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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the population debate « Previous | |Next »
January 30, 2010

The 7.30 Report on the ABC has been running a series on the population population debate last week. This series steps beyond the political rhetoric of a greater Australia to:

take a look at how an increased population is likely to reshape Australia, where it will be accommodated, how government will cope with the pressures on all those fundamentals like jobs, transport, housing, food, energy and water, health and education, and how we're going to maintain social cohesion through the next wave of immigration.

Living in Adelaide, which is slowly becoming hotter and drier, makes me very aware that water is a key issue. Water isn't getting any more plentiful. It's not just our lakes, rivers and wetlands that will be effected. Australia's cheap coal-fired power generators, for instance, will be hard-hit by water shortages as they driven by steam and cooled by water. 20 per cent of our water supply goes to cool coal-fired power plants to produce electricity. So if you want to save water, make the shift to renewable energy.

Secondly, a region's population and economic growth is limited by water-- a strong possibility for the south-east corner of Queensland and Canberra. So how do you ensure our cities are running sustainably? Water recycling from the shower, the bath and the laundry for households; storm water retention and recycling for cities; recycling treated sewerage for businesses and landscapes.

Water is a symptom of the sustainability issue. Sustainability means sustainable cities since, as Brendan Gleeson pointed out, Australia is a nation of cities and suburbs. Tim Flannery, in the same forum, observes:

Every time I fly into Melbourne, I see those suburbs just expanding out into the countryside. And they've all got lovely green lawns, those houses, all of their swimming pools are full. You look over the other side to the farmland, the grass is dead, the farm damns are empty and you can see what's happening, that this unsustainable model is just growing and growing and growing in the cities and we're not doing the job that we need to do in terms of constraining it.

Gleeson says that we haven't been very good at recognising that our cities are a central feature of our national life.
But I think it's important that we put cities and their health or otherwise at the centre of this discussion, because the large majority of the population growth is gonna occur in our cities, so how well are they faring? How well are they suited to providing the base for another surge in population growth?

His answer is that if you look at our cities in terms of water, energy, transport, we've reached some really critical thresholds in our cities where we've got some serious dysfunction. He adds:
I think the biggest problem that we have is a governance deficit for cities. .... And for a variety of reasons, the state governments have not proved to be adept managers of our metropolitan areas. And we can go into a whole lot of incidences where they have mismanaged, in my view, our cities. The record of that management of the cities has been a very episodic and in many ways amateurish one.

Bernard Salt points out that our cities work at the moment where you can commute from the city edge to the city centre, where petrol is $1.25 a litre. At some point over the next 10 years, 20 years, 30 years that might be $5 a litre and the entire CBD-suburban industrial model breaks down.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:19 PM | | Comments (8)


This is Kevin Rudd speaking on the 7.30 Report on the water issue for Adelaide:

And on the urban water needs of Adelaide, the investment we've made with Mike Rann's Government increases, I seem to recall, by 50 per cent, the water generation, which will come out of the desalination plant under construction there and be a huge contributor to Adelaide's overall water security supplies. It's the set of these things which makes a difference, rather than just saying, "Not my problem."

Desal plants solve everything. No mention of desal plants being powered by electricity produced by coal fired stations!

yeah Rudd downplays the interconnections re sustainable cities in a heated up world. Another illustration of both state and commonwealth politicians being pretty bad on sustainability issues. A bigger Australia for them is a bigger economy and more economic growth. The main negative for them is an ageing population that is a burden (drag) on economic growth and whether a relatively shrinking workforce will be productive enough to pay for them.

Yes, Australia is constrained by its water supply. the Murray Darling Basin is Australia's foodbowl producing 42% of our food principally because through irrigation schemes over the last 100 years.

In Victoria, Kenneth Davidson has been waging an investigative journalist war on Public Private Partnerships and the way proposals are costs. Get a cost estimate and treble it, get permission to proceed and then permit overrun double.

In one instance, the proposal to recycle cleaned sewerage the costs to build a pipeline have been inflated so high that the proposal to use the treated sewerage from Carrum Downs to cool the coal fired electricity power instead of fresh water has not been persued. The proposed pipeline is maybe 80km and Melbourne already gets its drinking water from dams 200km away. The upshot of this improperly costed project is the desalination plant which will be collecting seawater that has just had treated sewerage added to it is viable.

