Populate or perish, says Jeff Kennett

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.


    • Jeff missed the point. Physical war style invasion is only one way to take a country. The easier way is to send 500k+ of your citizens each year for 20 years. Oh wait…

      • That’s the moronic part of his argument. He’s saying we must let more immigrants in or China will invade us. Um, hello Jeff, you realise the majority coming here are Chinese you daft twat!

      • Ajaydee73MEMBER

        There are now Chinese restaurants in the Melbourne CBD that don’t bother with English names/signs. It’s just a bunch of Chinese characters.

      • Jeff is as usual thinking 30 years ahead … but missing the current problem. Optimum economic growth requires a mix of inputs plus competent management … and at present our input mix looks wrong in the short term and we have not seen competent government since 2008. Dialling back immigration has to be a short term fix to allow growth and infrastructure spend to fix up imbalances. Long term we dont breed at replacement rate so we need migrants … so Jeff does have a point …. but right now we have to clean house a bit before we can accept more house guests.

    • Its all too easy for the likes of Jeff to write this sort of claptrap when you live in a nice, leafy, quiet inner city suburb like Hawthorn (or wherever the hell he lives) on a nice big block with a multi-million dollar house. Close to all services and conveniences and with the Save Our Suburbs type crowd pushing to leave such suburbs free of (over) development.

      A true duplicitous scumbag if there ever was one.

  1. What a d!ck. “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.”

    Our children ALREADY can’t buy a home – partly because of excess immigration. What is the point of having a country if you can’t even do that?

  2. Wow. Has he never heard of a nuclear missile?

    The EU has 300 million people and still needs a 10% import tax on cars. China has 1300 million and has a 25% import tax on cars.

    I think India now has a 10-15% import tax on smartphones – despite having over a billion people.

    So a bigger population is no solution. Israel and Ireland make computer chips thanks to direct cash subsidies – not because they have huge populations.

  3. Well Jeff, I’d like to debate you. In fact. I’d like lots of people qualified in ecology, environ sustainability, energy, water, health, economics and about 100 other disciplines to also debate you. In fact I’m sick to death of hearing the usual suspects and media ‘go-to’ people speak for the other 25 million in our country. I’m fed up with the idea that this is how the media promotes debate – by going to chat to all the has-been hacks who have a clear vested interest – as they are the ones who set us upon the course we are on.


    And I’m appalled at the idea of a “managed discussion”. Tell you what Jeff and Dr Allen, how about we have an “unmanaged discussion” – one that is also known as “participatory democracy”. What happened to that?

    Bottom line Jeff, how about you shut your big flapping trap and allow the people of the country to determine how they are to advance? And how about the MSM media do their frigging job and start to find facts rather than opinions? Do you know what they are Herald Sun tabloid journalists?

    Oh, I forgot. People like Robert Doyle and Jeff Kennet and other Scotch College ‘good old boys’ are born to rule. That’s probably how we ended up with Sir Les Patterson running the pro development City of Melbourne council – when he was sober enough and did not have his ‘hands full’ of other things.

    Go away Jeff. Go away. Take the memory of Doyle with you. You vouched for him many times and your character references are as as reliable as your council on population.

  4. Trying to compete with Asian manufacturing powers on scale is a ridiculous notion. China’s population is 60 times the size of ours, Japan’s 5 times. We briefly had an energy cost advantage, that has now been squandered. We should have been able to build a competitive raw materials processing industry – steel making and smelting, and Asian capital could have helped, instead they built the capacity themselves at a scale that is unreachable.

    • You look at a map and see all those lovely blue lakes with scarcely anyone living by them. Lake Eyre sounds like a wonderful spot to put a retirement village for elderly Chinese, Lake MacKay hundreds of little Islands, could be just like the Caribbean with a bit of investment.

