The No-baby Bonus

If you believe the hysterics of Dick Smith and indeed the Prime Minister, there are just too many people in this country, or there will be too many people in this country. One of the points of difference between Gillard’s Prime Ministership and Rudd’s was their beliefs about the size of Australia’s population. In opposition to Kevin Rudd’s oft-quoted ‘big Australia’ Gillard chose to emphasise her belief in a ‘small’ Australia (I refuse to use the word ‘sustainable’ because it has now become an empty signifier, at least when wielded by a politician).

It is pertinent to acknowledge that many demographers and population experts are sceptical that any measures a government introduces can control population in any meaningful way. In truth, under all the rhetoric, what politicians are actually talking about when bringing up this issue is managing population growth. You can’t control it, because, at least at this present moment in this Western democracy, you can’t control the birth rate. We would never even contemplate sterilising people or instituting a ‘one child policy’.

Peter Costello’s oft-quoted or paraphrased ‘one for mum, one for dad, one for the country’ remark in his spruiking of the Baby Bonus was intended to encourage prolific progeny production. When addressing population management, there is never any discussion about discouraging people from breeding. It is almost always about immigration. This seems a little unfair. However, it is also politically and conventionally practical. Immigration is easily ‘controllable’ while people bonking, not so much. And when you try to control people bonking, you’re going to get into all kinds of trouble.

But do we have to so blatantly reward having babies? People are going to breed anyway, it’s true. If, as the wowsers believe, population is an issue, why are we giving people financial incentives to create more people?

Now, I’ve got nothing against breeders, but if there are economic and social pressures arriving with more and more people, shouldn’t I, as a gay man who does not have reproductive sex (as far as I’m aware), be financially rewarded for not creating more people? If both sides of politics really think ‘too many people’ are an issue, why not give people who either choose not to or cannot procreate a ‘No-baby Bonus,’ for doing our part for population control? Why is the government still offering the Baby Bonus if a ‘big Australia’ is a big issue? Why financially reward people for bringing another person into the world who will need to be fed, schooled and trained at significant cost, while barring someone from another country who is ready and willing to contribute their skills and labour to the development of this country right now?

But this debate does not seem to be about ‘too many people’ per se, it seems to be about ‘too many different kinds of people’. The discourse of being overrun by foreigners re-emerges persistently in Australian history, kind of like Bert Newton’s tired appearances at every Logies show. Today, this discourse is recycled or reinterpreted in phrases like Gillard’s ‘sustainable population’ and Abbott’s nuanced and considered ‘stop the boats.’

The debate never goes anywhere near controlling birth rates. For obvious reasons. It’s not really about more (mostly white) Aussies breeding. That’s a good thing! A big white Australia is fine. But browning Australia up, diversifying – that’s bad.

It’s fairly apparent that you can’t tell people not to breed and it can’t really be controlled without draconian policies. It’s a natural impulse in some of us. And it’s not like the birth rate is extremely high in Australia. But why reward it? If you want to control the population, Ms Gillard, dump the Baby Bonus and institute the ‘No-baby Bonus.’ Give people financial incentives for not contributing to an ‘unsustainable’ population.

My No-baby Bonus is of course a joke. But if we’re to believe the government’s rhetoric on population management, then the Baby Bonus too is a joke.

Matthew Sini

Matthew Sini is a writer currently based in Melbourne. He has published essays, plays, screenplays and fiction in both Australia and overseas.

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  1. Funny, but not at the same time. I completely agree with you but the issue has to be addressed at the ideological level – that is, there is a terrible middle-class indulgence at large. ‘We’ think that we can continue breeding as much as we like without question, never asking ourselves whether another child is purely that – an indulgence. And each child puts more and more pressure on our cities, our resources, our infrastructure (what there is of it) and, as you say, represents a significant cost to everyone in the long-term. I think the baby bonus should be limited to 2 children then after that, the government says to breeders, if you want to have more you need to finance it. Hardly a two-child policy but more saying, if you choose to have more children, you need to foot the bill – and this would of course extend to child care benefit, family assistance etc. And I think you should definitely get a bonus for NOT having children … maybe it could be a tax break or something like that. thanks – what you’ve said needs to be said.

