The Democratic Way to Control Migration and Development
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Australia has a major population problem. In many parts of the country, the population is growing faster than our capacity to provide the infrastructure and services the people need.

City dwellers face traffic gridlock and crowded public transport. Hospital waiting lists are a problem in several States. Many schools are stretched to capacity. In established residential areas, we are being told that the family home must make way for five storey units, and along our coastline the environment is under threat from spreading urban development.

The common factor in all these problems is population growth. Those who exercise power in this country treat population growth as inevitable. We are constantly told we must plan for change, because there will be millions more of us in 20 years’ time.

Has anyone asked Australians whether they want millions more people? The extra people have to live somewhere. Have you been asked whether you want more people in your area?

Australians have not been asked, because powerful groups all support a ‘Big Australia’ with a much larger population. On this issue Labor is united with the Liberal and National parties - to them, bigger is always better.

Actually, bigger is not always better. And population growth is not inevitable. We do have some choice. In 1997, Howard’s Government permitted 87,079 migrants to enter the country. The next year it let in 79,162. From 2000 it substantially increased the number, reaching 232,800 in the year ending June 2007. The Rudd Government kept increasing the intake: 277,300 in 2008, then 299,900 in 2009, before scaling back in 2010. The Gillard Government maintained a lower figure, yet the March 2013 forecast for net overseas migration in 2012-13 was still 236,700. Population increase through net migration has been higher than the natural rate of increase for all but three of the years since 2001. This is a reversal of the previous long-term trend.

Since 2001, it has been difficult to have a sensible discussion about migration. There are too many rednecks whingeing about ‘boat people’. Whatever your view of boat people, there have been very few of them compared to the migrants we welcome. 2012-2013 will be the first year when the number of boat people exceeds 5% of the migrant intake and not all of them are allowed to stay. (The exact figures are here: Migrant Numbers and Boat Person Arrivals Compared).

Whatever else you may feel, your quality of life is not affected if a few thousand boat people arrive unexpectedly. The traffic congestion and over-development which is driving us crazy is the result of bringing too many regular migrants here, and not properly planning for their arrival. We have bitten off more than we can chew.

We Will Decide is the solution. It is not a mere reduction in migrant numbers, liable to be reversed when a new Government thinks it can get away with it. It is a new mechanism through which we can all decide how many people we want. The mechanism is not tailored towards producing a particular result. It won’t necessarily reduce the migrant intake or lower the population. If the people actually want a Big Australia, it will deliver a Big Australia.

Our problem has been a top-down approach to population. The Commonwealth Government decides on the migration intake, but has no legal power under the Constitution to plan to accommodate the extra people. That power is held by State Governments, who have no control over migration. The States have more people dumped on them, and then tell local areas they must have higher densities whether they like it or not, because the population is growing. Not very smart, is it?

We Will Decide is based on a bottom-up approach. We will decide the number of people who come to our local area. We won’t decide the circumstances under which they come, nor who will come, nor who will leave, but we are quite capable of deciding whether there should be more or fewer people in our area.

This is how we’ll do it. There is a census every five years. Each person answering the census will be able to answer online a question about population density in his or her residential area. After being shown a map, and given some information, each person can select the percentage change in population he or she wants in that area in the next five years. The average result for each area will be the Local Decision for that area. Development would be prohibited if it would allow a higher population than permitted by the Local Decision. No more bulldozing houses for flats if the people in the area don’t want flats.

The total of all Local Decisions will be the National Decision - a figure which shows the extent to which the people really want Australia’s population to increase or decrease. The true test of whether you support a bigger or smaller population is whether you want more or fewer people living near you.

The National Decision will determine the self-interest component of our migration intake. We allow people into the country for two reasons: either we bring them here because the Government thinks it’s in our interests (e.g., skilled migrants, students, family reunion entrants), or we bring them here for selfless reasons, to discharge our international obligations (e.g., refugees).

Under We Will Decide, our Government would continue to make decisions about our international obligations. But we don’t need the Government to decide what is in our own self-interest. That power would be handed back to the people.

Often with controversial issues the question is not just which decision should be made, but who should make the decision. Technology now allows us to make for ourselves decisions we formerly had to delegate to our representatives in Parliament.

The above is of course just a summary. If you’re interested, start with the full proposal here: We Will Decide Proposal. Those interested in fully understanding how the proposal will work should also open the Explanatory Notes page on a separate screen and flick between the two. The detailed reasons for the proposal, which are only summarised above, are set out in more detail in the Rationale, supported by facts and figures.

 
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