tropical Australia where the once-endangered crocodile is now totally protected. As a result, its numbers have built up enormously, making it impossible for humans to swim in most inland or ocean waters – no small sacrifice to make in the hot tropics!

Another success story has been the ‘high country’ of the Australian Alps (aka Snowy Mountains) south of Sydney. This was treated as a communal stock reserve to which vast herds and flocks were driven in time of drought, with devastating results. The practice was stopped in NSW in the 1950s, but only much more slowly repressed on the southern side (in Victoria). Banjo Paterson’s iconic poem ‘The Man from Snowy River’ (though it is not in fact set in the mountains) is regularly trotted out as proof that Australians will lose their heritage if the ‘mountain cattlemen’ are not allowed to graze the mountains.

Australia today has large national parks and is a world leader in managing them, sometimes with the help of Aboriginal communities. Protected Area Management (Oxford University Press, 2001) by Worboys, Lockwood and De Lacy, an encyclopedia of the skills practiced by Australia’s park rangers, proved so ground-breaking that in 2006 it was expanded and re-issued with the support of the IUCN as Managing Protected Areas: a Global Guide.

Yet habitats and species are vanishing. Bandicoots for instance. The mammal extinctions that occurred a hundred years ago in southern Australia are now, for reasons not entirely understood, but including no doubt the relentless spread of the imported toads, sweeping into the north. Tim Flannery has suggested that National Parks may no longer be the answer for conserving small mammals. Yet the vast effort by conservationists that has seen 10.7% of Australia incorporated into a strategic network of protected areas will not be wasted.  Under predicted climate-change some parks will become, at particular times, more important refugia for particular species, but all will be useful. The rangers have a fascinating project, called Alps to Atherton, to create linking corridors of natural vegetation, with the help of private landowners, between Australia’s East-coast national parks, all the way from north to south, as a precaution against global warming.

Attitudes to Australia’s biodiversity remain mixed. A group of giant kangaroos drifting across the landscape at speed, in a kind of effortless low-level pogo-ing flight, is an inspirational sight. But not if they are crushing, or eating, the crops by which you hope to make a living.

Many people in Australia assign a very high, almost religious value, to conserving ‘nature’. Yet contrary views of the natural world as alien and threatening (for instance in the stories and news-dramas of children lost in the bush) are also widespread. So too is a developer’s or industrialist’s view of the natural world as a mere source of raw materials that is ‘wasted’ if not exploited. For instance the cosmologist Paul Davies has complained of Australia’s Top End rivers ‘going to waste’ in that they are allowed to flow into the ocean, instead of being reticulated into a network of cities. (He forgot that the lucrative prawn-fishing industry would collapse if the wet-season floods no longer reached the sea.) A given individual may also hold different and incompatible attitudes on different occasions.

To describe the literary side of this story—the progression from authors like Henry Lawson who saw the landscape as monotonous bush (‘nothing to relieve the eye’) to those like Judith Wright who respected its complexity—would take another essay; but it is clear that a foreign tradition of appreciating landscape can be almost as lethal as none at all. Many who destroyed Australia’s wonders were not immune to beauty, yet might have said like the poet Elizabeth Riddell ‘But I was thinking of something English, out of a book’.

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Can the fauna be made useful? Native-meat enthusiasts argue Australians should ‘farm kangaroos’ since they do far less damage per beast than hard-hooved cattle. But they also produce far less meat. ‘Bush-tucker for a population of 21 million is nothing but a wet-dream (unfortunately), just like the delusion of continuous economic growth,’ environmentalist Sheila Newman wrote recently. Kangaroo meat is lean, muscular and tasty, but often comes encumbered by mylar-like bands of connective membrane called ‘silvering’ – very time-consuming to remove. Some people argue that farming the surviving kangaroo species would guarantee their survival by making them an economic asset. Others counter-argue that the population dynamics are too poorly understood. To commercialise kangaroos would leave their long-term survival at the mercy of those greedy for short-term jobs and profit.

Australia’s beef, by the way, is mainly produced by grazing, rather than stall-fed on grain. In fact part of the case for vegetarianism is weaker in Australia than in the USA or UK, in that much of the grazing land is too marginal to have been used instead for crops. However even grazing beef has an exceptionally high greenhouse footprint.

Perhaps the most ingenious conservation initiative was that pioneered by John Walmsley, a maverick who kept foxes as pets to discover what kind of fencing could reliably keep them out. He stocked large cat-proof and fox-proof sanctuaries, like Warrawong in South Australia, with whatever rare and delicate small marsupial species could still be acquired from islands or zoos. It turns out that, thus protected, many of them breed like rabbits. There is talk of asking the army to shoot out cats and foxes from certain peninsulas, which could then be fenced off, and thus gradually ‘take Australia back from the fox’—as is already being done on the Peron Peninsula in Western Australia.

It might all have been so much better if these predators had been kept out, and if, as Thomas Shepherd wished, wide borders of native plants had been left around each paddock, in a beautiful mosaic. But the first settlers, who were almost as many months from home-base as a settlement on Mars might be today, needed to grow food quickly or die. Decent old Arthur Phillip’s duller eighteenth century belief in ‘improving’ the landscape prevailed. (Let us hope he enjoyed his retirement to Bath after he, as Les Murray puts it, ‘recoiled into his century’!) Indeed land was often granted to settlers on condition they improved it, by destroying the native trees and vegetation.

This obsession with clearing the land may have reflected an unconscious need to eradicate traces of a prior Aboriginal ownership. Not that early  settlers had the sort of bad conscience about having seized the communal lands of Aborigines that modern Australians have. The ‘right’ of a stronger country to seize a weaker one by force majeure was still widely accepted. The governors chose to believe that Aborigines did not own their tribal lands (which in any case, delivered to European eyes little of value) because they moved across them like ‘vagrants’ rather than settling like European property-holders to cultivate and ‘improve’.

Today we might prefer to praise the Aborigines’ achievement in living sustainably with the land for millennia, and contrast this with the damage eight generations of European lifestyle have wrought. Yet in pre-1788 Australia you could not have found metal, pottery, a horse, a wheel, a post office (or a literate person), an obstetrician… or bought an ice-cream, an apple, shoes, a piece of cloth, a pair of glasses, or a scone. The British were not wrong to think they were bringing a vastly more complex material culture, or that the indigenes, if they lost their communal lands, might still enjoy much improved material circumstances. (Even today, many economists justify giving Russia’s communal lands and assets to private entrepreneurs on grounds that these will then be more productively used, and that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’.) But the British fatally failed to understand the cultural circumstances that might prevent a stone-age pre-capitalist society from embracing such opportunities. Or the drift of many Aboriginal groups, once they lost their land, into the communal use of alcohol, a drug previously unknown in mainland Australia. (Alcohol, when a whole community adopts it, turns out to be not just a debilitating drug but a de-inhibitory one: it removes necessary restraints on anti-social impulses. The Australian media are currently convulsed with revelations about appalling levels of child sexual abuse in several Aboriginal communities.)