I am concerned that the official statistics that under quote the unemployment rate are skewing the debate. If we believe that only 5% of the workforce are unemployed then you can blame the individual but when the unemployment rate is 30% then clearly there is a systemic problem. If the unemployment rate is more like 15% to 25% then do we need to import workers or should we be engaged in serious job creation policies.

There is no doubt that an increase in migration leads to a fall in the standard of living for most people. A few years ago the Sydney Morning Herald released a report that said that it took 21 minutes longer to commute to work and you had to work for an additional 41 minutes a week to maintain your standard of living.

When Tim Flannery appeared to be making the most telling arguements, Bernard Salt, a partner in KPMG chipped in with we have to share with our neighbours in Asia. Very emotive motherhood statement that swept away the arguements about finite resources capping our population.

There is also no doubt that fuel prices will increase and this will make the commute from the outer suburbs very expensive.

Work colleagues started preparing their retirement houses for an energy constrained future about a decade ago by improving insulation, ventilation and adopting solar.

In Victoria the Ministry of Housing has not developed any low income housing stock since the 1970s. It has sold off its well located stock and public housing clients are forced to live in regional towns which entrenches intergenerational poverty. The Ministry of Housing has abdicated the provision of redeveloping Melbourne to private investors who build expensive housing that is often such poor quality it is considered 'slums of the future'.

We have lived through 2 decades of public debate that questioned the efficiency and probity of our public servants. Politicians rely on "consultants" to provide frank and fearless advice but as Ross Gittins says these fellas, like KPMG, are in business to get more business so they write reports the politicians want to see and recommend that engagement of yet more consultants. After all your KPMG consultant may have skills you retrenched, they look business-like in their suits, and the consultants is paid a third of the hourly rate the client is charged. [NOTE to public servants - look smart to maintain or build your credibility]

Nan the desal plant might not be a problem if a solar panel farm was built to power the desal plant after all a desal plant doesn't need to operate 24 hours a day. however the solar farm in Mildura is struggling not to go broke because coal generated power is exempt from carbon tax and despite the government subsidies to the coal industry there are no subsidies or regulations promting solar industry

Tony Abbot was in Adelaide today giving a speech to the Young Liberal Convention in Adelaide in Adelaide. The theme of the Convention is the 20th century one of 'The Culture Wars & Political Correctness: How to win the hearts and minds of Australians.'

In his speech Abbott---looking ever more like Captain Catholic after his recent female virginity remarks--- says that we need to adapt to changing rainfall patterns. And that is it. I would add that changing rainfall in the context of Adelaide means declining rainfall and hotter temperatures.

Abbott says nothing about how Adelaide as a city can adapt to reduced rainfall and hotter temperatures. Does it become more sustainable? If so what does that mean? Nothing was offered. Abbott is traveling policy lite.

At his doorstop he said he would hold a referendum to gain national control of the Murray-Darling Basin. That is not the same as how can the city of Adelaide adapt to reduced rainfall patterns and hotter temperatures.

The future for Adelaide and Melbourne and Perth has not yet be envisaged. I have been told that Australia copy the way Israel uses water, 2 minute showers, don't wash dishes under running water.
Melbourne has to adapt to an annual rainfall of 20 inches per annum instead of 30 inches.

We need to put powerlines underground, build dwellings that are well ventilated, shaded from hot summer sun, lose the attitude that street trees are the enemy, build low and medium cost housing close to public transport. This will involve compulsory acquisition and redevelopment of large blocks of houses so the development site is about 5 acres.

No I wouldn't like Tony's mates to control the Murray Darling Basin, they would sell the water to the highest bidder and we would see more vines removed for Tasmainian Blue Gum Timbercorp or Great Southern plantations

Gary, ran a poll that was related to some of Abbott's speak. The results on their home page are humorous.

Heather Ridout was the only one who seemed to think government of any level would do what needs to be done. The others all suggested, one way or another, that change would be driven by horrible consequences of our unsustainable energy and water use.

Brendan Gleeson also pointed out that large numbers of immigrants settling in sydney and Melbourne is not good for social cohesion. I tend to agree.