Forgive me for my sins, but I couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for Tony Abbott last week when he was forced to kill stone dead a debate on the development of northern Australia just just hours after the policy was announced.
The man who has rightly been accused of turning negativity into a political artform dipped his toe in the tub of positive ideas and immediately got burnt.
The discussion paper set forward a series of ideas to stimulate growth outside established capital cites, including relocating government departments, defence facilities and investment in agriculture. It also flagged the prospect of tax incentives to attract investment and people.
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How can you have a debate on population without addressing the question of immigration? Answer –you can’t.
Only two things affect the size of our population – natural birthrate and immigration.
Our birthrate had dropped to 1.7 births per female – below replacement level. The baby bonus introduced by Peter Costello did see the birthrate rise to now 1.9 births per female and common chat around schools is that the first of the baby bonus kids are now enrolling in school. Some may argue that it was not the baby bonus that brought about the mini baby boom but the rise in the birthrate does correspond with the baby bonus and the cohort is known as the baby bonus kids.
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Proponents of chaos theory would have enjoyed being in Sydney this week where an unremarkable collision between two trucks generated a spirited public discussion about population policy.
The accident itself and its comical aftermath was merely the latest demonstration by the NSW Government that it would be flat out organising a chook raffle, with the hated Roads and Traffic Authority playing the starring role.
Late Tuesday morning and well out of peak hour, two trucks collided on the F3, the busy northern freeway which connects Sydney to the Central Coast. No-one died, but one of the truck drivers had to be taken to hospital by helicopter, and there were concerns for public safety as one of the trucks was carrying fuel. It took the RTA almost five hours to decide that the fuel needed to be siphoned from the truck.
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When Tony Abbott was asked by Derryn Hinch the day before Australia Day what was wrong with a population of 35 million, he replied: “I don’t see what’s wrong with it either, Derryn, as long as we plan for the infrastructure we need to make it all work”.
But as with so many other national policy issues, Mr Abbott has had a change of heart. This week he has called for a cut in Australia’s immigration intake because he now regards a population of 35 million people by 2050 as being too big.
Let’s be clear about this – the Coalition’s policy reversal is purely poll driven. Mr Abbott wants to link in the minds of former Howard battlers the asylum seeker issue with a growing population, tapping into community anxiety about urban congestion and water scarcity.
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So we now have an official “Population Minister” to front Kevin Rudd’s mega-Australia vision of a hugely expanded population of 36 million by 2050.
I can’t help but feel it’s a bit like the average family inviting 3 strangers as permanent house-guests to live with them forever and their only preparation is hiring a door-man to greet them.
No thought as to where they’ll actually sleep (the one spare room is currently a study). No calculation of whether the family can afford the extra food, water and electricity bills that will now be a permanent added cost to the household budget. No consideration of how the new living arrangements will actually impact on the quality of life the family currently has.
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Kevin Rudd likes to trumpet his wish to end the blame game. But in reality he rips it up, particularly in health.
First he blames senior Australians for living longer and healthier lives, and uses the Intergenerational Report to belt up on them, labelling seniors a ‘burden’, a ‘problem’ needing a solution.
Second, he blames the Senate for not allowing him to break his promise not to reduce (or abolish for some) the Private Health Insurance Rebate. He even seems to blame his failed ETS ‘tax on everything’ on the Liberal Party, because we changed our leader to reflect the wishes of the Party and the electorate more generally.
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