Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dr Jeff Harmer on Disability Support Pensions

The outgoing head of the Families Department, Jeff Harmer, is quite right to say the Government needs to explore policies to encourage disabled people and older Australians into work, to lift participation and productivity.

It is quite remarkable that on the one hand we are told there is a shortage of workers and high migration is needed to fill the gap, while on the other hand we have over 792,000 people receiving Disability Support Pensions – more than the number receiving unemployment benefits! Disability Support Pension numbers have grown over 30% over the past decade, now cover 5% of all Australians, and will cost $13 billion this financial year.

The first thing we need to do is to return the ‘skilled’ migration category to the 25,000 per annum it was in the middle of the 1990s. This will open up job opportunities for people not presently in the workforce, and lift our participation rate.

Dr Harmer is also right to say that there is a problem with middle class welfare, with family payments being made to people high up the income scale. Some of this money would be better spent in Universities and TAFES, giving people who are presently not in the workforce the education and skills they need to join the workforce.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reports Confirm Melbourne’s Population Growing Too Fast

Two State and Federal Government reports confirm that Melbourne’s rapid population growth is harming our open space and leading to longer commuting times and declining housing affordability.

The Victorian Environment Assessment Council has told the State Government that open space per person will halve by 2026 for municipalities such as Melbourne, Hume, Whittlesea and Cardinia. The Council’s inventory of public land and open space in metropolitan Melbourne shows that rapid population growth is threatening the liveability of Melbourne suburbs as more people compete for public space such as parks and sports ovals. Its discussion paper shows that we will struggle to accommodate an extra 600,000 homes over the next 20 years, both in outer areas, with open space in Wyndham declining from 7.8 hectares per 1000 people to 3.3 hectares per 1000 people, and in inner areas, with open space in Moreland declining from 3.5 hectares per 1000 people to 2.9 hectares per 1000 people.

The Federal Government has been given a similar message. The Prime Minister’s Department’s incoming government brief has told the Prime Minister that “The perception that the quality of city life is declining is supported by declining measures of liveability (including from greater congestion and longer commuting times), declining efficiency, and a lack of affordable housing”…. “Without disciplined planning for growth, demographic pressures will negatively affect living standards, particularly in cities, as housing prices rise, congestion increases and it becomes more difficult to access services.”

These reports make clear that rapid population growth is damaging both our living standards and our quality of life. The Federal Government should reject the advice it is getting from property developers and big business, and cut Australia’s migration levels to those we used to have in the late 1970s. And the Victorian Government should not acquiesce in “Big Melbourne’ – it should protect our existing open space, both in inner Melbourne and at the city limits, and listen to the voice of residents concerning planning issues.

Comment on Sustainable Population Strategy Issues Paper

The release of the Sustainable Population Strategy Issues Paper is a welcome step forward in the national debate we need to have about Australia’s growing population.

Minister Tony Burke is right to say we shouldn’t have an arbitrary target, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a considered target. Otherwise we’ll stay on our present path, sleepwalking our way to an environmental disaster.

Minister Burke is also correct to say that sustainable population goes to “how much sunshine is left at the end of the day after a long commute.” It also goes to how much sunshine you get in your backyard if developers build high-rise buildings next door or behind you.

Unfortunately one of the Reports, by the Productivity and Prosperity Panel, shows no understanding of the downside of Big Australia, and trots out all the hoary, discredited old myths about the alleged advantages of population growth.

MYTH: “If it is balanced and managed well, living standards will rise with population growth, not fall.” (p.2)

FACT: A recent examination of the 100 largest US metropolitan areas from 2000-2009 found that faster population growth rates are associated with lower incomes, greater income declines, and higher poverty rates. Unemployment rates tend to be higher in faster growing areas. The 25 slowest-growing metro areas outperformed the 25 fastest growing in every category and averaged $8,455 more in per capita personal income in 2009.

MYTH:  “Population growth will help lift living standards, not make them fall.” (p.5)

FACT: If this were true, the wealthiest countries would be the most populous countries of Asia and Africa. In fact they’re the world’s poorest. The nations in the world with the highest living standards have small populations – eight of the top 10 nations in the world in terms of per person GDP have populations of less than 10 million.

MYTH: “A bigger workforce as a proportion of a larger population will mean more people paying taxes which will allow government to pay for essential services.” (p.5)

FACT (1): One of the reasons the smaller nations are wealthier is because they have a higher labour force participation rate. Because they’re not running big skilled migration programs job vacancies are filled by their unemployed.

FACT (2): The bigger the population the more essential services and taxes you need. Bringing in more people doesn’t make the task of providing essential services easier, it makes it harder.

