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How the growth lobby threatens Australia's future

By James Sinnamon - posted Monday, 9 February 2009

Why is it that the Australian government, and other governments principally in the western world, deliberately encourage population growth when common sense and intuition, not to mention the hard evidence, tell us that a larger population cannot possibly be in the interests of the current inhabitants of this country or of the rest of the planet?

We are long past the point where adding extra numbers in any way increases the synergy of the inhabitants of this country. Consequently any additional population growth must necessarily make each and every one of us poorer on average as the per capita access to natural resources necessarily decreases in proportion to the increase in the numbers of people.

However, it gets even worse than that, because of the dis-economies of scale inherent in large populations. An obvious example is that Australians are paying extra water rates to finance costly water desalination and sewage recycling plants required to provide water for additional people.


Had we stabilised our population, this would have been totally unnecessary. We could all have been adequately supplied by our existing less unnatural and less technologically complex water infrastructure.

Similar points could be made about transport, electricity, health, education and other services.

To cope with increasing numbers, it is necessary to destroy ever greater tracts of native bushland, to abuse our topsoil and waterways, and to unsustainably dig up ever more of our finite endowment of mineral wealth.

Three and a half decades of extreme “free market” economic policies have further compounded these problems. These policies hinder governments from making use of the economies of scale that are possible. They prevent effective planning in the interests of all members of society. Obvious examples include the huge inefficiencies of the private property market and the shambolic state of Australian urban planning, a result of the dismantling of Whitlam's Department of Urban and Regional Development (DURD) by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in the late 1970s.

In some ways it may be the case that immigration does indeed enable the transfer of wealth into, as well as out, of Australia by:

  • the purchase of a home by wealthy or middle class immigrants as a means of buying Australian citizenship, which is effectively a transfer of wealth from the source country into Australia;
  • the poaching of skilled workers, often trained at the expense of taxpayers of other countries, including of poor third world countries - a practice, for which the Queensland Bligh Government has become infamous; and
  • the selling of Australian university degrees and vocational training, which has notoriously become yet another means of purchasing Australian citizenship.

Little, if any of this wealth trickles down to ordinary Australians and whatever benefit they do gain is more than negated by the loss of previously available educational, training and employment opportunities, and consequent housing inflation (discussed below). Even if it can be shown that Australia, as a whole, gains, rather than loses wealth through immigration, that wealth will most likely evaporate (PDF 522KB) within this generation.

In any case, on a global scale such wealth transfer is a zero-sum game, at best.

All things considered, it seems far more likely that we are not only becoming more impoverished, but we are becoming even more impoverished than we might expect to be if we had simply divided the existing wealth among larger numbers of people.

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First published on (We) can do better on January 24th, 2009.

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About the Author

James Sinnamon is an environmental and political writer, part-time Linux consultant and web administrator. He administers web sites for progressive and environmental causes. Sites include: and In March 2008 he stood as a candidate for Lord Mayor of Brisbane. His day job is as a cleaner and he is a member of the Australian Workers Union.

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