Professor Ian Lowe: Mass immigration is a mass environment killer

By Leith van Onselen

Back in March, Dr Jonathan Sobels – a senior research fellow at the University of South Australia and the author of a key 2010 report prepared for the Department of Immigration entitled Long-term physical implications of net overseas migration: Australia in 2050gave a brilliant incisive interview on ABC’s Radio National warning of a huge reduction in Australian living standards if the federal government continues with its mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy:

“You end up with, in absolute terms, more pollution. You end up with more impacts on people’s personal time spent commuting, for example. You end up with less choice in even simple things…

And we are coming up towards physical limitations within our physical, built and natural environments that will lead to compromises in the quality of our life…

Not only are the dams not filling, but the ground water supplies are not filling. The only option you have open to you is water efficiency use and whacking up desal plants. But if your population keeps increasing at the rates we have seen in recent times, you won’t be able to afford putting up billion dollar desal plants, which also have their environmental impacts…

I think we have a problem with this notion of growth being the panacea to all our policy problems. Ultimately, growth in a finite environment becomes impossible. It’s a lazy policy prescription that says ‘oh, let’s have more people’ to drive the economy because essentially the growth in productivity over the last 30 years is a product of increasing population.

Our productivity per se hasn’t necessarily gone anywhere in the last 20 years despite technological development. We need to consider how we can actually structure our economy so that growth is not the aim. But in fact creating living spaces and economies that people can sustain over a longer period…

I believe that [the number for net migration] is the place where we should begin. All our issues to do with infrastructure stem from the number of people we have. If we are going to have a discussion about infrastructure, we first need to discuss how many people but also, most importantly, where they are located before we start planning what we want to do in terms of infrastructure…

I’m baffled on why we don’t have politicians with either the information or the political capital to talk about how many people can live in certain places. 80% of the immigration into Australia post WW2 has been into 20% of the local government areas, principally Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Those are the places where the Commonwealth needs to be active in terms of ‘can we sustain the continuation of that intake’. Or, is there a way that we can ameliorate the pressure on these major cities in terms of where we encourage people to live…

I’m a little bit skeptical and sanguine about the political will of the Government and either side to actually engage people into what are difficult and contentious discussions. And it’s really quite a shame that we don’t see leadership in terms of establishing the vision of what Australia could be and then working back from that vision in terms of setting policy”.

This was an excellent interview from a genuine expert that clearly understands the key issues surrounding the immigration debate.

Dr Sobels’ 2010 report is also well worth reading and covers the above issues in much greater detail. One can only wonder why this report was completely ignored by the Immigration Department and federal government.

On Tuesday, Professor Ian Lowe – emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), and author of the excellent book Bigger or Better?: Australia’s Population Debate – also gave an incisive interview on ABC Radio warning of the deleterious impacts of Australia’s mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy on Australia’s environment and living standards:

“The population in the last decade increased much faster than the most alarming of the ABS projections… Our population is increasing by one million every two-and-a-half years, and that’s causing the pressures people are seeing in the large cities…

No species can increase without limit in a closed system… My view is that we should have a coherent policy that aims to stabilise it [population] at a level that we can sustainably support, rather than have it increase until we see significant problems…

The more rapidly the population increases, the harder it is to provide the services that people expect. And I think the problem that the governments are facing is that people in particularly Sydney and Melbourne, and to a lesser extent Brisbane and Perth, quite accurately see that their quality of life is going backwards because the infrastructure hasn’t been expanded at the same rate as the population, so the roads are more crowded, the public transport is less adequate, it’s harder to get the recreational services that people want…

The population increase is putting the demands on infrastructure that we just don’t have the resources to provide. So a rational government would not simply say “bigger is better”, assuming the population growth is an unmitigated benefit. They should be reflecting on the fact that people don’t just judge their quality of life by how much money is in their pocket. They also judge it by how clean the air is, how easy they can get around, how easy their kids can get into school, and so on…

[15 million people] is about the level that could be sustainably supported at our current lifestyle. There’s no doubt that you can cram more people in, except that they will have to accept a lower standard of living and lower level of services.

