The Australia Institute’s chief economist, Richard Denniss, has started an excellent new podcast entitled The Lucky Country, which this week included a segment (from 23.00) discussing Dick Smith’s campaign to lower Australia’s immigration intake back to the historical level of 70,000 people a year, while at the same time increasing the humanitarian intake.
The most interesting comment came from the founder of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown, who implicitly backed Dick Smith’s agenda:
Richard Denniss: “So Bob. Parliament house is hardly full of shrinking violets… Why do you think people are afraid to have a debate about something like population as opposed to asylum seeker policy? Why is it easier to argue about the small flow of asylum seekers than the large flow of immigration levels that have had bipartisan support for so long?”
Bob Brown: “Well I think Dick Smith has his alarm bells going on this… It’s really tied up with growth economics and the future of our society. We need prosperity, but can we continue to consume more out of a finite planet? And the answer ultimately is no, we can’t. So how are we going to make this transfer?”.
“And one of the things about the population debate is that ultimately, there were two-and-a-half billion people when I came to the planet in 1944. There’s 8 billion now. It’s more than tripled. We just can’t keep that going”.
“And internally, we have the debate about Australia… It’s the immigration policy that is actually leading to the fairly rapid growth in Australia’s population. And ultimately, that can mean a decline in living standards rather than an increase. And I tried very hard in parliament… to look at – because it is tied to growth economics – the big section of that immigration intake is people that can pay $750,000 to come into the country or have high skills, which would be much better-off used back in their poorer countries. Or who are well-off. A very, very small section come as refugees compared to that number. And the question is, have we got that mix right. I don’t think we have”.
That is a straight endorsement of Dick Smith’s Fair Go agenda. So why hasn’t the current generation of Australian Greens entered the debate?
It wasn’t always like this. As documented in Green Left Weekly in 1998, fears of being associated with Pauline Hanson’s “racist” and “xenophobic” views caused The Greens to abandon their policy of “stabilising” Australia’s population and “a zero net migration policy” to one of opposing cuts to immigration.
Accordingly, The Greens have stood by silently as Australia’s population has surged from 19 million in 1998 to nearly 25 million currently, with official projections having Australia’s population surging to 40 million mid-century – more than twice the level of 1998 when the Greens abandoned their stable population policy.
Worse, last year The Greens announced a plan to massively increase Australia’s humanitarian migrant intake without providing offsets to Australia’s current permanent migrant intake of 200,000 – a move that would see Australia’s population increase to a massive 43 million by 2060.
Hence, rather than pushing back against the population ponzi and a Big Australia, the modern Greens have a platform for an even bigger enviro-sucking Australia!
There is a way for The Greens to once again become a genuine “green” party as well as ensuring social justice concerns are met: follow Dick Smith’s plan to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake (currently 14,000 per year) while cutting Australia’s economic intake (currently around 190,000 people per year) to 70,000.
This way, The Greens could achieve two goals: significantly reducing population growth and saving the environment while also being a good and caring global citizen.
As an aside, the podcast also has the AFR’s Laura Tingle endorsing the Dick Smith debate. And Richard Denniss himself is one of the few notable economists to voice great concern over Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ program. In July 2015, Denniss gave a masterful interview on Sydney’s 2UE Radio explaining in no uncertain terms why the drive towards a Big Australia is destroying Australian living standards:
“Since the Sydney Olympics, Australia’s population has grown by the population of Sydney. Australia is one of the fastest growing countries in the developed world and our infrastructure isn’t keeping up. It isn’t keeping up now and hasn’t kept up for the last 10 years, and it’s not budgeted to keep up in the next 10.”
“What politicians are doing is every year they announce record spending on this and a new that, but what they don’t point out is that on a per person basis, per person we are spending less on health, per person we’ve got less access to transport, per person the reason the queues in the hospital keeps getting longer is because we are not building hospitals as fast as we are growing our population. They all know it, they just don’t say it”…
“If you were going to invite a hundred people to your house for a party, you would probably put the food and the chairs out before they arrive. But, what we have done for nearly 15 years now is we’ve significantly increased the rate of population growth and we are saying “we’ll build rail in the future… we’ll build the hospitals in the future”. Yes, there’s no doubt that any minister can rattle a list of things they are planning to build. What they don’t say is that given that our population’s gonna grow by around 400,000 people this year, we are not building nearly enough hospitals and schools and roads to keep up with that. So, yes, there’s always a big pipeline, but what they are not telling you is that per person, the amount of infrastructure is declining. Per person, the amount of spending on health is declining”…
“If you want to double your population – and that’s our plan – we want to double our population – you have to at least double your infrastructure to maintain people’s standard of living… We’re talking schools, we’re talking hospitals, we’re talking trains, we’re talking roads, we’re talking police”…
“Population growth costs a lot… If you double the number of citizens then you double the number of teachers and double the number of nurses. It’s pretty simple math. But of course, you don’t have to double them if you gradually plan to lower the number of services. If you are happy for us to gradually lower the number of services in our health system, our aged system, if you are happy for congestion to gradually get worse, if you are happy for the amount of green space per person to decline, then you can do what we do. But the trick is at the moment is every budget – and all governments do this – every budget the minister says “I’m spending a record amount on health”. Well, of course you are, we’ve got a bigger population than we’ve ever had before. Every year has to be a record. But, their own data shows that on a per person basis, it’s just not keeping up”.
The Australia Institute also produced an excellent research paper in March 2015, which called for a national debate on the issue.
Lastly today, no doubt prodded by MB, Ross Gittins finally broke his silence on the impacts of mass immigration:
Economists aren’t supposed to believe in growth for its own sake. Their sales pitch is that economic growth is good because it raises our material standard of living.
But this is true only if the economy grows faster than the population, producing an increase in income per person (and even this ignores the extent to which some people’s incomes grow a lot faster than others).
This simple truth is obscured by economists’ practice of measuring growth in the economy without allowing for population growth.
Take the national accounts we got for the June quarter last week. We were told the economy grew by 0.8 per cent during the quarter and by 1.8 per cent over the year to June.
Allow for population growth, however, and that drops to 0.4 per cent and a mere 0.2 per cent. So, improvement in living standards over the past financial year was negligible.
Over the past 10 years, more than two-thirds of the growth in real gross domestic product of 28 per cent was accounted for by population growth, with real growth per person of just 9 per cent.
It’s a small fact to bear in mind when we compare our economic growth rate with other developed countries’.
We usually do well in that comparison, but rarely admit to ourselves that our population growth is a lot higher than almost all the others.
Our population grew by 1.6 per cent in 2016, and by the same average rate over the five years to June 2016. This was slower than the annual rate of 1.8 per cent over the previous five years, but well up on the 20-year average rate of 1.4 per cent.
…I oppose “bizonomics” – the doctrine that the economy should be run primarily for the benefit of business, rather than the people who live and work in it – and the older I get the more sceptical I get about the easy assumption that population growth is good for all of us.
For a start, I don’t trust economists enough to accept their airy dismissal of environmentalists’ worries that we may have exceeded our fragile ecosystem’s “carrying capacity”.
But even before you get to such minor matters as stuffing up the planet, there are narrowly economic reasons for doubting the happy assumption that a more populous economy is better for everyone.
The big one is that the more we add to the population, the more we have to divert our accumulation of scarce physical capital – housing, business equipment and public infrastructure of roads, public transport, schools, hospitals and 100 other things – from “capital deepening”, so as to improve our productivity, to “capital widening”, so as to stop our average productivity actually worsening.
Well done, Bob, Richard, Ross and Laura. Finally the debate is being wrenched away from the nutters at One Nation and towards the evidence-based policy centre.