At the Herald Sun today Jeff Kennett pulls the old populate or perish canard:
Australia with about 24 million people, is extraordinarily underpopulated given our land mass.
…Think of it: only 24 million people in one of the biggest underdeveloped and underpopulated land masses in the world.
…History tells us we could easily have lost our sovereignty during World War II if the Japanese had defeated us at Milne Bay and Kokoda in New Guinea.
The truth is Australia needs a bigger population, a strong economy and a socially coherent society if we are ever going to make sure our children and grandchildren can continue to call Australia home.
China is investing in countries all around us as they build their influence, economically and militarily.
…Australia has not even been able to support a motor vehicle manufacturing industry and part of the reason for that is that manufacturers did not have the scale of production due to our small population.
So now Australia no longer has any significant heavy manufacturing capacity.
I believe every country must have the capacity, if necessary, to defend itself. But how can you do that without a heavy engineering capacity? The truth is we could not defend ourselves for even a day, not with our tiny population.
MB likes Jeff Kennett and there is merit in his arguments about national security vulnerability and manufacturing. The question is how do we deal with them:
- Australia could have sustained a car industry, it did so for seventy years, it chose not to, stupidly;
- it really wouldn’t matter how big our population is versus those to our north. It will never be big enough if headcount is your measure of power;
- a better way to look at it is how rich can we be to maintain a technological advantage that offsets our numbers disadvantage. In those terms population is a way to be bigger but not richer given it is a key input into the whole politico-housing complex that is exhausting the nation through private debt. Look at Norway. If we saved instead of spent all of our commodity largesse we could build a much larger strategic footprint;
- moreover, if you are really worried about security then just build the “bomb”.
Mr Kennett would have been better off arguing that we need to find security in Asia not from it and population growth serves that end. We should do absolutely that and keeping immigration running at manageable levels is a part of it. Though it is only now a part strategy given the rise of an autocratic China.
Mr Kennett has uncharacteristically confused population growth with a worthy national security agenda. The latter is much better served by the preservation of tradeable industries including manufacturing which population growth works against as it lifts the rather useless housing/consumption economy and the currency.
Absolutely, let’s get competitive. Let’s start by cutting immigration in half to give tradables a big boost.