The first national report on the State of the Environment more than 20 years ago said that we are not living sustainably, that we had 5 serious problems. And they are all more or less proportional to how many of us there are, and the material standard in which we live. And since then, every year the population has got larger. And every year on average our consumption per person has increased. So we are putting compounding pressure on natural systems. And we are seeing it in losing our biodiversity, the pressures on the coastal zone, rapidly increasing climate change, and so on.

If we go on increasing the population at the current rate, we’ll go on damaging our environment at an ever increasing rate…

A population policy would have two components. One would be that we’d set the migration level based on the principle that we want to stabilise the population at a level that would be sustainably supported. And that wouldn’t mean pulling up the drawbridge, but it would mean lower levels of migration than we have at the moment”.

It’s a crying shame that environmental experts like Dr Sobels and Dr Lowe are completely ignored in the population debate in favour of paid shills from the ‘growth lobby’.

[email protected]

Unconventional Economist


  1. In Perth they destroy coastline landscape to build houses (North & South), build over swamp land with 1m of landfill to build houses (eg the suburb of Brabham) and build over vegetable growing areas (Wanneroo). The new suburbs have NO vegetation, houses to the fence, a great black roof and all the native animals just get booted out.
    But look, pay attention to ‘Global Warming’ don’t think about all the destruction the growth is causing.
    In established suburbs it’s all been rezoned for the developers, knock down the big trees, subdivide and build houses on every square meter of land. Despite our addiction to cars, many new places have not enough parking so it’s just use the street, it’s a free car park. Near where I live, in some funny deal, a Masonic hall was demolished and 20 Units built, so 1 car bay for most units, 2 for some and a ‘big’ 5 visitor bays for the complex (it was maybe an old school 4 house size).
    A lot of new places I see (I walk a bit), the carport is for storage and the cars are out on the street. end of rant, thanks.

    • build over vegetable growing areas (Wanneroo).

      all the native animals just get booted out.

      knock down the big trees, subdivide and build houses on every square meter of land.

      Absolutely disgusting!

      Well done fake “Greens”.

      • bolstroodMEMBER

        What have the Greens to do with this Jacob?
        You are sounding shrill.
        When yo going to sub up?

      • bolstroodMEMBER

        what can the Greens do about it?
        They are not in government, have 1 seat in the lower house out of 150
        and 9 in the Senate out of 80 odd.
        Was it the Greens who controlled the planning and execution of the WA building boom?
        Jacob is venting and probably a paid LNP for Labor stooge.

      • Wino Shinyface

        you are right, the greens have nothing and are nothing and so can get away with doing nothing

    • reusachtigeMEMBER

      Land should always be used for whatever the market dictates. We’re a free society FFS! If the market desires garages to be used as storage instead of useless native animals then so be it! Just ask the free-market, no boundary, land peddlers on this blog!

    • You get a cigar!

      Climate change is just a distraction from the real environmental issues of the day.

      (But people have been utterly conned — very sad, but predictable)

      • bolstroodMEMBER

        I’d love to believe you Dom, but I cannot accept you know better than 97% of the Climate scientists who , in 2017 , calculated people of Earth had a 3 year window to begin to reduce CO2 emissions to prevent 2 degree C + planetary heating.
        It is now more than half way thru 2018, so we , the people of planet Earth have 18 months to begin reducing emissions or risk runaway Climate catastrophe, clearly this is not going to happen.
        I hope for your sake that you do not have young children, because this “myth “of Climate Change ” is a clear and present danger, that is with us now, as you will come to realise.

      • bolstroodMEMBER

        I’d love to believe you Dom, but I cannot accept you know better than 97% of the Climate scientists who , in 2017 , calculated people of Earth had a 3 year window to begin to reduce CO2 emissions to prevent 2 degree C + planetary heating.
        , and triggering runaway feed back loops that will be unstoppable.
        It is now more than half way thru 2018, so we , the people of planet Earth have 18 months to begin reducing emissions or risk runaway Climate catastrophe, clearly this is not going to happen.
        I hope for your sake that you do not have young children, because this “myth “of Climate Change ” is a clear and present danger, that is with us now, as you will come to realise.

