Overloading Canada


This bulletin contains a shortened review of the book “Overloading Australia” which was written by Australian writer, scholar and environmentalist Mark O'Connor and Australian environmentalist William Lines.

Readers will soon note that the criticisms of the Australian high immigration lobby can be directed at the equivalent lobby in Canada.

The obvious strong similarity between Australia and Canada is that both have a large land base, but that both have hostile climates in much of their land base and limited resources. As a result, both can support only a small population—-contrary to the wild projections made by the high immigration lobby in both countries which thinks that if a country has a large land mass, it can support a large number of people.

The Science Council of Canada, consisting of Canada's most eminent scientists, made a similar point about land mass and population in 1976 when it advocated strong conservation measures, restrictions on immigration and population stabilization for Canada.


Review of Mark O'Connor and William Lines' Book, Overloading Australia

By Katharine Betts,
Associate Professor Of Sociology
Swinburn University of Technology
Melbourne, Australia
People and Place, vol. 17, no. 1, page 76

Australias population is growing rapidly. In March 2009 it stood at 21.6 million. The current Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, takes it for granted that it will grow to 35 million by 2051. In 1999 when Philip Ruddock was Minister for Immigration, he told Australians that there was no need for a population policy because we were unlikely to grow much beyond 23 million. He added that the nation cannot afford to return to [an immigration] program characterised by big numbers and little thought. Nonetheless the current growth surge, keenly embraced by the new Labor Government, began quietly under the Coalition soon after Ruddocks 1999 statement.

Much of Australias growth is directly due to immigration (nearly 60 per cent in 200708) and much of the growth from natural increase is attributable to the Australia-born children of immigrants. For example, in 2007, 25 per cent of all births were to overseas-born mothers.

For those with their eyes open, population growth and the immigration that fuels it are never out of the news. There is the unaffordable housing that drives young families into debt slavery. There is strained infrastructure leading to blackouts, cancelled train services, and traffic congestion— draining energy from the economy and from human lives. There are hospitals that can no longer care for the people they serve; water supplies that dwindle as drought and growth desiccate cities and stretch the capacity of farms; pleasant suburbs degraded by intensive redevelopment; greenhouse gases that refuse to abate; and a natural environment wilting under the burden of numbers.

But while stories of water shortages and degraded infrastructure abound, few of the public figures who comment on them acknowledge the role of population growth in creating these problems and making them harder to overcome. Here, Mark OConnor and William Lines have done us an important service; they have joined the dots between these social and environmental ills and our rapid growth.

From the picture they create, a reader could, at first, believe that Australias pattern of growth was promising. It is mainly due to government immigration policy, so shouldnt it be relatively easy to rein it in? Besides, immigration is not popular; support for the post-2000 increase is minimal among both the Australia-born and migrants themselves. But as OConnor and Lines make clear, immigration in fact makes it harder to halt growth because the businesses that profit from it and lobby for it—and property developers with deep pockets—appear to have bought the favour of some of the politicians who create it.

High migration means more customers, cheaper labour, and minimal training costs. All of these boons intensify pressures from self-interested groups to keep the numbers coming. As OConnor and Lines put it: It is no surprise that the housing industry lobbies not for the size of (a) housing industry that Australias population needs, but for the size of Australias population that the industry needs. The concentrated benefits enjoyed by special interests (on the right of the political spectrum) trump the unorganised interests of the majority who bear the costs.

At the same time many opinion makers on the left are quick to decry criticism of immigration-fuelled growth as scapegoating immigrants, even as racism. As if this were not enough, business interests fund academic research into demography and immigration, naturally channeling their money towards those likely to produce results friendly to growth. This is a chilling circumstance at a time when universities are starved of money and academics are under crushing pressure to bring in research grants. Other sources of research funds include state and federal government departments, most of which are committed to the growth targets set by politicians. Researchers who might otherwise point to the costs of growth are unlikely to win such grants; they also risk the disapproval of their left-liberal peers.

The authors point out that the lefts fixation on seeing criticism of immigration-fuelled growth as racism is a good cloak for elitism the people must not be given power because their views are barbaric. Thus, even though high migration is unpopular, a pro-growth right and a left that is anti-anti-growth mean that voters are unorganised and voiceless.

The authors marvel at the way in which the motives of the occasional reformer who questions growth are earnestly probed while no one examines the (those of the) growth lobby as it enjoys the handsome profits brought to them by each plane load of new consumers. OConnor and Lines assert that left-wing xenophobia hunters are not interested in old fashioned rent seekers despoiling the community for their own advantage; they prefer to enjoy the comforts of their moral superiority.

