15th September, 2012 – Speech to Sustainable Population Australia – by Darren Churchill – (Australian Democrats endorsed) Independent Candidate for GINNINDERRA

ACT ELECTION 2012 – SPEECH TO SUSTAINABLE POPULATION AUSTRALIA – by Darren Churchill – 15/09/2012 (Australian Democrats endorsed) Independent Candidate for Ginninderra

I am an independent candidate, in the sense that I am not part of an ACT registered group. But as was just stated when Christopher introduced me, I am a member and endorsed candidate of the Australian Democrats and I speak to you today both as an individual (the candidate) and as a member of that nationally registered organisation.

For 35 years the Australian Democrats have had enshrined in our constitution that “we accept the challenges of the predicament of humanity on the planet with its exponentially increasing population, disappearing finite resources and accelerating deterioration of the environment”.

I am great believer in our established position of the triple-bottom-line: responsible economic management, care for the environment and social justice.

Increasing numbers of Australians are recognising the importance of reining in population growth. The Public Health Association of Australia has adopted a population policy based on health, nutrition and environmental constraints, encouraging Federal and State governments to adopt policies that will lead to population numbers being held at sustainable levels.

In 2010, the Public Affairs Commission of the Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia issued a discussion paper which argued that “Unless we take account of the needs of future life on Earth, there is a case that we break the eighth commandment – ‘Thou shalt not steal’.” As a consequence, at their General Synod meeting in 2010, a “Caring for Creation: the need to acknowledge and respond to population issues” motion was carried.

And yet, despite the calls from these groups and other reputable studies, governments still ignore the warnings.

Australia faces serious environmental degradation as a consequence of increasing human population and urgent action must be taken to curb this.

The ACT Democrats believe the ACT region does not have the resources, such as water, to grow indefinitely. The argument that population growth can be sustained merely by having better urban planning is flawed.

Despite developers arguing for population increase and benefitting their own hip pockets as a consequence, taxpayers bear the cost of destruction of our unique natural environment, reduced housing supply and shortages of infrastructure.

Australia must consider the environmental limits – low rainfall, increasing temperatures due to climate change, and infertile soils – when determining the right number of people this land can support. And we in the ACT must play our part in managing that.

I believe Canberra’s planning should retain green belts between town centres, and promote transport efficiency and vibrant commercial centres. We need a planning authority that people have confidence in.

For Planning, I seek to involve communities in the planning process’ work towards development that leads to a sustainable Canberra; and make planning decisions independent and transparent.

I propose setting up a consultative body to collect scientific and community views so that future governments can plan to stay within our sustainable environmental limits.

Whilst there might be some argument for regional areas such as the ACT being used to take population pressure off the sprawling metropolises, with incentives to encourage immigrants and refugees to settle in regional areas (but not where there are no job prospects); it will not work in any lasting sense without a co-ordinated national population strategy to limit overall population growth. It makes no sense to simply move people around, if overall the population continues to increase unsustainably.

As a Democrat, I argue for an increase in the nation’s humanitarian intake balanced by a scaling back of the immigration intake to environmentally sustainable levels. Our party’s Immigration Policy argues for “a non-discriminatory immigration program, which gives priority to refugees and family reunion, the total number of which when included with overall population trends will not impede sustainability of the nation’s natural resources”.

Australia cannot solve the world’s refugee problems, but by reducing overall immigration numbers we would be in a much better position to meet our humanitarian obligations for what is really a small number of asylum seekers.

Canberra cannot continue to grow our population at the behest of the development lobby, which is the prime beneficiary of such growth. We must introduce sensible zoning laws that ensure new developments fit with the existing character of the neighbourhood and prevent ‘opportunistic profiteering!’

Environmental and well-being problems become harder to solve as population grows. Whoever forms government must create a Sustainable Population portfolio. To assist the Minister, public and environmental expert input must be sought through a population advisory panel to determine the upper limit to Canberra’s population growth and how best to deal with it.

This will involve real long term investment in social, environmental and economic infrastructure including ecologically sustainable urban and water planning, renewable energy, better public transport, health services and regional development. And as part of a regional approach we must also consider how we manage regional transport, food production and security, water and prepare for the impending problems of peak oil, peak phosphate and energy security.

If elected, I will introduce legislation to ensure that these matters are dealt with.

A growing population puts more pressure on us to find new ways of ‘keeping up’ with material demands that are one of the highest per capita in the world. And we must work at our local and regional level as part of an overall strategy to first stabilise then reduce Australia’s population to an ecologically sustainable level.

I have already mentioned the humanitarian/immigration balance. The ACT must also play our part in a national strategy to support families in making decisions about family size so that additional stresses are not placed on our unique environment, long-term agricultural productivity or infrastructure.

This involves expanding programmes that make all family planning options cheaper and more accessible to anyone who may choose them; and putting limits on baby bonus/family leave provisions and diverting resources to education, family planning and foreign aid.

Population growth does not necessarily create wealth, despite the claims of the development lobby, and it certainly does not improve national well-being.

How we manage population will require appropriate planning, proper consultation and a whole of government approach. We can no longer ignore the environmental implications of continued population growth. Nor can we allow the Assembly, and through it the Territory, to be captive to the development lobby.

I know the big end of town won’t like this approach, but the challenge of population is simply too important to ignore.

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