    1. Cheers Sophie. Some interesting points there too. I agree on the middle-class indulgence point. There’s also some very interesting insights to be gleaned at the level of sexuality too…I am continually shocked and amazed at how many of my straight friends have unprotected sex or sex without birth control with or without long term sexual partners. It does not seem like “planning” for children is a norm now, if indeed it ever was.

  2. No, you should not be rewarded for not breeding. All the menial tasks you require in you entire like, up until the day someone puts you in a box or a furnace will be done by other people’s children. Get real, dude.

    1. Breeder, if you think your children will take care of you in your twilight years, think again. People are breeding a new selfish me only generation. They will not give damn on your welfare when your old. So, who’s gonna take care of you? Right, the nurses and workers from overseas!

  3. Hi Matt, good on you for raising this, though I’m not entirely sure why we should be thinking about limiting the Australian population either through birth control or immigration.

    I guess for me the issue is not so much about Australia’s population but our unfair use of the resources, which per head, is up there with the most greedy in the world.

    The issue of supporting people who choose to have children needs to consider the shift of welfare from the needy to the middle-classes since the 80s. This has meant that wealthy people now receive payments they don’t need and these include the baby bonus. There’s also the enormous subsidies that go to private schools and private medical insurance not to mention the failure of all governments to impose a wealth tax. But then we saw what happened with the mining tax.

    If we consider recently released figures of two million Australians living in poverty (and you can bet many more live on its precipice) and 12 per cent of children living in relative poverty, the answer is not to remove payments to families in dire need but to means test (generously, so more people don’t plummet into poverty) who receives those payments.

    If I can go back to my first point: the baby bonus is not so much the problem as is the distribution and consumption of resources both between and within countries, which any way you look at it, is obscene.

    1. Hi Trish,

      I’m not seriously considering limiting the population. Not much of that post was serious in fact. What I am trying to do is examine the government/anti-immigrant middle class’s “logic” (such as it is) which thinks 1. population is a significant problem, 2.limiting immigration is a feasible solution while at the same time they advocate for 3. rewarding people who decide to have children, incentivizing the production of more and more people, which is, as far as the government’s concerned, the problem in the 1st place. It just doesn’t add up.

  4. Hey Matt,

    I’m one for whom population control – meaning, genuinely limiting our population – is something which actually, yes, I do think we should be looking at. Given the average Australian ecological footprint is well beyond sustainable – given the WORLD EF is above sustainable – we either need to start decreasing our individual footprints, or start having fewer of us, or in my preference both. I’m not quite in favour of a no-baby bonus, but I’m all for removing the baby bonus itself. Yay, another mouth to feed in our over-consuming society. Yeah… no.

    Herman Daly has some interesting comments on the limiting of population growth in A Steady State Economy; I believe he agrees with you about attention being paid to immigration, where realistically we need to pay attention to all births, because the world is at an unsustainable point, economically, ecologically and socially – and we need to address all parts of this if we are to live sustainably, in a steady state.

  5. As a “breeder” with two children I get really annoyed with people who feel gloriously virtuous because they choose, for whatever reason, not to have children, and try to lay guilt on those who choose to “breed”. Don’t have children – that’s fine with me, but stop telling me how clever and “sustainable” you are and painting “breeders” as mindless baby factories.

    Where is the next generation of nurses and doctors and carers in geriatric wards going to come from? It’s the current breeders who will provide the trained staff, ie our children, who will be caring for you in your old-age; the ones who’ll feed you and wipe your bums when you’re too old or sick to do it yourselves.

    I agree paying a baby bonus to well-off middle class families is ridiculous. However, even if you choose not to breed yourself, somewhere down the line you are going to benefit from the tax my children will pay that will fund your healthcare in old age and the skills they learn that contribute to the society you live in. The “breeders” are footing the bill for this – what’s your contribution? Stop yelling “unsustainable” at preschoolers and make yourself more sustainable now.

  6. Di you sound like another moronic sheeple with your drivel about how your kids taxpaying is going to fund my ass being wiped when Im old and decrepid..Bollocks I work hard and pay my own taxes and provide for myself for my old age..My wife and I are not breeders and never will be and wont expext your doctor and nurse brats to look after us..

  7. Di, the sad reality is, your bums will be wiped by foreign workers and nurses, while your two kids are fighting over who will get the inheritance money, whatever remaining. Benefit from their taxes? Yeah, right!

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