Dogs at risk in Rudd's 'big Australia'


Kevin Rudd on 7:30 ReportPrime Minister Kevin Rudd went on the ABC's 7:30 Report last week and talked up population growth, saying he 'believe[s] in a big Australia'.

He was responding to predictions from Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, who told a Brisbane business forum that Australia's population is likely to rise to more than 35 million by 2050.

Rudd said: 'It's good news that our population is growing. Contrast that with many countries in Europe where in fact it's heading in the reverse direction.'

But Rudd's 'big' assertion looks vacuous alongside Henry's statement the same day of his pessimism about the ability for Australia's natural environment to sustain such population growth.

He said: 'Our record has been poor and in my view we are not well placed to deal effectively with the environmental challenges of a population of 35 million.'

Henry stressed that the way we deal with climate change will have 'profound implications for the pattern of human settlement' and could produce the largest structural adjustment in economic history.

For example, in his review of the taxation system, Ken Henry is arguing that our system of paying for our roads needs to be reconfigured to account for population growth and environmental sustainability. This points to punishing congestion taxes that would cause drivers to reconsider their need to use busy suburban and inner city routes. Among the many other aspects of our lifestyle that will need careful evaluation, he listed pet ownership.

From these two examples alone, it's clear that the major challenge will be political. Leaders must persuade Australians to accept that they are obliged to make serious sacrifices so that future generations may simply live.

Already we are off to a lamentable start, with the inability of politicians from either side to enact meaningful legislation to curb carbon emissions because it would be detrimental to our current prosperity. Such an attitude amounts to destroying the lifestyles of future generations in order to preserve our own.

A recent Lowy Institute survey showed that Australians are feeling less inclined to even talk about climate change than they were previously. In 2006, 68 per cent thought the nation should take steps to tackle climate change even if it involved significant costs. But the figure fell to 48 per cent in the 2009 survey.

However there is a precedent that suggests Ken Henry's pessimism may not be entirely justified. One of the reasons that Australia appears to have suffered less from the global financial crisis than other developed countries is that we embraced a range of tough structural reforms to our economy that began under the Hawke and Keating administrations. We endured short-term pain for long-term gain, and it worked.

It's time for our current prime minister to do the same, so that his 'big Australia' vision may be realised.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.



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Existing comments

A couple of decades ago, the 7.30 report or one of its predecessors had an interview with one of these 'Australian Enterprise Institute' spruiker-clowns, who talked the Big Talk (remember Gold Coast entrepreneur Big Kev, whose 'I'm excited' plans for a nationwide brand of consumer goods was cut short by his demise?) about how you-beaut it would be when Australia has a 40 million population.

Also part of that "debate" was someone from the Wentworth Group, might have been Peter Cullen, who was asked one question in the entire 15-minute duration of the discussion of going for growth.

Apart from that one question, the entire interview was devoted to description of this "rivers of gold" fantasy of coast-to-coast happy consumers, admired and respected around the world for the clever way in which Australia was to "live the Dream".

The one question: "Why not?"
The one answer: "There's not enough water".

By the sound of it, we've got another "Big Kev".
David Arthur | 26 October 2009

I think Kev is doing a good job. He is only human.The alternative political persuassion is not an option for me.
david jefferys | 26 October 2009

"Dogs at risk?" - how? Sensationalist headlines? Political bias? I don't think pet ownership and cost of are necessarily at risk - those on low incomes here in South Australia are able to register their dogs (cats do not need registration) at quite low cost.

I accessed this article wondering why our pet ownership, specifically dogs, may be at risk? And came away 'scratching my head' wondering about sensationalist headlines and political bias.

Barbara M. Garnaut | 26 October 2009

We may or we may not be able to cope with the increased population forecast.
It is a two edged sword. What are the benefits of Population Growth.
More people, more ideas,more jobs created. Perhaps more helping one another.

To make an analogy...a larger than normal(?) family...say 7 children.
They may have less luxuries but great friendships. Perhaps they tend to look out for each other...They need to learn to share,... to love.

I think the key word here is
'opportunity'. With this larger population , there will be the need for better facilities, new technologies. Roads as stated, plus infrastructure allowing decentralisation and for water...our most pressing need.