      • Bols, I might also remind you that 97% of climate scientists rely on climate change research grants to pay their mortgages.

        Denying a link between climate change and man’s impact thereon is tantamount to career suicide leads directly to the dole office.

        It would take an incredibly principled scientist to suddenly ‘find religion’ and embrace poverty.

      • Bols, I might also remind you that 97% of climate scientists rely on climate change research grants to pay their mortgages.

        It’s difficult to even know where to start with this sort of willful stupidity. It is why we are probably doomed.

  2. More proof that left wing pricks care more about foreigners than about Aussies:

    allowing refugees to get additional training or internships and work experience in their industry of practice, as well as changes to mutual obligation for Newstart.

    Internships for refugees instead of Aussies. Brilliant.

    they can’t get a job because they don’t have Australian experience and if they don’t have Australian experience they can’t get a job, so this is quite a cruel irony.

    Aussies have endured that cruel irony for the last 20-30 years. But the cruelty was finally disappearing in 2008 when it was finally getting easier to get a job. Then the braindead left wing decided to give out 457 visas for $0 each – throwing 2 million Aussies onto the unemployment scrapheap.

    The braindead Greens still want to run cruel offshore detention gulags instead of putting a massive tax on each 482 visa.

    • More proof you are a few kilos short of a tonne. Yesterday you were telling us how great military dictatorships were and why there would be nothing wrong with having one here.

      • astrolin, what do you mean?

        Since when did having a military dictatorship mean having to be more than 28% foreign born?

        Japan is a single party state and has a shrinking population. China has been a military dictatorship since 1949 and has lifted hundreds of millions (of their own citizens – not foreigners) out of poverty, and is trying to put in a UBI for Chinese citizens who are still living in poverty.

        The military (in Egypt, Pakistan, etc) does what it wants and I have to wonder why any military would want open borders. The Great Wall of China was built to keep foreigners out.

    • bolstroodMEMBER

      Pay up or p!ss off, you freeloader
      I don’t pay for access for this site to have your bile spewed at me.

      • Bit of slack please for our regular (unemployed) and often interesting contributor. When he gets a job he’ll pay up.

      • bolstroodMEMBER

        If Jacob wants to vent his spleen he could direct it at the parties who have held govt. instead of this;
        ” The braindead Greens still want to run cruel offshore detention gulags instead of putting a massive tax on each 482 visa.”
        Just what are you smoking Jacob? Cause this is delusional.

  3. One only needs to Google Ian Lowe’s name to come up with a mass of publications, qualification, interviews and awards over a long career in public research. There are a range of data bases that anyone can look at, for instance:

    You can be pretty certain that this is a genuine expert who puts his work in credible academic publications and has his work peer-reviewed. You can also see his qualifications and record on such matters spelled out in the public record.

    So how come the media hardly ever reports his work, opinions or conclusions about mass immigration and its costs – given that they make pretty grim reading?

    In contrast, let’s consider the pro-development and pro-immigration Dr Liz Allen of ANU, who calls herself “Dr Demography” on a Twitter site and travels with one Scottish Immigrant and immigration booster, Mr Innes Williox. She’s widely promoted as a “demographer” by herself and our ABC. Together, these characters have received an overwhelming focus of public and corporate media attention along with their other ever-smiling “elder demographer” who just happened to be linked to this small coterie funded by the Peter Scanlon’s investment empire.

    A swag of cash was suddenly injected into an outbreak of “research” on “demography” that just happens to be fully supportive of mass immigration just as the floodgates were opened and the concrete started to be poured into the dog-box formwork.

    Perhaps no great surprise. Yet what we have seen is the rise of the “The Allen-Lowe Paradox”.

    This is a new observation that accounts for the high media profile of an experts in the mass immigration debate, that is:

    1.Inversely proportional to their provable expertise;
    2. Strongly correlated with their access to funds provided by developers and the mass immigration lobby

    Each are testable propositions. Now how about we collect some data on this?

