My Thanks to Ilan Goldman who posted the extracts from the Australian Senate Hansard on 17 Spetember 2008 to the Yahoo PublicPopForum mailing and to Gloria O'Conner who drew Ilan's attention to this. - JS
The Senate Hansard from which the following were extracted can be downloaded in a 795K pdf file at . The initial ">question can be found on pages 32-33 of the PDF document, which are actually numbered as pages 18-19. Senator Brown's subsequent ">speech can be found on pages 41-42 of the PDF document, which are numbered as pages 27-28
" id="question">Population Policy (question without notice)
Tuesday,16 September 2008
Senator BOB BROWN (2.33 pm)---My question without notice is to Senator Evans, representing the Prime Minister. Does the government have a population policy? Can the minister tell the Senate whether population growth is essential for economic growth, or is that assumption just plain wrong? If population growth is inevitably needed, is that not an ultimate recipe for planetary breakdown?
Senator CHRIS EVANS---I thank Senator Brown for the question. I think population policy is an important issue confronting Australia and we actually need to have a mature debate over the next couple of years about the development of population policy.
Senator Abetz---I'd say you need to have one.
Senator CHRIS EVANS---Senator Abetz, you keep on interjecting---
Senator Abetz interjecting---
The PRESIDENT---Order! Senator Abetz, we can do without your interjections during question time.
Senator CHRIS EVANS---I actually think it is a serious issue. It was discussed at the 2020 conference and raised by lot of the delegates and it is an issue that the government has been engaging on, particularly in relation to the Treasurer's role, the housing minister's role and of course the environment and climate change ministers' roles. We are working together to try and bring together a broader policy approach in this area.
In terms of my own area, on coming to office I found that the previous government set the immigration planning levels on an annual basis. They just picked a figure annually and there was no context to the selection of the figure and no longer term planning. In our first budget this year the cabinet agreed to my bringing forward next year a longer term planning framework for immigration to this country, which is in part an attempt to deal with that broader population question. We think we need a longer planning cycle. We think we need to deal with those broader considerations. At the moment we have a skills shortage in this country as a result of the previous government's failure to invest in education and training and we are looking to build our capacity by training our own people, but in the short term we do have a need for labour and we are trying to address that.
One of the things I would point to is the changing demographics of the nation. We know that over the period 2010 to 2020 more people will retire than will join the workforce. If you like, 2010 marks the tipping point in the retirement of the baby boomers, and that will exceed the numbers of young people entering the workforce. That is not a temporary thing; this is a longterm demographic shift. It will not rectify itself. We will have a shrinking native-born labour force to supply a growing economy and an ageing population. So there are big challenges in the demographics area, and part of the solution to that will be an increase in migration and, I think, an increase in the overall population, because we will need more workers to support the population and we will need more workers to provide services to those ageing as the cohort of those ageing increases. But there are issues about environmental sustainability that need to be taken into account and there are issues about housing that need to be taken into account.
I suppose your question, Senator Brown, implied that somehow we should respond in a negative way. I think the way to respond is to say that we have a climate change problem and we have to address that problem. Whatever the size of the population, we will have a climate change problem. This government is immediately trying to tackle that climate change problem. We are trying to tackle the problem of water. All of those things need to be taken head-on. Those problems are not fixed by reducing our population or ending immigration to this country. We are serious about housing, we are serious about climate change and we are serious about the environment, but we face other challenges about the workforce and about our demographics. What we are trying to do is bring all that together so that the government has a broad view about these challenges and how we respond. I think we are making good progress on that, and certainly in my portfolio we are very much focusing on those broader issues.
Senator BOB BROWN---Mr President, I have a supplementary question. I thank the minister for the seriousness with which he answered that question. I return again to core question that I asked: is economic growth predicated upon population growth or is that a myth?