There are many valid arguments 'for' and 'against'.It is a challenging question.

It is easy to emphasize the 'against'

Bernie Introna | 26 October 2009

There are areas of Australia with high rain-fall which are grossly underpopulated. I live in one of these, Tasmania, which could support a much bigger population , to allow it to have the viable mass and tax-base to invest in quality health and education system which are currently struggling because of lack of people.

Other areas would include the Western district of Victoria and Gippsland , and of course much of northern Australia. This will require world`s best urban planning/engineering/archetecture etc , but could/should be done. But it will no doubt be politically easier to squash more people into Melbourne and Sydney!If that is the plan ( do we really have one!?), then it will require huge investment in mass-transport infrastucture for these mega-cities and a great change from current inner-city housing density and outer city planning regulations.
Eugene | 26 October 2009

Very soon, the Lachlan River will cease to flow. Surely, this is a greater worry than crushing more people into the cities.
Ray O'Donoghue | 26 October 2009

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last week defended his belief in a 'big Australia'.

At our present rate of population growth, we will have closer to 50 million by 2050, not 35 million!

Further cramming more people into our already congested cities, and further demands on our already natural resources, is not "good for us" or for the 'working families' we often hear concern for. The only thing 'good' about an overpopulated Australia will be for the benefit of Kevin Rudd and his elite business supporters!

As for national security, more people means more cannon fodder for defense like the Bush regime lured Latinos to USA with promises of financial security and citizenship.

What 'sustains' our nation is our biodiversity and the web of life, Australia's ecological systems. Already we have lack of water, pollution, overfishing, loss of indigenous species, ruin of Ramsar wetlands , threats to the Great Barrier Reef, and a massive oil spill in the Timor Sea etc. The demands for jobs and economic benefits will eat away and pollute existing natural life-supporting features and Australia will be a hot and sterile dust bowl.

Vivienne | 26 October 2009

You would not want to say that Howard or Costello had anything to do with how we suffered less under the current global financial crisis, would you, Mr Mullins? That would be tantamount to uttering a heresy.

On another point. Maybe people are less concerned about curbing carbon emissions because they are starting to wake up to this massive con. It's not that we are selfish and want to maintain our current levels of prosperity, but that we know that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere generated by man has a negligible effect on climate.

I look forward to the day when people will laugh at the idea that we could control the climate by tinkering at the margins with one gas. The climate is an extremely complex system.

People who wish to tax carbon have a desire not to control the climate so much as to control their fellow humans. Of course they always know better and it's for our own good.
Patrick James | 26 October 2009

Many thanks Michael for your insights. I was appalled that the WE Australian editorial (23/24 Oct) heartily endorsed Mr Rudd's astonishing wish. Here is part of the text of a letter that I wrote to the Aus and they did not publish today: Why are so many of us so blind to the elephant in the room - human population and the increasing price that the planet is paying for every additional human who enters upon it. Peter Costello committed an act of madness in sudsidising the birth of additional children. Low population density on such an arid land is natural.

The humanitarian hospitality we offer to refugees is a highly commendable cause, but we must make a parallel effort to modify our own individual burden on the planet to compensate for the population growth due to this compassionate action. Otherwise the carbon footprint of Australia, already the greatest per person of any country in the world, will grow with every new arrival as a reflection of our blind extravagence.
Mike Foale | 26 October 2009

We cannot handle a 'big australia'. We do not have enough water. Our trains and roads in capital cities are already overcrowded. This year has seen the greatest number of immigrants in our history.

Labor & Liberal are at one in wanting a 'big australia'. They are both subject to the wishes of BHP-Billiton & the big end of town who want cheap labour.

We should maintain the current population, or let it fall , until we have sustainable healthy rivers, stabilised local food supplies and all that goes to make a quality lifestyle.
Roger Grealy | 09 November 2009

Rudd should have a read of the UK House of Lords select committee report on the economic impacts of large scale immigration. The net benefits are marginal at best & that overcrowding/infrastructure costs can be a major problem. Not to mention environmental costs, social cohesion problems (see social capital research by Harvard's Robert Putman) and crime.
P Klein | 13 November 2009


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