    Because how was it that in the Four Corner’s program on ‘Big Australia’ gave these these three highly dubious characters (Allen, Willox and Smiley) virtually all the air time and the “conversation” rather avoided anything that was not “jobs ‘n growth ‘n diversity”.

    I note that Dr Allen tells us that she wants to have a “conversation” about mass immigration. Great, me too. So let’s begin this conversation by looking at the ‘Allen-Lowe Paradox’ and the qualifications of the people thrown up as “experts” and their close association with funding from developers and industry lobby groups shall we?

    Because I don’t know about you, but when a doctor gloves up and decides that they want to start playing with my insides my eyes drift up to the framed qualifications on the wall. And if you want to suggest a bit of social and demographic engineering with my country I’m going to run an audit on you and do some due diligence.

    So far I really don’t like what I have found.

    In fact, you’d have to be utterly foolish not to be seriously concerned by the ‘Allen-Lowe Paradox’ and what it means for public debate in this country about this issue. That it is so brazen and in our face is the worst bit.

    The ABC has some serious explaining to do about that Four Corners episode. I’m sick to death of hearing from those with a vested interest. Isn’t it time to hear from researchers and real experts like Ian Lowe who are not on the take?

    • Spot on Clive. It seems that these so called Big Australia population demographers have pretty much captured our leaders. The Mayor of Glen Eira has a post on his Facebook page about a Bernard Salt presentation he went to: “Big Australia or Shut the Door”. Three post later, him feeling excited about increasing height limits in Carnegie and Elsternwick to 12 storeys.

      • “Big Australia or Shut the Door?” Love the false dichotomy on offer when it’s really “Big Australia or Sustainable Australia?” But maybe it’s time to shut the door on the Mayor’s political ambitions in Glen Eira?

      • @Clive, I completely agree, but the population boosters want the debate framed in this context. You have a big Australia or shut the door and be a racist. It has been working for them far too well for far too long.
        As for the mayor, he will just follow his predecessor who had (rumoured to still have) political ambitions, but has landed a plum job in a super fund. Wouldn’t surprise me if he lands a job post councillor in an industry dependent on population growth.

      • Another common BS tactic is to ask “do we want to go back to how we lived in the 1950’s and 60’s? White Australia, canned spam for dinner etc”. My answer? Of course not, early 2000s is when we had it about right – a cohesive society with strong support for multiculturalism, high standard of living, functional infrastructure, affordable housing. Just before the massive ramp up in immigration which swamped all of those things.

      • blacktwin997MEMBER

        What Bernard Salt needs is a public Facebook page advertising an open entry ‘Sudanese welcome’ party at his place over a weekend.

    • excellent post clive ………. unfortunately your sensible and incisive propositions don’t cut it in this day and age ……… very sorry, but you’ll be waiting a long time (and I mean a VERY long time) for an equally reasoned and sensible response …… poor fellow my country ………

  4. Wino Shinyface

    seriously, where are the Greens, if they don’t say something soon its all over for them

    • reusachtigeMEMBER

      Buying investment properties in the inner west of Sydney. Although they qualify for the parties they’re rarely your first choice.

      • They’re too hirsute for mine, and inclined to overdo it with the vibrancy thing. I mean we all have limits.

    • Today I had a chat to some Greens party members about their policy and I was honestly shocked by the feedback.

      They seem to have embraced a global agenda on population and development that, in practice, abandons domestic policy that is now replaced by a lofty concept of ‘getting the world right first’ as a priority. While its a generalisation, their policy comes over as strongly ‘globalist’ and ‘ideological’ and differs a lot from other Green groups internationally that are very ‘ecological’ – thinking global and acting local.

      In Australia the manner which issues of ‘race’ and equality intersect with their policy on sustainability means that they are wedged by far left identity politics. It seems that they cannot separate issues of ecological sustainability in Australia from an idea that to do so by regulating immigration would be repugnantly racist. Their membership seems highly motivated by the idea that this is all connected to issues of equity, respect and moral integrity – righting past wrongs etc. If anyone criticises the impracticality and anti-democratic aspects of this policy it seems that they are automatically “Green-bashing” and just “wrong”.