The British also made an ecological blunder, this time with creatures too small for them to see or even be fully aware of: human disease organisms. Should they have realized that, if they settled in Sydney, then measles, chickenpox, influenza, etc., and even the common cold, would destroy Aboriginal societies and cultures? They had already seen epidemics follow ships’ visits to Pacific islands. Yet Australia was not an island; and elsewhere in mainland Asia (and Africa) it was the Europeans rather than the ‘natives’ who died like flies upon first contact. The early governors did not know that Australia’s thinly populated interior impeded the spread of epidemic diseases from Asia, and had left the southern Aboriginal populations with perhaps no more immunity than dwellers on remote islands. To their credit, they set up a quarantine station at North Head near Sydney (its macabre history is now a tourist attraction) and largely succeeded in keeping the major epidemic diseases out of Australia. But minor diseases, not considered justification to prevent a ship landing, often proved just as deadly to the Aborigines.

It became widely assumed that Aborigines were ‘a dying race’—a view that is sometimes dismissed today as ‘wishful thinking’ or prejudice, or even as partly a cover for illegal shootings. Perhaps it might also be described as ignorance of Darwinian selection. When three-quarters of a population dies within a few decades, largely it would seem of diseases for which no remedy was known, one would naturally anticipate extinction. But the survivors may be those with more disease-resistant genes.  In the south, a rapid intermixture of European genes probably speeded the process, and today Aborigines in the south (less often in northern Australia) often look racially more European or Asian than Aboriginal. It is now widely accepted that Aboriginality should often be defined in cultural-and-ancestral rather than narrowly racial terms.

My suggestion that European genes provided resistance to disease is based on a priori likelihood. This is one of many areas where speculation has to be cautious because evidence is short, and scholarly and public passions are easily inflamed. The suspicion, or certainty, that some landholders shot the local Aborigines complicates any debate on Aborigines and disease. As does the fact that the common cold was undoubtedly a major killer; and many British people then, and even now, have an unshakeable belief (enshrined even in the disease's common name) that infection with rhinoviruses is caused by exposure, getting damp,  or ‘catching a chill’. Hence it is hard to know what to make of the recurrent statements that Aboriginal people died from ‘exposure’ or ‘damp unhealthy conditions’ or ‘inflammation of the brain’, and other primitive medical diagnoses. However the ANU’s Professor Barry Smith cites one clear case where measles, which seems not to have become firmly established in Australia before 1850, subsequently wiped out half the survivors of one Aboriginal tribe in a few months.

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Once the colony could feed itself fairly well, the next problem was to find an export to pay for its existence. In later days it was said that ‘Australia rode on the sheep’s back’; and indeed wool was an excellent non-perishable export, one that could be carried by slow un-refrigerated ships. It could also be produced from infertile land with a small labor force. But in the colony’s first decades it was not the sheep’s but the seal’s back it rode upon. Skins stripped from the hapless Australian seals made excellent winter coats for folk back in the UK; and then as now, most customers did not inquire into the ecological cost of a bargain. That industry was soon exhausted.

Then in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there was the rise of wheat. Wheat had been grown in Australia since 1788, but it was labor-intensive, and phosphate-hungry. Yields tended to drop as soil fertility was exhausted. To counter this, much ingenuity was applied in creating better varieties for Australian conditions, and better crop rotations. Stump-jump plows and imported fertilizers helped. Then came the new fuel-driven machines. These made it possible to clear vast acreages, and then to mechanically sow and harvest them. Trains and steamships were now available to get wheat to markets around the world.

‘Banjo Paterson’ (1864-1941), author of Australia’s unofficial national anthem Waltzing Matilda, hymned this re-born crop in his ‘Song of the Wheat’ (1914), ending:

Princes and Potentates and Czars,
 They travel in regal state,
But old King Wheat has a thousand cars
 For his trip to the water-gate;
And his thousand steamships breast the tide
 And plough thro’ the wind and sleet
To the lands where the teeming millions bide
 That say: ‘Thank God for Wheat!’

To this day, some councils and local progress associations give out illustrated books in which each line of Paterson’s short poem takes up a page.

Imported ‘superphosphate’ improved Australia’s infertile soils, but in time many soils have turned dangerously acidic. Wheat’s fuel-bill includes nitrate fertilisers (made directly from fossil fuels and incorporating as much energy as explosives), plus fuel for machines and remote-area transport. So far from being solar-powered, Australia’s wheat industry works on a trade-off between the price of bulk wheat and the rising price of fossil fuels. Today, despite its largish acreage and its specialisation in this crop, Australia produces only about 20 million tonnes a year, which is roughly 5% of the world’s wheat --though its willingness to export means Australia provides more like 20% of a hungry world’s wheat imports. Those who claim Australia could feed a far higher resident population forget the need to export much of the wheat to pay for fuel and fertiliser.

Australia’s wheat farmers are skilled users of technology; and as yet yields are creeping upward, to over 2 tonnes per hectare in years with good rainfall. However many foresee future falls in yield, due to acidification, climate change, and soil loss. Every tonne of wheat exported still costs around fifty tonnes of eroded soil. James McAuley wrote scathingly of how

Flood, fire and cyclone in successive motion
Complete the work the pioneers began
Of shifting all the soil into the ocean.

Even the patriotic poem known to all schoolchildren, Dorothea Mackellar’s ‘My Country’ (1906):

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of drought and flooding rains

could not turn a blind eye to

The stark white ring-barked forests,
All tragic to the moon

As well, much of Australia’s farmland lies upon the bed of an ancient sea. Farming (and especially clearing) raises the water table and brings the salt to the surface. Paradoxically this dry continent suffers from rising salty water.

Two maps drawn by Chris Watson, a CSIRO soil scientist, reveal much about Australia’s dependence on wheat. The first is a map of the areas of Australia that have good and poor soils for agriculture. As expected, only a few areas are classed as good. The second is a map of those regions with sufficient and reliable rainfall. Again, the good areas are relatively small. But what is really striking is the map produced by superimposing the two. Areas that have both deep fertile soils and reliable rainfall (like the area around Robertson in NSW where Babe was filmed) are not small, but tiny.

So how does Australia manage to feed its own 21 million humans, and export enough calories for about another 40 million? The answer of course, is wheat. Not wheat grown on fertile soils with good rainfall, but drought-tolerant wheats grown as a winter-and-spring crop in areas where the soil is just middling, and the rainfall, during winter-spring, is usually enough – except in an el niño year. Even so, the yields per hectare are low-ish. Thanks to wheat (and refrigerated meat) Australia is a food-exporting country; yet in a good year it still grows less wheat than France – and in a bad year it sometimes grows less than Britain! A small return, perhaps, for so many square kilometres of fascinating bioregions cleared, and species locally eliminated or totally extinct. (In Australia as elsewhere, it is often the more arid lands, like the famous wildflower belt near Perth, that have the highest diversity of plant species. Nature, like humans, is at her most ingenious when stressed.)

Even more destructive than wheat, within Australia’s relatively tiny rainforested regions (originally about 2 per cent of the land area), has been sugarcane – another economic success and ecological disaster. But for this profitable crop, most of Australia’s lowland rainforest would still be standing. Instead only fragments survive. Fertiliser run-off from the canefields now threatens the Great Barrier Reef.

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A certain distinction may be drawn between the north and the south of Australia. In the south swamps and wetlands were ruthlessly drained, and birds that might damage crops like brolgas (the famous giant dancing crane) and magpie geese were exterminated. The north was less suitable for agriculture, not so much because it had less water as because the water was concentrated in a few months. It is hard to farm flat land that is under water for three months of the year, and dry as a cracked scone for six.

