Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Population debate a distraction from real issues

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Recently there has been a lot of discussion in the media about population growth. As Australia surpassed 25 million residents last month, much of the capitalist press used the occasion to play up fears that Australia is overpopulated.

Many claim that problems like congestion, stretched services and inadequate infrastructure are the fault of newly arrived migrants.

Several right-wing politicians have jumped on the bandwagon pushing for cuts to made to immigration levels. In particular they have targeted marginalised groups like Muslims and African people.

The worst example came from Fraser Anning, the new senator for Katter’s Australian Party. Anning’s first speech in the parliament called for a return of the White Australia Policy and the ending of Muslim immigration.

Peter Dutton has also called for cuts to immigration. He has said that potential migrants that were “going to be a burden” should be denied entry to the country.

Dutton joins a chorus of other right-wing figures, like Tony Abbott and Pauline Hanson, who have similarly tried to blame migrants for issues that have actually been created by government policies and a system that puts profits before all else.

Unfortunately, there are very few voices of reason in the mainstream press, let alone in the parliament. This has resulted in a one-sided perception of the issues being adopted by lots of people.

A recent poll by The Guardian found that 54% of respondents felt that population growth was too fast, and 64% felt the level of immigration too high, up from 50% in late 2016.

With the squeeze being put on people’s living standards, there is no doubt that people feel under pressure. Ordinary people are looking for ways to defend their conditions and to ensure a decent future for their children.

Issues like housing stress, traffic congestion, underemployment and low wage growth are all very real but they are not simply created by high immigration levels. Australia’s population growth is actually moderate when compared to historic levels.

Population growth currently stands at around 1.6%. This is actually the average population growth per year since 1947. During the post-war boom years (1950-1960) population growth averaged around 2.4%. The year 1950 alone saw the population grow 3.4%.

So contrary to perceptions stirred up by the media, the current level of growth is certainly not abnormal, or even remotely high.

The real problem is that public services and infrastructure have failed to keep pace with population growth. Part of the reason for this is the shift towards a user-pays system in recent decades. Governments have sought to place the responsibility for planning and infrastructure in the hands of the private sector.

But the private sector only invests when huge profits can made. Similarly, infrastructure that was once publicly owned has been sold off to profiteers and in many instances has been run down rather than expanded. Take our electricity infrastructure for example.

Rather than admitting that their own decisions, and the actions of their big business backers, are at fault, politicians have preferred to deflect the blame onto the easy target of migrants. We must hold the politicians and their system responsible for the failures, not other ordinary people.

Some environmentalists have also unfortunately joined in scapegoating migrants. There have been discussions in the media about the impact that population growth has on sustainability and on our ecosystem.

However, the proposals put forward by some environmentalists of maintaining a ‘small Australia’ by limiting immigration ignore the context in which we live. That is, a capitalist system based on production for profit and of infinite economic growth, in contrast to the reality of a planet of finite resources.

The problem then is not of a moderately increasing population but of a society centred around the unceasing and irrational exploitation of our resources.

Socialists agree that we need to urgently address problems like congestion and the lack of services and infrastructure. To do that effectively however we firstly need to understand the real source of the problem.

Blaming migrants is a distraction from real issues. We need to take on the profit interests and strive to set up society in a more rational and sustainable way. A democratically planned socialist economy would be based on people’s needs rather than profit.

On this basis the economic and social issues burdening regular people could be dealt with and the wealth created could be used for the benefit of all, regardless of where they have come from.

By Dane Letcher


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