July 13th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Escaping our debt roller coaster

CANBERRA: Simon Crean's winter of discontent

BIOETHICS: Tell the truth about adult stem cells

AGRICULTURE: Sugar industry report: a mixed bag

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Victoria clones white elephant / The new boy scouts

TRADE: Globalism - an idea whose time has passed

LAW: Government approves ICC - with qualifications

Sexual misconduct in the church (letter)

Keeping couples together (letter)

"Censor" or "classify"? (letter)

ENVIRONMENT: Our future in our own hands

MEDIA: What of women traumatised by abortion?

ABC Media Watch: who judges the judges?

ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS: Mabo decision - ten years of frustration

AFRICA: Zimbabwe's agriculture, industry face meltdown

ASIA: Free trade agreements - what's in it for us?

FILM: Molokai: the story of Father Damien

BOOKS: Marriage, Health and the Professions

BOOKS: Afghanistan, Where God Only Comes to Weep, by Siba Shakib

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Our future in our own hands

by Bob Katter

News Weekly, July 13, 2002
Rejecting pessimistic prognostications recently published in the media, Queensland Independent MP, Bob Katter, puts forward an alternative vision for Australia's future.

At the recent National Property Council forum on Population, an apparently well-informed and articulate spokesman endorsed NSW Premier Bob Carr's claims that Australia could not support a population of more than 20 million people.

He informed we ignorant Cloncurry cattle farmers who had destroyed Australia's fragile landscape, that the Australian continent had no tectonic uplift - axiomatically no mountains - therefore no rain, the continent had been 60 per cent covered by sea therefore suffered a ubiquitous salinity - never protected by ice sheet our topsoils are now paper thin.

Soaring on magnificent waxed wings of erudition, Icarus had got too close to the sun.

Humbly casting myself in the role of harbinger of light - most certainly heat - I informed him that most of Australia's rain fell where there are no mountains at all - in North Queensland's Gulf country - caused by the water-laden NW monsoons, (unimpeded by mountains), colliding with the similarly water-laden South-Eastern Trades.

And whilst water tables in the Murray-Darling are about 100 ft deep, western Queensland's are around 1500 feet and sloping down towards the Gulf. As for paper-thin topsoils - Queensland's giant inland plains were created by tectonic "down thrust" and contain nearly 2000 feet of mudstone, which of course weathers into a rich black soil.

Oh how a "little knowledge is a dangerous thing".

Having discovered that the farmers and Mr Chifley and Mr Menzies and Mr McEwan ruined Australia with the Snowy Mountains and MIA Schemes and with a vast wealth of knowledge of the landscape gleaned from The Australian newspaper's Woolahra-based journalists - people whose closest encounter with the earth is the weekend hose-down of the car in front of the tasteful terrace house - came the attack upon "the 60 million population for Australia as soon as possible".

The Murray-Darling produces 41 per cent of Australia's agricultural production (nearly 50 per cent of our agricultural production is consumed in Australia). The Murray-Darling therefore supports a population of almost 20 million - and this with only a diminutive 22 million megalitres (ML) of annual rainfall run off.

Northern Queensland's Gulf Country - and periphery - has a run off of over 120 million MLs - enough water to cover every year an area the size of Victoria to a depth of two feet.

Queensland's Inland Plain - 1,200kms long and 500kms wide, all of rich black soil - is about the size of Victoria.

On the Murray-Darling experience, clearly the Gulf and periphery should support a population of 60 million people.

1. Economic Development

To quote one small specific example, Dr Bradfield's famous North Queensland diversion scheme would, on the Emerald Dam experience, generate $2500 million p.a. in export earnings and directly create 50,000 jobs and yet would not take a drop of water from North West Australia nor from the Gulf water delineated above.

Clearly the population question is not if we can but whether we want to.

2. Environment

Ironically the imperatives for development are very much environmental. Northern Australia has rainfall for only 3 months - "the wet". At the end of the nine-month "dry" the land bereft of any grass cover becomes in the first monsoonal downpour - invariably driven by a cyclonic influence - a miasma of ripping and tearing torrents of erosion taking Australia's best top soils to the bottom of the waters of the Gulf.

