Don’t forget sustainability in the population debate
Australia’s population will be a major issue at the coming federal election. Not just because of the ongoing problems with Labor’s border protection laws but because Australians are increasingly concerned with the sustainability of our country.
Last year in a rare moment of clarity the Prime Minister made very clear that he ‘believed’ in a ‘big Australia’. He made these comments on the day that his government announced its population target for Australia of 36 million by 2050
It was refreshing to hear a clear statement from this Prime Minister who is often as simple to follow as assembly instructions from IKEA.
However what this clear statement highlighted was a concern that I hear all of the time in my electorate from people who are convinced that we are living beyond our sustainable limits.
My electors are worried that we are risking our own food security by allowing urban development on our best food producing lands.
They are worried that we are living on a dry continent that is struggling to keep up with the current water and energy demand let alone increasing it by 50%.
They are annoyed that driving to the shop or finding a school or hospital close by is increasingly difficult and they fear that their children and grand children will never be able to afford to buy a house.
But most of all they worry deeply that local, state and federal governments are completely ignoring their fears.
I believe sustainability is the challenge of this century.
With a rapid growth in world population particularly in developing countries we face challenges with food, energy and water security. There are not simple answers to these challenges.
By 2050 the United Nations estimates that the globe will be home to nearly ten billion people. Today there are about six and a half billion up from nearly two billion a century ago. The increase is staggering and difficult conceptualise.
But more challenging than this growth is the rising world middle class. Currently there are about one billion people who enjoy a ‘middle’ class lifestyle using about 32 times the amount of resources that those who live in the poorest parts of the world use.
But of course as more countries develop and their populations emerge from poverty, they seek the lifestyle that developed nations enjoy. In China alone each year it is estimated about two hundred million people move from poor rural areas to cities seeking a better standard of life. Inevitably this will mean greater pressure is placed on existing and finite resources.
Of course, we can not bury our head in the sand either and expect we will not grow, but our obligation is to ensure that growth is planned in a manner that sustains our way of life.
That is why I believe we should have an open debate about population growth and a plan for ensuring it is managed. Putting a target before the plan on how to achieve growth is really putting the cart before the horse. We should be debating and planning for how we are going to house, power, feed and water the growing population.
Australia has also been a small country in terms of population but we have also managed to develop a strong and productive economy in spite of that. This is in part because of our natural resource advantage, but also because we have been well educated, innovative and enduring.
The argument that our economy will only continue to be strong by increasing population is wrong. Increasing population without planning for the consequences of that will risk Australia’s future prosperity.
This is a short, medium and long term challenge for Australia and for the world.
We must engage and plan or we will find ourselves explain to future generations why we didn’t act when we had the chance.
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