Dick Smith's million dollars for the planet
Reporter: Bryan Seymour
Broadcast Date: August 05, 2010
You may have noticed how quick Julia Gillard was to back-track on Kevin Rudd's 'Big Australia' vision. The Prime Minister now promotes the idea of a 'sustainable Australia'. But what is sustainable?
Businessman Dick Smith has a few ideas but wants more, and is prepared to pay $1 million to anyone who can come up with the answers.
“It's incredible because I've done very well out of Australia but I see terrible problems coming for future generations,” Smith said.
“This is the most important thing I've ever done in my life.”
“I need a Ghandi, I need a Churchill, someone who's going to be a real leader, not go on like our pathetic politicians at the moment do.”
“We double our population every 30 years that means we're going to have over 100 million at the end of the century when our grandchildren will be alive. It's utterly ridiculous.”
Mr Smith has made a documentary on population due to air on television next Thursday.
He's also created the Wilberforce award, named after the British politician, William Wilberforce, who campaigned against slavery 200 years ago. So how do those interested make an application for their chance at $1 million?
“How do you apply, well in fact there is no application form. What I am looking for is a young person who has got enough get up and to go out and start communicating around the world the fact that we have to have prosperity without growth. I want young people to go on the internet, Youtube, Myspace, Facebook whatever you call it, twittering, blogs, maybe start a Wilberforce political party or even a new religion,” Smith said.
“What we've got to do is bring immigration down from about 280,000 a year to about 70,000. That's still very high per capita by world standards but its the best way to go.”
“Even though all of my wealthy mates, people like John Singleton, say 'Oh Dick we can keep growing, we can make more money', when I say to them 'But what happens when we have a billion people in Australia or ten billion', they all admit, 'Oh yes Dick, one day we have to stop growing',” Smith said.
“I suddenly realised, especially having grandchildren, I only hope they are not going to say in 50 or 60 years time look that Dick Smith was supposed to be a person of influence, why didn't he do anything.”
Mr Smith's plan is not without it's critics. One of those is advertising legend and long-time friend, John Singleton.
“I just think its a tragedy that someone of Dick Smith's stature should sink to this, unintentionally I believe, but still, sink to this,” Singleton said.
“I bet there's that many conditions apply, if I know Dick, no-one's gunna get the million dollars there'll be so many conditions I wouldn't bother entering.”
“I think its just another Dick Smith publicity stunt and unlike most of 'em, which I find funny, I find this really dangerous.”
“Dick's a terrific bloke, he's done some wonderful things but he's a shameless self-promoter, normally with something to gain. In this case I think he's suffering from relevance deprivation and he just wants to be popular.”
Singleton does agree however, that our cities are bursting at the seems.
“All our major cities are backward, there's no foresight about. There's just poll-driven politics that show it's popular to hate refugees, it's popular to hate immigration, so everyone is in a race to the gutter,” Singleton said.
Tony Burke, the federal Minister for Sustainable Population, believes our population growth needs to be slowed.
“We do need to take a breath, we do need to be able to slow down in many parts of Australia and that's why Julia Gillard decided that the proper title of my job ought to be 'sustainable population' because that's what we need to drive for,” Burke said.
Mr Smith is not convinced the current government is willing to go far enough.
“I don't think there is any commitment from this government or politicians of this age to do anything, I believe its going to be a new generation of young politicians,” Smith said.
The national press club today hosted a debate on population. A year after our first story on the population problem first aired, it seems the entire population is talking about it.
“Seventy to 90 per cent of people watching are against immigration, against population growth, therefore if I was running for office I'd get no votes and Dick would get 90 per cent. But unpopular issues have to be taken on for moral grounds,” Singleton said.
“He just wants to be Australian of the year again, at the cost of how many lives and how many opportunities is irrelevant to Dick and I don't think he means that, I just think that's the end result of what he's doing.”
Dick Smith's Population Puzzle will air on Thursday, August 12 on the ABC.
For more info on the Wilberforce award visit www.DickSmithpopulation.com.au