Apr 7, 2010

Population in Australia: 2050 versus 1950?

There's a difference in population between crowded and congested. The real issue they ignore is that Australia and Australians must change their ways -- that business as usual is inadequate.

In a recent op-ed piece (What’s wrong with us) the New York Times, writer Bob Herbert lamented the disastrous lack of American investment in infrastructure.  In a blog comment that appears tailor-made for Australia, the answer is in Pogo’s classic line “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  And Bob Carr.

In last week’s Crikey Bob Carr and Dick Smith argue over whether our population should be 36 million or 28.5 million by 2050 but the real issue they ignore is that Australia and Australians must change their ways — that business as usual is inadequate.

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14 thoughts on “Population in Australia: 2050 versus 1950?

  1. Arthur Moore

    Having watched the first episode of the splendid documentary “Britain from Above” on the ABC
    (that institution much denigrated by Glenn Dyer), the idea that we cannot support a population of 36 million by 2050 or whenever is utter nonsense.
    Are we dumber than the poms? their 60 million population functions in an area about half the size of Victoria and it works! Incredible technology and networks of a thousand resources maintains them.
    Looked at from space it is a miracle that so many souls can exist in and move around in such a small area of land.
    As much as the media play the fear game, based on what and why we might ask, the population of OZ will almost double by 2050 naturally as it has done since the mid sixties and if reducing migration is the remedy to reducing population growth as the coalition of the naysayers avows, we shall all be worse off. Just to maintain our prosperity and the easy come easy go lifestyle we have become accustomed to, will require more people to keep the system going and not just skilled migrants.
    Perhaps the coalition envisages a Chinese solution i.e only one child per couple allowed, try telling that to the voters Tony!

    Arthur Moore

  2. Christopher Armstrong

    The ticketing system in Sydney has only been partially simplified. It is still distance based, which means that train and especially bus commuters must know how many “zones” they are crossing to know what ticket they should get. A problem using buses in in Sydney the complexity of working out what ticket to buy. You must
    1. Find route map(s) that covers the area you wish to travel.
    2. Find your source and destination and work out the number of sections on the route (which differ in distance from service to service). The tables on these maps are a complicated joke at the moment.
    3. Finally, you must then find a shop that sells tickets, ensuring you get the right ticket.

    The zone simplification will go some way to reducing the complexity of the tables used to calculate sections, but you still will need to go through the same process of working out the number of sections. The simplification that has been performed will still wreak havoc on the misguided company that tenders to implement an integrated ticket infrastructure. The system will need to be simplified again before an integrated ticket can be introduced.

  3. John Bennetts

    Not a word suggesting that Dick Smith was/is wrong.

    By all means fix our cities, which seems to be the thrust of this whole debate, but what about the regions and, in particular, the small towns, many of which which are bleeding dry due to depopulation?

    Let’s consider town planning for what it should/could be in this information age. Remember the promises of working from home, at least part of the time, of flexible working arrangements, of enlightened living which requires less and less transport?

    Where I live, near a rapidly growing town, more and more of the decisions which affect our daily lives and futures are made out of town. Three examples:

    The hospital relies ever more on a helicopter and ambulance service to transport patients to mega-hospitals elsewhere, thus depleting the services available locally and so the spiral winds down. Perhaps the worst of this is the need for friends, carers and relatives to drive (yes, DRIVE – there being no option) for an hour or more, daily, in order to maintain contact and to bring those small things which count. Thanks, Health Department.

    The Rural Fire Service is based not where rural fires might happen, but in Homebush! Talk about importing jobs from the bush into the city! Hundreds of them, refugees from the bush if ever there were. City folk going about what city folk do so well – building bureaucracies. There are now several thousand paid staff in this circus, where formerly; only a couple of decades ago; there would be as few as 0.5 or 1.0 dedicated local manager to coordinate the volunteers and provide administrative support. Perhaps 300 total. I have never witnessed a bloke behind a desk putting a fire out. However each full time staffer, plus vehicle, mobile phone, pager and 2-way (Must stay in touch with the volunteers doing the job in the field, mustn’t we?) – each staffer’s pay and perks amounts annually to about the cost of a fully equipped and operating fire station where none exists, or about half of a heavy tanker. Time for a review, methinks.

    Of course, town planning must be the third example. Where once the local council could be entrusted to determine the fate of a development application, nowadays anything controversial or large will certainly be snapped back to Sydney for determination by folk who have no personal connection with the issue, the locality, or the history. Especially in NSW, it has been seen that money talks – so much so that current DA paperwork includes a stat dec to the effect that the applicant hasn’t pulled strings. Poppycock!

    So, population from the bush also drifts to town. Get used to it, citydwellers. Next time you take a trip to Birdsville for the races or whatever, look at the towns you drive through. Consider them emptying out into your suburb as the local jobs which remain in these areas are filled by fly-in-fly-out or drive-ditto types working 12 hour days a few at a time, then returning next door to you to add to your traffic jams.

