Any new inquiry into Australia’s migration program needs to assess the full costs and benefits of population growth, especially the costs to our environment and the risks of collapse. I wish I had a dollar for every pro-population-increase article I have read that begins by telling the reader that Australia is a nation of immigrants, with some 25% born overseas and about 50% with at least one parent born overseas. Such familiar statistics are not in dispute and say nothing about whether Australia’s population should increase, decrease, or stay at the same level.
[Article first published on 28 September 2022 at Pearls and Irritations at https://johnmenadue.com/more-population-increase-is-not-a-new-beginning/]
Author Arja Keski-Nummi takes this hackneyed approach in the article ‘Immigration Inquiry – A new beginning?’ (Pearls and Irritations, 15 September 2022). It is a good signal that the author has nothing particularly new or incisive to say, and will fall back on familiar arguments about “nation building”, vibrancy, cultural richness, economic growth and so on to further what amounts to a dangerous Ponzi scheme.
If Australia has benefitted in the past from high immigration – although the indigenous community may be lukewarm on the notion – then surely more immigration-fuelled population growth will also be a good thing, as if the population can grow forever and we are not experiencing limits to growth now?
I don’t doubt former Immigration public servant Keski-Nummi’s sincerity and knowledge of the minutiae of visa programs and our humanitarian intake, but the author (like former immigration official Abul Rizvi in these pages) exhibits a familiar blindness to anything associated with sustainability. Instead, what is offered is a pro-business and pro-growth agenda, unalloyed to any contemporary learning about errors in economic thinking in recent decades.
As scientists like David Shearman repeatedly point out on these pages, we cannot solve the problems caused by excessive growth with even more growth. To think so is to fail to understand Australia’s problems and their causes.
As things stand, Australia faces an energy crisis, a health crisis, a climate change crisis, a biodiversity crisis, a housing crisis, an aged-care crisis, an insecure-employment crisis, a private-sector debt crisis, a water crisis … in fact it is far easier to say what is not in crisis than what is. But for Keski-Nummi, we have successfully transitioned from a manufacturing economy to a “knowledge” economy. That we hardly make any solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars, vaccines, Covid-19 drug treatments, electronics, computer chips, and clothing and footwear is apparently of little concern – surely China and other nations will continue to supply us with these essentials?
That the Covid-19 and similar pandemics are almost certainly caused by excessive growth (what ecological economists call ‘overshoot’) is also apparently swept under the carpet.
Stephen Williams is the co-editor of Sustainability and the New Economics (Springer, 2022) and is a former newspaper journalist and lawyer. He is currently writing a book on the population issue.