Scary stories from a lovely place
An Australian entrepreneur, Dick Smith, published a book last year about Australia’s population growth (it was launched by Bindi Iriwin. Weird.) Smith writes that our population is rising too dramatically and increasing strain on the environment and economy. His concern is that this will lead to a catastrophic impact upon the standard of living in this country. He goes so far as to say that it could lead to Australians living in similar slum conditions as in Dhaka, Bangladesh. His solution is that as a nation we curtail our baby making and slow the stream of migrants coming to Australia.
Now this ‘crisis’ is news to me as I thought there was a problem of the opposite kind in Australia. Thus the government continues to fund schemes like the Baby Bonus and Paid Parental Leave. These generous government payments are intended to make it easier for people to have children as well as continue in the workforce.
While I’ve always found Smith to be a little annoying, I admire his entrepreneurial spirit and sense of humour. I particularly enjoyed his own brand of generic, Australian groceries, and the rebranding of matches from ‘Redheads’ to ‘Dickheads’.
Smith’s book was met with mixed reviews, one of which I read in the wonderful Monthly magazine. The reviewer criticises Smith for calling for a decrease in Australian’s spending on ‘stuff’, claiming it’s this gluttony that strains the environment. The review gleefully lists Smith’s fancy possessions, including mansions, a helicopter, private jet and expensive cars. He also censures Smith for warning his readers about damage to the environment but failing to comment on Australia’s enormous coal industry. Smith preaches doom and gloom for the future. The Monthly reviewer brings it back to reality.
Smith’s myopic, alarmist attitude isn’t the first I’ve been surprised by since living back in Australia. Watching the news on the commercial stations you could be forgiven if you thought that all was well in the world, but in Australia where there was an apartment fire and a kookaburra hanging on to life after being hit by a car. A couple of weeks ago, for example, a short piece on the Marikana mine strike and shooting in South Africa ranked in importrance behind a story about an Aussie kid who is going to America to play sport. Watching the SBS World News is like hearing about what’s happening on a whole other galaxy.
After a few months of living in Australia I realised again how, on paper, it’s pretty perfect. The sun shines freely and the ocean sparkles, the roads are clean, the government agencies are efficient and generous, the trains are safe and the bacon is not thin and slimy. Nevertheless, there are problems, even if they aren’t as extreme or amass as elsewhere. Lots of people are bored and unhappy with life. Some struggle with addictions, domestic violence and serious mental illness. Some are poor. Recently I saw a particularly poor looking young woman caught stealing at the supermarket. She just had cooking oil in her bag, not one of life’s luxuries.
But I don’t think a growth in population will escalate these problems into a standard of living that resembles slum life. Not happy Dick.