    And to think that some doubt the need for a population policy.

  4. abarker

    I have just read the three articles in the Age Michael – and I was impressed. Yes we need to see a more efficient use of public transport.

    I’m from Adelaide and while it doesn’t even register next to Melbourne or Sydney, we’re going to have the same problems here. We don’t have a freeway network and we can’t build one – there’s no space. We’re going to expand north and south and therefore we need high speed rail and satellite cities over the Mt Lofty ranges.

    We have the O-Bahn near where I live and this is brilliant – not only does it travel much faster than the cars or buses on the road, there is reduced need to actually get in the car and drive to a train station, as the buses can get off the track at interchanges and drive their normal routes through the suburbs.

    Failing this, we’re stuck. I think a system of three lanes forward, one lane reverse might work on existing arterials in peak hour, and reversing this again at night, but we’ll never see anything like a Metro here.

  5. Michael R James

    @John Bennetts 3.13pm.
    We are already the most urbanized country in the world. Yet we could use the tendency for treechanging and seachanging to reverse some of this. The trouble is it cannot rely upon car transport. And any regional development plan MUST have high speed efficient public transport at its heart. Ultimately the more expensive HST line up the coast connecting Brisbane can fertilize two or three major cities on that route.
    Yesterday Stutchbury in The Oz talked about a soon-to-be-published book: What If?, edited by Peta Seaton which proposes government-led devolution by moving the NSW government apparatus to Newcastle. In my NT articles I proposed something similar but prefer somewhere like Goulburn so that it fits in with a High Speed Train to Canberra. Similarly the Canberra-Melbourne HST could encourage the growth of the old Whitlamite idea of expanding Albury-Wodonga. I reckon Canberra should be a much bigger city too and once connected by a <90min fast train to Sydney and a bit more to Melbourne, the resistance to living there will dissipate. Add to that a new international airport, say near Goulburn (probably replacing Canberra airport) and there would be another key economic driver for the region (plus of course removing Sydney's need for a second airport; discussed in my article hyperlinked under "inter-city transport" above).
    These ideas are no-brainers. They are actually affordable. Trouble is they do require our politicians to have both some imagination, to think beyond terms of office and to stop funding roads to the exclusion of everything else. But most of all Australians need to embrace them, because even without the need to win another election the likes of Bob Carr cannot get out of the old mindset.

  6. John Bennetts

    Thanks for the response.

    About fourty years ago, there was a highly placed consortium sought to construct a Very High Speed train service Newcastle-Sydney-Canberra.

    The problem was, they also sought absoulte control of development approvals and profits therefrom along the route and for a distance either side of the line, complete with power to compulsorily acquire land for construction and development at base date prices.

    If this had gone ahead, this corridor would be massively altered. Thankfully, this Macquarie Bank style proposal was knocked on the head at the time. Unfortunately, subsequent governments, including those of Carr and the other side, have fallen to the clutches of MacBank re airports, transport and other infrastructure without any payoff for the Goulbourn corridor, or any other corridor for that matter.

    Town Planning, as a profession, has for long been a kind of captive of the marketplace, where the regulators serve their time in government service before leaping into the capatist world, changing cloaks and emerging as voracious developers or their mouthpieces.

    No, I don’t have a quick fix. Perhaps a gun… or a length of rope…

  7. Scott Grant

    There are some things in this piece I agree with and a lot that I do not.

    “Australians must change their ways”. Well, yes, I agree with that. The difficulty will be in persuading people to accept a lower living standard in order to accomodate more people.

    Sydney IS bike unfriendly and the Labor government has indeed done bugger all about it, despite more than a decade in power. It is nice that the last two premiers have been cycling enthusiasts, but we are yet to see anything come of that.

    Age profiles: Can anyone answer the question of whether the TOTAL number of economically dependent individuals is growing? If the age profile is shifting upwards, does that mean that there are less children, and therefore less need to provide resources for them?

    “on any basis we are underpopulated”. Rubbish. Comparisons with other countries is
    pointless. Population density based on total land area is such an obvious falsehood, that the author felt compelled to restate it in terms of arable land. Yet, not only are we the driest continent on earth, even before climate change, but we have some the oldest and poorest soils as well. We simply cannot grow as much food as Canada or the US or Europe. We manage to produce a food surplus partly because of our relatively low population. That does not necessarily mean we can feed a large population, and certainly not that AND produce a surplus AND maintain biodiversity.

    One big difference between Canada and Australia is that Canada has almost unlimited fresh water. Another seems to be a willingness to embrace solutions too tainted with “socialism” (ie planning and government funded infrastructure) to appeal to the Australian Labor Party.

    And, yes, public transport policy and transport policy in general has been an abysmal failure in Sydney. As someone who uses the rail every day, I well remember the dark days when the rail system almost collapsed under Michael Costa’s stewardship. Almost a decade later, it still has not recovered to the level of service it provided under Carl Scully.

