A new year begins. If there is one unfortunate certainty, it is that there will be more people in the world at its end.
A round up of letters, mostly from The Age, on population and urban planning issues:
Constant growth cannot continue
THE UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s warnings on the global decline of food production should remind us that no food supply is infinite (“Hard to swallow but food security threat is very real”, BusinessDay, 3/12). Australia has a huge land mass, and a “tiny” population. Yet human “carrying capacity” is proportional to availability of natural resources such as arable soils, water supplies and healthy waterways, not land size.
We are the driest continent, and many food bowls are being engulfed by urban sprawl. Climate change will devastate some of our food production, and the Murray-Darling food bowl is under severe stress. Meanwhile, foreign buyers are investing in our food chain, land and infrastructure. We feed 60 million people, but packaging billionaire Anthony Pratt has called for Australia to quadruple its food production? There are limits to growth.
Our environment and Mother Nature are not under the command and whims of business people. Current exponential growth rates of population and economic activity cannot continue indefinitely on a planet that has limited natural resources and a limited ability to tackle pollution.
– Kit James, Melbourne
CHRIS Berg is quick to highlight his blind faith in the market system to fix the world’s problems (“Phoney food fears ignore nimble market solutions”, 4/12). He suggests demand and higher food prices will bring new farmers into the market to provide more produce. How will market forces assist India, where in the north underground aquifers which sustain food crops for 100 million are fast being depleted?
He also suggests higher prices will make marginal land viable; how can higher food prices restore the productivity of land, especially when scarcer oil will drive up the cost of petroleum-based fertilisers that could do this?
Market forces aren’t positioned to save many threatened species whose habitats will be encroached on as marginal farming land is wrested from them in order to satisfy the ballooning appetite of humanity. Human ingenuity has gotten us only so far; it is dangerous and foolish to think technological advances and market forces will be the saviours of us and other species.
– Jonathan Page, Bentleigh
Why isn’t once enough?
I’M CONCERNED that some mothers feel the need for a second or third child (“Older mothers linked to earlier births”, 4/12).
Why can’t they stop at one? Our global population is too big already.
– Malcolm Pacey, Richmond
17/12 – on the practice of trying to buy “air rights” for apartment towers so that views are not obstructed; another disadvantage of high-density living.
Air belongs to all
IS THERE no limit to one developer’s hypocrisy in trying to buy the “air rights” (itself a questionable land use planning export from the US) to protect the view from his own (view-obstructing) 26-storey apartment (“A developer is trying to buy this space…”, The Age, 15/12)?
How much more evidence do we need that much is rotten in the Victorian planning system if those with money and friends in power (remember the residents of The Domain in St Kilda Road) can do a whole lot better at protecting their views and general amenity than the rest of the community, especially if you live in Moonee Ponds or Williamstown?
So much for “planning for all Victorians” and acting in the best interests of “present and future generations” as the Planning and Environment Act specifically requires. The added irony is that there is ample evidence of mental health and social functioning benefits from having attractive views, especially so for people on low and modest incomes, who typically can’t afford a holiday or weekend trip to the country.
– Bernadette George, Emu Park, Queensland
Don’t be deceived
IT NEVER ceases to amaze me that anyone is shocked and disappointed by the actions of the Baillieu government. There is no doubt that Victorians were angry at the arrogance shown by Brumby and some of his ministers, but did they really expect things to get better by electing a conservative party? If you are a commuter on public transport, a nurse, teacher, conservationist, a worker forced to work on Christmas Day or a public servant, have things improved? Voters should have realised that Mr Baillieu was the power behind the Kennett years of slashing and burning, when everything in the state had a price not a value. The wolf in sheep’s clothing has returned.
– Rod Oaten, Carlton North
THE Baillieu government’s cutting of public services (“Baillieu explains U-turn on job cuts”, The Age, 22/12) ought to remind Victorians of the saying, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.
The Coalition went into the 1992 state election promising not to cut services to the public, and once in office slashed them. It made the same promise as it went into the 2010 election, and voters believed it. It’s time voters realised that cutting services to the public is in the Coalition’s make-up. Do not listen to its spokespeople. Take note, instead, of the Institute of Public Affairs, which provides the ideo-illogical blueprints for Coalition action.
– Chris Curtis, Hurstbridge
My thoughts exactly – as soon as the Liberals get in, they begin cutting funding to public services. People have disappointingly short memories!