Why must OConnor and Lines be the ones to point to the damage done to Australia by this blend of greed and snobbery? Why have the media failed to show it to us? Here the authors have a telling vignette about Ian Lowe, a distinguished scientist who takes population seriously. He is also president of the Australian Conservation Foundation and a frequent media commentator. OConnor asked him why he so seldom spoke out about population. Lowe replied that he often did but that when he did, he was ignored. He also told OConnor how he was sacked as a columnist from one paper for insisting on it. He [Lowe] found that the most biased media were the grossly pro-growthist Murdoch papers.

Media silence on the question is not always an accidental byproduct of pleasing pro-growth advertisers while deferring to the sensibilities of the intelligentsia. It can be deliberate. OConnor and Lines argue that just as other vendors to the domestic market have a product to sell, so too do the commercial media; it is always easier to sell to a growing market rather than to compete for market share, or indeed to export. The commercial media have their own vested interests in growth. While the ABC should be immune from these interests, it is more likely to be infected with the racism virus, the infection that makes its host see any scepticism about growth as racism in disguise. Nonetheless, perhaps because it does not profit from growth, the ABC has proved more receptive to Overloading Australia than have other media outlets.

Both authors are accomplished writers and the book is brief and clear; so far it has achieved a fair degree of media coverage. It was launched in February 2009 by Bob Carr, former premier of New South Wales, and a rarity among Australian premiers in that he is a critic of growth. At the launch Carr said: There is hardly any significant process at State or Federal level today that is allowed to proceed without an environmental impact statement except the pushing up of population.

OConnors account of the launch goes on to report how Carr spoke of his frustration, when he was Premier, at having a vastly increased Sydney population forced upon him by decisions made in Canberra. He was then in the invidious situation of having to destroy amenities and allow developers to invade protected areas. As he put it, people dont want Sydney to be crowded and built up, but they also dont want it to expand into places like Kuringai Chase and Botany Bay; yet one of those two things has to happen if a million extra people are put into Sydney.

Some of the media reports have been neutral or even favourable. For example, OConnor was invited to write an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald,24 and the Adelaide Advertiser. He was also interviewed on the ABC Radio National station on Counterpoint, Breakfast and Late Night Live. But press coverage has been more ambivalent and its tenor bears out the authors analysis.

A former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, said that the extent to which population influenced environmental policy depended on how selfish Australians wanted to be and that some people citing environmental reasons for reduced migration were simply opposed to immigration. Charles Berger, in a generally sympathetic piece in The Canberra Times, wrote that: Overloading Australia has sparked another round of debate about Australias population. Some commentators have been quick to detect a murky agenda of xenophobia hovering behind a green cloak in the population debate.

But OConnor and Lines do not advocate an end to immigration, just a balanced intake which would still leave room for refugees. This is a humanitarian position; they write that deliberately pushing up our own population cannot be justified on environmental grounds. It could only be justified on international humanitarian grounds if we could believe that it would leave us, somehow, very much more able and more willing to help our neighbours. They also point to the immorality of Australia continuing to pirate doctors and other health workers from poor countries to compensate for our own reluctance to invest in local training. Xenophobia hunters, however, are more interested in displaying their self-righteousness than in understanding and debating an opposing point of view.

How can serious advocates of a moral and sustainable position on population growth cut through in such a climate? One way is to write the kind of book that OConnor and Lines have written, well researched, cogent and readable. Another is to put forward a shocking policy proposal.

This concerns both sacrifice and exploitation. We can see its outlines in debate about the Rudd Governments proposed emissions trading scheme. This will cap Australias overall greenhouse gas emissions through the sale of permits to industry, but it will also set a floor under which emissions are unlikely to fall. As community awareness of this has spread, many householders are dismayed; their individual sacrifices to lower emissions are not only going to count for nothing, they will actively help polluters to pollute. Private spending on solar panels, solar hot water, and on low-emission cars will do nothing to reduce greenhouse gases; it will just enable dirty industries to emit more. But the same can be said of many sacrifices that individual Australians make for the environment; they are all nullified by the extra people brought in to pander to the growth lobby.

Here OConnor and Lines put forward their suggestion. Instead of washing up only once a day and letting the garden die, we should all waste water. Saving water just makes it easier for growthists to increase the population. (They do say that would never suggest that we waste a non-renewable resource.) But why struggle to cut your shower to less than two minutes when the Government is bringing in more than 200,000 extra people a year?

The answer? Take a deep bath and bring the crisis to a head. And while you are enjoying your bath you could read this excellent book.