Thus there emerged a sort of de facto agreement to leave the north more natural. Northern Australia’s savannahs and seasonal wetlands are one of the globe’s biological hot-spots. Some sacrifices have been made to keep them. For instance, the giant Ord River dam was intended to grow rice, but it soon became clear that this would mean exterminating most of the region’s migratory flocks of magpie geese (a major tourist attraction). This had been done down south, but was considered politically unsafe; so less profitable crops were grown instead.

Yet even this agreement to spare the north is precarious. Climate change is expected to shift the rain to the north. Already the conservative senator Bill Heffernan has begun agitating for Australian farmers to re-pioneer the north. Predictably, some see him as a man of vision. However the uneven spread of rain through the year may defeat his faith in the wet north.

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Australia was a convict colony, not a utopian settlement. Governor Bligh (of Bounty and breadfruit fame) who suffered the ‘Rum Rebellion’ in Sydney, was the first of many to discover the near-impossibility of upholding long-term policies against the short-term interests of an emerging plutocracy.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Australia’s press and much of its public life was dominated by the ‘boomers’, economic progressives who believed Australia must and would rapidly acquire a population (and hence a status) comparable to that of the USA, or Europe. As late as 1978 I can remember seeing a large poster outside an Australian embassy in which the outline of Australia was superimposed upon most of Europe, with the relative populations written beneath. The dry salt lakes of Australia’s desert centre had been painted a vibrant blue, and the ephemeral inland rivers were thickly depicted. The message was clear: Come to Empty Australia.

The great geographer Griffith Taylor, when professor at Sydney University in the 1920s, had a blunt answer for such nonsense. He produced maps with Australia turned upside down and superimposed on Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa – a better fit in area, and in rainfall and soil-fertility. He also told the boomers, correctly, that Australia’s population at the end of the twentieth century would be not 100 million, as they predicted, but around 20 million; and that the ‘boundaries of settlement’ would not change much. Indeed, if anything, farms are retreating.

But the debate on Australia’s population-carrying capacity is far older. Captain Cook, not normally a careless observer, remarked that on the coastal plain between Botany Bay (Sydney) and the then-impassable barrier of the Blue Mountains there was pasture for more sheep and cattle than could ever be brought there. Yet 20 years after settlement the herds were almost starving, and the authorities were desperately seeking a path through the Blue Mountains. Once the settlers broke through into the interior, the old pattern of complacency, followed by disappointment and ecological collapse was often played out again, region by region. Exaggerated estimates of carrying capacity were always the first step.

Fire followed by rain can produce a flush of seeming fertility, but Australia’s ancient stable continental plate lacks fertile volcanic soils – and mountains to bring down the rain. Its most important river, the Murray, sometimes fails to reach the coast, and carries less water in a year than the Mississippi in a day. ‘They call her a young country, but they lie,’ wrote the poet A.D. Hope:

She is the last of lands, the emptiest,
A woman beyond her change of life, a breast
Still tender but within the womb is dry. . . .
Her rivers of water drown among inland sands.

Only 6 per cent of the vast land mass has proved arable. Above all, Australia is intensely affected by el niño years which bring savage droughts.

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Thus Australia has played an odd role in the story of world population. Its generosity in taking in people from the ends of the earth, from countries that had no possible claim upon Australia, and even from World War Two enemy countries like Italy and Germany, is a remarkable piece of unselfishness by a nation state. Many a ‘ten pound Pom’ escaped from squalid conditions to a happier life in Australia, as did millions from the wrecked cities of post-WWII Europe, and more recently from Asia. Yet the total numbers that Australia could take in were globally insignificant. Worldwide, Australia probably did more harm than good, by spreading the myth that the globe could not have a population problem, since there was still a huge ‘empty continent’ wanting more people. ‘Land without people for people without land’, as a Catholic bishops’ conference fervently proclaimed. (In reality, Australia’s agricultural frontiers had effectively closed by the time the colonies achieved federation and independence from Britain – simultaneously – in 1901.)

Australia has long been a talking-point in the debate between proponents of endless ‘growth’ and Malthusian ‘limiters’ – because it was one of the two new continents that Britain seized, thus invalidating or postponing Malthus’s prediction that his motherland would soon run out of farmland for its expanding population.
Today the first group are typically economists who believe humanity can never run out of ‘resources’ because the ‘market’ will always find either cheaper means of supply or substitutes. Or else science will produce a breakthrough. (There is no faith in scientific miracles like a growth-economist’s faith!) Their opponents are typically biological scientists who see limits to the numbers of humans – and the lifestyles – that a finite planet can sustain.

The well-planned South Australian colony saw a major battle between ninteteenth century boomers and authorities. As the colony expanded into the increasingly arid lands north of Adelaide, its surveyer, George W. Goyder, drew careful maps of the rainfall and established a line (corresponding to 30 cm annual rainfall) beyond which land would not be offered for farming. The boomers were indignant at ‘Goyder’s Line’. How could Australia grow into a second USA if there was room for only a few hundred farmers in their state! Lines on the map were arbitrary, they thundered, and a barrier to human Industry. God would provide. Besides, it was a well known geographic fact that ‘rain follows the plow’.

Following unusually wet seasons in the 1870s, settlers broke down the authorities’ resistance and surged across Goyder’s Line. A nobly-planned town, significantly named Farina, was constructed, as well as a railway line to carry off the anticipated huge harvests of grain – which never came. Today Farina is a sand-covered ruin.

But boomers never learn, especially when there are fortunes to be made on the mere expectation of growth. In the 1960s the giant state of Western Australia had a policy of clearing a million acres of ‘scrub’ a year. (In Queensland and NSW, even rainforest was called ‘scrub’.) Advice that much of this land was species-rich, yet marginal for agriculture and likely to be destroyed by salinity, was ignored, with disastrous results.

The myth of the empty land was even written into the national anthem ‘Advance Australia Fair’ (adopted in the 1970s) which includes the words (against proudly swelling music)

For those who've come across the seas:
 We've boundless plains to share.

– a nice ideal, but a lie. Immigrants since the 1890s have not, in general, found farmland in Australia, and have paid through the nose even for urban land.

Till recently Australia’s parliament has been one of the last preserves of the global warming skeptics and the ‘nuclear will fix everything’ illusionists. Local and even national media are fed a depressing spiral of puff pieces about how we are desperately short of skilled and willing workers – alternating with pieces on how we are desperately short of major projects to provide employment. The intended solution is of course an endless cycle (or spiral) of increasing population and increasing construction. If only politicians could give Australia the construction industry its population needs, rather than the population its construction industry would like!

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Yet in the C20th, as environmental awareness grew, the boomers did not have it all their own way. In a single year, 1966, three environmental classics appeared: Jock Marshall’s The Great Extermination: A Guide to Anglo-Australian Cupidity, Wickedness and Waste; Vincent Serventy’s A Continent in Danger; and Alan Moorehead’s The Fatal Impact: The Invasion of the South Pacific 1767-1840.

Three years later the polymath farmer and environmental historian Eric Rolls produced They All Ran Wild, The Story of Pests on the Land in Australia. Another of his books, A Million Wild Acres, showed how complicated might be the series of ecological changes, even since 1788, that had created a particular bioregion.

