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

the emerging population debate « Previous | |Next »
July 21, 2010

If election campaigns are exercises in marketing then the frame of the marketing in which the content messages are then poured to persuade us to vote for a particular party are undercut by a haunting differance or the trace of the past.

Workchoices for the Coalition is an obvious example. It is a spectre--something that is gone, or dead, but that refuses to be altogether absent; something that is not here, not now, but that continues to stain or contaminate or affect or impinge upon the here and now. Workchoices creepily returns at the very heart of its supposed absence like a zombie arising from its grave:


Hauntology means that the present exists only with respect to the past, and that society after the end of history begin to orient itself towards the "ghost" of the past.The ghost in the sustainable population debate that has emerged from the focus groups is the Whitlam Government in the 1970s, with its emphasis on urban infrastructure and liveable cities.

I emphasis emerging from the focus groups because no way of tackling unliveable cities has been put on the table. There is noting about continual urban expansion into good farmland; nothing about better public transport; nothing about rolling back the car etc. All we have is soothing words

No doubt the idea of hauntology goes back 1848 when Marx and Engels stated “A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of Communism” in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, by which they meant the looming threat of communism.

Derrida in his Spectres of Marx addressed the talk of the "new world order" and the "the end of history" in the 1970s and the recurrence of the continual attempt to exorcise the "spirit" represented by Marxism. Neoliberalism cannot exorcise the spectre of Marxism, even as the “end of history” results in the definitive triumph of the market. Derrida, in this text, was trying to describe the conditions of history and society in a post-utopian era: In the post-communist period we are haunted by the lost sense of an imagined future.

In Australian public life Gough Whitlam is a haunting figure: revered, mourned, despised. It is a spectre. Steven Shapiro in The Pinocchio Theory says that a:

specter is something that is not present, not real, not there, but that nonetheless enters into (and disrupts the closure and self-presence of) whatever is present, real, and there. The ghost addresses us, interrogates us with its voice and its gaze; it’s a call from Otherness to which we must respond, even though we are unable to adequately respond.

In terms of the sustainable population/liveable cities debate that is emerging we are haunted by the ghost of Whitlam. The ghost of Whitlam signifies how the present is haunted (as it were) by the future, as well as how it is haunted by the past.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:04 AM | | Comments (32)


Adelaide keeps on expanding at its northern and southern ends. There is no sense of an urban boundary at all. The new outer suburbs have poor services -- they are all car dependent.

Melbourne is also expanding. I fear that Gillard's talk about 'sustainable population' is for the ears of western Sydney Its code for "I'm hearing what you are saying about the urban pressures from increased migration. I understand."

Sydney's infrastructure is poor --from years of neglect by the NSW Right, who now run federal Labor.

'... the lost sense of an imagined future ...'

That really accounts for the trivialisation of politics I think. There is no sense that life can get better than it is now, or even significantly different. It's a failure of imagination and courage. We hear endless whining about our problems but cynicism is the default response to any ideas for social change.

Alasdair MacIntyre wrote about the impact of managerialism on the human condition; how any sense of higher moral purpose or 'virtue' has been replaced by a universal faith in efficiency, productivity and economic growth as the benchmarks for human activity. No doubt the population discussion will be presented in the same frame: will it make us richer and more 'internationally competitive' or not? There will be little consideration of the implications for human happiness.

All the talk to restore the budget to surplus within three years--frugality is the new black --- means that there will be little money to invest in infrastructure to make out cities more liveable by reducing congestion and improving services.

In the absence of funded policies we could have some ideas. Are there any ideas being put on the table by any of the four major parties? Janet Albrechtsen in The Australian is right when she comments:

Elections are never a good time to get to know your leaders. Like the first stages of romance, they tend to whisper sweet nothings. For all the straight-talking appeal of Gillard, there are no real clues what the newest leader for Labor's social democratic project has in store for Australia.

All we are being offered in this election campaign is highly managed focus group slogans and spin---a lot of whispered sweet nothings for western Sydney and Queensland.

