Slow Growth

[The following was published as a Letter to the Editor in the Canberra Times, 19th March.  It has generated a bit of comment, so I thought I’d post it here too.]

[Update 24 March:  I will add relevant Letters to Ed to the Comments here as they appear in the paper.]

Canberrans will be worse off if Canberra grows rapidly, as the growth boosters want.  Much of the amenity we enjoy will be lost to crowding, congestion and outdated infrastructure.  Much of the amenity we had has already been lost.  Civic is already lost, transformed from people-friendly plazas to glass boxes with managed artificial environments.

Those who want a bigger city, including Chief Minister Jon Stanhope, should move to a bigger city.

It’s time those of us who do not want rapid population growth spoke up without shame.  It’s time the patronising nonsense of growth boosters was challenged.

High population growth is not inevitable, it is a result of deliberate policies that favour the self-interest of a few.

People who want to retain their quality of life should not be maligned with terms like NIMBY.  A slow-growing community can be “vibrant” (to use the spruikers’ favourite adjective).  Slow growth does not equate to “stagnant”.

Slow growth would save our community  a lot of money, because we wouldn’t have to pay for so many new houses, nor suffer such high rents and house prices.  We wouldn’t have to pay for so many new roads.

We could maintain existing infrastructure properly.  We could invest in facilities for our people and community, instead of more concrete.

The mainstream economic equation – that more paid activity equals higher gross domestic product equals a growing “economy” equals increasing “standard of living” equals increasing quality of life – is false.

We don’t owe builders and developers a living.  We owe our children a healthy and enriching place to live, and parents who have time to be with them.

How about it Canberrans?  Will anyone speak up for slow growth?

15 thoughts on “Slow Growth

  1. PeterJB

    Allow me a comment please:

    I was born in Canberra many years ago in 1943, or thereabouts. I escaped 3 weeks later on a troop train North to beyond Cowra to be hidden in the rushes. The trip took about 1 week apparently as my Mother kept being thrown off the train so that the troops could be urgently deployed. My Father, a RAF pilot, was to die shortly afterwards on the shores of France after being shot down by enemy fire.

    I now need to pay the Government to receive a copy of his death certificate, saying this, just to give you an idea where this thread is going and just how socially sick Australia has become.

    On the bright side, my daughter and I spent a few most pleasant days in Canberra this recently past Xmas staying with dear friends. I am sure that you not aware but Canberra is the home of that great father of the Electric Universe Theory, Wallace Thornhill who I am privileged to be acquainted with . Wal, for your information, has opened the door to the future for all mankind through the sciences; the physics of the Universe and all life therein and he resides in your backyard and community. This work opens up a whole new universe of understanding and is about to bring a major breakthrough in clean energy, and the physics of a sustainable world and the practicalities of interstellar travel. Mind you, this will require the need to shed the skin of the snake and dump all current political systems and all that hangs off them. Not an unpleasant task by any definition.

    We had a wonderful time being toured around through Parliament House, the Art Gallery and many other places including the National Library where I needed to conclude a little research. I am now a card carrying member of the latter, most wonderful establishment.

    Wonderful relaxed, unhurried days, beautiful weather, magnificent company and home made apple pie that neither my daughter nor I, have forgotten to this day.

    The frenzy for “growth” is a young man’s pseudo sport arising for the need for adventure and the innate drive human drive for experience and a total lack of ambition to go forth to unconquered lands and foreign shores to gain a more worldly expression of tacit maturity. Growth to me never has had a good ring but a false premise emanating from fools with nothing better to do and lacking the courage to undertake some basic and fundamental pioneering. It comes across as something akin to defecating on one’s own doorstep as well as a frustration in not being able to express one’s own self in a socially contributing manner. Incest.

    In my opinion this incestuous act of imposing unnatural growth onto the community in which one lives and the whole community at large from which one emerges, is unnatural at it forces the early demise of the community. And far more quickly than normal evolution – by a factor of higher the growth to be targeted and achieved. In economic terms it forces the community to rapidly force feed on its endogenous energies – generated and derived from within, and out of, the community itself – without the ingestions of a priori, exogenous inputs which would have normally occurred if these young cavaliers had gone away for suitable adventures and experiences and arrogant smack downs to some humility, that bring the scars of maturity through a greater and nobler truth than available of the cradle and nanny state of home.

