In June 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard famously said: “Australia should not hurtle down the track towards a big population.” She was distancing herself from her predecessor Kevin Rudd who had famously said on ABC TVs 7.30 Report that he believed in a “Big Australia”, of 36 million by 2050.
Ms Gillard then indicated she would be putting the brakes on immigration. “We need to stop, take a breath and develop policies for a sustainable Australia.” Bravo Julia, we said at the time.
Figures just released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tor the year ending March 2012, however, suggest that we are indeed hurtling down the track to a Big Australia.
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Listening to the sometimes facile public debate about population growth, it seems that all Australia needs to do to address our population issues is ditch ‘big Australia’ in favour of ‘sustainable population’.
With a debate as shallow as this, it’s little wonder that we’ve made little headway in addressing our growing pains.
In 2009, when Kevin Rudd dug the first few feet of his political grave with his declaration in support of a ‘Big Australia’, population growth — led by higher birth rates and record migration — was at an all-time high. With Rudd safely out of The Lodge, Gillard and Abbott raced to the election trying to see who could distance themselves furthest from the former PM’s sentiments.
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Bigger is better even if it’s top heavy and somewhat false.
Carbon tax or not, Australia’s carbon emissions will keep rising, driven by rapid rates of population growth (A Bigger Australia) and increasing affluence. Most of the carbon is domestic but we also own the carbon that China and other manufacturers emit when they make stuff we purchase from our malls and big box stores.
The ‘Bigger Australia’ much loved by Kevin Rudd and the top end of town surfaced again in the last federal election when both major parties scrambled for a ‘right-sized Australia’ driven by disenchantment in marginal electorates where services are tight and solutions oft promised.
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Many doctors are concerned that an overcrowded world will be unhealthy, unhappy and hungry; we must not allow Australia to make this mistake.
In Australia our concerns over the effects of a growing population are just part of our concerns for the health of all our patients. For these reasons Doctors for the Environment Australia has a population policy which explains the links between population and health.
It is fairly obvious that the present rate of population growth in Australia has imposed considerable strain on existing health services in terms of trained personnel, finance and administration. Any increase in population must be constrained by the rate at which services can be maintained.+
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Yesterday I wrote to Prime Minister Julia Gillard expressing concern about a report in The Economic Times, that Australia intends to ‘target’ Chandigarh, Punjab and other cities in northern India with a promotional campaign in 2012 looking to attract skilled migrants.
I told the Prime Minister I do not want the number of skilled migrants to increase, and do not support Australia running promotional campaigns to try to attract migrants.
I cannot see how running promotional campaigns to attract skilled migrants is consistent with the Prime Minister’s pre-election statements that she does not believe in a ‘Big Australia’ and that ‘we need to stop and take a breath’. I also think this pre-empts the Sustainable Population Strategy for Australia being developed by Population Minister Tony Burke.
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The NSW Government this week announced new zoning for some of our more leafy suburbs, allowing for the development of medium and high rise apartment buildings along the North Shore rail line.
You’d think building apartments near railway stations in a city choked by cars and a rental crisis would be a good idea, but from the reaction you’d think they’d authorised the concreting of a National Park.
While Federal Politicians argue about Big Australia, and just how big is Big, the issue of density has stayed in the sphere of the local skirmish. And while people complain about the urban sprawl of Australian cities, we’re still acutely averse to the concept of raising our children without the luxury of our own back yards. And that’s what back yards are, a luxury. Well a luxury that you have to mow.
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Last week Gordon Brown called one of his voters a bigot. Her crime, voicing her concerns about immigration policy in the UK. Brown was condemned for an act of outrageous insensitivity and dutifully marched back to her home for a 45 minute apology.
Talking about immigration is not easy in western democracies. There is an elite consensus that seeks to deny the conversation. Apparently, we’re not mature enough to have this discussion without our raw, untamed racial prejudices overwhelming our capacity for reason and having their way.
To protect us all from our dark side, the self appointed elite apply the tags of racism, bigotry and dog whistling to anyone who cares to discuss the topic. After all, it’s for our own good.
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As Tory wrote yesterday The Punch conducted a survey on attitudes to population growth last week. One question we asked was what people thought of the idea of building a new city, and 70 per cent said yes. So given there’s probably broad support for building a new city, the next question is: where should it be? There are some suggestions in already but we’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments - some of the initial suggestions are in this map and we’ll add to it as your ideas come in.
View Location for a new Australian city? in a larger map
Have a click around the map: zoom in and check out the various icons - there’s a little summary with each location and why they might work - or you can see a full-size version of the map here. But be bold and make your own suggestions in the comments below and we’ll keep building the map out.
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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.
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Welcome to sunny Big Australia, the land of opportunity, where you’re welcome to be one of 36 million of us by the year 2050 - as long as you’re prepared to live, oh, about 4,000 kms from the Opera House.
The Punch set out last week to find out just how tolerant Australians are of the idea of the kind of population growth being considered by the Federal Government, and more to the point, how it should be managed.
What we found on the streets of Sydney, the country’s most under pressure city, is a political nightmare for both sides of politics. While Sydneysiders are quite open minded about welcoming more Australians, 70 per cent said we’d need a whole new city to house them, and that city should be far, far away.
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Today there will be thousands of Australians losing an hour of time with their kids for the privilege of sitting in traffic gridlock in our major cities. Somewhere else there will be an employer looking at a business, which could generate much more money if only a worker could be found.
The concept of Australia running at two speeds couldn’t be starker than it is with population. One group of Australians are flying at high speed to work at a mine while others may as well put the handbrake on.
Developing a sustainable population strategy means finding a way forward for both groups. So far a lot of the debate has dealt with national population figures and presumed all we need to do is arrive at a total number.
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There are plenty of vast, empty spaces on this continent and many Australians The Punch spoke to last week would like to see them filled.
In a survey The Punch ran testing Australians’ thoughts on population growth, the majority of respondents were open to the idea of building a new major city somewhere on the continent to relieve population pressure on other cities.
They were resolute about its ideal location: anywhere but near Sydney and Melbourne. John, 20, from Cronulla agreed with many survey respondents that Australia’s next Canberra, if built, should go somewhere on the country’s Western coast: “It should be somewhere between Perth and Broome.”
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