Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mayo Campaign

One of the reasons I have been silent for the past few days is because I have been up to my eyeballs in working on the Mayo Campaign.
Bill Spragg is well known in the Adelaide Hills but as an independent standing on a policy of Stopping Population Growth he still faces an uphill battle getting enough people to make the switch from one of the major parties to an independent candidate.
We have string team of locals who are keen to make sure he makes a splash. Firstly there are those people who are directly affected by population growth - people in the Mount Barker Council area who will be asked to pick up the costs for increasing their population by about 30,000 - they can see at first hand the price of population growth. Even if there were no financial implications a few have done their sums and realised that the extra pressure on the free way will mean that they will need leave earlier home and get back later to try and avoid the rush hour.
Then there are the Hills growers - they apparently have lost the battle to stop the importation of Chinese apples and pears but decisions can be reversed. A strong showing by Bill in those areas that traditionally vote Liberal will set alarm bells ringing in party headquarters.
Our real challenge is to get people to understand that voting for Bill is a good strategic move.
Australians really do not fully understand the preference system. (It would help if it was taught at school but sadly many teachers do not understand it either!)
It really is quite simple. Under a preferential system your vote is never wasted - if your first choice does not win then your second choice will be considered.
On election night the objective is to end up with two piles of votes - one for the successful candidate and the other for the runner up.
So as there are a total of eight candidates standing in Mayo what will happen in the count that two of these candidates will end up with all the votes cast.
Closer to the election I will try and describe in greater detail how the voting system works.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

skill shortages

As usual Richard Dennis hits the nail on the head - before we blindly accept the need to promote skilled migration consider what he has to say on the subject...

Wouldn't it be great if rising demand on the health system led to an automatic increase in the health budget? Wouldn't it be great if an increase in demand for peak-hour trains led directly to governments providing more of them? Wouldn't it be great if governments responded to citizens need for services in the same way they respond to employers demands for more immigration.

Australia has, we are told, a skills shortage. Presumably developing countries have much better education systems than ours as they, it seems, have a skills surplus. Does it seem a little bit weird that so many people from the rest of the world want to come to Australia for an education but, at the same time, so many Australian employers would prefer to employ people with skills obtained overseas?

Does it seem strange that developing countries are better able to train doctors than a country like Australia? This does not mean that doctors from other countries should not be free to come to Australia if they wish to, but the idea that we have a shortage of doctors and other countries have a surplus is just absurd. The reality is that Australian governments have decided it is cheaper to let other countries invest in training and for us to poach them.

There is another way to describe a skills shortage. It's a bit old fashioned but it is time someone dug up the old chestnut. A skills shortage can also be called a pay shortage. When demand for waterfront properties rises so too does the price. When demand for hotels increases during school holidays so too does the price. But when demand for skilled labour rises don't mention the price of that labour.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. High paid executives, for example, have had to suffer from quite a bit of wage inflation in recent years. Their talents are, we are told, in short supply. And who can forget the mining boom in which workers' pay has risen steadily - but you don't hear many people arguing that high wages have killed the mining boom. On the contrary, high wages are the main benefit Australians are said to have received from the boom.

Employers will no doubt be appalled at the suggestion that the response to the 'skills shortage' might be for them to pay higher wages or, god forbid, invest in some training of their own. "It will cause inflation," they will say, or "it will make us uncompetitive". There is of course something they won't say: "it will reduce my profits".

Profits have been rising steadily in Australia for decades. Indeed, the share of GDP that goes to corporate profits has risen from 16 per cent to 24 per cent since the mid 1970s. At the same time, the share of national income going into the pockets of employees has fallen from 58 per cent to 48 per cent.

The incessant calls for an increase in skilled migration have drowned out genuine debate about the causes of any so-called 'skills shortages' and the range of policy options available to address them. Employers could do what they used to do and invest directly in the training of young apprentices. Governments could once again employ and train tens of thousands of apprentices themselves and then release them into the labour market. Or higher wages for skills that are in short supply could be used to encourage more young people to invest their own time and money in acquiring the skills that are paying a high return.