  5. Kennett is a weasel of the highest order. Many would like to see him given the treatment metered out by the painters and dockers of old down his way.
    Truth is, after the battle of the Coral Sea and the smashing of the Japanese at Rabaul, the Japanese pulled out. Withdrew. The battle of the Coral Sea was fought on our behalf by the Americans, hence turnball cap in hand to the USA. Straya will never be able to defend itself, especially against modern weapons, best we can offer is as a base for the USA.
    More people here only lowers the quality of the person living here, you may remember Archibald and the stance of the Bulletin on this.
    The future surely belongs to the upper 20% of people as technology assists the removal of humans from the worforce. The other 80% will resent this tremendously. And will have to be booted.
    Massive upheaval.

    • The Japanese withdrew … only after being halted at the last ridge before Moresby and finding the Australians had reinforcements and new guns and their supply line was overstretched so they could not reach Moresby. They were subsequently beaten back at successive battles along Kokoda Track with the 39th Battalion performing with distinction. They did not withdraw from New Guinea, they were pushed out by force of arms, mostly by Australians as it was Australian territory at the time. Americans did the bulk of the fighting across the Pacific but in New Guinea the load was more heavily weighted to Australian forces. There are plenty of good studies of the Pacific War if you are interested.

  6. Sweden’s population is less then half of Australia’s, yet it can somehow design and build its own 5th generation, stealth fighter aircraft (Flygsystem 2020). Go figure.

    The whole “20 million isn’t enough to maintain market X” is total horsesh1t. The key factor is, will we protect local industry to allow it to develop and survive, or will we open it to global competition and let it be destroyed by foreign production that does not have to operate under the same (more expensive) conditions.

  7. St JacquesMEMBER

    How did the Mongolians conquer China, most of the rest of Asia and part of Europe? Weight of numbers? How did the British conquer India? Weight of numbers? Er, no; the East India Company bought out half the Indian elite and used them as allies to crush the other half. And without a broad and advanced industrial base Mr Kennett our resistance to an open invasion would last weeks or at best months regardless the size of our population. But then that’s not how they’ll conquer us unless they wish to tango with the USA & Co. There are ,much better ways.

    • State school closures

      In the first three years of office, funding for public schools and the Department of Education was substantially reduced. 350 government schools were closed, and 7,000 teaching jobs eliminated.

      • I went to 1 of the Schools that got closed and amalgamated with 2 others. It was a cluster fark… And a decision I still don’t understand all these years later. It’s as if population growth wasn’t a thing.

      • surflessMEMBER

        The man who sold out the future in state of Victoria. Has no right to discuss anything until openly discusses the mistakes of the past.

  8. The lack of a car industry means little in comparison to this:

    From a security point of view, we no longer have any running fuel refineries. In case of war this means no petrol, diesel or jet fuel.

  9. Think of it: only 24 million people in one of the biggest underdeveloped and underpopulated land masses in the world.

    Such a furphy; most of this continent is close to uninhabitable, and with climate change it will become increasingly so. The coastal fringe is already very overpopulated.

    • Its pretty hard to argue the coastal fringe is overpopulated… you could fit tens or hundreds of millions of people on a strip of land 100 kms deep running round the coast from Adelaide to Darwin… There’s barely any people at all for vast tracts of that coastline and yet the land and the climate is in many cases very supportive of population.

      Now if there’s not water to support those numbers, that’s a different issue. But I certainly wouldn’t focus on the habitability of the coastal fringe.

      BTW, I’m not arguing for greater population. I’m just trying to understand why you’re basing an argument around the only piece which IS habitable…

      • The Kimberley and far north are the only likely candidates for higher populations. West Australian and South Australian coastlines are mostly treeless deserts other than the capital cities already there. Desalination is the only option as not much in the way of groundwater either.

        But lets face it – people aren’t migrating here because they don’t have land. Its a lifestyle choice. They’re not interested in going off pioneering new settlements, reclaiming the desert or jungle. They want access to schools and universities, free health care, beaches, restaurants, clean food and air etc.

