War at the Dan O’Connell!

This is an open thread for people to jump in and tell us (and each other) what they thought about last night (December 9) , and engage in further discussion of the topic, if they wish.   We’re considering asking the speakers if they’d each be prepared to post a short guest blog to further the discussion, as well – but can’t guarantee that.  They’ve all really done their bit by coming along last night.

But you never know ….

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General discussion thread

Please feel free to jump in here and make comments about The Monthly Argument.  These can be suggestions, criticisms, remarks about  issues which came up at the first two debates, requests for topics you’d like us to organise a debate about in the future, requests for us to open a new thread devoted to a particular topic.   All feedback is welcome. We’re still piloting the project and trying to make it better.

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Should we switch to renewables?

That’s what our September 9th debate will be about.

This won’t be a debate about climate science. The focus will be on whether a case can be made for beginning a rapid switch to renewable energy in Australia right now. None of the speakers (as far as I know) will be arguing against the switch on the basis that we have insufficient evidence of AGW.

The argument will be around economic and ideological matters related to how best to deal with a warming planet. There’s a widespread assumption that if you’re opposed to the idea that we should be taking various measures to reduce carbon levels as quickly as we can, then you must be a “climate sceptic”. In fact, so far there’s been a largely “false debate” over whether climate change really is occurring which has got in the way of serious discussion about whether the only possible response to the predicted rise in temperature is to switch as quickly as possible to a low carbon economy.

(I say “false debate” because most lay people who have participated in it have not been qualified to do so. This is true of people on both sides of the issue – and it’s also true of many people who are scientists in other fields. )

We have an excellent line up of speakers for this debate (full details on our home page). It seems very likely that the argument will revolve around the Zero Carbon Stationary Energy Plan launched by Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE)     We have Matthew Wright from BZE on the panel and one of our two lead speakers is John Daley, from the Grattan Institute,  who spoke at the launch of the plan.

Our other lead speaker is Alan Moran (IPA).  He’ll be explaining why he thinks the plan is a fantasy and just  doesn’t make economic sense.

On the panel (in addition to Matthew Wright) we have Cam Walker (Friends of the Earth) who will be sympathetic to the idea of switching to renewables,  Arthur Dent (aka Albert Langer), who won’t be , and Austin Williams (author of “Enemies of Progress“), who also won’t be.

So come along and hear the issues argued out.

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This is intended to be a brief account of the varying views on immigration in the lead-up to the debate. It’s no more than a taster however.  When trying to write something brief and simple, it’s almost impossible not to slip into a bit of caricature.  So I’ll plead guilty beforehand.   However since this is a blog,  please feel welcome to  jump in and say what’s wrong with it And in any case, all the speakers will get a chance to speak for themselves in just a few days. It looks to be an interesting (and fun) evening.

Kerry (MA organising committee)


Concern about Australia’s high level of immigration is widespread at the moment.   And it’s pretty clear that both Labor and Liberal have decided that there are votes in rejecting the idea of a “big Australia”.

Who’s worried?

Well, there’s always been a degree of opposition which is frankly xenophobic, however what’s a bit different now is that there’s a substantial degree of opposition coming from people who are identified as in some way socially progressive/leftwing in orientation.

This type of opposition to a continuing  high rate of immigration  is accompanied by an endeavour  to make it very clear that the concern is solely with rate of population growth and  has nothing in common with  the anti-immigrant stance of  groups like Australia First.

Chuck Berger (Director of strategic Ideas at the Australian conservation Foundation, and one of the speakers at our August 12 debate) has put it like this:

Some commentators have been quick to detect a murky
agenda of xenophobia hovering behind a green cloak in
the population debate. They are right to be suspicious.
Population control movements have been associated in
the past with anti- migrant agendas and coercive birth
control policies in developed and developing countries.
In light of this dark history, it is critical for those who
advocate population stabilisation to reject any such
association unequivocally. And yet it is possible to argue
for a sustainable population policy that includes some
limits on migration without being anti-migrant.

The Greens Party, the Australian Conservation Foundation and a number of other green/environmental groups argue that although  we have an humanitarian obligation to settle a certain number of asylum seekers, the requirement for a “sustainable Australia” means that  we will need to make substantial cuts to the rate of “normal migration”.

