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15th December 2008 | Caveat Lector

Australia's Low Population Future

Launch of Australian Government's White Paper on the Population Reduction Scheme

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The following are excerpts from the speech that the Prime Minster of Australia, Kevin Rudd, should have given to the National Press Club (Canberra, 15th December 2008). His actual speech on that occasion (Australia's Low Pollution Future: Launch of Australian Government's White Paper on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) mistakenly referred repeatedly to Climate Change and Carbon Pollution with respect to the new initiative by the Government of Australia. To assist the Government in the development of its policies, those references have been systematically replaced in the following text (and in the above title) by Overpopulation and Population Reduction to reflect a more appropriate national policy under the present circumstances, notably in the face of the challenge of climate change. The latter might be better understood as a "fig leaf" camouflaging the real "elephant in the room" to which the Prime Minister refers, namely overpopulation -- as previously analyzed by the former Permanent Head of the Department of Science and Environment of Australia, John L. Farrands (Don't Panic, PANIC: the use and abuse of science to create fear, 1993). [Emphasis added]


Today the Australian Government announces one of the largest and most important structural reforms to our economy in a generation, the introduction of a Population Reduction Scheme.

Overpopulation is an inconvenient truth and a truth that we can no longer conveniently ignore. No sustainable leadership can ignore an elephant in the room of this proportion. To do so would be to threaten the future of our people, our nation, and our planet.

Today the Australian Government responds to the threat of global warming, longer droughts and more extreme weather by embracing a responsible plan of action on overpopulation. Overpopulation is one of the greatest, enduring challenges that we face as a nation and as an international community.

Overpopulation is nothing less than a threat to our people, our nation and our planet. It is a threat that, if left unaddressed, has the capacity permanently to affect our way of life. The incontestable truth of overpopulation is that a decision not to act is in fact an active decision - an active decision to place the next generation at grave risk.

Today, this generation - our generation - stands at the crossroads of history. We are the first generation empowered with the fullest understanding of overpopulation. And we are the first generation to experience the tangible effects of overpopulation on our planet.

So the question for our generation is simple. Do we act on the knowledge that we have in our possession? Or do we wait - leaving the effects of overpopulation to our children and our grandchildren by which time it may well be too late?

Do we reduce our population today so our children and grandchildren can experience the same beautiful and bountiful planet that we have inherited? Or do we wait - knowing our grandchildren may never see the grandeur of the Great Barrier Reef, or experience the wonder of the wetlands at Kakadu. Do we become more energy efficient today so that we can start down a path towards a sustainable low population economy? Or do we wait - knowing our children and grandchildren will experience longer droughts, declining food production, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events.

I say we can wait no more. The time has come for action. And what I outline today is a program of responsible action.


Costs of inaction

Australians understand that overpopulation threatens our economic prosperity, our unique natural environment and our way of life. As one of the hottest and driest continents on earth, Australia's environment and economy will be one of the hardest and fastest hit by overpopulation if we do not act now.

11 of the 12 hottest years in history have all occurred in the last 12 years. Scientists predict that temperatures in Australia may rise by around 5 degrees by the end of the century. And without action, rising temperatures will have dramatic effects on Australia.

We simply cannot afford to ignore overpopulation any longer. The case for action is clear. The cost of inaction is equally clear. We need to take responsible action to reduce overpopulation over time, to invest in the low population jobs of the future and to do so in concert with other economies around the world.


But today's difficult circumstances should not be used as an excuse to ignore the threat overpopulation poses to Australia's long term economic prosperity. Instead, investing in the clean energy jobs and industries of the future must be part of our response to the global financial crisis.

The work of the Treasury and Professor Ross Garnaut demonstrates that the longer we wait to take action on overpopulation, the more it will cost. Furthermore, the Treasury has advised that taking responsible action on overpopulation will, at most, cost the economy one tenth of one percent of GDP growth measured against no policy change.

In designing the Population Reduction Scheme, we have been mindful of the challenges facing the Australian economy today.

Our primary objective has been to get the balance right. To set in place a scheme that reduces overpopulation and supports economic growth. This means supporting Australian jobs and assisting households today, while moving to the low population economy that will help create the jobs of the future.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created over time as Australia makes the transition to a low population economy. Treasury modelling estimates that taking responsible action on overpopulation will see the renewable energy sector alone grow to 30 times its current size by 2050, creating thousands of new jobs.

If Australia is to be a leader in the new clean energy industries, we need to build a low population, clean energy economy. If we accept the premise that we will all be living in a population constrained world in the future, it follows that the economically responsible course of action is to prepare for that constraint today.

If we begin to act now, the transformation can be engineered at a manageable pace. If we continue to put it off, the transformation will be abrupt and the dislocation acute. Acting now will enable us to develop the skills base, trial the new technologies, and refine the business models that will help Australia become a leader in the low population industries of the future. Acting now also helps us shape the global outcome on overpopulation action that Australia needs. To delay any longer - would be reckless and irresponsible for our economy and for our environment .

The truth is that 12 years of inaction under the Liberals makes our transition to a low population economy more difficult today. Today, Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party are still divided and still debating whether overpopulation even exists. Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals are now looking for excuses not to act again.