    Yes, I totally agree with you, but then I am older now and appreciate that which you bring to the fore, but then again, after ~50 years away fighting the wars of adventures on foreign shores, I believe that I am a more well rounded person than those unfortunate young people that have been duped by Australia’s ignorant “leadership” in action and have stayed at home and at best merely had a weekend at Australia’s ghetto in Indonesia, Bali.

    Your question Sir, has far greater implications for Australia than our peaceful residence of Canberra, without the banging of pylons, blasting of mountains and noisy and dirty trucking bringing the heavy materials associated with “growth”. It is a crucial and fundamental matter of context that impacts the critical thinking necessary for the future of Australia.

    From where does this necessary maturity hail?

    Let me assure you that in all philosophy from well before the acknowledged written records, and further beyond to that time when men were Men, it is told that the golden hoard and fleece sought by the men seeking valour; men of courage, of honour, men of the heart, sought first experience and sought this savage untamed beast in every vast land, and harsh jungle, on every battlefield and in every den of thieves and aye, indeed, lions and tygers; experience and only experience kills fear and builds wisdom. A battle lost to a better adversary, brings great and so necessary humility and hence sagacity of intellectual empowerment. It is this very experience that is the vital exogenous energy that the community needs so desperately to survive and that my dear fellow, is the answer to your problem of “growth” in Canberra and elsewhere.

    I hope this clarifies some of the issues that I have with this matter.



  2. PeterJB


    I am for growth but not rapid growth. I believe that growth up to but not exceeding 1.5% is the optimum, but it depends upon circumstances and conditionalities. Just about all the local government in Australia have been infested by self-agenda individuals and their sword bearing warriors. This is not good.

    As Buddha says: ” Be still”.

    Children are part of those circumstances as is the emphasis on values.

    Canberra has become a beautiful environment probably because the politicians have effectively moved to Sydney.

    But then, you do need growth to support the facilities and the R&M.

    And you may have noticed that I am not in favour of government dictated by inexperienced pinheads that know nothing about damned near everything.
    And as far as bureaucrats running anything are concerned, I refer you to Bureaucracy by v. Mises.

    Get in there take over the councils and “throw the bums out.”


  3. Kevin Cox

    The difficulty with arguing against population growth is that it is seen to be arguing against growth. The task is to break the link between population growth and economic growth. One first step is to argue against using GDP as a measure of economic growth. To do that a better measure of economic growth is needed.

    Attempts to include other factors by putting a price on the so called externalities has proven difficult – but it is an interesting exercise and helps focus minds.

    Another approach is to use the approach we use in companies and that is return on investment or profitability. How much value are we getting from our social and physical infrastructure investments and natural assets.

    Let us see how that might work with land. For the purposes of measuring productivity then whenever land is used then it goes on the denominator of the profitability measure. The value that is created from the use of the land goes on the numerator. Land when it is not used is not included in the equation. Land that is not used is land that is unavailable for sale or exploitation.

    So, in the case of Canberra we are seeing a drop in productivity of the land because our income is not rising in relation to the increased use of land.

    If we used this simple measure and measured progress by it then we would see a move to take away land from use because it would increase the productivity of the remaining land. This is in contrast to existing system where using more land is seen to increase GDP not decrease productivity.

    How we measure things is important and changing our measures to reflect productivity of resources rather than consumption of resources will lead to a change in behaviour.


  4. Geoff Davies Post author

    Canberra Times letters, 22 March (Murray May, Cook).

    Geoff Davies flags the various issues associated with continuing to create a bigger Canberra, including more crowding, congestion and a reduction in residents’ quality of life. Similar arguments on a larger scale were raised when Kevin Rudd advocated a “big Australia”, with further population growth being cast as “good news”.
    Essentially, the choice of futures comes down to a fundamental difference in values.
    The economic thinker James Robertson wrote in the 1970s of those who wanted a hyper-expansionist future.
    In this view of the futures, social and ecological limits are given low priority, and all manner of science and technology is called on the “manage” growth, a central mainstream economic assumption. Another option flagged by Robertson is a “sane, humane, ecological” future, in which the key to the future is not continuing expansion, but balance within ourselves, balance between ourselves and other people, and balance between people and nature.
    One observes elements of the latter vision in the slow cities movement that began in Italy. This is concerned with more than just fending off “fast food”. Rather, questioning growth and finding more human, less frenetic ways of living are valued.
    Former Treasury head Ken Henry expressed concerns about the ecological limits to Kevin Rudd’s “big Australia” model.
    Likewise, Davies rightly asks Canberrans to question the growth mantra and practices of mainstream politicians operating hand in hand with the developers.


