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How the growth lobby threatens Australia's future

By James Sinnamon - posted Monday, 9 February 2009


Why is it that the Australian government, and other governments principally in the western world, deliberately encourage population growth when common sense and intuition, not to mention the hard evidence, tell us that a larger population cannot possibly be in the interests of the current inhabitants of this country or of the rest of the planet?

We are long past the point where adding extra numbers in any way increases the synergy of the inhabitants of this country. Consequently any additional population growth must necessarily make each and every one of us poorer on average as the per capita access to natural resources necessarily decreases in proportion to the increase in the numbers of people.

However, it gets even worse than that, because of the dis-economies of scale inherent in large populations. An obvious example is that Australians are paying extra water rates to finance costly water desalination and sewage recycling plants required to provide water for additional people.

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Had we stabilised our population, this would have been totally unnecessary. We could all have been adequately supplied by our existing less unnatural and less technologically complex water infrastructure.

Similar points could be made about transport, electricity, health, education and other services.

To cope with increasing numbers, it is necessary to destroy ever greater tracts of native bushland, to abuse our topsoil and waterways, and to unsustainably dig up ever more of our finite endowment of mineral wealth.

Three and a half decades of extreme “free market” economic policies have further compounded these problems. These policies hinder governments from making use of the economies of scale that are possible. They prevent effective planning in the interests of all members of society. Obvious examples include the huge inefficiencies of the private property market and the shambolic state of Australian urban planning, a result of the dismantling of Whitlam's Department of Urban and Regional Development (DURD) by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in the late 1970s.

In some ways it may be the case that immigration does indeed enable the transfer of wealth into, as well as out, of Australia by:

  • the purchase of a home by wealthy or middle class immigrants as a means of buying Australian citizenship, which is effectively a transfer of wealth from the source country into Australia;
  • the poaching of skilled workers, often trained at the expense of taxpayers of other countries, including of poor third world countries - a practice, for which the Queensland Bligh Government has become infamous; and
  • the selling of Australian university degrees and vocational training, which has notoriously become yet another means of purchasing Australian citizenship.
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Little, if any of this wealth trickles down to ordinary Australians and whatever benefit they do gain is more than negated by the loss of previously available educational, training and employment opportunities, and consequent housing inflation (discussed below). Even if it can be shown that Australia, as a whole, gains, rather than loses wealth through immigration, that wealth will most likely evaporate (PDF 522KB) within this generation.

In any case, on a global scale such wealth transfer is a zero-sum game, at best.

All things considered, it seems far more likely that we are not only becoming more impoverished, but we are becoming even more impoverished than we might expect to be if we had simply divided the existing wealth among larger numbers of people.

In a perverse way, it seems to me that this may have actually made it harder, rather than easier, to argue the case against population growth and immigration.

While I can't know for certain if this was true for others, I will try to summarise some of the ways that this fed into my own conscious and sub-conscious thought processes and caused me to avoid questioning our high immigration policies for many decades.

My own intuition caused me to conclude that, if, somehow, immigration made us worse off on the whole, it would surely be harder, rather than easier, for any group to gain from immigration. Therefore, when faced with the strident assertions from all the seemingly credible authorities that immigration was economically beneficial, I found it easier to deny my own gut instincts and not to make the considerable investment of emotion and time necessary to question this pervasive message. Instead, I quietly hoped that the advocates of immigration, who promised me a more prosperous, vibrant, interesting and sophisticated society, were right.

Alternatively, on occasions when the economic arguments did not seem to quite ring true to me, then the only other likely plausible motive would have been an underlying altruism of an enlightened elite more willing, than the ordinary, backward, redneck, xenophobic masses, to share the wealth of this country with others less fortunate than ourselves.

However, the conclusive evidence, after many decades of this social engineering, is that Australia has, instead, become a poorer and more dependant country as consequence and this has not been brought about because Australia's elites are self-sacrificing and altruistic.

Contrary to what I expected, a small group has, paradoxically, not lost, but rather gained from this chaos and suffering, at our expense. That group is the growth lobby. It is really a group of land speculators and landlords operating in an organised way at a corporate level.

Land speculators and landlords openly welcome the way that growing demand increases the price of resources over which they have acquired a monopoly. They profit from commodifying and then controlling access to resources and services which include water, land, power, housing, roads, food production and transport, which each one of us needs in order to live a dignified life, or even simply to live.

As one consequence, in Brisbane at the start of 2009, many are being impoverished by insatiably greedy landlords, who exploit these circumstances to increase rents at every possible opportunity.

The growth lobby also includes property developers, financiers, building companies and suppliers of building materials. There are also others that gain from population growth through high immigration, such as immigration lawyers, employment agencies and some employers.

While these activities may provide a facade of economic prosperity, none are capable of increasing the underlying ability of this society to provide for its own needs.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh in April 2006, then Deputy Premier, ludicrously defended population growth on the grounds that it was necessary to keep people in the construction industry employed.

How could Premier Bligh have failed to ask herself the obvious question: how are those additional people then to be employed? Must we build yet more houses to keep them employed and import yet more people to Australia in order to provide a demand for those houses?

At some point such “growth” has to end and Queenslanders must be able to find gainful employment by meeting the needs of other Queenslanders instead of future inhabitants.

The longer Australians put off stabilising our population and establishing a steady state economy, the worse will be our circumstances.

But the growth lobby wants this situation to continue indefinitely. To ensure that the forced march to dystopia continues, the growth lobby pours funds into the coffers of Australia's major political parties, including Anna Bligh's Labor Party. It creates obligation and dependency in our political parties and governments. In turn, our governments endlessly facilitate the real-estate economy, in the face of every democratic objection, merely to keep themselves in Government.

If we are to hope for any kind of a decent future for ourselves and our children, these corrupt arrangements must be brought to an end and the power of the growth lobby must be broken.

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First published on (We) can do better on January 24th, 2009.



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About the Author

James Sinnamon is an environmental and political writer, part-time Linux consultant and web administrator. He administers web sites for progressive and environmental causes. Sites include: citizensagainstsellingtelstra.com and candobetter.org. In March 2008 he stood as a candidate for Lord Mayor of Brisbane. His day job is as a cleaner and he is a member of the Australian Workers Union.

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