'frugaily is the new black' . The budget is in deficit and every sort of belt-tightening metaphor is needed to swing it back into surplus. New policies for the Coalition are more budget cuts, not new roads to nowhere filled with pork barrels.

Yet Australia's public debt, projected to peak at 6 per cent of gross domestic product, is low by international standards. The Reserve bank says so.

another example of the Coalition's 'lost sense of an imagined future'. They cannot imagine a greener world less reliant on fossil fuels.

The Prime Minister's ‘little Australia’ rhetoric actually implies its logical conclusion – a reduction in immigration --in western Sydney; not more investment in infrastructure and services. Infrastructure spending is reserved to remove bottlenecks for increased coal exports.

For me sustainable must link to the unemployment rate. The real rate that is. Everybody who works 30 plus hours per week is employed and those who work less are either unemployed or semi unemployed.
If a community cant give people enough working hours to sustain a reasonable standard of living there is no point.

"For me sustainable must link to the unemployment rate."

What about linking sustainable to not gutting the planet and overloading it with our rubbish?

But wait... that would mean doing something about our addiction to carbon fuels!! And that really ain't gonna sit well with all the working families of the western suburbs. Pity that!

I remain in awe of GST's capacity to pick a good cartoon.
In the Moir cartoon, we see Abbott fleeing in dismay from a virtual Pandora's box he's opened though his perverse unwillingness to kill No Choices off.
The Tory O/C complex re "labor discipline" is reflexive rather than considered; an unexpected, unwelcome surprise awaits, arising from the lack of self knowledge of the protagonist who tampers with that which is better left dead and buried.
Anticipating a similar result for the similarly opportunisitic exploitation of the asylum seeker issue, something else shameful that the Tories would also have been better off leaving be after 2007.


yes, good idea. Get working on that immediately. While your doing that I'll suggest things on local solutions.

My suggestion on a global solution would be to de-populate the earth to 1/2 of its present level.

Interesting plan Les.

But why de-populate the earth to 1/2 of its present level? That's a bit of overkill, yes? And just imagine the resources need to meet your goal...

Why not just eliminate the 10%-20% who are doing most of the damage to the environment?


Some countries like ours would not need 20% but other countries may need greater than 50%.

Which countries would you cull and by what percentage?

Your criteria is "damaging the environment" so China factors but would they factor as much if the world population was halved and required much less manufactured goods. Hmmm this requires some thinking I guess.

So you're fine with the whole "de-populate" thing?


Actually, I was more in favour of sensibly reducing the drain on the resources and impact on the environment.

But if you are sure that culling is the only answer, I won't haggle over the numbers.


Yes your solution is the sensible way to go obviously but lets be honest. Is it going to happen? Its all well and good to have targets serious facial expressions and eminent persons standing up in front of big powerpoint displays but.....has anything happened yet? will it happen on a large scale, large enough to make any difference? Probably not.
So de-population is the only way I am afraid.

Les do you really believe Australia can continue to live indefinitely with a bloated, self-indulgent, wasteful, materialist lifestyle while more and more millions of near neighbours struggle to meet the daily necessities of life?

If your answer is "Yes", I hope you are prepared for the huge increases in spending on defence and border protection that will be necessary.

So... at least we have the basis of a solution! Now there's just a few minor details to be sorted out...

Where to start?

Um... Oh well... I'm betting that the CO2 emissions and the resources consumed by the 2 million residents of Wuzhong city wouldn't come close to damage to the environment caused by Brisbane. So... Brissy gets the chop then?

Oh crikey! That's 10% of our population right there!


Mark Latham says that the ALP's recently discovered sustainable population is a fraud:

I think that some smartie in the Labor Party has worked out that this could perhaps help save four seats in western Sydney and it can be used as a proxy in the climate change debate. It's clever politics but it's a fraud of the worst order... ''If Gillard wants to have a population debate and policy, it needs by definition to be an immigration debate and an immigration reduction.

