Treating symptoms no help to Australia

This is not a joke. A patient comes to the doctor and says: “Doc, I have put on quite a bit of weight. I cannot fit into my clothes. I cannot fit into the office chair. And my blood pressure is right up so I suppose my arteries are clogged.”

“Well,” says the doctor. “We will have to get those arteries unclogged even if it costs a lot of money. And you must buy a new chair so you are comfortable at work. And you can buy new bigger clothes so they fit your new size. Other than that you can keep eating the same or more. We need not worry about how many calories you bring into your body.”

It sounds bizarre. What doctor would advise expensive “treatment” of symptoms and say nothing about the underlying cause of the patient getting bigger and bigger to the detriment of the patient’s well-being?

Well a similar thing is happening with the size of Australia. We are getting far too big and instead of trimming the intake, the government and all of the vested interests say we must just build more infrastructure.

This week, Infrastructure Australia published its Audit and found that “road congestion and public transport crowding cost the Australian economy $19 billion in 2016. Without continued investment in our cities, this will double by 2031 to reach close to $40 billion.

“This impacts quality of life, as well as our economic productivity and competitiveness as a nation. . . .

“More than $123 billion of construction work has commenced since 2015, with a committed forward pipeline of over $200 billion. However, there is much more to do to ease the pressures of growth. . . . 

“Infrastructure in our four largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth – is failing to keep pace with rapid population growth, particularly on the urban fringe. With our population projected to grow by 24% to reach 31.4 million by 2034, our largest cities are expected to see pressure on access to infrastructure.”

It sounds like the Australian patient is choking to death and the arteries cannot keep up, but the doctor refuses to prescribe a lower intake. The elephant in the room is ignored.

Infrastructure Australia just assumes the high population growth – now at 435,000 a year – has to happen and that there is nothing we can do about it.

But we can. John Howard could have just as easily have said, “We decide how many people come to Australia and when they can come.”

But no. He pretended to be securing the borders by clamping down on people smuggling by boat while quietly ramping immigration through airports from around 70,000 to now more than 200,000 a year.

Small wonder Infrastructure Australia says we cannot keep up. It says we have “a mounting maintenance backlog”.

Howard confirmed his subterfuge this week telling the BBC, “My experience as almost 12 years as prime minister was that whenever the Australian population thought that immigration was being controlled and properly monitored they supported high immigration.”

They may have “thought” immigration was under control, but it was not. It was out of control and running way too high at the behest of those who profit from it: property developers; big retail and big agriculture.

Meanwhile everyone else suffers. Wages in Australia have stagnated since the Howard ramp-up of immigration and the costs people cannot escape have spiralled: health, education, energy.

We now have “per capita” recession in Australia. That is, on average people’s incomes are contracting. And that is average. Given the top end is doing much better it means those in the middle and bottom are really being squeezed.

We have an illusion of decades of notional economic growth because we have a lot more people producing things. But they are consuming it as well and demanding more infrastructure and government services, so the absolute growth in GDP may give the government a proud boast, but it is an empty one because most people are becoming worse off.

They are also being squeezed by the contraction in public-sector spending on the middle and lower incomes for two main reasons: disproportionate tax cuts for the well off and a massive diversion of resources to pay for the infrastructure required by all those immigrants.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese called this week for a mature debate about population. Good, even if corporate Australia will take no notice. Hitherto anyone calling for lower immigration has been branded racist. The answer to that is that the immigration burden cripples all but the top end in Australia whether they are black, brown, yellow or white.

Moreover, the top end which benefits from high immigration has a much larger portion of white males in it than the rest of Australia. 

The big corporations and their shareholders are dominated by wealthy white males. So you might well argue that the high immigration that favours them and helps keep them in a position of privilege perpetuates racism while hitting hard everyone else – including almost all recent immigrants from non-English-speaking countries – as they struggle to find and pay for health, education, transport and energy.

Yet there is not even the hint of a suggestion by Infrastructure Australia that its expensive Infrastructure prescription could be easily avoided and the lives of Australians made better if we cut population growth.

