Australians have been deeply worried in this century about two problems: running out of water and potentially rising seas due to carbon emissions. As Jared Diamond pointed out in Collapse, one obvious step is to take the pedal off the metal when it comes to immigration to Australia. The more people in Australia, the less water per person. And the more people who move to Australia from Asia, the more people on Earth shift from public transport and motor scooters to roaring around like Mad Max, with an inevitable increase in carbon emissions. (Australia and Canada are right behind the U.S. in carbon emissions per capita.)
This logic is so obvious that it actually broke through to public consciousness in the last Australian election, with both parties calling for moderation on immigration.
But now the election is over, with Labour (the left in Australia) winning a very narrow victory, so business interests are back to quietly shushing up this outbreak of common sense and potential majority rule. From the Sydney Morning Herald:
November 14, 2010
JULIA GILLARD's election pitch to avoid a ''big Australia'' is to be abandoned after a Treasury warning that strong future immigration is ''probably inescapable''.
In another policy retreat, the government's population review has been delayed and ''recalibrated'' to focus on skills shortages and regional growth, rather than nominating population targets.
During the election campaign in August, Ms Gillard said Australia should not ''hurtle'' towards a big population. At the time, she said a Treasury projection that Australia would have a population of 36 million people by 2050 was excessive. ''I don't support the idea of a big Australia with arbitrary targets of, say … a 36 million-strong Australia,'' she said.
However, a Treasury briefing sent to Ms Gillard after the campaign suggests she could have no choice. The briefing warns that the prediction of 36 million people ''factors in a significant reduction'' in migration, from a recent peak of 300,000 to an annual average of 180,000.
It concludes that even if annual net migration was lowered to an unrealistically low 60,000 per annum, Australia's population would still reach 29 million by 2050.
''Given the powerful global forces driving the Australian economy, net immigration figures well in excess of that low number are probably inescapable,'' the briefing says.
''Strong population growth is not necessarily unsustainable. It need not adversely affect the environment, the liveability of cities, infrastructure and service delivery, provided the right plans and policies are put in place now in anticipation of it.''
I realize that a Treasury ministry can't be expected to keep up to date with all the breakthroughs in economic reasoning made between the Enlightenment and 1914, but there is this hot new idea around called "opportunity cost."
A senior Labor source said business groups had been pressuring the government to adopt a default position ''where the issue of specific targets is not addressed''.
''I believe the government has accepted the reality that it is not prepared to cut migration to the extent needed to significantly reduce population growth,'' the source said. ...
Days before the election was called in July, Mr Burke appointed three population panels to provide advice on demographic change and liveability, productivity and prosperity, and sustainable development.
Treasury's budget update released last week predicted that unemployment will fall to 4.5 per cent by June 2011, heightening concerns that skills shortages could re-emerge as a key issue.
Asked if it was prudent to be talking about immigration cuts at such a time, Treasurer Wayne Swan said the government had refocused the migration program on skills.
Unemployment could fall to 4.5%? The horror, the horror ...