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Issue #1452      28 April 2010

Population and economic, political and environmental issues

Statement, Central Committee, CPA

The Communist Party of Australia believes Australia can support an increase in population, but not without fundamental changes which democratise our economic and political system, doing away with the distortions and injustices created by the uncontrolled pursuit of private profit.

Much of the current debate on the required population level for Australia in the coming decades misses the point. The widespread assertion that environmental degradation is caused by “over-population” is typical of capitalist ideas. It says a lot about how ordinary people are regarded as a liability when, in reality, all creativity, all wealth begins with human labour. People are this country’s greatest asset.

Proponents of population growth, including from increased immigration, present Australia as a rich, vast and under-populated continent that requires more people for economic growth.

Those arguing for a limit on immigration and a population ceiling argue that Australia’s environment is degraded because of population pressures and that allowing more people into the country would place unacceptable strains on the environment and natural resources.

There is no doubt that Australia faces widespread environmental problems: global warming, soil erosion and salination, endangered species, an increasing incidence of toxic algal blooms in our rivers, declining fish stocks, air pollution, vulnerable and limited water supplies, declining bio-diversity and a fall in the productivity of forests and farms. But these are not the result of immigration.

The environmental crisis is mainly created by the rapacious exploitation of the earth’s common resources for private profits. Ignoring present warnings, capitalism continues to aggravate the crisis by a callous and reckless disregard for the predictable consequences of its unplanned and largely uncontrolled activities. Even in the face of mounting global danger, it will stop at nothing to maximise corporate profits.

While population numbers have to be taken into account when considering the environment, assertions that population alone is the cause of environmental problems are used to divert attention from those mainly responsible.

The environment is not being destroyed because people are trying to produce more food to feed growing populations. It is being destroyed because production is directed into the most profitable areas, regardless of the impact on humans or the environment, by predatory transnationals which control agricultural resources. This is as true in Australia as it is in Bangladesh, Mexico or the USA.

The intensive production of beef, sheep, wheat, rice and cotton, mainly by agribusiness conglomerates, has led to salination, widespread erosion, outbreaks of blue-green algae and other environmental disasters. The world’s hamburger multinationals destroy much of the earth’s forest in order to graze cattle.

The private ownership of land and the monopolisation of Australia’s natural resources lead to their inefficient use. One way this is demonstrated is through the choice of what is grown. The few who control the majority of farmland will grow whatever brings the highest profit.

Australia is the driest continent in the world; Europe is one of the wettest. It is illogical and damaging to have transferred the agricultural system of the wettest continent in the world to the driest continent in the world without even attempting to adapt to the realities of Australia’s natural conditions.

Enough grain is produced in the world to provide everyone with ample protein and more than 3,000 calories a day. But over one-third of this grain is fed to livestock.

In Mexico, where at least 80 percent of the children in rural areas are undernourished, livestock, mostly for export to the USA, consume more basic grains than the country’s entire rural population.

The application of science, planned and controlled use of water supplies, and avoidance of over-exploitation (overstocking, for example) of the land and its limited resources could sustain a larger population in Australia.

In addition to environmental considerations, the development of Australia’s infrastructure to accommodate the increase in population is critical.

For decades the maintenance and development of critical infrastructure has been neglected by governments and the private sector. Privatisation and deregulation have played a major role in this. Public housing, public transport, the public health system, public education, community services and job creation are just some of the areas that have not been planned nor adequately maintained or funded.

One of the targets of the population increase is to continue the government offensive on the trade union movement and Australian workforce. Their aim is to reduce the wages and working conditions, and hence living standards, of workers in Australia to a level that is “competitive” with labour in third world countries – part of a drive by big business to reduce wages and working conditions globally to the lowest common denominator.

Every nation has the right to determine its immigration policies and the intake of refugees, while recognising internationally accepted obligations towards asylum seekers and refugees whose plight may arise from a number of reasons. In establishing an intake target, any government will take into account many social, economic, political and environmental considerations.

Our migration policy should not be based on skilled migrants to prevent brain drain from other countries. This is of particular importance for skilled migrants from third world countries because of the negative consequences for their countries of origin. We should instead base our migration policy on increasing the number of refugee intakes every year while more public money is spent on training and education for our current workforce.

Australia should give priority to refugees and victims of climate change and natural catastrophes. We have a particular responsibility to accept refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries who are victims of US wars and occupation in which Australia is complicit. As one of the largest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases in the world, Australia has a responsibility to accept populations from Pacific Islands that are sinking as a result of climate change.

Migration has been and continues to be beneficial for Australia. Working people of various ethnic origins form an inseparable part of the Australian nation and constitute a component part of the labour movement and society as a whole. However, migrant workers will not become involved in the common struggles unless they are organised, their social and cultural heritage is respected, and action is taken to overcome widespread discrimination against migrant communities, even, in some cases, their demonisation.

Instead of increasing military spending on preparations for war (now $71 million a day) and to pay for the war in Afghanistan and the so-called “Pacific solution”, a humanitarian Australian government would cut its military budget, using part of these savings for aid to underdeveloped countries.

The best approach to combat ecological degradation is not through population controls but through more equitable socio-economic policies and fairer distribution of wealth and resources.

Also needed are measures such as changing production methods, government controls on crops and practices that damage the environment, replacing agri-businesses with democratically run co-operatives, the development of public transportation systems and implementation of the most environmentally friendly forms of distribution of goods throughout and between towns and cities.  

Next article – Culture & Life – Cops, capitalism and the steep road ahead

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