      • St JacquesMEMBER

        Don’t forget that the soil quality in the vast majority of that area ranges from mediocre to near useless and much of it is shallow and easily eroded or degraded.

    • Yep, he conveniently leaves out the water scarcity part. If we are looking at land masses and population density, then Siberia is ripe for a population ponzi as well.

  10. I heard Nick Minchin interviewed on this topic a few years ago. He said he had asked a number of top generals and military experts whether increasing our population from 25 million to 40 million would make any difference at all to national security. All of them said: “NO!”

    • Kennett likes to play with his plastic toy soldiers and say “pew” “pew”. There’s no hypersonic, nuclear-tipped ICBM in his toybox, so he has no idea.

  11. Jake GittesMEMBER

    Kennett spouts some superficial drivel about people per sq km and not accounting for climate or environmental impacts or load on the system, water. It’s just garbage.

  12. Relevant StakeholderMEMBER

    Learn to love the bomb.

    Regarding industry, manufacturing is moving towards automation and AI i.e. transfer from human energy to cheaper alternatives.

    Daily human energy consumption (food only) 3000 kcal = 3.4kWh
    3.4kWh (usable) from diesel = 1.4 L
    3.4kWh from solar = roughly 3-4 panels operating 6h a day

    We should do what China did in the 80s, but instead of cheap labour offer Corps cheap energy.

    If it means putting a few Santos execs up against the wall …

    • That is a very simple effective persentation
      so say the multiple to make processed food for human consumption is 10 to 15x, therefore the natural energy input for effective work from a human, is thoroughly routed by say 6 solar panels, ie 10x more efficient.
      Now this may eventuate that the cost of food for a human is a driver for automation??.

      • Relevant StakeholderMEMBER

        I’m probably off a bit, the mandatory engine that comes with the fuel is the expensive part.

      • Substitute engine for a fuel cell for the same outcome etc
        I saw those similar nos some time ago, but it slipped my mind.
        the price of food will be the limiting factor.

  13. HERE’S DANI RODERIK FIVE DAYS AGO AT PROJECT SYNDICATE: “The imbalances and inequities generated by the global economy cannot be tackled by protecting a few politically well-connected industries, using >>> manifestly ridiculous national security considerations <<<as an excuse. Such protectionism is a gimmick, not a serious agenda for trade reform.” url: https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-tariffs-trade-gimmickry-by-dani-rodrik-2018-03

  14. What an absurd argument.

    A car manufacturer’s going to morph into a defense building facility against a rain of 100k guided missiles is it? FFS.

    This is getting really fking ridiculous. IT’S NOT 1940.

    40m of us will grab our assault rifles (all loyal to her Majesty the Queen and Australia) and beat atomic bombs and 2018 fighter jets are we?

    Money wins wars in 2018, and we’re wasting it feeding 24m unproductive consumers and they want to bring more?

    The desperation among the neoliberals does not deserve “MB likes Jeff Kennett and there is merit in his arguments”.

    Whether we are 24m, or 100m, the sole way we can remain safe is remain a loyal ally to America.

    Trust me, I’m an ex LNP Premier should make us run from his ridiculous comments.

      • Can you believe this BS? They’re so used to being believed by gullible Australians, they have no filter.

    • St JacquesMEMBER

      Of course its bull and they he knows it: They literally dared the car makers to shut down the industry, they’ve celebrated the closure of industries like the refineries on the grounds of economic rationalism and they even almost sold off our main airlines. Kennett’s got more front than Myers.

  15. Exclude anyone that is or has ever held public office from the debate. They’re the one’s that got us in this mess.

    Excepting the lone sane voice of Bob Carr.

  16. HadronCollision

    Sure am looking forward to Jeffrey parlaying his skills whilst living in Manangatang.

    1 hr drive to Swan Hill for the train to Melbs – 5hrs +. Big daily commute.

    Fking clown.