This is a record of which we should not be proud. Yet we are the developed country with the most to lose from overpopulation.

This has been a triumph of the worst kind of short termism Australia has ever seen. On overpopulation, we are not ahead of the curve. We have been behind the curve.


The Government will do everything we reasonably can to deliver business certainty; to ensure as smooth a transition as possible to a low population future, and to boost the renewable energy sector in the future. We will do this because we know this is the economically responsible course of action.


The White Paper released today is the culmination of a robust and intensive process underpinned by the extensive Treasury Modelling exercise; the Garnaut review and the Population Reduction Scheme Green Paper.

Over the past year we have put a strong focus on assessing the scientific evidence, conducting the economic modelling and consulting widely with businesses, expert groups and the wider community.

The plan we advance in this White Paper represents an evolution of the proposals in the Green Paper -- retaining the overall design, while refining a number of key features - as a result of our extensive consultation.

The Population Reduction Scheme to start in 2010 will reform the way our economy works:

For the first time in history, we will begin to include the cost of overpopulation in the price of goods and services. By making the cost of overpopulation visible, we will begin to redress what Sir Nicholas Stern rightly described in 2006 as the greatest market failure in history.

And the time has come for Australia to embrace this future.


Today I announce the Government's medium-term target range: in other words, our 2020 target to reduce overpopulation. These targets are appropriate and responsible. They deliver necessary reform to tackle the long term challenge of overpopulation, while supporting our economy and securing jobs during this global recession.


The Government also confirms today that it accepts the findings of the Garnaut Overpopulation Review that it is in Australia's interests to pursue a fair and effective global agreement delivering deep cuts in population, so as to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at around 450 parts per million or lower by mid century.

However, we also realise that achieving global commitment to such action in the near term will be challenging.

The Government is therefore pursuing responsible action now, to help move the economy to a low population future and position Australia to be part of a comprehensive 450ppm agreement in the future if that proves possible.

Of course, as part of our efforts to help shape a global solution, Australia stands ready to adjust our post-2020 targets to play our full part in achieving a 450ppm agreement. This includes reconsidering our 2050 target, should it become necessary to play our part alongside commitments from both developed and developing countries.

Should that become necessary, as part of a truly ambitious global agreement around 450 ppm, the Government would of course seek an explicit mandate at the next election in support of a 2050 target beyond a 60 per cent reduction.

At present, such an ambitious outcome is an extremely difficult prospect. But if all major economies were to move as one towards a truly ambitious target, Australia's comparative advantage would not be disadvantaged.


The government will use every cent raised by the sale of population permits to transition to a low population economy and help households and business adjust to the Scheme. The reality is, that there is no cost-free way to transition to the low population economy of the future. We are being completely honest and upfront about that.


In determining the level of assistance to be provided to business and industry, the Government has been very mindful of the present day challenges facing Australian firms. With this in mind, we have listened closely to the concerns of the business community and made a number of significant improvements to the Scheme as a result of their feedback.

The package of assistance to population-intensive trade-exposed firms that we have set out today has been designed to support Australian jobs, today and into the future.


Today, I announce that the Overpopulation Action Fund will be allocated $2.15 billion over five years. The Fund will smooth the transition to a low pollution economy for businesses (not allocated to free permits) community sector organisations, workers, regions and communities.

The Fund will have four streams.

The first stream will provide information to businesses and community service organisations about the scheme, and about how to become more population efficient. The second stream will support investment in energy efficiency and low emissions technologies in businesses -- particularly small businesses -- and community organisations. This stream help will fund capital investments, such as lighting and air conditioning upgrades, or other energy-saving equipment.

The third stream makes a provision for structural adjustment assistance in the event that workers and communities face unanticipated challenges. The fourth stream will promote reductions in population dependency in the coal mining sector, while assisting the sector to adjust to the Population Reduction Scheme over time.


The Population Reduction Scheme is the best way to achieve a low pollution economy for the future cost effectively, and across our whole economy. The most important decisions a government makes are never the easiest.

Establishing the Population Reduction Scheme won't necessarily be easy or popular. The easiest thing to do in response to the global financial crisis is to do nothing. Instead the right course of action is to set robust and responsible targets, establish a real price for carbon and to begin the long term process of transformation.

Without action on overpopulation, Australia faces a future of parched farms, bleached reefs and empty reservoirs. And we risk being left behind as other nations invest in the clean energy jobs and industries of the future.


One after another, in their own way, Australians are saying they are willing to do their bit, but the Government must provide leadership.

Today's White Paper on overpopulation is about responsible leadership in the context of a global financial crisis. Australia faces a choice. We can either wait and allow the challenges to get worse, or we can take action now.

No longer can Australia's government ignore this crisis. No longer can Australia's businesses miss this opportunity. Today, the Australian Government has chosen to take the reasonable and responsible action that will set Australia on the path towards a more secure and more prosperous low population future.

I am pleased to formally launch the White Paper on the Population Reduction Scheme: Australia's Low Population Future.

The White Paper Population Reduction Scheme: Australia's Low Population Future is available on the Department of Overpopulation website.

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