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That fabled ‘Big Australia’

Ideas@TheCentre – The CIS newsletter (Sydney), 8 October 2010

Your Most Gracious Majesty,

It is our duty to inform You that the prospects for population growth in Australia are not good. The Royal Commission tasked with planning Australia’s demographic and economic future hath come to the unfortunate conclusion that the obstacles are simply too great. The optimistic vision of a ‘Big Australia’ will never come true.

The noble commissioners have consulted widely and extensively. But, for growth proponents, our conclusion maketh uncomfortable reading.

The challenges are so numerous that it is hard to know where to start. Housing is undeniably a most serious concern. The lack of capacity in the building industry is quite obvious.

The planning profession does not have the necessary skills and personnel to cope with rapid growth. Uncertain planning guidelines and objectives further complicate the task. It will take years to design and implement a planning system that can deal with the expected population increases.

The acute housing shortage is not the only difficulty. There are severe infrastructure bottlenecks. Port facilities are already overstretched. Developing appropriate mass transport for goods and people will also require some minor engineering miracles given the country’s challenging geography. Just think of Sydney harbour!

Worst of all, the water supply is under threat. It hath become clear that Australia’s climate is unsuited to hosting a larger population. The limits to population growth are well within sight.

The resident population hath been able to cope with these environmental challenges by employing a number of sophisticated water-saving solutions. But simply adding more people to the equation just will not work. If population growth goes on in the fashion that the crazy ‘Big Australia’ advocates suggest, there will simply not be enough food.

The problems of housing, water and transport should be impetus enough to stop the ambitious plans for decades of strong population growth. It is most unfortunate they are only the beginning.

The deeper we dig into the population puzzle, the more daunting the problems we encounter. Schools and universities, hospitals and doctors, sewerage systems and rubbish collection: each poseth an enormous policy challenge, and each requireth gigantic amounts from HM Treasury.

Unfortunately, the commission’s ‘Big Australia’ report alloweth only one conclusion. It is with deepest regret that we commend to order Captain Arthur Phillip to turn back his fleet and set sail for England, our green and pleasant land.

If you don’t like taking policy advice from fables, read our latest report instead: ‘Populate and Perish? Modelling Australia’s Demographic Future’ by Jessica Brown and Oliver Marc Hartwich. You can also watch the authors discuss their research on YouTube.

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