  17. This applies here: the youngsters need to boot kennett off stage and take over the joint. Read on:
    @wileyWolf: The youngsters have been handled a hand grenade, not a ball by the baby boomers.
    – The baby boomers have screwed the young on the housing front, forcing up prices through tax subsidies and NIMBYism.
    – They’ve screwed the young on the superannuation front, turning our retirement incomes policy into a colossal vehicle for tax avoidance.
    – They’ve screwed the young on private health insurance, with massive subsidies for themselves and the threat of punitive taxes for young people if they don’t sign up.
    – They’ve screwed the young on the education front, enjoying high-quality free or subsidised higher education while imposing expensive, poorer-quality higher education on the young.
    – They’ve screwed the young on the debt front, handing massive government debt on the young to pay back.

    Wiley Wolf
    March 14, 2018 at 3:12 pm
    E, well if you think you have a live grenade, as seen in the cartoons, toss it back before time is up
    each of these points you make could be easily enacted by legislation promoted by youngsters for their benefit
    for a couple of years now, it has been a mystery as to why the youngsters goof off to their room instead of taking up a political stance, and making things happen.
    the society we live in now does not thrive on inaction, it needs to be constantly upgraded, if the youngsters dont move in the next 6 months here, there will be nothing left.
    Like hiroshima after the bomb. (maybe the existing mob are counting on that inaction?)

  18. Even if, for the sake of argument, we do need to populate, we could slow our migration and therefore population to be debate and discuss the various issues involved. Our political process has many problems such as the NBN, same sex marriage, budget deficit, housing and on it goes. Asking this same political process to be able to handle rapid infrastructure development to handle the rapid population growth strikes me as cognitive dissonance. Reducing immigration would still involve growth but provide more time to work through the inevitable problems that need to be sorted out.

    I personally think that in an increasingly automated world, increasing raw labour is setting us up for a highly unemployed (or low paid) society, and that with the environmental constraints that are apparent, a prosperous society needs to have fewer mouths to feed. But even if I am wrong on that point, a slower growth rate allows us to more accurately calibrate our growth to conditions.

  19. Ross Gittins speaking at 6pm tonight. Newcastle Institute forum. Souths Leagues Club Merewether. Topics: Rent-seeking, the ‘game of mates’, and the stuff-ups of economic reform

  20. Jeff clearly isn’t medicated enough, and has gone a bit bonkers, as he tends to do. Just ignore this rambling, and he should be all right in a little while once his carers find out what’s going on.

  21. State school closures….
    In the first three years of office, funding for public schools and the Department of Education was substantially reduced. 350 government schools were closed, and 7,000 teaching jobs eliminated.

    What a visionary !!!!

  22. “Let’s start by cutting immigration in half to give tradables a big boost.”

    How exactly does this work?

    Is it that a reduction in immigration leads to a reduction in imports? Probably not because our permanent migration scheme is dwarfed by our temporary migrant scheme.

    What are our most important tradeables: iron ore, coal, LNG possibly education services which rely on 350k temporary migrants?

    I’m keen to understand your point.

    • Been trying to wrap my head around that one too. The best I could get to was: cut immigration in half will put us in a deep recession which will crash the dollar which will certainly be a boost for exports

      • Lol. I didn’t consider that…brave words in these parts.

        An explanation would be helpful, perhaps another reader can assist?

  23. FFS Jeff…. what century are we in?? The first three word slogan from Billy Hughes in the 1930’s now passes as intelligent contemporary social comment? How depressingly reflective of the abysmal standards of current political debate!

    • Totally. “Populate or Perish” had a context that is a million miles from where we are today. Kennett is a deluded Scotch College educated proponent of Robert “Sir Les Patterson” Doyle (ex-Scotch teacher). That he’s now educating us with Cold War history lessons from the 50’s tells us how desperate this pack of backward looking rent-seeking neolibs has become over the population issue.