  5. Geoff Davies Post author

    Canberra Times letters, 23 March (R. S. Gilbert, Braddon).

    Geoff Davies doesn’t want Canberra to grow too fast, because he enjoys it the way it is now – and thinks we should keep it that way for our children too.
    He thinks anyone who wants a bigger city should go somewhere else.
    A few comments.
    One, why does he think his children will feel the same way as he does when they grow up? How does he know they won’t prefer a bustling, vibrant, exciting city to a quiet, boring one?
    Two, if everyone shared his view, how would we house, feed, clothe the inevitable increase in population as time passes?
    Three, he says he shouldn’t be regarded as a nimby (not in my backyard) because of his attitude. But surely someone who says anyone who wants growth should go to another city is the very essence of nimbyism?
    Four, how is he going to limit population growth? Ban couples from having children, and refuse entry from now on to people who want to move to Canberra?


  6. Geoff Davies Post author

    Canberra Times letters, 24 March (Colin Samundsett, Farrer).

    “How would we house, feed, clothe the inevitable increase in population as time passes” without continued growth? R. S. Gilbert asks.
    Wow! Here is a human being falling for the same trick played on the proverbial donkey with a mouth-watering carrot in front of its nose. Will he ever get up to speed?
    Canberra’s rate of growth is already faster than it can handle: dammed for water by an unfriendly climate and the demands of the Murray-Darling Basin shemozzle; costs of property escalating year by year – now way beyond the reach of first-home buyers.
    The ACT [Australian Capital Territory] economy, ever the worry of the Chief Minister, revolves around construction – frighteningly similar to that of basket-case Ireland.
    Irish economist Morgan Kelly noted their construction industry had swollen to nearly a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, and that since 1994 the average price of a Dublin home had risen more than 500 per cent. Our difference lies in importation of people to buy or rent – increase construction, increase imports.
    That is tough for the local yokel, and mathematically/environmentally/socially unsustainable: eventually we will join our Irish cousins in the economic dustbin.
    What to do? Get off the treadmill: foster alternate industries and educate our own skills to run them: most of all stop encouraging the Federal Government’s passion for massive net immigration intake.


  7. Ronald Bastian

    Sorry Canberra,

    So the glaringly obvious question is upon us once again……… gains media attention, rises to dazzling heights and then loses wind again…………..I wrote to David Bradbury MP on several occassions prior to the last election putting forward the “many” arguments relating to population numbers and the need to “stabilise” the growth rate as he, like me, live in the Penrith area. I also made at the same time some suggestions that he obviously took aboard which showed a keen willingness by Mayors and business leaders in certain Regional Centres to support any policy moves to inject funds into those centres to attract a wide range of Australians, both young and the elderly, including new immigrants to this country to consider moving into one of the more progressive regional country areas which would increase the economies, justify the current funding issued for the essential services as well as provide jobs and infrastructure as demand for them increase by new population intake…..David (I believe) passed this on to Julia Gillard, as, soon after you might recall the Prime Minister’s announcement that her position on population numbers was that she was NOT FOR a “Big Australia”, contrary to Kevin Rudd’s position.

    I have long felt that any objections to “immigration” per se immediately invites the “Hansonites” to come on board….Any debates that can be misconstrued as “racist” taunts are also a “negative” so the “solution” must be not only positive but must be supported with sensible and economically sound arguments. Attending a forum on “water-issues” in Penrith last year, Ticky Fullerton was the chosen fascilitator and during the session she asked “Who said we have to make room here in western Sydney for increased immigration numbers…WHO is saying this?”…I looked around at all of the faces looking dumbstruck, nobody could provide an answer because we don’t know…we can only guess that there is a direct relationship with “Big Business” and “Macquarie Street” and it stinks.