Decentralisation is offered as a solution. It is not. The Murray-Darling Basin has been starved of water by big agriculture and corrupt practices. 

The main reason average Australians feel worse off is because of the high population growth in the past two decades. Immigration should be drastically cut before the anger at the economic squeeze is manipulated to be misdirected at ethnic, cultural or religious differences.

Before that cut will happen, though, we have to ban what underpins high population policies – corporate political donations.


This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media sites on 17 August 2019.

If you want free speech get a Bill of Rights

You can almost hear the exasperation in the words of the High judges last week. They wrote: “As has been emphasised by this Court repeatedly . . . . the implied freedom of political communication [in the Australian Constitution] is not a personal right of free speech.”

In blunter language they may as well have said:: “Get it through your thick skulls. There is no freedom of speech in Australia. Stop watching American movies.”

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States stepping up where Feds fail

Australia so often follows the US – whether stupidly into war or in other good ways. It is happening again in the wake of both nations’ Federal Governments determination to do nothing about the climate crisis and the development and take-up of autonomous and electric vehicles to bust congestion and pollution in our cities and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

In both countries states and cities are giving up on the Feds and taking their own actions. And the private sector, too, is joining the fray. In their way, individuals will follow.

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Tenants copping energy neglect

The energy efficiency ratings in Canberra’s rental market are appalling, according to a survey published this week, and it is almost certainly mirrored everywhere else in Australia.

Some enforcement on recycling bins would help.

It means renters are paying more for energy, particularly electricity, and more carbon is unnecessarily belching into the atmosphere. The reasons are fairly obvious; the remedy less so.

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The private health death spiral

The Grattan Institute asked a pertinent question this week: why do we subsidise private health insurance? It offered a couple of sound policy suggestions, but they completely missed the political mark.

Coalition Governments have offered incentives for people to take out private insurance and penalties if they do not.

But it is foolish to imagine that in creating these policy mixes, the Fraser and Howard Governments were interested in the greatest good for the greatest number or the most equitable and efficient health system achievable.

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Privilege overrides health policy

The Grattan Institute asked a pertinent question this week: why do we subsidise private health insurance? It offered a couple of sound poliy suggestions, but they completely missed the political mark.

Coalition Governments have offered incentives for people to take out private insurance and penalties if they do not.

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Defence: the appalling US corollary

The defence commentary that bloomed in the wake of the publication of Hugh White’s “How to Defend Australia” has largely failed to mention the appalling corollary to White’s wise assertion that Australia has to prepare itself for the possibility that the US would not come to Australia’s defence if attacked from without.

The corollary is, of course, the question as to why, over the past decades, have we sucked up to the US, done all its bidding, and entered wars at its behest that really had nothing to do with us? Why did we expend so much blood and treasure when, now, at the critical juncture of the rise of an aggressive China we will not be able to expect the help we have relied upon from the US these past 75 years.

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Why manus and Nauru will not be closed

Immigration is now a win-win for wealthy elites and the Coalition. The election has shown that not only does high immigration provide cheap labour and new consumers for big business it also provides the resentment that bolsters One Nation’s vote which dribbles through to the Coalition on preferences.

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Speech and the balance of intimidation

Many Australians have the misguided idea that we have freedom of speech in Australia. They have been watching too many American movies.

The recent plea by leading media figures and others for greater freedom of expression; Israel Folau’s fight against his employer’s restriction on his speech and the latest of a string of court defamation rulings once again reinstating the speech restrictions of Victorian England just simply would not be necessary or not happen in the US. 

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Look out Australia, military disruption on way

Concern is growing that the US military budget is being squandered on merely improving the small numbers of large, expensive, heavily manned, and hard-to-replace systems and not looking at disruptive military technology of swarms of intelligent easily replaceable often autonomous machines. Australia seems to be going the same way.

Australia will spend $200 billion in the next decade, mainly on new submarines, frigates and jet fighters – just a few hundred of them. Each would be very expensive to replace yet will become very vulnerable to emerging technologies which by comparison will be quite cheap – in the millions rather than billions of dollars – expendable, and numerous.

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