Three decades later the boomers came up against one of the few politicians brave enough to oppose them. Bob Carr was Premier of NSW from 1995 till he retired in 2005, the longest continuous term served by any NSW Premier. A brilliant and bookish man (he once stepped down for two weeks to attend Sydney Writers’ Festival) he overcame the media’s refusal to discuss the issue by himself writing and publishing full-page articles in the Sydney Morning Herald. In one he wrote:

First, we need a democratic consensus on population. We mustn't fall for the line that more is better. A strong, proud and confident Australia doesn't mean a bigger Australia.

Those who advocate an Australian population of fifty million aren't talking about the verdant stretches of cultivated land in the central tablelands or the western plains, let alone in the continental interior. They aren't talking about inland cities, conjured into being by benevolent developers and the Burley Griffins of our time. They are talking about the urbanisation of the eastern coast from north Queensland to Melbourne: ever more housing estates, more shopping malls and multiplexes, more freeways and petrol stations where now we have rivers and forests, unpolluted beaches and open country, and in a few areas (such as Daintree or Nadgee) coastal wilderness as old as the continent itself.

But Carr was one of a kind: a skilled politician, erudite, environmentally aware, and largely immune to the unsubtle tactics of the growth lobby, since he had no real rivals inside or outside his party. Even so, his refusal to commit to the infrastructure required to turn Sydney into megalopolis bred voter resentment. The other state politicians have all caved in to the growth lobby, though some feebly protest. Former Olympic gold medal runner Ron Clarke, now the mayor of the Gold Coast (south of Brisbane) where rainforests turn into shopping malls overnight, has long been pro-development. Yet he recently mused in print:

Where will the water come from for an extra 500,000 people on the [SE Queensland] Coast, and more than a million in the southeast?
How about the roads, public transport, our open spaces, parks and gardens and our beaches – will they support a doubling of our population in such a relatively short time?

Not only farmers but politicians who ignore Australia’s realities sometimes perish. The formidable conservative prime minister John Winston Howard, who ruled from 1996 to 2007, discounted talk of global warming, refused to sign the Kyoto agreement saying it would ‘only destroy Australian jobs’, encouraged uranium exports, talked of going nuclear, provided ‘baby bonuses’ and committed the Dry Continent to relentless population growth. It was his misfortune to fight the November 2007 election at the end of a disastrous drought, with cities running out of water, housing prices (fed by exceptional population growth) going through the roof, and with every week bringing fresh evidence that global warming is a reality. He boasted of a booming economy (based partly on his policy of selling off the continent’s minerals and natural gas as fast as possible). No previous Prime Minister had ever lost an election in unambiguously buoyant economic times. Yet Howard was tossed out of office, even losing his own seat. The new Labor government of Kevin Rudd has had the good luck (like the Hawke Labor government in 1983) to come to office just as a crippling drought ended.

In the recent words of Ross Garnaut, Professor of Economics at the Australian National University, ‘Australia is likely to be damaged more than any other developed country by climate change. Our climate is dry and highly variable already, and this will be exacerbated with climate change, with the effect on agriculture and water supplies being particularly pronounced.’

Australia’s boomers remain unrepentant. Today they pay only lip-service to the myth of an empty continent awaiting farmers. They know the real money is to be made from the housing market, which is really the urban-land market.

It is a seeming paradox that such a huge country should have urban housing prices comparable to New York or London. Yet land area is irrelevant. Australians no longer found new cities; and granted the huge distances between major cities, the squeeze is on for inner urban land in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, and Canberra. Throw in out-of-control population growth (proceeding currently at 1.5 per cent a year, higher than Indonesia next door, or than many other third world countries) and the result, under present economic settings, is sky- high land prices, which sometimes double in a decade.

These are always called ‘housing prices’ in the Australian media, but in fact the costs of constructing a given structure are steadily falling. It is the price of land that is out of control. Each major influx of population kicks the housing market into another boom-cycle. Apart from moving any given greenhouse target further out of reach, the high cost of housing creates a huge invisible impost that swells the price of everything in Australia: goods, services, and labor. The huge unearned incomes to be made from real estate speculation in turn drive the population-growth lobby, in a python-like vicious circle that is the despair of environmentalists. State governments profit hugely from ‘stamp duty’ on housing sales, but then find themselves forced to provide housing for an increasing number of homeless people.

In the last days of 2006 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Sydney’s councils had been instructed to accommodate an extra 1.1 million people within 25 years. Each was given a quota:

Densely populated Strathfield Municipal Council is expected to accommodate 9000 new dwellings – double what it considers possible …A spokesman for Bankstown Council said it had been set a total of 26,000 extra residences, which ‘would have to be built entirely in place of existing homes.’

The task of maintaining any of Sydney’s once-impressive environmental amenities against such pressures can well be imagined.

Rapid population growth has long been recognised as central, also, to Australia’s ecological troubles. Those who resent suggestions that human beings can ever be a ‘problem’ sometimes claim that ‘the real problem’ is not human numbers but levels of consumption. But there is at present neither realistic likelihood nor intention of reducing per capita consumption. On the contrary, Labor and conservative governments compete to assure the public that their economic skills will deliver ever higher affluence.

The alternatives to capping population are basically two: to reduce per capita consumption, and/or to devise more efficient use of scarce resources. Recent modeling of Australia’s economy by Barney Foran and David Crane suggests that even if these proposed alternatives could be implemented, they might prove not merely  inadequate, but self-defeating. This is because of various ‘rebound’ effects. For instance, the Jevons paradox, well-known to economists, means that when manufacturers find more efficient ways to turn a scarce resource into a product, this lowers their production costs, increases their turnover, and often leads to a ‘rebound’ in demand for the resource, which gets used up even faster. (Something similar applies, in reverse, to greenhouse gases.) Or consider another ‘rebound’: if preaching by environmentalists ever leads to the population as a whole buying less consumer goods, this provokes the relevant industries to shift money from their production to their advertising budgets, until they have restored or even heightened the public’s need to purchase.

Jevons’s economic paradox produces moral paradoxes.  For instance, if the public were to heed politicians’ calls for each individual to cultivate a Battle-of-Britain approach to conserving water, the entirely predictable upshot is that politicians would be emboldened to keep recklessly pouring more houses, shops, and people into each coastal river’s catchment area. Thus, in the long run the scarcity of urban water (not to mention the state of the environment) would be much worse than if people had used, or even if they had deliberately wasted, as much water as they could. (There is a surprisingly good case to be made that, in urban Australia, if you love your neighbor you ought to ‘waste’ water.)

A November 2007 UN report classes Australians as even worse than Americans as greenhouse polluters, in fact the world’s worst, producing about 26 tonnes of CO2 per person per year.

Hence a series of Australia’s official State of the Environment reports have insisted that it is essential also to curb population growth. Tim Flannery, who dealt with such issues in The Future Eaters, once estimated that Australia in the long term might be able to support only million people – as against some 21 million now, and an expected 31 million as early as 2050. (The Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics agrees that production may fall steeply.)