But rather than have a genuine debate about whether industry or government could be doing more to invest in the training of our young we are simply told there is no alternative but to import those skills from overseas. Rather than have a debate about whether the wages we pay for aged care workers and nurses is high enough we are simply told that it would be uncompetitive to pay them more.

Australia is a country of immigrants. We have always been, and should always be open to new citizens. We should be particularly welcoming of those who seek to enter our country because they have been forced to flee their own. But support for openness to immigration should not come at the price of having to remain silent about the size of our population.

Unlike the demands for more immigration from big business, Australian governments, state and federal, have found it easy to resist the demands for more hospitals, more nursing homes and more public transport.

Big business loves rapid population growth for the simple reason that they profit from having more potential customers. Governments seem to love rapid population growth because they benefit from having more taxpayers. But neither big business nor government wants to invest in the essential infrastructure that all those extra customers and taxpayers require. While the 'benefits' of a big population accrue in the form of profits and budget surpluses, the costs are borne by those stuck waiting in traffic, waiting for a hospital bed or waiting for a seat on the train.

The fans of rapid population growth are effectively saying that if lots of people come then we can build the infrastructure after they get here. I would take them more seriously if they said that they were so keen to have more people come that they were willing to build the infrastructure first.

Dr Richard Denniss is Executive Director of The Australia Institute, a Canberra-based think tank.

food security

Could Australia lose control of its food resources?

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Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 26/07/2010

Reporter: Andrew Robertson

There are fears that Australia's ability to feed itself and export to other countries is at risk to foreign investors buying prime land.


TICKY FULLERTON, PRESENTER: Australia is a country that easily feeds itself and, through our food exports, tens of millions of people in other countries as well.

It's something which we take for granted, but there are those who believe that as the world's population increases, Australia risks losing control of its food resources.

Already foreign interests are increasingly looking to Australia to expand their food production capabilities through the purchase of prime agricultural assets and it seems at this stage there's little that can be done to stop it.

As part of a multimedia special involving ABC's News Online and Radio National's Background Briefing, Andrew Robertson has prepared this report.

ANDREW ROBERTSON, REPORTER: In a country as steeped in farming as Australia, food security is not a hot-button topic, but according to experts who've studied the issue, such as University of Technology's Professor Julian Cribb, the clock is ticking.

JULIAN CRIBB, UNI. OF TECHNOLOGY, SYDNEY: It is more important in my view than the global financial crisis, because you can do without money at a pinch, you can't do without food. It's probably more urgent than the global climatic issues, because they're gonna take a long time to build up in the background. This is something that is gonna happen within a generation.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: In his new book, The Coming Famine, Professor Cribb paints a bleak future of a planet where food is in very short supply. The world's population is tipped to hit nine billion by 2050 and 11 billion just 10 years later.

Food production will need to double, but many countries will be left behind, particularly those like China, which is already feeling the strain of feeding its current inhabitants.

JULIAN CRIBB: Well I once asked that question to some Chinese academics, I asked them what the carrying capacity of China was in the long term, and they said they thought about 640 million people. And this is against a peak population in China of the order of 1.6, 1.8 billion people. So for a period of time, China is going to have to feed probably around about three times as many people as it can carry in the long run.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: According to Professor Cribb this shortage of food is going to have serious implications for countries like Australia.

JULIAN CRIBB: Australia has always had foreign ownership of some of its food assets, but in time to come, as countries become more and more nervous about their own food security, we will see much increasing emphasis on trying to acquire Australian food assets.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: The evidence suggests that process is already underway. Just this month, Singapore-based Wilmar outbid China's Bright Foods to buy CSR's Sucrogen sugar division. At $1.6 billion, that deal is being heavily scrutinised by the Foreign Investment Review Board, but others are not.

An increasing number of prime Australian farms are being purchased by overseas companies. For example, Victoria's largest land sale this year was the transfer of the Mount Elephant station in the west of the state to a company in Sweden.

