Thursday, 13 May 2010
Independent National Inquiry on Population
- That the Senate—
- notes that:
- global population is expected to grow from 6.8 billion people now to 9.2 billion in 2050,
- Australia’s population size and capacity to sustain population growth at the current rate is an issue of national significance that requires a national population policy and strategic plan as a matter of urgency,
- as a wealthy nation, Australia is disproportionately able to influence and slow global population growth, and
- there is growing public debate about the question of population size; and
- calls on the Prime Minister (Mr Rudd) to establish an independent national inquiry into Australia’s population to 2050, which is to report by 1 July 2011.
- That, in establishing the inquiry:
- the chair and panel of the inquiry be appointed with cross party support to ensure independence;
- sufficient funds are allocated to ensure that the inquiry holds public hearings in all capital cities and major regional centres across Australia; and
- the terms of reference for the inquiry include:
- the impact on Australia of the growing global population and how best Australia may affect it,
- the development of a plan for a population that can be best supported in Australia within and then beyond the next 40 years, taking into account technology options, infrastructure, patterns of resource use and quality of life considerations,
- the environmental, social and economic sustainability of Australia’s population in the short-, medium- and long-term,
- the value of a whole-of-government approach to population incorporating consideration of immigration and family policies,
- making recommendations of national policy options in relation to population including, taking into account regional and local perspectives, and
- any related matters.
The government is committed to developing a population strategy that considers pressures on infrastructure, services and the environment. It is also an opportunity to look at managing the pressures of an ageing population by providing the skills and innovation needed to underpin continued economic growth.
It is important that sustainable growth improve our standard of living and preserve our unique environment. To help guide the development of future policies, the Prime Minister announced on 3 April 2010 the appointment of the Hon. Tony Burke MP to the new office of Minister for Population in the Treasury portfolio. Minister Burke’s initial task will be to develop Australia’s first comprehensive population strategy over the next 12 months. The strategy will consider the social and economic infrastructure Australia will need to support a growing population, including the roads, housing and service delivery network. As an early priority it will also consider maximising opportunities for the Australian people. This inquiry proposed by Senator Brown will duplicate this important body of work that the government is committed to delivering.
On behalf of the coalition, I indicate that we will oppose this notice of motion. It is not because we disagree with its intent; indeed, many of the clauses that are contained in this notice of motion are consistent with the coalition’s population policy, which has been detailed and released. I would note that we are the only mainstream party that has a comprehensive population policy in place ahead of the next election.
Our objection to this is that it presupposes that Australia has an ability to influence and slow global population growth which, quite frankly, beggars belief at a most reasonable level. Australia certainly has an ability to influence its own population growth at this point, but whether we should be slowing population growth globally is something of much broader consideration. The coalition did seek to amend this motion. The Greens, unfortunately, were not amenable to amending it, so the coalition is not able to support this motion at this time.
If Senator Brown had his way, he would have Australia moving towards China’s one-child policy. It is a joke. This is Australia. It is a free country and I plan to keep it that way. The only way we can do that is by stopping the Greens from ever holding the balance of power in this Senate. I am serious here. If anyone out there believes in a free country, do not vote for the Greens because this motion does move us towards China’s one-child policy. It is just ridiculous. Motions like this smack of communism and that is the reason why Family First will not support this motion.
Unusual things happen in politics, and I am always amazed at Senator Fielding’s ability to turn a very serious matter into a light-hearted one and to have everybody around the chamber laughing. I thank him for that at this stage of today’s proceedings.
The Greens are a mainstream party and we are putting forward an important means of drawing upon the wit and wisdom of all Australians in developing population policy. The Greens do have a population policy. I think it is very moderate and inadequate. If you go to their websites you will find that, contrary to what Senator Bernardi said, there is no population policy from the coalition or from the government—although we are pleased that the Prime Minister has now established a population ministry. But how is the ministry going to work if it is not informed?
Here we are saying: ‘Let’s have an independent inquiry and get everybody’s viewpoints and the expertise of the nation brought to bear.’ It is, after all, a motion that is consequent upon the advice of Barry Jones and the House of Representatives inquiry into population in 1994. This is not new territory. It was Labor policy at least after that inquiry and it ought to be getting endorsement now. Instead of that, from the coalition, the government and the Family First entity we are getting complete negativity. They do not want to know about it, they do not want to have an independent inquiry and they do not want to be properly informed. It is not a good way of formulating national policy on a matter as important as this.
When it comes to international population growth, there is a set formula. I say to Senator Bernardi, the more we put into overseas aid—particularly literacy for women and the ability for them to engage in small investments and businesses—the quicker we see populations steady down for the health of all— (Time expired)
Given some of the other statements that have been made, I indicate that I support this inquiry. I think we do need to be informed. I happen to believe that we do need to have a sensible, sustained population growth in this country, particularly with an ageing population, in order to have a sufficient balance of the younger demographic to ensure they can pay for the pensions of older Australians. I do not see this as being anti population growth as such. It is about having a debate on this very important issue. Such an inquiry would look at issues of urban design, suburban sprawl and the sustainability and liveability of our city centres. I think that is a sensible thing to do. It should be seen in the context of an ageing population in this country. We do need to make plans for the future as to what mix we want in the context of the intergenerational challenge that has been referred to in previous Commonwealth government reports. I think this is a sensible move. I do not see this as having anything to do with China, a one-child policy or anything like that. I think we should have this debate.
That the motion (Senator Bob Brown’s) be agreed to.