Senator CHRIS EVANS---That is a pretty big question to answer in one minute. What I would say to you is that I think economic growth is vital to Australia's future. I think that in the medium term we will need a larger population than we currently have. I think we will have to run an immigration program to deal with the demographic shift and the drop in the workforce. But we also need to tackle those pressing environmental and other problems. The Greens keep raising with me, for instance, the question of climate change refugees and what we are doing to accommodate them. To accommodate them we would have to increase our immigration program. All these things are clearly linked. We are very much focused on the broader population policy issues, but I think we will need continuing economic growth, and I think we will see a continuing modest increase in our population levels over coming years.
" id="speech">Population Policy (speech in response to Senator Evans' answer)
Tuesday,16 September 2008
Senator BOB BROWN (Tasmania---Leader of the Australian Greens) (3.30 pm)---I move:
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (Senator Evans) to a question without notice asked by Senator Bob Brown today relating to economic and population growth.
I am grateful to Senator Evans for responding to a question that is very rarely raised in this parliament let alone taken on and answered at some length---and that is the question of the role of population in our future. The former Treasurer, Peter Costello, said that population is destiny. I would agree with that, although I think I am coming from a different point of view.
We are on a planet in which there are now 6½ thousand million people, whereas when I was a lad it was half that amount. At the change from the 19th century to the 20th century there were 2,000 million people, which is less than a third of today's population. And we know that by mid-century the population is going to be 9,000 million to 10,000 million people. The world advice is that that simply cannot be sustained. We are now looking at rapidly deteriorating food stores on the planet. We are down to fewer than 50 days of flow-on food availability to meet any great emergency, and the number of people facing starvation around the planet right now is in the millions and increasing rapidly, particularly in Africa but also in parts of Asia, like North Korea.
If you take the idea that you must have a growing population to have a healthy economy then the planet will implode ...
Because energy drives agriculture, and with the onrush of climate change, the very slow growth in pro -ductivity compared to population, and peak oil, we will be facing a mammoth, chaotic social outcome of too many people with too few resources on the planet in the lifetime of some of us here and certainly in the lifetime of our children. We are obliged to look at this. That is why I asked the government whether it had a population policy, and I do not believe it does. I do not believe the opposition does. The Greens have one which is very general.
I think it is incumbent upon us all to say what we think about the fundamental supposition that the economy needs a growing population if it is to be sustainable. I think that is a fundamental error but it drives all economic policymaking at government level around the world at the moment. If you take the idea that you must have a growing population to have a healthy economy then the planet will implode because the logic of that is that, if the numbers of humans on the planet keep increasing---and we are the biggest, most marauding group of mammals there has ever been on the planet---to just bring other people up to our level of consumption our current population projections say that we will need not one but three or four planets with the resource base of the earth to sustain human population by mid-century. I am talking about 40 years away. It is simply not sustainable.
... if the numbers of humans on the planet keep increasing ... to just bring other people up to our level of consumption our current population projections say that we will need not one but three or four planets with the resource base of the earth to sustain human population by mid-century.
We as responsible politicians and representatives of the interests of the future of this nation, if not the planet, have to debate this matter. I believe we have to come to the conclusion that we have to devise economic growth that is not predicated on population growth. If not, we have to state at what level we will stop growing the economy because there are too many people. That is an inevitable outcome of the theory that you must have population growth if you are going to have economic wellbeing. It is a fundamental part of the political discourse and yet it is missing from public debate.
... I get asked about it all over the country. It does not matter what you are talking about, when you go into any size audience somebody will come up and say, 'What about population growth?' So here I am asking that question in the Senate because so many Australians want it debated.
One of my major reasons for raising this question is that I get asked about it all over the country. It does not matter what you are talking about, when you go into any size audience somebody will come up and say, 'What about population growth?' So here I am asking that question in the Senate because so many Australians want it debated.
Question agreed to.
What you can do:
Contact Senator Bob Brown to congratulate him for having raised this critical issue in the Senate. His contact details are:
e: ebony.bennett[AT]aph gov au
m: 0409 164 603 | p: (02) 6277 3170 | f: (02) 6277 3185