Population Panic Down Under

“Big Australia” has shrunk as a motif for both its population and its politicians.  At the start of this year, Australians were pondering projected figures that the country would grow to 35 million by 2050, from its current figure of 22 million.  Growth is the new evil, and many Australians are proclaiming the need for a population freeze.  At the very least, it is under review.  After the previous Prime Minister Kevin Ruddwas ambushed by his own party, the population pessimists are back in vogue.  Their narratives and warnings are now taking precedence and the current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is willing to listen.

In truth, Rudd was already voicing doubts before the sword was taken to his leadership.  In November last year, he expressed his devotion to the idea of a growing, vibrant Australia, starving for new recruits in its mission to expand.  He revealed to the Master Builder’s Association how this century would be the greatest in the country’s history in terms of economic development.  ‘I believe,’ he extolled, ‘in a big Australia.’  So keen was the former Prime Minister in this concept that he even appointed a Population Minister, Tony Burke, to oversee the policy shift.  By the end of March this year, he wasn’t so sure, moderating his stance on migration.

The population experts are terrified and are doing their best to terrify.  Those associated with such groups as the nationalist outfit One Nation fear cultural dilution; those within the Australian Conservative Foundation see adding humans as akin to introducing more vermin into a tortured landscape, undermining Australia’s biodiversity.  Papers like The Australian (Mar 30) argue that the country must avoid other ‘examples’ of ruin and decay.  Consider Britain, ‘where a net three million people have arrived, largely unregulated, over the past 13 years.’  Beware suburban clustering and ghetto effects, it warns.

The continent has always baffled those who, on the one hand, feel they need to protect the pristine environment, and those who believe they have created an Arcadia, a social laboratory unique in Oceania.  Australians, in truth, have a notoriously ambivalent relationship to their environment, desperate to preserve various visions of it on the one hand, yet happy to erase what is inconvenient to growth when required.  (Witness the insatiable land clearing efforts that continue.)  ‘Down under’ big remains beautiful, be it the mandatory backyard or the multiple car family.

Those favouring growth are confronted with what amounts to a stark reality.  Australia is not only growing but ageing, a fact that worries the keen projectionists in the Treasury department.  A ministerial brief to Burke goes so far as to argue that, ‘Population growth ameliorates the ageing of the population.  Migrants tend to be younger on average than the resident population, boosting the labour force.’  Australian business would prefer to agree.  More people equates to more capital.  More can be done about existing spaces in cities.  Efficiency and better returns can be made from underused sources.

According to some studies, seventy percent of Australians are against a population surge.  Such revelations froze the governing party’s quest to expand their immigration program. Those keen to erase jingoism or basic fear from the debate are barking up the wrong, rather worn tree.  With the conservative opposition keen to re-introduce the branding policies of the Howard years, with a no doubt more expansive detention program, a responsible approach to population growth in Australia is unlikely.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently in San Francisco.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com





More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings