Prime Minister Julia Gillard has declared she does not believe in a ”big Australia”

August 11, 2010 • Daily Email Recap

Many thanks to Mark O’Connor for this good news from Australia.
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Mark reports:
The new PM Julia Gillard’s views on population growth were not known till this morning (27 June) when she is reported as rejecting the notion of “Big Australia”. She promises a significant reduction in immigration, and has renamed the Minister for Population Tony Burke (whom Rudd appointed a few months ago in what was probably a piece of window dressing). In future he is to be called ” the Minister for Sustainable Population”.

Members of Sustainable Population Australia remain cautious, with comments on Australia’s on-line population forum including “At last a Prime minister who can read opinion polls” and “She talks the talk. It won’t be long until we see whether she can walk the walk…” and “Might be rhetoric, but good to see some change in the stance.”

However it is already clear (see the Age article below) that Julia Gillard is aware of public resistance to population growth; and we will learn in time if she is genuinely sympathetic to the public mood.

In her ability to “read the polls” Julia seems ahead of some of the commentators, who continue to deny that Rudd’s “big Australia” rhetoric was a reason the public turned against him so decisively. Robert Boni comments on population forum:
I cannot believe that the mass media analysis on Kevin Rudd’s popularity free fall in the last couple of months, have all skipped population as a reason, and blamed his problems on an array of other issues. It’s like some sort of conspiracy. It is unbelievable that his attitude on population had nothing to do with his popularity problems.

In fact, no other mistake of Rudd’s fits so well with the timing of his abrupt fall in the polls. In the last two weeks Dick Smith has generously sent to every state and federal MP and to every mayor in Australia a copy of Overloading Australia with his recommendation that they read it. The copies were from the 3rd edition, labelled “Update for politicians”. Its revised preface begins with a comment on this precise point:
In October 2009 Kerry O’Brien, the presenter of ABC TV’s 7.30 Report, asked what seemed an innocent question of prime minister Kevin Rudd. Referring to the Third Intergenerational Report, he asked Mr Rudd for his views on ‘projected startling new figures for Australia’s population growth . . . a 60 per cent increase over the next four decades’.
The decline in Mr Rudd’s personal popularity can be tracked from the moment he gave his answer. His predecessor, John Howard, was always careful to sound as if he had been reluctant to increase immigration, but Mr Rudd forgot a basic rule of spin-doctoring ¬ never take responsibility for population growth, and never give your party a higher profile on this issue than its opponents.

His reply was: ‘Well first of all Kerry, let me just say: I actually believe in a big Australia. I make no apology for that. I actually think it’s good news that our population is growing.’
People were furious. Bloggers asked, how could Rudd have concealed, until elected, his intention to give away shares in Australia on so vast a scale? Indeed the numbers were astonishing. Rudd had boosted the baby bonus and more than doubled net migration. By June 2009, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Australia was growing at 2.1% a year, a rate which, if continued, would double the population every 34 years.
… three months later he was back on the 7.30 Report trying to sing a different tune. Population growth? “I don’t have a view on that, to be quite honest. This is simply the reality we are now dealing with”. Rudd claimed to be a mere manager of what he said he couldn’t control and had no opinion on!

But the ice was melting at the ABC. After many years of assuming Australia’s bizarrely high population growth was good, the 7.30 Report ran a series of five programs asking if it was wise or inevitable. And legendary philanthropist and Australian of the Year, Dick Smith took up the cause, humorously calling one of his talks Population – I Do Have a View On That, To Be Quite Honest.
Rudd had been caught out by the same thing that forced the ABC to change: the democratization of the Internet. …

Media coverage this morning of Julia Gillard’s remarks on population was gratifying, yet still oddly blinkered. No one thought to seek a comment from the groups whose efforts had turned around the public debate. Among those omitted from the media coverage were: Sustainable Population Australia (www.population.org.au), Dick Smith, the many academics or CSIRO researchers like Bob Birrell, Katharine Betts, Barney Foran…. (the list is long) who have repeatedly found the courage to question population growth, the economists or economics journalists Richard Denniss, Clive Hamilton, Doug Cocks, Ross Gittins and Tim Colebatch who have helped scotch the belief that population growth is good, and William Bourke the convenor of the newly forming Stable Population Party of Australia. They thus missed the story of how public opinion has begun to make headway against the spin and the “campaign donations” with which the growth lobby had sought to control the population policies of the two major parties.