    And, yes, public transport ticketing in Sydney has been an almost unbelievable fiasco. Coming from Perth, where we had zone based tickets across all modes of transport 40 years ago, I could scarcely believe the antiquated, nineteenth century ticketing system in Sydney. Of course it could not be computerised!

    Back to water. The argument that, because Brisbane just managed to scrape through the last crisis, it can therefore scrape through the next crisis, despite more people, seems a bit odd.

    Lindsay Tanner is wrong. The issue is profligacy AND population. It is an error to leave out either part.

    We need to reduce our total environmental, ecological, footprint. That means the existing population must live more sustainably. To do so requires a massive investment in infrastructure, even if we reduced out consumption. It also means we must restrain population growth. Otherwise any gains in efficiency will be overwhelmed by population growth.

    Apparently, Cassandra could accurately predict the future. She just was not believed. I think she would have been right at home in a modern environmental movement.

  8. bakerboy

    The comparison with Britain is interesting – but for it’s obvious lack of logic. As Dick Smith says, we live on the driest continent. In Britain it pisses down rain (or snow) every other day. Where’s the water for 35 million?

  9. Gary Stowe

    Michael, should you happen to read this I have three questions.

    One; how was the definition of ‘arable land’ created and by whom? I would suggest that simply being able to work a surface with agricultural machinery is a seriously deficient criteria if you don’t also factor in its inherent fertility and the amount of reliable rain received. These are two areas wherein we are seriously behind Canada (which you seem to suggest is comparable) and Europe (which is so far ahead of us in both that comparison is both ludicrous and dangerous.)

    Two; should we really be trying to cope with more? You say that Canada has the highest per capita immigration rate in the world, and I’m in no position to argue the statistic. This seems to suggest we should follow suit. That would ignore the fact that Australia currently has the highest rate of population growth on the planet and, as I understand it, is currently growing at about twice the rate of the nearest country on the league table.

    Three; where do you stand on world population growth? It might be a wrong impression but you seem to be coming from that seriouly troubling group who think that all our planning should be for coping with massive population growth rather than developing methods of cutting it quickly and drastically.



  10. Michael R James

    Some responses to Scott Grant, Gary Stowe & others:

    Yes, I do claim that Brisbane will manage with water even if we double our population in SEQ. You could read my fuller argument in the hyperlinked article but essentially it is (1) we got through this one even though water restrictions were applied late–now we will never be allowed to be as wasteful again so the rundown of the dams will be much slower (and this has broad community support) (2) pipeline network will give much greater flexibility to cope (unfortunately the pipes do not have the capacity to allow moving the excess water in the Gold Coast Hinze dam up to Brisbane’s dams but it will make a significant difference to running down those dams); (3) household rainwater tanks–this is still somewhat contentious because industry hates them and they are not as common as they should be but long-term this will play a bigger role in rainwater harvesting (in the city which now receives more rain than the dam catchments further inland) and conservation of potable water (4) water recycling –possibly restricted to industry but still significant; ultimately the community will accept using recycled water as a direct source if really necessary (as much of the developed world already does). Of course there is also desalination–unfortunate because it is not justifiable and is an expensive totally un-green industry boondoggle (the GC plant is still not operating properly).

    The comparison with Canada and Europe was to put our situation in some perspective. I agree it is not perfect but in fact one can also argue that a considerable part of our arable land (stats from OECD website and also CIA world factbook) is more productive than Canada which are inactive due to sometimes 6 month of winter! Ditto Europe. In some places (FNQ and coastal strips) farmers get not just two crops but sometimes 3 per year, compared to one in most of these other countries! All the other countries are vastly more dense and the fact that Canada is obviously planning for a growing population shows they will get a lot more dense. Also, far too big a subject for here, but Australia does primitive farming and can improve log-orders, for example in water use (and needs to, to stop salination). I am biased because I am a molecular geneticist but I strongly believe in using GM to improve fertility of marginal lands and ability of crops to grow in these lands.

    My position on population? We will have trouble attaining what I consider a viable population–in realms of 40-60M. Demographic forces are ineluctable and the whole world is leveling off as we will too. (It is pointless getting bogged down in polemics on world population about which no one can do anything but prepare.) Our appalling complacent record on everything (eco, water use, land use, rivers, urban planning, energy, transport etc) is due to this stupid and false notion that there are so few of us that we can lead this extravagant lifestyle and ignore these important things. We cannot and even at a lower population we are unsustainable–so we must change our ways. I have lived and worked all over the world and I swear Australians are even worse than Americans on these things. I believe the Asianization of Australia is fantastic and the sooner the better as this complacent destructive Anglo complacency is driving me despondent (I am–regrettably–a lilly white anglo). My dream Australia will be Eurasian and much smarter, like a France (one of the best run countries in the world) Hong Kong/Singapore and Californian hybrid.

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