MYTH: “The ageing of the population if ignored could produce labour market bottlenecks because there would not be enough skilled workers to go around.” (p.8)

FACT: Australia does not have a shortage of workers. Broadmeadows has an unemployment rate of 15.9%. An ageing workforce will help reduce unemployment, and provide opportunities for people with disabilities and indigenous Australians to enter the workforce. As Simon Crean recently pointed out, they should be our priority.

MYTH: “Slowing population growth would not make the infrastructure problems go away.” (p.9)

FACT: It would certainly help! The reason Zurich has a much better public transport system than any Australian city, even though it is just as spread out, is that Zurich’s and Switzerland’s stable population gives its policy makers time to address the needs. In rapidly growing cities infrastructure provision is like a dog chasing its tail, we never catch up. Jane O’Sullivan from the University of Queensland has calculated that population growth of 2% per annum doubles the amount of money required to maintain adequate infrastructure.

MYTH: “Slowing the rate of population growth will not make housing more affordable.” (p.9)

FACT: Yes it will! During 2009 housing affordability around Australia declined by over 22% due to a massive gap between the number of dwellings being built and the number of new people wanting housing. The Housing Industry Association said Australia’s fast growing population was pushing new dwelling requirements to record high levels. The inevitable consequence of this is rising house prices, rising interest rates and declining housing affordability.

MYTH: “The environment need not suffer from population growth.” (p.11)

FACT: But it has. In 2002 the Biological Diversity Convention pledged countries right around the world to stop the rate of biodiversity loss. This year, the International Year of Biodiversity, saw countries right around the world confess they had failed to stop the rot. Australia is no exception. We have hundreds of species of endangered birds, plants and animals, and every year their numbers deteriorate.

I encourage Australians who care about the future of this country and its beautiful wildlife to take advantage of the Government’s opportunity to provide comments on the issue, which is open until Tuesday 1 March 2011, by writing to:

Sustainable Population Strategy
PO Box 787

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Business Council out of touch with people on fixed incomes

Thursday 16th September 2010


The Business Council of Australia’s calls for an increase in the GST and for continuing record high levels of immigration are in the teeth of the best interests of Australians, and especially Australians on fixed incomes- pensioners, retirees, and the unemployed.

Older Australians had their standard of living lowered as a consequence of the GST. The compensation provided to pensioners and retirees for the GST was not adequate, and the GST goes on forever. If the GST goes up, it will be the same all over again- Australians on fixed incomes will find it even harder to make ends meet than they do already.

The Business Council’s wish list also includes a continuation of record high levels of migration. Once again, they are out of touch with the daily reality of life for people who are not in the workforce. Migration driven population growth has fuelled massive increases in house prices, leading to higher rents and council rates. It has put upward pressure on the cost of essentials such as electricity, gas, water and food.

It is a bit rich for the Business Council to say it was “disappointed with the quality of the debate” on issues of population and migration during the election campaign. The election campaign saw Labor, Liberal and Greens responding to public concerns over Australia’s runaway population growth, and that is a healthy and democratic thing.

One can’t help but think that what really worries the Business Council is that 70% of Australians don’t want a ‘Big Australia’, and want to see migration levels returned to those of the 1970s and 1980s. Political parties should respond to that public concern, and look after Australian pensioners, retirees and those who are presently out of the workforce but could be in it given appropriate training.

Federal member for Wills

Kelvin Thomson's response to Sunday Telegraph article 'Fall in migrant arrivals' (12/09/10)

The statement that Australia is heading towards recording its biggest drop in immigration numbers in 90 years is seriously misleading.

It could give the impression that Australia’s runaway population growth is coming under control.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Macroplan’s approach to the immigration issue is like that of a man who used to eat 3 hamburgers a week, but last week ate 11, going to his doctor expecting praise for only eating 8!

The figures provided by Macroplan Australia say that migration numbers fell from 341,000 to 230,000 in the 12 months to July 31.  The fact is that net overseas migration of 230,000 remains incredibly high.  It is much higher than every other year in Australia’s history.

If continued, it would cause Australia’s population to be much higher by 2050 than even the Treasury projections of 36 million by 2050.  These projections are based on net overseas migration each year of 180,000, and 70% of Australians don’t agree that Australia should rise to 36 million by 2050.  They think that number is too high.  During the election campaign the Liberal Party proposed to cut net migration to 170,000.  This would not make much difference to the outcome – it would give us 35 million, rather than 36 million, by 2050.

My own view is that we should cut net overseas migration to 70,000, in line with the figures we used to have in numerous years of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.  This would stabilise Australia’s population by 2050 at 26 million, and would be much better for Australia’s environment.

Macroplan’s claim that a cut in immigration would drop our standard of living is nonsense.   Runaway population growth puts pressure on housing prices, making housing unaffordable.  It is also driving electricity, gas, water and food prices upwards, as well as Council rates.  People are not better off as a result of the rapid increases in migration of the past 5 years, they are financially worse off.

Federal Member for Wills