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.