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Population growth and the MDG's.

Population growth and the Millenium Development Goals. Canberra, Australia. March 14-15, 2008.

Clive Hamilton

Comforting stories about endless growth

After-dinner speech to the conference of Sustainable Population Australia University House, Australian National University, 14 March 2008.

Clive Hamilton recently resigned as executive director of The Australia Institute, the think tank he founded 14 years previously. He is now an author and commentator. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Regulatory Institutions Network at ANU. Clive has published on a wide range of subjects but is best known for his books, a number of which have been best-sellers. They include Growth Fetish, Affluenza, Silencing Dissent and Scorcher: The dirty politics of climate change.. Clive Hamilton web site

Which Australian politician said this?

“If Australia continues to grow at 4 per cent per annum for the next 20 years my kids are going to be nominally twice as wealthy as they are now, but I know they are not going to be twice as happy. One of the questions that is not put in the political process by either side of politics, let alone answered is: Towards what arewe striving to grow?”

This observation – so resonant of Robert F. Kennedy’s famous speech in which he said GNP “measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning;neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile ” – was made by none other than Brendan Nelson, now the leader of the Opposition but then a back-bencher.

Dr Nelson was posing the most fundamental challenge there is to the whole basis of politics in Australia. Yet I’d be surprised if he made a similar comment now. Once they achieve positions of influence, those who doubt the benefits of continued growth, including population growth, become mute.

Who remembers the strong views Nick Minchin used to express on the need to stabilize out population? To give him credit, in 1999 as Minister for Science and Technology he launched a book by Doug Cocks that pointed to the ecological dangers of rapid population growth, saying:

“We need to consider, today, the consequences of continuing our relatively rapid population growth. Do we want the mega-cities which could be the consequence of a large-scale immigration program? What will our grandchildren inherit of our natural environment?”

Minchin was in a small minority in cabinet. For many years Peter Costello delivered budget speeches in which he said we must increase productivity to get the economy to grow faster, and introducing measures designed to get people to work more.

High income earners were given tax cuts because high tax rates were thought todiscourage them from working harder, and people outside the labour market were offered carrots or beaten with sticks to get them to do their patriotic duty.