Immigration is going to continue because of the need for skilled labor by business.

Julia Gillard rejects the idea that a sustainable Australia is about reducing immigration. She says:

I don't believe that this is an immigration debate … I believe it is a debate about planning and policy choices'. It is about ''where we want to see growth, where there are jobs, where there's opportunity, about how we deal with issues like water shortages, like the quality of our soils....Let's get it all right, get the training policies right, the health, the infrastructure, education services right. Let's have skilled migrants go where we need them and let the aim of all this be sustainability and making our life better not harder.

So where are the policies? Where is the investment in expensive infrastructure? Where is the urban planning? There's nothing. So what are we meant to be debating?

All that is being offered is that, if Labor is returned to government, then the Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, will be releasing a strategy paper later this year for sustainable population growth.

The squeeze in the capital cities--population pressure, housing, congestion etc--is the result of bad urban planning and investment in the past.

So where are the ideas about how to address this? The Coalition just wants to cut immigration and stop the boat people. And Labor?

If I remember right... over two-thirds of our popn growth is accounted for by birth-minus-deaths. Maybe Tony's celibacy policy has some merit after all...

Mark Latham's interview with David Speers on Agenda at Sky News is now online.

You are mixing up what I am saying with what is in your head.
Listen to what I am saying....ready,here I go.....The world is over populated.

The way to start would be to stop people breeding in over populated areas.

Back to the Moir cartoon.
Anyone notice an uncanny resemblance between Moir's ghost and Bernie Banton?
As for the population explosion, who remembers the bright idea of Bush to end medical aid to third world countries running family planning programs.

That would be because the people in those over populated areas are producing too much CO2 and consuming most of the world's resources. Right?


Everyone knows the points you and others are making. Perhaps you should hop on a plane to china and tell them. Try yelling. STOP! Your being naughty! I am sure it will work. Then go to all the other countries.

But really. No-one is really acting on climate change are they. Its all just words.
What we need is a really good virus to cull the population but we will need to adopt the War of the worlds tactics and get some serious mulching done to prevent further problems.

Les... It seems that not EVERYONE knows the points I'm making.

I suggest YOU hop on a plane to Brissy and tell THEM. Try yelling. STOP! Your being naughty! Before we go to all the other countries.


The climate change issue itself has become a business. I suspect they wont listen.

In the AFR on Friday, Laura Tingle observes:

What an irony. Julia Gillard----shiny new Prime Minister---has allowed herself to be talked into a campaign designed to rescue western Sydney seats that are suffering a alack of infrastructure caused by the very people now running her campaign strategy.....Plenty of people have noticed this week that Gillard's vacuous "sustainable population' policy:" looks nothing more than a jumped up big dog whistle whistle on immigration dressed up in the clothes of economic respectability.

The political code is "fuck off we are full."

Mark Latham in Labor's Fatal Flaws in Friday's AFR 'Review' says that the 24media cycle means that Gillard

cannot risk the electoral consequences of unpopular decisions for fear of losing her job, hacked down by the same factional bosses who moved ion Rudd.Labor in government has become a party of institutionalised public policy inertia. It is suffering the worst affliction any left-of-centre party can experience: it has lost the will to g fight.

Gillard's new friends on the Right are fair-weather friends. The Labor party has fallen under the control of the apparatchiks, men more committed to the the acquisition of power and social status than the radical reform of economic and social relations.

As much as I detested the policies of John Winston Howard... at least he had the balls to (occasionally) make a stand for something substantial.

"At least he had the balls to make a stand...". Mars, even one example and I'll donate a free, one-way ticket to Heard Island for you?
The last two, from GST and the even more prolific annon, make sense when placed within the context of globalisation, which aims at encircling, isolating and disempowering of locales and communities for their resources, ensuring the imperatives of big business.

WorkChoices ...GST ...Gun laws ...Iraq war

These were NOT "small target" decisions. But the slimy little grub pushed on regardless.