    As I was born in 1939 I have developed my own “weathervane” on immigration, the benefits as well as the changes we did not need, but nothing is perfect. I have to say that I believe Australia has to grow but not quickly and “Certainly Not”, crammed into the outer suburbs of the largest capital cities. There is a critical “need” to find “something”, to put a cork in the constant “blitzkrieg” by land developers who have managed to get every Government Minister, Local Council and in particular the NSW Planning Department who appear to believe that they have the unalienable “right” to design and make policy on the expansion of an unsustainable population by “rubber-stamping” land releases in Western Sydney regardless of the research and data created by “other” Government agencies, population “experts” that clearly warn of the many risks of continuing this lunacy…and I am sure I don’t have to “list” them for you, as we have had to “shout them out.” too many times over the years ad nauseum and the news is all bad.
    So for me at this time perhaps we should, once again remind the PM of her opposition for a “BIG OZ”, and press for an update on the promised support and funding that was placed in the hands of her planning minister (Tony Burke) prior to and during the Federal election. otherwise , it most certainly will land this Nation in hot water if we fail to plan an acceptable and achievable strategy of creating a more logistically clever way to achieve a slow and steady increase in immigration, as well as creating highly attractive alternative places to settle that are already begging for an influx of permanent families in regional Australia………..Surely, living in the “bush” these days can’t be that bad…. ….And now, I am about to explain the reason why I sadly believe that all of the “positive advice” that I have remonstrated will NEVER HAPPEN.
    The vast tracts of Government-owned land in Greater Western Sydney and other areas is still the “cheapest” place to purchase the land by the enormously wealthy housing developers…..It is also vastly “cheaper” to include the infrastructure and for the “Builders?” to access the goods and services required for construction.
    These same development corporations donate huge amounts of money to both Liberal and Labor party coffers every year which gains them direct and assured access to the States planning Ministers and the NSW Planning Departments bureaucracy, along with the Treasurer that make the agenda-creating decisions that dovetail into the investment portfolios of those powerful and influential Housing developers..It has always been this way since back in the 1800’s when the likes of Sir Alan Taylor, a liberal MP, Lord Mayor of Sydney, who owned the largest Timber company in the southern hemisphere ane sat on the board of the largest NSW steamship company and blatantly “fixed” prices as well as becoming famous for his re-development of the Sydney CBD for which “Taylor’s Square” is named after. So where is the link?…I think it is obvious and if we ever think that politicians can and will be capable of “changing their stripes”. Think again and follow the thread of behaviour we have been experiencing over the last couple of decades…..or perhaps colonial settlement ?.
    In NSW on the 26th March (Saturday), regardless of who wins, you can be assured that the NSW voters will be the “losers”. Canberrans !!!…..the same is on it’s way to you because “economic rationalism” will kill your opposition to “expansionism”, every time…


  8. PeterJB

    Me again:

    Perhaps for those that know little of the ‘biosphere’ or indeed, noted that the early explorers of Australia were rather quick to point out, the rather huge shortage of water and the harshness of the Australian environment.

    Of course, John Howard the minor, rediscovered Australia’s water shortage only a few years ago and announced same at the end of his great reign as the US Sherrif of the Asians – the prelude to militarily confronting China in cahoots with the US, which Labour is warming up at the present moment. This type of revelation (Howard and his water shortage) represents the soundest arguments for keeping government out of the planning stages of any debate which involves people and values.

    Personally I like also big cities very much and have lived in many of them; my favourite being Seoul in south Korea with a population of ~10million but New York, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong all have their attractions, as does Canberra.

    But I am all for a life of being in harmonious accord with the environment and would happily live in any City and under any Government given that the “leadership” is of integrity; of intellect, reason, competence; of honour, honest, compassionate and courageous. Simple really.

    Impossible, you say? How sadly so true. Let me move on then.

    Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky takes a magnificent approach to our presence on this planet and stimulates the soul and thus evoking fine reasons, besides “money for the boys” and a place for “our children to play and grow up”, sandboxes indeed. His approach is through the natural physics (physis) of all that we find ourselves amongst and play an integral part thereof.