      I asked what indigenous people had to say about all this and how votes cast in Australia make a hang of difference to policies in other nations? But this seems to be a moral project driven by a peculiar ideology where anything to do with population is actually to do with race. I found it almost impossible to have a rationale conversation about sustainable population as an environmental issue.

      I think their party has jumped the shark. A shame, I used to vote for them.

      • bolstroodMEMBER

        I wrote to all 10 sitting Greens a while back about immigration levels and environmental degradation.
        Pretty much got the same answers you did from those that responded (6).
        Latterly have seen polls that show 48% of Greens members have concerns over mass immigration.
        Like other parties there is a gap, gulf, between the membership and the parliamentary wing.
        As others have said on this thread, when the water runs out in the big smoke a lot of people will be getting very hot and bothered with mass immigration.

      • Clive,
        Strange. I had pretty much the same surprising conversation with a bunch of Greens party members two nights ago.
        To say I was startled by what I heard is putting it mildly.

        Some quotes I can remember;
        “We can’t have a conversation about population growth until we have first solved global inequality”.
        “Any discussion about this is a waste of time as it will be hijacked by racists”. (the word racist got a hell of a workout)
        “There’s no such thing as ‘a little racism'”.
        “Bob Brown was a racist as evidenced by the party’s previous limited population growth policy”. (that was my favorite)

        They absolutely refused to discuss the notion of a controlled level of population growth. I gave up in despair after being told that I was a racist even though I hadn’t realised it yet. Siiiiigh!

        I cancelled my Greens Party membership last year due to some low level abuse of that sort. However I should point out that most of the people I met at branch meetings and door knocks in previous years were perfectly sensible. I’m just wondering if maybe the hardline nutters are gaining the ascendancy now.

      • Clive, Yes very strange indeed. It’s like there is a new manifesto being read by a faction of the Greens that is colouring their policy debate. I even asked why they were not concerned about the environmental impact of a growing population and they just dismissed that as an irrelevance. So, as you say, I think many of the old enviro warriors would be very surprised and disturbed to see this shift in thinking.

      • @ clive and @ rdo ……….. you guys seem to be somewhat ‘younger’ readers …….. ?

        welcome to the inevitable world of the PC/’progressives’/ whatevers ……. the ideological brain dead thought controllers of the ‘informed’ ……… if I’m right about your generational tag it behoves you all to grab them by their throats and force (by whatever means necessary) a reality check on what is actually happening around the world and then say …. ‘you really want this in Australia as well’?

    • bolstroodMEMBER

      48% of Greens membership want reduction in Immigration.
      Lower than Lib Lab but getting there.

      • Wino Shinyface

        have you got a link for that, would be interesting to see it and send it to Jenny Leong so she can stick her finger up at it

      • RDO, that’s almost chapter and verse of what I got. As it went on I began to realise that there was no possibility of having a reasoned debate. It was like arguing with a group of scientologists. One even got to the ‘open boarders’ bit and it dawned on me that they had given up on the nation state and its role in conservation. I don’t think that any of the once ‘radical’ Green left members who I once knew well (classic ‘environmental warrior’ types) would go for this. They will abandon it in droves.

        I suspect that The Greens have at least 50% of their ongoing support because the people who vote for them believe they are the same party of Bob Brown’s day and have thus not actually read the policies. The Greens will come undone when other parties distribute their own policies for them. That’s remarkable. The Greens are Australia’s political suicide party who have assured their own obliteration at the next election and handed the detonator to their political foes.

        The only way they have got away with it so far is that no other major party has broken step with mass immigration.

      • 48% of Greens membership want reduction in Immigration.

        Well their policies are supposedly determined democratically within the party, so it shouldn’t take much more to get them changed.

  5. Dr Sobels and Prof Lowe will be sidelined even more after this as it’s not on message the gov wants. It’s comsume and drive GDP no matter what. F the environment or social harmony. This is deliberate path by all the pollies. No one is there to save the day.