Growth economists tend to pooh-pooh claims that Australia needs to feed its own people, and argue that ‘The market will cope. You can always buy food.’ They may be right. Australia’s large area may not produce as much food as some believe, but it possesses mineral deposits (including natural gas) that took all earth’s history to create but which it is current government policy to dig up and sell off rapidly. The resulting export earnings should allow Australia to import whatever food it needs – at least in the short term. Whether this is a good thing for the world is another matter.

The most recent book on Australia’s ecology, On Borrowed Time: Australia's Environmental Crisis and What We Must Do About It (CSIRO/ Penguin, 2007, by David Lindenmayer, Professor of Ecology and Conservation Science at the Australian National University) makes some strong points. Like another professor of science, Ian Lowe, who heads the main conservation body, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Lindenmayer blames ‘the three O’s: overpopulation, overdevelopment, and overconsumption.’ He is appalled by the recent decision to dam the Mary River in Queensland, home of the rare ‘living fossil’, the lungfish, so as to provide water for Queensland’s ever-expanding human population. Australia, he says, ‘leads the world in recent mammal extinctions… It is one of the most species-rich places on the planet. It also has one of the worst records of species loss and decline in the world. Almost no Australian resource-based industries can be considered to be ecologically sustainable.’

Yet he sees hope in paying farmers to reward them for ‘better managing their properties for public good outcomes such as revegetation, increased biodiversity conservation and improved water quality’.  Indeed one major state, Victoria, over the last 15 years has turned its agriculture from greenhouse negative to greenhouse positive, largely through encouraging private owners to re-afforest their properties. In this, governments have been helped by better public attitudes (e.g. the ‘Landcare’ movement among farmers) and by long-overdue laws that restrict clearing of native vegetation.

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No great attempt has yet been made to make immigrants –or the Australian-born –aware that residing in Australia is a privilege that should involve an obligation to conserve its unique species. The Howard government in 2007 introduced a citizenship test, similar to that in the USA, whereby applicants for Australian citizenship must demonstrate some basic knowledge of the country’s traditions and political system. Donald Bradman is on the list of items they are meant to know; but inexcusably they are not required to know about the arid nature of the continent on whose fringes they are living.

Indeed many immigrants know only the well-watered coastal cities, and don’t understand what the problem is about bringing in their mates. Some even believe such concern is just a cover for ‘racism’. In Australia, as in the USA, the word ‘racism’ is rarely used in its strict sense, as referring to theories of genetic racial superiority, but has become a loose pejorative term for any kind of ethnic or national chauvinism that is disapproved. Thus when Australian Greeks came to the support of tennis player Marcus Baghdatis in January 2008 by endorsing his claim that Turkey’s occupation of part of Cyprus is illegal, Australian Turkish community leaders promptly denounced such views as ‘racism’. In many cases claims of racism become a way of crying wolf about a factitious issue while not attending to real environmental ones.

Mind you, a tendency to cling to the coastal rim is equally visible among older Australians. James McAuley once described Australia as

Bone-dry itself, with water all around.
Yet as a wheel that's driven in the ruts,
It has a wet rim where the people clot
Like mud; and though they praise the inner spaces,
When asked to go themselves, they'd rather not.
–James McAuley, ‘The True Discovery of Australia

Fifty or even thirty years ago, most urban Australians were still connected to the ‘bush’. They remembered ‘the old place’ where they used to farm, or they regularly visited relatives who were still ‘living on the land’. Time, and a huge influx of immigrants, has changed that. Today the cities seem, to those in them, to levitate free of the landmass whose resources they drain. Most of the young live on a planet called Cityworld. When they travel it is mostly by plane, direct to another city somewhere on the globe. In the myths of economists, money is a crop that exists and multiplies in its own world; while to many teenagers the plight of Australia’s soils and species seems just one of the millions of pages to be skimmed over on the Internet.

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To follow the recent history of Australia’s environment and population requires a diversion into Australian politics. The Whitlam Labor government of 1972–75 reacted to the first global Oil Shock by seeking to limit immigration and population growth and to borrow heavily to buy back Australia’s energy resources for self-sufficiency. It was brought down by fierce criticism from business lobbies and media barons, and was the last Labor government to be broadly critical of business or to think that ideals could matter more than economic growth. The incoming conservative government of Malcolm Fraser promoted indefinite growth, ignored energy constraints, and was made to seem prescient by the easing of the oil shortage.

All recent governments have favored the flogging off (to China, Japan, the USA, etc) of Australia’s (very limited) oil and gas fields as fast as they are discovered. This lets the current government boast of running a surplus, being ‘sound economic managers’, etc. Democratic leaders are ephemerids who know they are unlikely to be around in ten years time, unlike dictators who sometimes make better energy choices because they expect to be around for ever. Sadly, Australian experience shows that democracy is not good at preserving other species – they don’t vote. It is also very bad at conserving resources.

The issue of population returned to haunt the Hawke–Keating Labor governments of 1983–1996. By now Australia was clearly a plutocratic democracy. The voters got their Hobson’s choice every three years in free and fair elections between two major parties that jostled for the middle ground (as defined by the media); but both parties competed for and depended upon ‘electoral donations’ from big money, and saw themselves increasingly as servants of the business-growth lobbies. The battle to ban media monopolies was effectively abandoned, with both parties selling out their own laws in hope of short-term political favors from media barons.

Hawke’s dilemma was that Labor was using the conservation vote to cling to power, yet he dared not offend the growth lobby. The Australian Democrats, who often held the balance in the Senate, had long had a policy of zero net migration, and conservationists were demanding something similar from Labor. Instead Labor had pushed immigration ever higher, till only Canada among the world’s nations aimed for a comparable per capita immigration rate, and polls showed the public was unhappy. In one poll in 1991, 73 per cent of voters said that the numbers coming in were ‘too many’ and, in 1996, 71 per cent were still of this opinion. Only 4 per cent thought immigration was too low. Clearly even Australia’s large immigrant communities thought the point of sanity had been passed, though immigrationists strove to give the opposite impression.

Australia’s sea borders allow it, unlike the USA and even Britain, to select its immigrants. Hence the character and educational level of immigrants is not an issue in Australia. However the indefinite increase in population that high immigration might produce certainly is.

In this context the Australian Academy of Science stepped in. In a major public statement in 1994 it advocated ensuring that Australia’s population did not pass 23 million, that sex-education and birth-control be encouraged (‘every baby a wanted baby’), and that net immigration should stay in what it considered the responsible range. This meant below 50,000 a year (about a half of what it was in most of the Hawke–Keating period and about a quarter of the 190,000 to which the Howard government would push it by 2007, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics). Aware that Hawke and Keating had traded on the public’s tendency to confuse immigrants and refugees, the Academy pointed out that a much expanded refugee program could fit comfortably within the 50,000 cap. Similar enquiries and reports by Labor’s erudite Party president Barry Jones, and by CSIRO, came to much the same conclusion.