    There is really no point to impose Laws and Regulations on growth, only the values that should be held cherished. Mind you in this vain, many cherish nothing but money and don’t care how they get it but I suggest politically based and bureaucratically printed fiat does not represent “values” and some heavy breathing going go into establishing your values. But you could start with clean air, pure water, respect, honesty, minding one’s business and keeping your hands out of other peoples’ pocket, etc., for a start.

    It also should be noted that “Imposition” – any imposition, is technically an act of War. Clausewitz- On War

    As Vednadsky is dead and buried (you really should try to read his ideation’s surrounding socio-economic values) , perhaps I could also introduce to you Professor Bruce Lipton a leading cellular biologist and researcher who has recently published two great / magnificent works, Biology of Belief and Spontaneous Evolution. If you need to be shocked into reality, these works will do it, and more to the point, Lipton in living in New Zealand as does do speaking tours where the essence of his talks are on “values”. The Community of Canberra, the thinking part, would benefit greatly from hearing his qualitative opines.

    From what I have seen of Canberra recently, I recommend contacting Dr. Lipton to arrange a public Canberra wide Speaking Session on “growth”. While you are at it, invite Wallace Thornhill to speak as well. Wal and Bruce have both shared the same venues previously.

    FYI, this type of input is part of that which I term exogenous energies.


  9. Geoff Davies Post author

    May I gently note to commenters here that a concise comment is more likely to get your point across. I don’t have time (or often the interest) to read long biographical essays. My suggestion/request is to leave the personal history out and get straight to the point. A little forethought is required to identify the point(s), so please invest that before rattling the keys, so it’s not a stream-of-consiousness challenge like Ulysses.


  10. Ronald Bastian

    To fellow bloggers……………..

    Sorry if I have rattled-on too much… not interested in TV much these days.
    I have got the message and will quietly withdraw…


  11. Geoff Davies Post author

    Canberra Times letters, 28 March (Geoff Davies).

    It was predictable that my comments advocating slow growth (City growth harm, Letters 19 March) would be misconstrued and over-interpreted.  R. S. Gilbert (Letters, 23 March) has obliged, committing some of the usual fallacies in the process.

    He calls population increase “inevitable”, but I pointed out that rapid population growth is the result of deliberate policies.  To spell them out for Gilbert’s benefit, first, Chief Minister Stanhope has a continuing campaign to persuade people to move to Canberra.  Second, the Rudd Government greatly boosted Australia’s immigration intake, which remains high.  Third, the Howard Government successfully promoted a higher birth rate with a baby bonus.  These policy changes can and should be reversed.

    So we don’t have to “ban couples from having children” nor prohibit people from coming to Canberra, as Gilbert offensively implies are the only alternatives I have left open.

    Gilbert, in the standard false premise of growth boosters, equates fast growth with “bustling, vibrant [that word again], exciting” and slow growth with “quiet, boring”.  Of course if that were the only choice not many would choose “boring”, but Canberra has a thriving culture (“high brow” and “low brow”) and slow growth won’t change that.

    Anyway, even a Canberra of 500,000 souls would not satisfy those who want a big city life. Children who want that will long since have moved to a big city.  This whole argument about “vibrancy” is an irrelevance to the real reason growth is promoted, which is to promote the profits of certain sections of our community.

    Finally Gilbert personalises his critique by asking why I think my children will feel the same way as me?  Well I referred collectively to “our” children, and most parents of young children choose what they think is best for their children.  Not that it’s any of his business, but my adult children’s choices are more consistent with my view than Gilbert’s.


  12. Kevin Cox

    This is a good letter. The fallacy is to equate economic growth with consumption of resources. We can have economic growth with the same or less consumption of resources by getting the same output from fewer resources through the application of appropriate investment.


  13. PeterJB

    “Third, the Howard Government successfully promoted a higher birth rate with a baby bonus. ”

    I have never heard of such a “gawd-awful” Policy as the above “bucks for f*&^s” – its just unnatural and immoral besides being totally unnecessary.

    It is Government funded and sponsored prostitution.

    The Time to change our Government System is overdue and we need to take this role on as individuals – not as “elite” banker sponsored cartels.



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