On December 4, 2003, Australia’s population was estimated at 20 million and projected to reach about 30 million by 2050. Slightly less than 50 per cent of this growth rate resulted from net overseas immigration. By 5 November 2007, Australia’s population had ballooned by more than one twentieth of itself (or 5.66 per cent) to 21,131,216 and was projected to reach 34 million by 2050. [i] In fact, with that growth rate of 1.5 per cent per annum, it is on course to double within less than 50 years. Annual immigration has been responsible for more than half this growth, even though the birth-rate had increased in a context of misleading pronatalist propaganda.
Before British colonization in 1788 the peoples of Terra Australis managed to conserve an almost exclusively hunter-gatherer nomadic lifestyle. Art [ii] but no written history, has been found, and reconstruction of their impact relies on anthropological, archeological and ecological studies. “Australia” was transplanted and adapted from a British society which was on the cusp of industrialisation. Pre 1788, Australia’s aboriginal population averaged continent-wide less than one person per 8.5 square kilometers – possibly as few as one person per 51 square kilometers.[iii] Numerous clans inhabited the continent at different population densities, reflecting regional rainfall, soils and climate.[iv] Also patterned by climate and soils, the fossil-fuel-era population distribution is similar, but much denser.
Early attempts to establish agriculture failed with some unintensive exceptions recently uncovered. [v] The British managed to gain an agricultural foothold using ‘white’ slaves in the form of convicts drawn mostly from the ragged army of their dispossessed. Their number was later supplemented by indentured labour, displaced aboriginals, and, until Federation, ‘black-birding’ – the practice of kidnapping Pacific Islanders and bringing them to work in Australia, principally for the Colonial Sugar Refinery Company. There is thus no history or tradition of an established pre-fossil fuel agricultural society. The gold-rushes of the 1850s attracted capital, finance and economic migrants, resulting in a rapidly morphing population and economy and formation of a working class. This class made a national wage-fixing pact with capital at Federation in 1904 and also obtained the agreement of CSR to outlaw black-birding [vi] and the importation of other 'non-white' labour, widely perceived as synonymous with slaving. [vii]
The economy intensified after World War II, but much land was cleared and divided up for development by land speculators from the time of the gold rushes of the mid 19th and early 20th century. When the gold ran out, there was a massive depression, which probably assisted the formation of the above industrial laws.
After WW2 business promoted a fear of population implosion among politicians and a policy for mass immigration came in. High immigration, combined with the unforeseen baby-boom that accompanied the petroleum era, made the newly privatized housing industry very powerful and consolidated an economic addiction to population growth. Although the ‘white-Australia’ policy was dismantled, wages and conditions legislation under the 1904 constitution protected workers and made it unprofitable to import labor simply to undercut wages. However, in 2006-7, the conservative government found a way around this - (Workchoices).[viii] At the same time net immigration was encouraged to increase from an average of around 75-80,000 per annum to upwards of 160,000 per annum,[ix] at the behest of the development, housing, mining and financial lobbies. All this took place in the context of a huge increase in mining and construction, including massive engineering projects in most states which have drawn angry but useless protests from Australians. These circumstances underpin Australia’s demographic and material overshoot.
The ideology of multiculturalism has been useful for suppressing protest against this massive population growth by tarring as 'racist' any protest against immigration for whatever reason. It is ironic that the White Australia policy, which was introduced to combat the kind of slavery which the USA was built on, has been replaced with a much nicer-sounding Multiculturalism, which allows the importation of low-wage labour and the flooding of the housing market to benefit speculators, in the context of rising land prices and rising homelessness.
[i]“Australia’s Population” (Population Clock), Australian Bureau of Statistics, www.abs.gov.au [5 Nov 2007]
[ii] Much of which functioned as maps of areas of land with markers for water, game, people and landmarks.
[iii]Total land stock is 770 million ha of 7,700,000 square km. Estimates of population range between 150,000 through 300,000 to 900,000.
[iv] Joseph B. Birdsell, “Australia: Ecology, spacing mechanisms and adaptive behaviour in aboriginal land tenure”, in Ron Crocombe, (Ed.), Land Tenure in the Pacific, OUP/MUP 1971, pp.334-361
[v] Jennifer Macey, “Vic bushfires uncover ancient Aboriginal stone houses”, The World Today, 3 Feb. 2006 12:45:00, www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2006/s1561665.htm
[vi] “With Federation, the Commonwealth Parliament became dominated by spokesmen for ‘White Australia’. In October 1901 legislation was passed prohibiting the introduction of Pacific Islanders after 31 March 1904.”, McKillop, R.F., referring to Bolton, G.C., A Thousand miles away: A History of North Queensland to 1920, ANU Press, 1972, p. 239, in “Australia’s Sugar Industry” on the Light Railway Research Society of Australia site, www.lrrsa.org.au/LRR_SGRa.htm
[vii]The Colonial Sugar Company aroused similar responses among indigenous Fijians who also objected to black-birding as well as to the importing of Indian indentured labour. “The Indian Connection”, Frontline, Volume 17 - Issue 12, June 10 - 23, 2000, www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl1712/17120130.htm
[viii] “How low can you go?”, Colin Fenwick, Economic and Labour Relations Review,5; (2006) 16(2) www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/ELRRev/2006/5.html
[ix] “Largest population increase ever: ABS,” Media Release, September 24, 2007, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/3101.0, “Net overseas migration contributed 54% (162,600 people) to this growth, which was more than the natural increase of 46% (138,100 people or 273,500 births minus 135,400 deaths).” This occurred with confusing changes to statistical methods plus new ease of transfer from temporary to permanent migrant (largely equivalent to European citizenship).