However,  it’s seems undeniable that this type of opposition to high rates of immigration  is intertwined with various types of less “high minded” opposition from people and groups who actively resent new arrivals on the grounds that they  push up house prices , take jobs,  overload the infrastructure,  threaten  social cohesion and “Australian values” etc etc.

And this intertwining seems pretty much unavoidable.  Berger himself has said:

“More people means more roads, more urban sprawl, more dams, more power lines, more energy and water use, more pollution in our air and natural environment and more pressure on our animals, plants, rivers, reefs and bush.

“If we want our kids to enjoy the same quality of life we have enjoyed, we should aim to stabilise our population and overall consumption at sustainable levels.”

There doesn’t seem to be much of a jump from here to to the more narrow minded position of those who  resent   migrants for “taking what’s ours’, and who simply regard them as “not welcome”.

I think that this is one of the  issues  that’s bound to come up on August 12 when we will hear Chuck Berger debate with Sinclair Davidson.

Who’s not worried?

Not all environmental/Green organisations agree with the ACF position.  A notable exception is Friends of the Earth (FOE), which  categorically rejects the idea that it’s justifiable to restrict immigration in the interests of sustainability.   Cam Walker, who formulated the FOE position, will be one of the panel members on August the 12, so we will get to hear him argue his case,  following the initial  debate between Berger and Davidson.

Put briefly, the FOE view is that it’s not correct to argue that there’s an irreconcilable contradiction between continuing to increase our population and creating “a sustainable Australia”.  In their position paper, it is argued that we can absorb many more people, provided we make some fundamental changes to our current ways of living.

Probably , the  loudest  pro-immigration voices at the moment come from a section of the political right.

Right wing opposition to calls for a reduction in immigration  involve  a fundamental disagreement about the whole notion of  sustainability,  a  rejection of the idea that rapid economic growth is dangerous to the planet and that we have become victims of our own hubris in thinking we can master nature (etc).  The argument from the Right is often acccompanied by   explicit  support for the the idea of “free movement of people”, which is both a libertarian principle and part of the argument for immigration being “an economic good”.

Various right wingers, most notably Chris Berg  from the Institute of Public Affairs,  have also argued that it’s  just not possible to  enforce strict limits on  immigration in a way which doesn’t have racist elements –  any such  policy will necessarily be one of  excluding poor, non-white people.  In addition, Green sympathy for asylum speakers has been seen as rather hypocritical:

“Having a sustainable population implies asylum seekers can come to Australia, but no-one else. You may flee your third world country to Australia if there’s a war on, but not if you’re starving. That, after all, would be bad for the environment.”

(Chris Berg)

At the August 12 debate, Sinclair Davidson (Professor in the School of economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public affairs), will speak to (a version)  this position.

The clash of views between Berger and Davidson should  have some very interesting aspects,  and once the panel discussion begins I think things will become even more interesting (and probably surprising).

The wild card on the panel will be Arthur Dent (previously known as Albert Langer).  Dent is, possibly Australia’s most well known leftwing trouble maker ( well known to anyone over a certain age, anyway).  He’s also a classic contrarian …. has been known to claim that he could well be from another planet.  For more,  see  “Langer vote” and also The Devil’s Choice .

I’m predicting some degree of alliance between Davidson and Dent on this issue.  But such an alliance is sure  to be littered with contradictions which should be entertaining, at the very least.

Our other panel member is Jill Quirk from Sustainable Population, Australia who has been deeply concerned about environmental degradation, urban congestion and sprawl.  She has a long history of activism in these areas and argues that the limits to Australia’s carrying capacity make it of the utmost urgency that migration to Australia should be no more than is required by our humanitarian obligation to accept refugees.  I’m not in a position to attempt an accurate summary of Quirk’s position, but I’m guessing that she will argue similarly to Berger, possibly arguing for an even more drastic reduction in immigration.

Come along next Thursday to hear our speakers and panel members speak for themselves.  There will opportunities to speak from the floor, and afterwards  it will be possible to stay on and continue the argument over a pub meal.

The aim of of the Monthly Argument is to bring back real political  argument!!  We’re so tired of “ABC Conversations”  and public meetings in which people go along to hear ideas that they already agree with.

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