In just 25 years, six million hectares of native grasslands has been destroyed - replaced by the African Prickly Acacia Tree.

Clearly sitting on one's hands is not an option in an environment as erosive and radically changing as Australia's.

3. Geography

Professor Richard Blandy of the University of Melbourne, wrote in a national daily in 1994:

"If net migration were set at zero ... Australia's population would shrink to perhaps five or six million in the year 2100 ... at a net migration of 70,000 a year ... maybe 13 or 14 million by 2100 ... Would an ageing Australia with a shrinking number of people be secure in the face of an East Asia burgeoning in population and economic growth? ... Would a rational (and fair minded) world allow an empty Australian continent to become even less populated?"

Would anyone believe it fair that Indonesia should have an estimated 100 million going to bed hungry every night whilst their next-door neighbours sit upon a treasure trove of resources?

To not utilise or develop these riches is bad enough but to be adamantly determined to prevent anyone else from utilising them surely is to provoke justifiable criticism and un-needed hostility.

A delegation of Indonesians recently approached the Queensland and NT Governments to secure two km of coastline for a prawn-farming facility. They pointed out that of the Cairns to Karratha coastline - 5000kms - only 100 km or less showed any signs of human habitation. Their request was rejected. Australia's closest friends should be Indonesia, the Philippines and the Melanesias.

This rejection may well be justified but the continuing refusal to utilise the North's resources cannot be defended and must provoke justifiable criticism and unneeded hostility.

Northern Australia's live cattle trade provides the signpost to the future. Australia makes good profit. Our neighbour, Indonesia and the Philippines, make three times more profit than we do.

4. Population

Building population without creating social upheavals and systemic divisiveness isn't easy.

Encouraging young people to have children and removing disincentives provides a start point.

It would appear the height of injustice to ask a family - husband, wife and three kids with only one income - to pay the same tax as a double income no kids (Dinks) family. After tax, this results in an average income per person of $6,800 p.a. for the former, and $33,900 per person for the Dinks.

Some 50,000 unhappy Australian couples a year apply to adopt children. There are no children to adopt. There are over 131,000 abortions in Australia every year. The Government provides abortions paid for entirely by the taxpayer but there are no similar financial and support systems for women who would like to carry their baby through to birth.

The magazine Marie Claire recently undertook a survey of some 25 typical countries on each continent. Only Australia had no mandatory paid-maternity leave. Countries that did included Germany, France, Canada, Great Britain and Sweden.

Whilst people must work in the cities, alternatives to congested, poor quality city living can be provided. At home recycling of grey water, high-speed spoke-road corridors, the development of industry and resources, the provision of jobs, economic opportunity and a spirit of hope, an increase in personal freedoms - these intangibles are arguably even more germane to inducing a spirit of hope.

In the boom years of the Menzies era, Australians had children, but in the Great Depression they didn't.

Australia with a population too small to enable our industries to work competitively at economies of scale; too small to develop or benefit from scientific and technical breakthroughs (ask Ralph Sarich); Australia with only 20 million people must look forward to a future in which we will be eternally bereft of our Nicole Kidmans and Howard Floreys (antibiotics), our BeeGees and Sidney Nolans, even our William D'arcys (BP) and Rupert Murdochs - too small to enable its citizens to develop their human potential.

Of our Nobel Prize winners in science and medicine, all arguably received their prize whilst working overseas.

Over 200 years ago, Australians believed the outside world was no danger to them. With rigorous birth control methods, they achieved zero population growth and with totemic sanctions on each species, an environmentalist's dream. These belief systems did not lead them to the Promised Land. It led them to a social holocaust of near-annihilation.

Ernie Bridge - cattleman of First Australian descent and long-serving Minister in the WA Government; Dick Pratt - cardboard box and recycling king; both are children of the Australian bush, super-achievers and patriots.

Both men share a vision of watering a dry, barren and tortured land. This may be because both have a deep desire to see a bigger and more exciting Australia but it may also be that both have forebears that understand only too well the meaning of words like holocaust.

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