The Age article, below, does note that
The [Third Inter-generational] report caused widespread unease about whether big cities, now straining under inadequate infrastructure, could cope.
Then prime minister Kevin Rudd backed away from his earlier comment that he favoured a ”big Australia” by appointing Tony Burke as Population Minister to develop a strategy.

Much less satisfactory was the ABC/AAP story at http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/06/27/2938009.htm?section=justin . It sought comment only from two obvious fronts for the growth lobby: Aaron Gadiel’s absurdly named “Urban Taskforce” which represents a group of Australia’s richest developers and the Lowy Institute which claimed, at variance with more independent polls, that “that almost three-quarters of Australians want to see the country’s population grow”.

It seems that Julia Gillard may be more aware of the population issue and better at reading the polls than some political commentators.

Cheers,
Mark O’Connor
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From The Melbourne Age. See http://www.theage.com.au/national/gillard-rejects-big-australia-20100626-zb1g.html

By JOSH GORDON – posted Sunday, 27 June 2010

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has declared she does not believe in a ”big Australia”, signalling a major shift in policy on the nation’s burgeoning population growth.

In her first significant policy break from the Rudd-era, Ms Gillard said the nation should not ”hurtle down the track towards a big population”.

”I don’t support the idea of a big Australia with arbitrary targets of, say, a 40 million-strong Australia or a 36 million-strong Australia. We need to stop, take a breath and develop policies for a sustainable Australia.

”I support a population that our environment, our water, our soil, our roads and freeways, our busses, our trains and our services can sustain.”

Australia’s growing population has become a politically sensitive issue, and Ms Gillard pointedly targeted her comments to marginal voters in outer suburban seats.

”If you spoke to the people of Western Sydney, for example, about a big Australia,” she said, ”they would laugh at you and ask you a very simple question: where will these 40 million people go?”

Treasury’s Intergenerational Report earlier this year predicted Australia’s population would rise from about 22 million to 35.9 million in 2050 if current trends in overseas migration and fertility continued, with immigration by far the biggest contributor. Melbourne was predicted to hit 7 million people, and Sydney would grow to more than 7.5 million.

The report caused widespread unease about whether big cities, now straining under inadequate infrastructure, could cope.

Then prime minister Kevin Rudd backed away from his earlier comment that he favoured a ”big Australia” by appointing Tony Burke as Population Minister to develop a strategy.

Ms Gillard said Mr Burke’s job description would now change to ”send a very clear message about this new direction”. He would now be known as the Minister for Sustainable Population.

Although Ms Gillard stressed her belief that population growth should be limited was ”not about bringing down the shutters in immigration”, any move to lower current rates would involve taking in significantly fewer immigrants.

Last year, overseas migration added almost 300,000 people – about double the rate of natural increase accounted for by births and deaths.

Australia’s population has been growing faster than some developing countries, including the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.

”It is a debate about planning affected by many factors, water supply, open space, infrastructure, ensuring the appropriate tax base to support our ageing population … the need for skills and the need to preserve a good quality of life,” the new PM said.

The opposition has no clear policy on immigration levels, but immigration spokesman Scott Morrison has suggested 300,000 a year is too high. It has also tried to link the population debate to a rise in the number of boats carrying asylum seekers. Ms Gillard will face new scrutiny over the government’s policies after another boatload was intercepted near Christmas Island last night. Ninety-six asylum seekers and three crew were aboard.

Earlier, Ms Gillard suggested the government could pursue different immigration policies for different parts of the country.

”Australia has this very difficult problem – parts of Australia are desperate for workers, but other parts are desperate for jobs.

”Having a smart and sustainable population, coupled with the right skills strategy, will help improve this imbalance.”

Any move to cut significantly Australia’s migration intake would anger business groups, which support strong population growth to keep the economy growing and fix skills shortages.


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