We can’t afford to risk food security
THE labelling of food as “Made in Australia” when it is actually imported (The Age, 26/12) should be a warning about our food security. It is more than a political or economic issue. It is a vital one that will affect our survival. Mark Howden, the chief research scientist of the CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship, says climate change and high population growth could see Australia become a net importer of wheat by 2050 (BusinessDay, 3/12). Australia became a net importer of fruit and vegetables during the drought. If food is to be imported, where will it come from?
Australia’s golden wheat belt, stretching from Western Australia to central Queensland, is set to shrink, slashing productivity by up to 40 per cent. The nation’s ability to feed itself will no longer be guaranteed. The confusion of labels will give us a false sense of security about our self-sufficiency, when it is decreasing. We need a reality check, not just an adjustment to labels. There are constraints of growth, and the planet’s declining food production needs to be acknowledged. Infinite population growth is incompatible with securing Australians’ wellbeing. As Dr Howden said: “Risking food security is one thing you don’t muck around with.”
– Arthur Bassett, Blackburn South
Stability is future
PLANNING Minister Matthew Guy says his new strategy will investigate tougher planning rules for developments outside existing town boundaries (“Wise planning will ensure surf ‘burbs are not just Waverleys by the waves”, The Saturday Age, 31/12). The government, with few viable industries, is almost totally reliant on population growth to maintain the economy.
Mr Guy rightly cautioned against coastal sprawl. However, “inland developments” will also cause environmental impacts - from increased traffic and human footprints to destruction of farmland. The costs of extending the infrastructure for water, energy, roads and public amenities will be passed on to all Victorians, many of whom are already struggling financially.
Australia has a very large ecological footprint compared with other countries, and Victoria is already in ecological overshoot. Population growth is not inevitable but is a political choice; “wise planning” should be about transforming our economy to one based on the principles of sustainability and stability, not growth.
– Chris Hooley, Viewbank
5/1 – on unwelcome development in Geelong, and the threat of foreign investment:
Bid farewell to a natural jewel
GEELONG has shaken off the dog days when it was viewed as an industrial graveyard, but what industries does that leave in Victoria? Agriculture is asset-intensive, but not in the number of employees it requires. We don’t have the resources boom of Queensland and Western Australia. Our big industry is “developments” and real estate, and our precious and picturesque Surf Coast is about to be engulfed and swallowed by generic housing estates (“Battlefield looms on coastal playground”, The Saturday Age, 31/12).
The Coalition is following the same erroneous route as Labor, under the illusion that wealth will be acquired through population growth. This time, the growth is about to impinge on Victoria’s coastal playground, with picturesque sleepy towns traditionally valued for wilderness, surf, reflection and summer family holidays to be engulfed by suburbia. Population growth is a political choice, not inevitable, desirable or uncontrollable. The only beneficiaries of this urban onslaught into the Surf Coast are the developers. Perhaps some of the new residents living in this transformed area, a shadow of the natural jewel it used to be, might put a nice picture on the living room wall of the once wild coast.
– Jenny Warfe, Dromana
Growth is political
THE expansion of housing estates from Melbourne to the Bellarine Peninsula, the Surf Coast, is a spread of suburban ills to iconic and sensitive coastal wilderness-recreational-farming areas.
“It’s a classic case of infrastructure-led development,” said Peter Dorling, executive director of the Committee for Geelong. He claims that “we are ready to take our share of Australia’s population growth”. It’s not about magnanimously soaking up population growth, something that is inevitable. Our population growth is a government policy, designed for short-term monetary benefits at the expense of long-term economic and environmental sustainability. It’s about trading in Victoria’s heritage, and sacrificing our state’s natural and social capital for economic benefits.
With business and growth-lobbyists pulling the strings of state government decisions, freeways, tunnels and roads will continue to be preferred over public transport, only begrudgingly built for the public. The growth implications of large traffic arteries ensure that we will have more frontiers and land openings, however controversial, to provide developer opportunities.
– Rod Binnington, Brighton
An unhealthy price
A POTENTIAL private foreign investor needs to apply to the Foreign Investment Review Board for consent to buy property in Australia only if the purchase price exceeds $231 million. The laws governing the purchase of real estate in Australia by overseas investors are relatively flexible. No one knows how much farmland is foreign-owned. It is easier for foreigners to buy in Australia compared with other countries. Argentina and other Latin American countries, targets for foreigners looking to buy big blocks of farmland, have tightened ownership laws. However, Australia is becoming more permeable. Foreign investors have grabbed a 30 per cent share of Australia’s apartment market and are leading the way in land grabs. It keeps prices “healthy” for investors.
– Vivienne Ortega, Heidelberg Heights