Page 3506 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 21 September 2005

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important issue. Part of our economic growth is contingent upon continued population growth. Mr Smyth has pointed to figures that indicate that without population growth our economy will slow.

It was interesting to hear Dr Foskey’s exposition on population growth and economic growth as they relate to countries in Europe. I do not think we need to look very closely into the economies of places like Italy, which has a population growth below replacement rate; or Spain, which has a population growth even lower than Italy’s and huge environmental problems without the economy to deal with them; or Germany. In many cases Germany is living on old money and has huge economic problems in front of it. I do not think we have a great deal to learn from the old economies of Western Europe. And I do not think we have much to learn from Green economic policy, which can only be described as Luddite economic policy.

At a seminar recently on water policy, I was reminded of the old adage, “You cannot be green if you are in the red.” We do want to create a sustainable environment in the ACT. Unless we have sufficient economic growth to do so, we will not be doing it and our standard of living, our social and physical amenity will decline. Dr Foskey said that no-one benefits from increased population growth except the building industry. I can think of a fair few video shop owners, restaurateurs, hoteliers and contract cleaners. Just about any aspect of the economy will benefit by population growth. The mere fact that there are more people in the city requiring goods and services will do that for us. The anti-population growth aspirations of the Greens are best described by the sort of naturalistic romanticism favoured by Rousseau, which usually ends up in totalitarianism and ignores the reality of how people live, work, and aspire to improve themselves.

In discussing population growth and its relationship to employment generally and skills shortages in particular, it is crucial to appreciate the complexity of the various issues involved. I do not think anyone here today is saying there is an easy fix; there is no silver bullet. Mr Mulcahy’s motion today is about starting that discussion, rather than the Treasurer sitting there snidely saying that we are turning things on their backs and that this is about a leadership challenge. It is not about that, it is about the future of the ACT. If he does not care about it, that is fine. He can make those snide comments all he likes, but all they do is tell the community that he does not care about the future of the economy and employment growth in this town. It is an exceedingly complex issue riddled with errors. There are three main errors I would like to deal with.

There is a lot of what I would call moral panic, which usually leads to inappropriate, if not self-defeating and short-term, expedience. We tend to go in for scapegoating, or we attempt to allocate blame to our favourite bogeyman. In the case of this government it is the commonwealth government for doing terrible things about industrial relations when, in reality, many groups and organisations are responsible for whatever difficulties we have to face now. We need to face up to the fact that we all have a part to play. This also leads to misleading concepts and statistics, which give a false sense of objective empirical evidence of what is, in reality, nothing more than special pleading. I would like to look at those things in more detail: firstly, moral panic, which leads to short-term, self-defeating expedience.

The most obvious example at present is our alarm about skills shortage, which has given rise to numerous panicky solutions to address what might be only a short-term problem.

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