Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Population: Should we blame big Australia or big business?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Since taking over as PM from Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard has back tracked on a number of Labor policies. One such reversal has been the rejection of Rudd’s ‘Big Australia’ policy, which was intended to allow the nations population to grow to 35 million by 2050. Gillard stands for “not a big Australia, a sustainable Australia” or so her TV ads tell us.

Despite participating in the initial drafting of this policy, Gillard and other Labor ministers are now arguing that a rethink is required to determine if the country can sustainably support this growth in population. Gillard said we want “a population that our environment, our water, our soil, our roads and freeways, our busses, our trains and our services can sustain.”

While the Socialist Party definitely supports programs designed to make Australia more sustainable, we think that blaming population growth for environmental destruction and the lack of services is an often used political diversion. You can’t blame newly arrived migrants for a failure to invest in renewable technology or public services by the government and big business.

More significant than population size in gobbling up and wasting resources are the methods of production utilised by big business and the state. It is these methods that determine the efficiency and availability of services such as public transport, water and housing. For example, the overcrowding on public transport in major cities is the result of systematic underinvestment by both ALP and Liberal governments, backed by the road and oil lobby who are simply concerned with making profits.

Regardless of whether Australia’s population stays at 22 million, or increases to 35 million, the impact on the environment will depend on which methods of energy generation and natural resource management are used.

An environmentally sustainable energy and resource sector would be able to provide for more people than the existing destructive and wasteful system. Unfortunately big business and their representatives in government are more interested in burning fossil fuels for profit than investing in renewable technology.

Far from being a well planned and thought out decision, the reversal of the ‘Big Australia’ policy seems to be based more on an electoral strategy than on practical need. Gillard understands that in the context of an economic downturn many workers are concerned about job prospects, housing affordability and a lack of services. In the lead up to the election it’s far easier to blame immigration than to take on the big businesses that are funding the ALP election campaign.

Rather than fighting amongst ourselves over the scraps that are on offer, workers and young people would be better off fighting for more jobs, homes and services for all. The mega profits that big businesses make show that Australia has more than enough wealth and resources to go around. The problem is the way it is distributed.

It is very hard to control what you don’t own. As opposed to key industries and services being owned by private profiteers, we campaign for public ownership and democratic control. If major sectors of the economy were in public hands we could begin to implement a plan to produce things on the basis of need rather than profit. We could increase investment in areas like public housing, public transport, health and education therefore massively increasing services and creating jobs.

Instead of blaming population growth and a big Australia for all our problems, socialists lay the blame where it really belongs – on big business and the system that puts profits before all else.

By SP reporters


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