The Packer family has sold 17 properties to a British private equity firm. The American pastoral giant Westchester has played $40 million for properties at properties in Moree in New South Wales and Glenfine in Victoria, whilst a company registered in Bahrain is running its eye over the vast Cubbie Station in south-east Queensland.

Bill Heffernan is the chairman of the Senate inquiry into food production. He shares Professor Julian Cribb's concerns about the surge in foreign investment in Australian agricultural assets.

BILL HEFFERNAN, CHAIRMAN, INQUIRY INTO FOOD PRODUCTION: We're asleep in Australia to the fact that a lot of places round the world such as China, India and the Arab states are looking at where they're gonna be in 40 or 50 years' time and they're making provision now for their food task in the future.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: Which according to Bill Heffernan eventually could see Australian farmers becoming tenants in their own country.

BILL HEFFERNAN: Because we are an attractive destination for safe capital investment, we will lose control of our destiny to outsiders and the worst of that will be government outsiders.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: A look at the Tasmanian dairy industry provides some salutary insights.

JIM HURSEY, DAIRY FARMER: It's actually costing us to go to work. We're actually going to work, doing our job and at the end of the day, we're getting a bill for doing our job! How many people do you know that do that? No one.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: In the Apple Isle, dairy farmers have had enough. Their industry is dominated by two foreign-owned companies - New Zealand's Fonterra and Japan's Kirin. Milk prices at the farm gate have been slashed to the point where farmers say they can no longer make a profit.

GLENYS FURZE, DAIRY FARMER: We've been milking 25 years and our farm is really our super fund, like a lotta farmers. And we're just seeing that going down the drain.

ANDREW ROBERTSON: For Bill Heffernan, it's a classic case of how Australians can be the big losers when foreign investment is allowed to go unchecked.

BILL HEFFERNAN: I chaired the milk inquiry in Tasmania as well, you see? Took evidence down there, and like 26 cents a litre. Can I tell you your viewers that this is a con job on farmers?

ANDREW ROBERTSON: The irony is that although foreign investment has contributed to the plight of Tasmanian dairy farmers, for many of them, foreign investment could also be the only hope of escape.

With no Australian buyers coming forward for their farms, estate agents are hawking them overseas. One agent alone has 40 farms she's trying to sell in China.

GLENYS FURZE: No-one wants to see our farms sold out to another country. There's not one of us wanna see that. But what do we do? Do we sit back with our hands tied and go broke and lose everything?

ANDREW ROBERTSON: The answer for many people connected with agricultural industries is for Australia's foreign investment laws to be tightened.

TICKY FULLERTON: And in the second part of our investigation tomorrow night, we'll be examining the New Zealand model, which could provide the answer to this growing problem.

For more detailed coverage on the battle for control of Australian farmland, you can visit ABC News Online at

Monday, July 26, 2010

Population and Farming Coalition to Challenge in Mayo

A meeting of Mayo electors unanimously agreed to nominate Bill Spragg as the independent candidate for Mayo to provide electors an opportunity to register their concern about population growth and food security.

“The revised population policy announced by Prime Minister Gillard spells disaster for Mount Barker. “ said Bill Spragg.

“Essentially that policy falls into line with both the Greens and the Coalition in arguing that the real concern with population growth is the provision of adequate infrastructure.”

“There is not one party that has a coherent policy on food security as evidenced by the decision to allow the importation of Chinese Apples and Pears and thus threaten the viability of Adelaide Hills Growers.

“We are witnessing the product of over thirty years of neglect – Paul Keating argued that he aimed to allow cheap imports to give urban dwellers access to a wide range of cheap consumer items.

“This policy has continued unabated under both the Liberal and the Rudd/Gillard Labor government.

“It is important not just to reserve land for agriculture but to ensure that the opportunity for farmers to make a living is not put in jeopardy by government policies.

The voters in Mayo will have a unique opportunity to send an unambiguous message to both the Labor and Liberal Party. They are in effect invited to participate in a referendum on population growth and food security. By voting 1 Bills Spragg and then allocating their second preference to either Labor or Liberal they will be sending a powerful message to both the Coalition and Labor.