Instead the Labor Party worked out a way to update the old pioneering view that Australia was an empty country. Granted there was no spare farmland, Labor’s spin-doctors removed reference to specific population outcomes and to what exactly all these extra people would do (apart from making our economy ‘vibrant’). More importantly, it was now Australia’s manifest destiny to build not so much a ‘great’ nation as a diverse one. Australia was to become a sort of one-country United Nations, in which a representative blend of the world’s races and ethnicities would co-inhabit, miraculously unhomogenised yet on terms of the highest mutual respect, in a rich and democratic society. This was not a million miles from where Australia was already moving to; but as promoted by Australia’s immigrationists it involved making Australia a permanent country of immigration, long after its colonial and pioneering periods should have been over. In effect, the case for preserving the continent’s biological biodiversity was to be trumped by a new human-chauvinist emphasis on the ‘obligation’ to preserve human cultural and racial diversity: that is, to continually import and sustain these forms of human difference.

Thus instead of being ashamed that we have lost so many of our marsupial species, today many idealistic Australians seem more ashamed that they do not have a flourishing Inuit or Bantu community in their particular city. No one should object to a policy of loving the cultures you have imported, yet why it should be Australia’s duty to turn itself into a representative sample of the cultures of the earth is never explained. Instead, there are constant shouts that any reduction of immigration will lead to us tumbling back into an abyss of ‘racism’ and ‘boring monoculturalism’.

Hawke’s and Keating’s spin doctors also took advantage of the Anglo-Celtic guilt over having immigrated upon the Aboriginal tribes without their permission and having then (in many cases) violently displaced them.  Somehow this became a further reason why high immigration, so long as it was no longer Anglo-Celtic, was essential—as if inviting in the rest of the world to share the theft would legitimize it. Conservationists who protested now risked being slurred as white-supremacists or accused of defending Australia’s colonial past.

An explicit policy of de-Anglifying or multiculturalising Australia’s population might itself have seemed ‘racist’. However the Labor Party, ventriloquizing in part through a series of Multicultural Studies centres it had set up, attached to the guilt about Aborigines a further guilt: that non-UK or non-European nationalities had once been wrongly excluded. (In fact the British government had been under no strict obligation to open up to any other nations a colony which was, for it, the fruit of much toil and expense, as well as of its hard-fought naval victories.)  Labor’s prize exhibit, however, was the former ‘white Australia’ immigration policy. In reality this policy had been in its day largely a Labor/Trade Union one, insisted on as the price of Federation, because they believed the rich would otherwise import ‘cheap labor’ and destroy ‘the rights of working men’.  Spin doctors reworked the story to make it seem a rightwing policy, proof of a ‘fascist’ past.  After all, by then there were not too many voters old enough to remember how strongly most Australians back in the 1930s had opposed the real Fascists and Nazis of their time.

By raising the spectre of a pervasive Australian ‘fascism’, Labor was able to defy the electorate’s will and disguise a rightwing policy of relentless growth as leftwing ‘tolerance’. They also hoped, wrongly it now seems, that unsettling the immigrant communities, by keeping up a constant brou-ha-ha about the ‘racism’ they supposedly faced, would win Labor ‘the ethnic vote’—or at least would de-rail the strong tendency for those who move to Australia for economic advantage to mark their success in small business by turning conservative. 

Britain too became a scapegoat; and British people were no longer seen as having a special claim, because of their long contribution to the setting up and defending of the Australian colony, to migrate to Australia. Such attitudes also provided a way to repudiate cultural debts, and be revenged for having been patronized as colonials. (There was an absurd tabloid fuss when Keating, a man proud of his Irish ancestry, broke protocol by placing his hand on the Queen’s back; but the event had some symbolic validity.) Aboriginal groups, like the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, protested that high immigration was destroying environments and completing the obliteration of Aboriginal Australia—but they found the media selectively deaf.  Other Aboriginal groups found it simpler to accept the role multiculturalism was assigning them.

Academics set to work scouring the records of the First Fleet for non-Anglo names to prove that Australia ‘has always been multicultural’, and therefore had a duty to remain ‘a nation of immigrants’. (For a while no conference on Australian Studies seemed complete without such a paper. Since sailors have always been an international lot, and many convicts came from the melting pot of London, they found plenty of non-English names.) Somehow the discovery that the invaders had been a multi-national or multicultural lot only helped prove that increased multi-national immigration was the way to atone for their deeds!

A country that had long been considered to have one of the most strongly-marked national characters of any English-speaking nation began to be told that it had no national identity –or only one created by a mosaic of (often post-WWII) immigrant populations. Keating’s anti-nationalist rhetoric (he once described Australia as ‘the arse-end of the universe’) played well to many richer and tertiary-educated Australians, since (as Orwell once remarked) the rich have always been less nationalistic than the poor. Some of the tertiary educated, too, enjoyed feeling superior to the more nation-bound and monolingual world of the less educated. Early soundings reassured the spin-doctors that this line (borrowed from North America) might win ‘the ethnic vote’, and widespread intellectual support, without getting up the noses of too many voters. But the numerous ‘true believers’ Labor helped to create became more and more extreme. One group of academics, for instance, declared that the very word ‘Australians’ should be seen as misleading and bordering on racism. Yet Australian identity proved harder to deconstruct than Canadian. Some ethnic leaders, while concerned to preserve cultural diversity, regarded perpetual multiculturalism as a pipe-dream, disliked their communities being used in anti-nationalist rhetoric, and shed few tears for Keating’s demise. (In fact the ‘ethnic lobby’ that was so vocal under Labor vanished with suspicious speed.) Late in his term Keating saw the danger, and (without dropping his tone of moral superiority) declared a ‘One Australia’ policy; but voters by then had ceased to listen. One of his most lasting political legacies was the bloated immigration quota he bequeathed to the Howard government. Howard was subsequently able to gain brownie points from the electorate by letting immigration dip for a while, before lifting it still higher.  
Meanwhile New Zealand, whose citizens have automatic access to Australia, showed signs of joining Australia’s and Canada’s high-immigration folie a deux. Since the population flow is overwhelmingly from New Zealand to Australia, New Zealand’s immigration policy is not truly independent; it has become a major source of Australia’s population growth. Much like the Aborigines, Maoris protested in vain that high immigration contravened the bi-lateral treaty of Waitangi they had signed with the British, and was turning them into just another minority among their nation’s minorities.

Conservationists, despite some big wins on particular issues, were out-maneuvered in the longer term. They had needed to increase the public’s nascent sense of guilt at the ruthlessness with which humans in Australia were invading the living space of all other species. Instead their opponents trumped them by creating a much stronger sense of guilt that Australians had not been generous enough in inviting in all other nationalities and in parceling out their ‘boundless plains’—to fellow humans.  Hence conservation lost momentum, slipped subtly out of fashion. At a crucial moment Hawke and Keating bought the movement’s silence on population by setting up some major (and much-needed) national parks. These parks have supposedly been created in perpetuity; yet there is a risk that further shifts in ideology may leave a future government free to revoke national parks. (It would by then be able to plead  the housing and resource needs of a much expanded population, plus its need of   export earnings from lands that would be otherwise ‘going to waste’. in fact developers constantly agitate for governments to become less ‘sluggish’ in ‘releasing more land’.) Labor’s utter allegiance to growth became clear when in 1992 Keating’s Environment Minster, Ros Kelly, apologized at the U.N.’s Rio Conference for Australia’s being underpopulated relative to such ‘successful’ regions as Singapore and Hong Kong. (Did she imagine  that Singapore and Hong Kong supply their own water, let alone food?)

