The question of Australia’s population size and a ‘Big Australia’ will be the subject of ABC Television Four Corners and Q&A programs on Monday 12 March 2018. For details see this post at the Q&A Facebook page.
Due to a virtual consensus among the major political parties (including the Greens) that a Big Australia is a Good Thing which must not be questioned, it is all that much harder to get any balance on this topic in the mainstream media, who tend to take their cues from the agendas of established political parties. It then becomes easy to portray concern about population and associated migrant intake issues as only that of a fringe group with racially motivated agendas, epitomized in parties such as Pauline Hanson One Nation. This deflection of serious debate on the topic suits very well the special interests such as real estate and construction which benefit from unending increase in our numbers — despite the fact that on a per capita basis, we are no better off — and in many ways we are worse off.
These upcoming ABC shows will be an important opportunity to ensure that there is some serious reporting and debate on this topic. I sent the following email to the ABC just in case they needed some reminding:
I note that the ABC is planning to air Four Corners and Q&A programs on the issue of population and a ‘Big Australia’. The topic of a ‘Big Australia’ is a contentious issue in public debate. Several opinion polls show more than 50 percent of Australians believe Australia has enough people or should not grow any larger than 30 million people. On the other hand, the major political parties (including the Greens) are in lockstep marching to the tune of a Big Australia. Thus there is a major gap between elite opinion and the general public. In view of this the ABC has a special responsibility to ensure that its Editorial Policy number 4 — Impartiality and Diversity of Perspectives — is fully achieved in this case.
The Q&A discussion ought to include discussion of the desirability of a Big Australia — as well as how (or whether) such growth could be actually be ‘managed’. There must be balance and representativeness in the range of views and expertise invited to be on the panel. Opponents of our current high rate of mass immigration (which fuels population growth) should not be stereotyped as racists and xenophobes — as is commonly done on the ABC.
It is also imperative that ABC journalists and interviewers have a clear understanding of the differences between the following four issues/questions:
1. the question of Australia’s desired population size (eg the desirability of a Big Australia)
2. the question of how or whether rapid population growth can be managed
3. the question of the success or failure of multiculturalism
4. the question of the treatment of ‘arrivals by boat’ (refugee claimants) — which incidentally have negligible impact on questions 1 and 2 above
The ABC can make a useful contribution to public understanding and debate by ensuring these issues are not conflated together and that each issue is clearly distinguished and considered on its merits.
There are any number of centrist, highly respected experts and commentators who oppose a Big Australia — for example Prof. Ian Lowe, William Bourke, Dr Jane O’Sullivan, Leith van Onselen, Mark O’Connor, Crispin Hull — just to name a few. It is to be hoped — given this view is held by a large section of the Australian community – that at least one representative of this general position will be included in both the Four Corners reportage and Q&A panel.
The question for the producers of Four Corners and Q&A is: given that this is such an important and contentious debate, will you select the panel in an impartial, balanced and fair way?
Peter G Cook, PhD