Written and Authorised By John Tons Lot 10 Edwards Hill Rd Lenswood 5240

Friday, July 23, 2010

population SA

Good news in todays press. At last the Advertiser has decided to highlight the fact that South Australia's forward planning is driven by the need to meet the interests of the developers.
The Labor Party has benefitted from the more generous donations made by the developers and now it is payback time.
The government by releasseing more land for development will enable the developers to increase their profits - never mind that the benefits to developers will be funded by additional costs to the community as a whole. Never mind that the rush to promote population growth will in fact have a negative impact on our economy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hanson and migration

All sides of politics appear to be agreed that:
  1. A big Australia is not a good thing
  2. Stopping or reducing migration is not a good thing
  3. Filling up regional centres (ie anywhere other than the East Coast conurbations) is a good thing.
Good politics bad policy.
To win government you need to win the majority of seats in the major cities - the areas that are already bursting to capacity. So you adopt a not in my back yard (nimby) approach. Nimby politics makes sense - it creates a win/win situation in the big cities - they do not want more people so they are opposed to population growth - you have catered for their needs.
Then there is the concern that stopping migration might be racist - so you allow migration but put them in regional Australia - you can now oppose population growth in part of Australia without having to explain why stopping or limiting migration is not necessarily racist.
The other benefit is that by no means all people in the regional centres are opposed to population growth - there are many small communities that would love to have more people so that they have the critical mass to keep their local bank, school, doctor and post office.
So it is easy to see why all three parties are rushing to embrace the soft option and advocate population growth in regional centres.
Good Politics bad Policy.
Why is it bad policy?
  1. Some regional centres (by no means all) can do with a greater population but perhaps it is time to make hard decisions. Which communities are genuinely viable? If they are potentially viable then there is the need to develop programmes that encourage internal migration.
  2. We need to bury the idea that stopping migration is necessarily racist. Hanson was not opposed to migration but opposed to the sort of people who were coming in. Until we have some real idea of how many people can live on this continent we should be calling a halt to all migration other than asylum seekers.
  3. Not one of the parties has joined the dots between depletion of natural resources (eg peak oil), climate change, growth economics and population. Good policy demands that we develop a strategy for making the transition to a low carbon , renewable economy. That strategy will dictate what sort of population numbers are genuinely sustainable.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

South Australia's future

If there was any doubt about the direction for South Australia's future these first days of the campaign have dispelled those doubts.
Certainly there was a faint hope that a newly elected Federal Government would curb the State's enthusiasm for rezoning yet more agricultural land in the Gawler, Barossa and Mt Barker Council areas. The faint hope that there would be at least one party that would stand up and ask the question "where will we grow the food to feed these people?" One party to recognize that there is a need to resurrect our moribund farming industry. One party to acknowledge that we cannot afford to allow foreign ownership of our farms - in short one party with a genuine vision for the future.
Those who had invested their hopes in the Greens will likewise be sorely disappointed. Bob Brown has made it clear that he does not appreciate the link between population growth and the environment. Indeed, apart from his concern for Tasmanian forests, it is hard to find anything substantive in the Greens policy platform that would give us some hope that here is at least one party that understands that environmental issues demand more than just some warm and fuzzy sentiments.
So what can we expect?
All three parties will support the idea of pouring more people into South Australia. They have made it clear that the big cities are full to bursting. So their objective now is to replicate the mistaken policies of the past few years in regional Australia and we are part of regional Australia.
So South Australians would be advised not to go to Lake Eyre to see the once in a life time wonder of the Coopers Creek running but instead to take a drive through the Adelaide Hills - this may well be your last chance to see an unspoilt country side.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Further reading - New Scientist

Further reading - New Scientist

For those who want to know why politicians need to consider developing policies that enable us to make the transition to a sustainable future this New Scientist Piece is of some help.
With regard to food security this article is food for thought:

