The key to coping with more people is to send them bush
It is easy to dismiss the growing backlash to population growth as a case of national NIMBYism, but the story could have more to do with the capacity of our major capital cities to deal with any extra people.
While there was lively debate over the idea of a new city in yesterday’s Punch the latest Essential Report shows the real issue is whether the government should tell new arrivals to go bush.
In what could be a real clue to the Federal Government in how to handle this difficult issue, most Australians actually support an increase in the population of major regional centres and smaller regional towns.
Do you think Australia needs a larger population, a smaller population or about the same population in the following areas?
These findings offer a new layer of complexity to a debate that is becoming the new political black, with mainstream parties increasingly uncomfortable with a pro-growth agenda while the extreme Right and progressive Left jockey for ownership of the contra.
In a separate question this week, respondentss said they think the government should take active steps, such as incentives, to get migrants to move to the nation’s regions.
So rather than just being a case of putting up the ‘we’re full’ sign, the growing mood seems to be that we need interventionist government policy to managing a desirable population increase, through controlling where new arrivals set up digs.
This is what makes population such a juicy political issue.
While it lies at the heart of so may of our important national debates – the problem is that when it comes to discussing population, there is little consistency in any of them
Aging – where will the tax base come that will finance the retirement of our Baby Boomer generation? (ie we need more people)
Economic Growth – where is the workforce to drive our long-term economic growth? (ie we need more people)
Health – how can we provide the hospital and primary care services for a growing and aging population? (ie we have too many people)
Infrastructure – how can we increase the capacity of transport to meet a growing population – and how will we pay for it? (ie two bob each way)
Water – is Australia a continent that can sustain more people without having to build hundreds of carbon gurgling desalination plants? (ie we have too many people)
Education and training – is it in the interest of the developed world for its best and brightest to migrate to developed nations? And if not, what right do we have in stopping people migrating to a better life? (ie we shouldn’t really be taking other people)
National Security – is the doctrine of populate or perish still relevant? Or is it enough to have multi-purpose detention centres? (ie we need more people or we’ll get more people who we don’t want)
Climate Change – and finally, the ultimate population debate – how do we reduce our carbon emission while increasing our population base? (ie we are all doomed anyway)
All these debates can be run, with or without the genie, of cultural background emerging from the bottle. At their heart they come down to attitudes to the economic orthodoxy, that growth is an unassailable good.
So if you can answer all these questions in a way that provides some form of coherent political narrative, speak up, you have a clearer mind than me.
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