Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Did Julia Gillard lie about her, and Kevin Rudd's, "Big Australia'?

On 22 October 2009 Kevin Rudd made his famous admission that he was a “big Australia” man, and Labor’s focus groups, in the words of the Australian’s editorial, “went ballistic”.

Rudd's former speech-writer James Button reveals in his 2012 book Speechless: A Year In My Father's Business ( text available online on Google Books) how desperate both Rudd and Gillard became to throw off the big Australia tag. Gillard’s first promise after displacing Rudd was to get us off the big Australia path. (Button records she even used paid advertising to publicise the promise.) It probably helped her win the election. 
In Button's words:

To  defuse the bomb, Rudd created a population minister, Tony Burke, to examine the issue. But its stubborn explosiveness can be seen in Julia Rudd’s explicit rejection of Rudd’s language the moment she became Prime Minister. ‘I believe in a sustainable Australia, not a big Australia,’ she said in paid advertising. She saw Australia ‘hurtling down a track’ to a big population, and said, ‘If you spoke to the people of Western Sydney, for example,  about a “Big Australia” they would laugh at you and ask you a very simple question, “Where will these forty million people go?”’

During the 2010 election Gillard promised to slow down Australia’s rate of 
population growth. She said she didn’t want to see us “hurtling down the 
track towards a big population”. She said “It is not only undesirable, it is 
irresponsible”. (J. Gillard, 'Speech: Address To The Western Sydney Regional 
Organisation Of Councils National Population Summit - Casula',  accessed 21/7/2010,)

 See also the 7.30 Report’s 28 June report Gillard discards big Australia   Australian Broadcasting Corporation Broadcast: 28/06/2010   Reporter: Matt Peacock.

New prime minister Julia Gillard has signalled that she is moving away from Rudd’s idea of a ‘big Australia’. Matt Peacock looks at the issues surrounding the population debate.

Transcript  . . .

MATT PEACOCK: But that's growth, it seems, that's political poison, and it wasn't too long before Mr Rudd was expressing far less enthusiasm, with his replacement Julia Gillard now completing the U-turn.

JULIA GILLARD, PRIME MINISTER: I don't believe in a big Australia. I don't believe in simply hurtling down a track to a 36 million or 40 million population, and I think if you talked to the people of Western Sydney or Western Melbourne or the Gold Coast growth corridor in Queensland, people would look at you and say, "Where will these people go?" . . .

2 months later, the ABC again reported:   Gillard shuts door on 'big Australia'  Thu Aug 12, 2010.

But thereafter ABC TV news programs including  The 7.30 Report fell silent, or indeed put the telescope to their blind eye. I’m not aware that any interviewer ever asked Gillard about this broken promise to the electorate. Yet a much less important broken promise on carbon policy, which had been forced upon her by the Greens as the price of government, was endlessly probed. 

Newspapers reported the same, though sometimes with cynicism, e.g. Peter Hartcher on 22 July 2010:

Julia Gillard says she wants a population policy, but it's sounding more like a population placebo.

Her opening position is that she does not want a ''big Australia''. She tells us that ''hurtling towards a big Australia is not only undesirable. It is irresponsible.

''If you elect me on August 21, our country will take the path to a sustainable population. I will focus on preserving the quality of life of our Australian sanctuary.”

See also this News Corp story: Julia Gillard's first act - dumping 'Big Australia' by: By Simon Kearney

Gillard ditches Rudd population plan

She reaches out to disenchanted voters

Labor introduces two-speed immigration

 JULIA Gillard has used her first major announcement to reassure
disenchanted voters that she does not believe in a "big Australia" with a population target of 36 million.

The policy is clearly at odds with former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who announced the "big Australia" targeting 36 million people by 2050 just as a new wave of asylum-seekers arrived off our shores.

Mr Rudd's unpopular stand became a flashpoint on talkback radio and reflected poorly for Labor in the polls.

Ms Gillard announced Labor would produce what is in effect a two-speed immigration policy to match Australia's two-speed economy, but admitted it was "a very difficult problem".

"Australia should not hurtle down the track towards a big population," she said.

As the new Prime Minister got down to the serious work ahead, she yesterday reached out to the people of western Sydney, whose number-one concern is asylum-seekers, according to internal Labor Party polling.

The polling found Labor was in serious trouble in western Sydney, with its primary vote dropping as low as 30 per cent and the asylum-seeker issue overriding all others.