Looking Forward

If you don't know where you are going you are liable to end up elsewhere. Not so bad if you are talking about just yourself but a leader who is planning to take the country with her then that is worry.
Moving forward without showing any awareness of the need to make the transition to a low or zero carbon society, without any appreciation of the impact that peak oil will have on the sort of future we can expect suggests a leader who is either willfully ignorant or incapable of describing policies that will enable us to cope with the challenges that the world and this country faces.
It is cold comfort that neither the Coalition nor the Greens perform any better.
There seems to be a chronic fear to suggest that our comfortable lifestyle could possibly be at risk. Yet given that our lifestyle is unsustainable, that the notion of indefinite growth flies in the face of reason, means that instead of a managed, smooth transition to a sustainable lifestyle looking forward will mean that we close off more options making a catastrophic collapse even more likely.
The Greens too have to be taken to account. Their policy is silent on population growth. Bob Brown is on the record as asserting that a population cap is impossible. The Greens have allowed themselves to be seduced by the border security debate but as far as population is concerned that is the least of our problem - the real problem lies with a migration policy that continues to encourage people to settle here.
Given the Greens support of the environment why not reduce global environmental pressure by inviting the world's population to settle in Tasmania? Tasmania could accommodate all 6 billion quite comfortably (using Hong Kong's population density as a basis) Of course it would mean damming the Franklin and wood chipping the forests but think of the benefits to the rest of the world.
Brown's failure to acknowledge population growth as a significant threat to the core values his party espouses suggest that they do not really understand what it means to be environmentally sustainable.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

food security

The major parties' response to population pressure sacrifices primary industry.
We know Australia is highly urbanized and it is people in our overcrowded cities that see at first hand the implications of population growth.
Both Liberal and Labor and the silent Greens have chosen to ignore the problem of food security by vowing that population growth will occur in the relatively under populated rural hinterland.
For South Australia this does not offer a bit of comfort to people in areas like Mount Barker, the Barossa and Gawler. The state Government's enthusiasm to rezone prime farming land as residential will be supported by whichever party wins government.
This also confirms that neither party is particularly interested in the question of food security. Australia is currently struggling to feed its population. There are a number of reasons for this not least of which are the federal government policies which make it increasingly difficult for primary producers to remain commercially viable.
In the Adelaide Hills we see one of those policies in action - the commitment to free trade regardless of the consequences has given the green light to Chinese exports of apples and pears.
As Australia's primary industry is being destroyed the only way farmers can continue to survive is by selling off their land for housing. Of course this fits neatly in with the population policies announced by both Labor and Liberal - good governance is being sacrificed in order to ensure seats are not lost in the cities.
Meanwhile the food security for all is being sacrificed as farmers are being driven off the land by policies that make farming uneconomic

Saturday, July 17, 2010

2010 Federal election

As anticipated Julia Gillard has called on the Governor General and we will be going to the polls on August the 21st

The pity is that neither Stable Population Party of Australia nor Stop Population Growth Now has been registered in time to be able to contest the election as a political party - the less attractive option of running independents will be decided in the coming weeks.

One of the reasons that I joined Stop Population Growth Now is because the name conveyed the sense of urgency with which we need to address the problem of population growth

Social policies have a momentum of their own - even were we to commit to stopping fuelling population growth now it would still be some years before population will be stabilized. The name Stop Population Growth Now conveys an appropriate sense of urgency.

The problem that we face is that Julia Gillard in adopting the language of moderation – of sounding as if she is concerned about population will have taken much of the urgency out of the debate. The tragedy is that changing the language will make no difference - this government, the opposition and the Greens are all committed to policies that in various ways help fuel population growth.

Part of the problem is that population issues, particularly calls to abandon our migration policy, have largely been captured by the extreme right. Once population debate degenerates into a racist slanging match it becomes difficult to shine the cold light of reason on the question of population growth.

In coming weeks as the election unfolds and indeed even after this election I will use this blog as a forum to develop a coherent argument in favour of stopping population growth; an argument that, I would hope, reasonable people can embrace.