      The Game of Mates that depends upon mass immigration and stuffing up Australia has no shame. The two most fossilised examples of the the odious and hypocritical “greed is good” economy are reactionary Jeff and Robert “The Octopus” Doyle. They are joined at the hip with Morrison. You just can’t make these people up. There is no point in having a conversation with them about democracy either. They live in another universe where the 99% are getting in their way. In reality and the the best way to deal with them is to get rid of them from public life by exposing their disgusting double standards and their horrid authoritarian tendencies that belong to the 18th century and ideals of rum, the lash and sodomy.

  24. I expect Jeff will put his money where his mouth is and nominate Glenferrie oval, the former spiritual home of the Hawthorn football club, as a development site for a multilevel apartment complex.

    • Why stop there? I think that Wattle Park in Camberwell is prime development land for appartments and an entire community of refugees from the war torn horn of Africa. And a street not far from there where Jeff lives needs to have the planning laws revised so that 20 story apartment towers can be built on single house blocks. Come on Jeff, let’s go mate – let’s get Camberwell, Burwood and Hawthorn on the move! You need more diversity out there.

  25. It seems that Kennett was having another black dog day and had forgotten to take his medication. He probably still has flashbacks from losing office and having his wife walk out on him.

    Or he has taken a turn for the worse because the maggots have eaten a part of his brain essential for reasoning.

    Kennett wants us to believe that the PLA members we are importing will save us in a war with China, rather than assist in the takeover.

    Build the bomb, ’cause there is no other real alternative and all the other major countries in the region have or will build one anyway, including Indonesia.

  26. The defence argument is rubbish, even if we go to 80m we would be overwhelmed by the Chinese. A smart and sharp defence is a far better way to physically defend Australia, make it bloody expensive to attempt to invade, though as someone above said that would have to be the dumbest way possible. If China needs to pull us into line they can do it economically far easier and cheaper than the “old” way.

    Kennet is full of it, and always has been.

  27. I’m not sure why you rate, Kennett. His kind of swaggering, bullying, bloody minded decision making reflects the very worst of Australian politics. Victoria is a far worse place because of this blustering old fool. As Clive above notes, this man is from the born to rule mould that is bred to dismiss self-doubt. Long may he rot in the insignificance of chairing an AFL club and adding noise to talk back radio and tabloid journalism.

    • Kennett was mostly unelectable except for a crisis. Victoria in 1992 was in depression, much worse than NSW. His style made a lot of enemies and hurt a lot of people but he and Stockdale restored Victoria’s finances. Once crisis gone he was dispatched at first opportunity. Good man in a storm but otherwise insufferable. Let us hope we never find ourselves in a crisis sufficient to require his services again.

      • Yeah, electricity and gas privatisation worked a treat. Closing all the under-utilised schools was also a great move – apart from the fact that we don’t have enough spaces now that mass immigration bit. Shitting on bush communities by closing down rail and other services – great move now we carp about too much centralisation. Closing mental health institutes and putting patients on the street – great move that saw some real carnage. Indeed, Jeff was a visionary man – so long as the end of his own colon where was where the vision took place. This guy sacked, cut, burned, boned and sold off public assets for a buck. Sure it balanced the books but the cost was massive. This is not good governance.

        Not talked about of course, but in the process he sent thousands into serious depressions then turned up on the board of Beyond Blue. No shame.

  28. People who use the old “land mass” line should be locked up, on grounds of them being too stupid to be in society.

    Lots. Of. Freaking. DESERT!

  29. On a different note; Jeff Kennett’s beloved Hawthorn Football Club is quite the “Family Club”.


    “Almost a quarter of the $92.6 million that Victorian punters lost at pokies venues connected with AFL clubs last year went into Hawthorn’s machines.”
    “People lost $22.6 million at two venues associated with Hawthorn – Vegas at Waverley Gardens in Mulgrave and the West Waters Hotel in Caroline Springs.”

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