Even more cunning was shown by the incoming conservative prime minister John Howard in 1996. Though some might doubt if Howard was, as he presented himself, truly a patriotic defender of the average Aussie, Hawke and Keating had striven to present him as an ultra-nationalist ‘racist’. Howard realised he could blind his critics by seeming to live up to this image. Each time his government pushed immigration still higher, he would monster a small group of asylum-seekers, or criticise an ethnic minority, and watch his critics lash themselves blind with moral indignation. Typical of the innumerate commentators was the Canberra Times journalist who scathingly dubbed Howard’s Minister for Immigration, who had introduced the highest immigration in half a century, ‘the Minister for No Immigration’. More astute was the experienced immigration-journalist John Masanauskas, who noted that Howard had managed to double immigration while only being criticised for reducing it. He also noted that though traffic, cost of land, and ‘water, or lack of it’ was on everyone’s lips, ‘yet a major contributing factor for all this is rarely mentioned, let alone properly discussed’. He also noted that there was as yet no sign of change from the incoming Rudd government.

Although Australia’s population had been growing at a staggering 1.3 to 1.5 per cent a year, and half of it from natural increase, Howard’s government ran a scare campaign about Australia’s ‘falling population’ and even introduced a A$4,000 baby bonus – not to improve the care of the new born, but specifically to bribe couples to have more babies. Biologists were not impressed. Recently one of them, Professor Barry Walters, demanded that, since the new Labor government has now signed Kyoto, the baby-bonus be replaced by a A$40,000 ‘carbon tax’ on all babies after the second.

The plight of Australia’s cities, of home buyers, and of native species, all worsened notably on Howard’s watch. Yet public opposition to current immigration policies dropped significantly because Howard never mentioned that he had doubled net immigration, and talked as if he were moving the other way. (Ironically, according to ABC TV’s 7.30 Report, one crucial factor in Howard’s losing his own seat was its large Chinese community. Though its rapid growth had been favored by his high-immigration policies, it had believed his rhetoric rather than his deeds! Aesop might have made a fable out of that.) Many voters were confused by the baby bonus and assumed there must be a problem with low population ‘otherwise why would the government be shelling out to solve it?’ –which may have been the point of the policy.

Most of the commercial media were onside, and editorialised in favor of this ‘wise’ policy. (For them, doubling population in an area is like a farmer being able to double his or her area under crop). The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) rather servilely followed the government’s and business-leaders’ line, though its investigative TV program Four Corners ran a 45-minute documentary by Ticky Fullerton on how the Howard government had suppressed a recent CSIRO Report warning against population growth.

Most political journalists proved to be incapable of distinguishing between a falling population, a possible future downturn in population size, and a projected future downturn in the rate of increase of population growth. (Roughly the equivalent of a racing journalist not knowing the difference between distance, speed, and acceleration. The same tricks are regularly used even in England and Scotland to raise concern about an imaginary fall in population.) Moralising commentators persistently confused immigrants with refugees. (Only a fraction of Australia’s immigrants are refugees; rather, the emphasis is on cherry-picking the rich and skilled; and Australia is accused of poaching third-world doctors more selfishly than any other country.)

Disinformation was also fed to overseas allies. Philippe Legrain’s book Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them (Little Brown Book Group, UK, 2006), which was heavily promoted in Australia, contains a rich harvest of muddled statistics. These include the claim that Australia’s population is 19 million, that its net immigration is only 90,000 a year (see p. 9), that births are not keeping pace with deaths (p. 108, in fact they are twice deaths), that immigration has been slashed by the Howard government (see p. 53), and so on. (A  visit to http://www.population.org.au/ or to the Australian Bureau of Statistics website http://www.abs.gov.au/ could have spared him such errors.)

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The real masters of the population game are revealed in a recent article by the sociologists Katharine Betts and Michael Gilding, ‘The Growth Lobby and Australia’s Immigration Policy’. This documents how a group of businessfolk (including developers and sellers of white-goods) set out to defeat the scientists’ warnings against population growth. As their summary puts it, ‘Immigration boosts Australia’s population growth. A growth lobby concentrated among interests based in housing, land development and construction profits from this and actively lobbies for it.’ They remark:

The current [immigration] program is now large. But for some lobbyists the numbers will never be large enough. For example, in October 2006 Harry Triguboff, property developer and one of Australia’s 10 richest people, called for a ‘massive boost to immigration’, aimed towards a population of 150 million by 2050. To this end, he argued that national parks should make way for housing saying: ‘If people want to see trees, they can go to Katoomba, there are plenty of trees there.’

The authors comment:

Paul Keating labelled all NSW Planning Ministers the ‘mayor for Triguboff’. Keating added that the ‘wall of money coming at a minister is phenomenal because, as you know, the industry is into political donations which in my opinion should be outlawed’.

For Triguboff, Australia’s economy ‘is based on housing, which is based on a growing population’. ‘Growth begets growth’ and cities ‘must grow or die’. Research by the Australian Greens Party revealed that from 1998–1999 to the present the NSW Labor Party has received $8.78 million from developers and the NSW Coalition parties (which are in opposition) $6.35 million.

The public record shows that growth lobbyists organised a pyramid structure to promote pro-immigration views, that they founded the Australian Population Institute, and that, at least in NSW, they gave large amounts of money to political parties. The interview data confirm that some of Australia’s richest people are fervent supporters of immigration. The public record also shows that, no matter how high federal politicians push the numbers, some lobbyists will press for more. All of this may mean that, rather than having growth for growth’s sake, Australia has growth for the growth lobby’s sake.

As they imply, Triguboff is far from unusual in his class. (One remembers Philip Larkins’s poem ‘Going, going’.) In 2001 for instance the Labor Mayor of Brisbane, Jim Soorley, told the press Australia needed to triple its population in 20 years. What is saddest is not that such views are held by powerful citizens, but that the media, and especially the growth-obsessed Murdoch media, rarely permit any opposition or criticism. Ian Lowe, when asked why he ‘never mentions population’ in his public statements as President of the Australian Conservation Foundation, replied that he mentions it all the time, and the media selectively edit it out.

One reason Australia has never outgrown its pioneering and colonial obsession with ‘filling the country with people’ is that it shares the Anglo-Celtic property system which privileges private speculation in land. Vast fortunes have been made from this system by those who got sufficiently far ahead of the game to buy blocks of land, which they themselves did not need, on the edges of cities.

By contrast, the nation’s capital, Canberra, was built on a French-style system, with the government resuming land from farmers at fair but moderate prices, auctioning it as cheaply as possible, and using the profit it couldn’t help making to provide roads, schools, services and an elegantly planned layout. Canberra remains one of the world’s most livable cities, and (for the developers who control much of Australia’s politics) an embarrassing proof that there is a better way.

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Most of the great fortunes in Australia either have been made from or have since been stored in (and augmented via) real estate speculation. The recent conservative treasurer Costello wanted the working class taught to multiply their money through shares and real estate, so they would not need pensions. Yet real estate gains are the ultimate form of Ponzi finance. The additional population you need to bring in, to buy up the houses of the existing population at prices sufficiently inflated to fund their retirements (in presumably some remote location where land is still cheap) means that the existing population come to have a much smaller share of the country they once owned. In Australian terms, such policies are a form of ‘selling off the farm’.

