Water: It's the population stupid!

Tom Gosling, Online Opinion, February 2006

... Even if Greenhouse is the culprit, its impact so far has been tiny compared to a huge, dramatic change that is as obvious and hard to argue with, as that good old elephant sitting in the middle of your loungeroom - the number of people.

As Bill Clinton might have said “It’s the population, stupid” ... Today our population is 20.4 million and still growing at another million every four years. That’s where the water problem lies. Not with lack of water, but with the huge growth in the number of people who are demanding it.

What should we be doing about it? We should immediately stop growing our population. The only reason Australia should ever grow its population is to make life better for the people who are here now. A growing population is terrific if you are a property developer worth $300 million and are intent on becoming a property developer worth $500 million. But for the average person, water “shortages” are just one of the many signs of life getting WORSE with population growth.

Those who stand to benefit from population growth are investment bankers, real estate agents, property developers, and construction companies. They profit from building ever higher-density apartment blocks and the schools, roads, bridges, hospitals, sewerage systems, shopping malls and office complexes - and, of course, water supplies - needed to cater for ever-sprawling suburbs of new "McMansions".

They are the same people who give generously to support the re-election of the Howard Government and buy influence with the Opposition parties and the State Labor governments, in return for “nod-nod, wink-wink” agreement that Australia’s record high immigration intake will continue, and that pro-growth policies will prevail at state level.

Why immigration? Because, despite admonitions from the treasurer for Australians to patriotically have “one baby for your husband, one for your wife, and one for the country”, Australia’s natural increase is only adding 125,000 people a year to the population. While that is enough to keep the population growing for the next 15-20 years, it is not enough to sustain a really hot property market. So, population growth has to be turbo-charged for easy economic growth - developing properties is so much easier than coming up with clever new products, like Finland and its Nokia mobile phones.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 128,740 settlers arrived at our airports in 2005, 10 per cent more than in 2004 and the third year in a row of double-digit growth in arrivals. This number, however, greatly understates the true inflow. Under a dramatic change to immigration laws, foreign students at Australian universities can now settle here if they can organise a job after graduating. Figures for calendar 2005 are not yet available, but in the 12 months to June, 43,895 people living here were granted permanent residence. That number has been steadily rising, suggesting the number of new migrants last year was about 175,000, twice as many as in the early Howard years.

This blow-out has been one of the most successful two-card tricks ever played in Australian politics: because it talks tough and acts tough on boat people, the public is convinced that the Howard Government is tough on immigration, while in reality it has opened the floodgates to the highest continuous rates of immigration the country has ever seen ...

So what’s in population growth for the average Australian? Nothing, except higher house prices and rents, more congested roads and transport, more pollution and waste, more apartment blocks, more crowds everywhere, more pressure on our parks and nature reserves - AND, of course, less water per capita.

If you don’t believe me, check out the Productivity Commission’s report of January 17, 2006, which showed Australians’ per capita income would be only 0.06 per cent higher if we had 50 per cent higher skilled immigration over the next 20 years.

Not only would there be negligible economic gain, but the Productivity Commission said there would obviously be environmental costs ...

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