"If you spoke to the people of western Sydney, for example, about a 'big Australia' they would laugh at you and ask you a very simple question: where will these 40 million people go?" Ms Gillard said. . . .

She consequently renamed Tony Burke's portfolio the Ministry of "Sustainable" Population, and announced he will produce a comprehensive policy in answer to the population problem later this year.

Labor insiders believe an election could come at any time, given the new leader's bounce in early polling.

"But I also don't want areas of Australia with 25 per cent youth unemployment because there are no jobs."  . . .  (The Sunday Telegraph June 27, 2010)

Without this promise, she might not have been re-elected.

But Julia Gillard lied --and by 14 May 2011 the pro-growth Australian was smirking:

'The irony is that Labor is quietly entrenching net overseas immigration
at least as high as the annual 180,000 Treasury projection that leads to
the forbidden 36 million level by 2050.'

Alexander Downer made similar points, writing:
"Our Prime Minister has repeatedly talked about a "sustainable Australia", which is code for being opposed to high immigration.

Remember poor old Kevin Rudd talking about a population of 35 million by 2050. There was uproar and he quickly backed down.Now, if our population continued to grow at its current rate it would reach 40 million by 2050." (Downer,  Playing both hands”, The Advertiser, 01 April 2013).  


Ross Gittins believed Julia was being duplicitous, but thought public opinion had finally caught up with the pro-immigration forces:

Something significant has happened in this hollow, populist election campaign: the long-standing bipartisan support for strong population growth - Big Australia - has collapsed. Though both sides imagine they're merely conning the punters, it's hard to see how they'll put Humpty Dumpty together again. Which will be no bad thing.

Mark O’Connor noted in a letter in The Canberra Times:

Gillard's first promise after displacing Rudd was to get the country off the big Australia path. It helped her win the election. But was she sincere? Australia is now headed for a higher projected population than when she took power. Her supposed minister for sustainable population never so much as met with with the main community organisation in this area, Sustainable Population Australia, and he eventually announced his own (instantly forgotten) ''solutions'' on a Friday in budget week!

To their own shame the Greens, who had claimed to be the party of environment, and whose votes she needed, made no attempt to hold Gillard to her promise.

Polls showed voters disillusioned with both parties; and the combined effect sank Labor to lethal levels.

Now, oddly, it is Rudd who is better positioned to claim he has abandoned big Australia for sustainable Australia. But has he?

In breaking this promise Gillard defied not just the wishes of the public (mere “populism” in News Corp speak) but probably the public interest. See  Gittins’s  Stop beating about the bush and talk about Big Australia .e.g.  “Business people like high immigration because it gives them an ever-growing market to sell to and profit from. But what's convenient for business is not necessarily good for the economy.”

 She also defied expert opinion from her own Department. Freedom of Information material 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 was 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”. (See City life in decline, PM warned”, by Shane Wright, Economics editor, The West Australian December 20, 2010). 

In the jargon of public service mandarins, that is plain speaking.

Gillard’s own sincerity may be indicated by the fact that, once elected, she discarded the title Minister for Sustainable Population, and left the population issue in the hands of Tony Burke, whom Rudd had originally appointed as Minister for Population (i.e. Minister for killing off the population debate before it killed off Rudd). As one letter-writer summed it up in The Age:

After ''Big Kev'' was dumped in 2010 and replaced by ''Sustainable Julia'', net immigration actually increased from one extra Townsville per year to one extra Geelong (''Birth boom leads to surge in Victoria's population'', 21/6).

Broken Promises
By early 2013 Gillard had all but dropped the pretence: (See B. Packham, 
''Sizeable' immigration key to economic growth, says Gillard', The Australian, 
April 4 2013). As demographer Katherine Betts put it:
As we all know, during the 2010 election she promised to slow down 
Australia’s rate of population growth.  Today we still don’t have a 
population policy  . . . The permanent immigration program is not only 
"sizeable", at 204,000 it's the biggest ever. This is one broken promise 
that the Murdoch press is not holding her to account for.

Gillard enjoyed complicit silence from the Greens leaders, whose votes she needed, and who never publically (nor, it is said, privately) objected to this broken promise on what should have been a core issue for an environmental party. She also enjoyed the complicity of much of the media. As a result, Julia and co. were able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
And I suspect we are all, apart from a few vested interests, the poorer . . .