Now, however, peak oil and the mooted demise of the private motorcar is questioning Canberra’s pleasant suburban sprawl. Indeed, all over urban Australia there is confusion between those conservationists who are trying to preserve the suburbs from encroaching high-rise and those more radical (or pessimistic) conservationists who believe that only much denser cities (plus public transport) will cope with future fuel shortages.

Some even doubt there will be fuel to grow the food for Australia’s big cities, and to transport it there across the vast spaces that separate some of the state capitals. At least if the cities could be consolidated, some think, they could be treated as giant feeding lots to which the food could be transported. Others tout de-centralisation as the cure to future shortages; but they are spitting into the wind. Australians seem interested only in moving to the big cities. The country, especially the wheat country, is worked by vast machines and skeletal labor forces. Most rural Australians moved to the cities two or three generations ago, turning Australia into the most urbanised of the world’s nations (other than city-states like Singapore).

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One option that is fast disappearing is that of growing food in your own backyard, using the once-generous tap-water supplies. Rising populations, often dependent for their water on short coastal rivers, have begun to dry up the reservoirs. Politicians predictably have blamed the recent draconian water-restrictions on ‘an unprecedented drought.’ In fact what is unprecedented is not the low rainfall but the swollen populations now dependent on those dams and rivers. Throughout the 2006-2007 drought, Federal and State governments went on pouring about a thousand new settlers a month into each of Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. Hence the next drought is likely to prove even more ‘unprecedented’.

Environmentalists have begun to discuss whether civil disobedience against water restrictions may be one way to bring home to some politicians that the age of endless growth is over. Meanwhile Australia’s gardens have begun to wilt, and there is a thriving business in replacing lawns with xeriscapes. Yet just at the time of writing (December 2007) the planet has begun to flip from the el niño to la niña cycle, and rains have begun again on the east coast.

Early signs are that the incoming Labor government headed by Kevin Rudd is prepared to tackle greenhouse issues provided it can keep the economy booming. ‘We were elected as economic conservatives, and we will govern as economic conservatives,’ was one of his first public statements. His Environment Minister is Peter Garrett, a somewhat conservative conservationist who, when he chaired the Australian Conservation Foundation, earned the ire of poet and doyenne of Australian conservationists Judith Wright for refusing to speak out on Australia’s population growth. In one tersely-worded missive she stated the figures and concluded tartly: ‘Anyone who can’t do the sums, stand up.’

Perhaps Australia is like a cruise liner whose captain is required to sail in the direction chosen by a deck-steward – whose priority is to keep the sun shining on the deckchairs in the saloon section, so that their occupants will order more drinks. In the words of NSW environmentalist Gordon Hocking

Economic growth and population growth are the two main drivers of rising greenhouse gas emissions but neither is up for discussion or negotiation.  As long as we stick with an economic system that needs to perpetually grow we will remain trapped on the road to ecological and climate disaster.

On balance, the evidence is, as yet, that Australia can’t do its sums.

 --Mark O’Connor December 2007


I have tried to refer mainly to materials available on line.

re ‘No rocky scene in England or Scotland can be compared with it.’See  http://www.lib.latrobe.edu.au/AHR/archive/Issue-September-2006/rolls.html 

Re Banks’s recommendation of Botany Bay:
Banks was presumably aware that to display too much of his private passion for botany might weaken his recommendation. Yet the committee recorded his belief that “It was not to be doubted, that a tract of land such as New Holland, which was larger than Europe, would furnish matter of advantageous return.”

On Aboriginal foods and on ‘bush tucker’ see, for instance: http://www.cse.csiro.au/research/nativefoods/index.htm   and  

On the lost crops of the Incas, see 

On the effects of introduced diseases upon Aborigines, see Barry Smith’s  ‘The “History Wars” and Aboriginal Health’, Australian Book Review, April 2005, pages 16-18.

On the three environmental classics in 1966, see historian Don Garden’s lively account of the changing fortunes of environment and environmentalists in Australia, at
Re ‘Bob Carr.
See also the transcript of his November 2002 interview with Ticky Fullerton (ref. below). He was not quite unique. The Labor Party president Barry Jones sometimes showed similar independence. Another politician of equal courage, though belonging to a less powerful party, was John Coulter, former leader of the Australian Democrats, who contributes regularly to Australia's Population Forum. During his term as leader he was fiercely targeted by the Murdoch Press.

On the Jevons paradox in Australia, see ‘Powerful Choices: Options for Australia’s transition to a low-carbon economy’, Barney Foran and David Crane, publication pending. Available from foran@cres.anu.edu.au

On population-related issues in Australia:
The main academic magazine is People and Place. For online content see
http://www.highbeam.com/People+and+Place/publications.aspx?date=200606      An informative website for population-conscious conservationists is
http://www.population.org.au/ maintained by the group Sustainable Population Australia (to which the author belongs). Current population news is exchanged and discussed on its Population Forum.
For contrary views see http://www.apop.com.au/ (mottoes: “Populate and Prosper” and “A Vision of a Greater Australia”) the website of the Australian Population Institute, mentioned by Betts and Gilding.
See also Dr Clive Hamilton’s book Growth Fetish, which emphasizes consumption rather than population, but sees the importance of both.

On population pressure in Sydney
See : ‘Revealed the Sydney Flats Squeeze’, Sydney Morning Herald,  26/12/2006;  cf. Sydney Morning Herald,  27/12/2006 ‘Residents fear impact of imposed population explosion’. See also Growth Fetish.

State of the Environment reports.
  See for instance

For discussion of polls on immigration, see  

On enquiries into Australia’s carrying capacity, see http://www.labshop.com.au/dougcocks/abernethyfinal.htm  and http://www.cse.csiro.au/publications/2002/dilemmasdistilled.pdf  and 
http://www.science.org.au/media/pop2040.htm (re the Academy of Science’s 1994 statement, published as
Population 2040: Australia's Choice).

On the oddities of multicultural theory in Australia in the Hawke-Keating period, see Robert Dessaix’s essay ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It’, Australian Book Review, Feb./March 1991, no. 128, pages 22-28.

On the word ‘Australian/Australians’ being misleading and borderline-racist, see the book Mistaken Identity by S. Castles,   M.  Kalantzis,  B.  Cope and M. Morrissey, Pluto Press, Sydney, 1990.

On Aboriginal and Maori protests against being ‘immigrated on’, see the author’s This Tired Brown Land, Duffy and Snellgrove, Sydney 1998, pages 287-292.

 On the Four Corners report re  Howard’s attempt to suppress the CSIRO Report on ‘Australia’s Population Dilemmas’: see the transcript at
and a summary of the report itself at http://www.cse.csiro.au/publications/2002/dilemmasdistilled.pdf   

On misuse of terms like ‘diversity’ to trump environmentalist concerns, see

On the article ‘The growth lobby and Australia’s immigration policy’:
This was published in People and Place, but is available online at http://www.population.org.au/issues/Growth_lobby_and_immigration.pdf

On the public being confused by government ‘disinformation’ about population stats, see the revealing interviews with university students in ABC Radio National’s recent Encounter program on population. Transcript at: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/encounter/stories/2007/2101209.htm#transcript

On French discouragement as opposed to Anglo-Celtic support of land speculation, see Sheila Newman’s research at http://search.arrow.edu.au/articles/135692