Empty or full? The debate over the population of australia jonathan Stone

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Jonathan Stone

Challis Professor of Anatomy

University of Sydney

Occasionally, in the debate over Australia's population, the plea is heard that Australia must do its part in solving the problem of human crowding in other continents by establishing similar levels of population in this continent. It needs to be stated clearly and quickly however that Australia can be no more than a minor player in the fate of the human population of the planet. Australia currently has about 18 million people, barely a third of 1% of the whole. Even were we to accept people from other lands in numbers higher than anyone could reasonably expect, so that our population rose say tenfold in 20 years, to 200 million, we would absorb only a minor fraction of the increase of the planetís population which will occur in those years.

That said, it is of enormous importance to Australians of tomorrow how we manage the issue of population today, and it is important therefore to understand the present state of our population. And for that understanding a good starting point is the history of our judgements on our own population. Reading that history it is clear that we have long been divided in our judgement as to whether Australia is empty or full.
Empty or full?
The first European settlers judged Australia empty. In the 18th Century this continent had a human population of several hundred thousand nomadic peoples. Their technology was little developed and they seemed not to settle or own property in a way that Europeans could understand. The British recognised traditions of land ownership in other colonies, in India, in New Zealand and the Americas but Australia they judged to be no-oneís land, a terra nullius.
It was a judgement with cruel consequences which our courts have begun to correct. Even today however, with our population far higher, with many species driven to or near to extinction by the numbers and activities of Homo sapiens, with the Aboriginal peoples more or less completely dispossessed, many Australians still judge our continent empty and would see its population grow without limit. Supporters of this view point out that are island is big enough to be a continent ant that even including its cities, Australia today has 2.3 humans per km2, a sparse contrast with Europe (104 per km2 in France, 236 in the UK, 221 in Germany), with mainland Asia (102 per km2 in China, 275 in India) and with the islands of Japan (328) and Indonesia (93). Every Australian who travelled from Sydney to Broken Hill or Bourke or beyond has a sense of the breadth and emptiness of our continent.
Yet many Australians would say that this present judgement of Australia as empty as is wrong as the earlier judgement of the pioneer British colonists. Relying not on the travellerís eye, but on measures - of water resources, of the yields available from arable land, from grazing lands, of our marine resources; measures of our population trends, of our economy, of our need to export to pay for our imports - these commentators argue that the continent cannot sustain a greater population of Homo sapiens then it already has, and perhaps cannot sustain its present population. This claim is of course a comment on the future, a prediction of progressive environmental degradation; Australia today is not coming apart at the seams. Nevertheless, Australians concerned at this prospect can point in evidence to agricultural land already salinated by over-irrigation, or eroded by clearing, to dwindling rain forests and marine yields, to multiple forms of urban pollution and to the continuing loss of species. The apparently empty lands, this argument implies, are being exploited nevertheless, producing the crops and ores we need to support our great cities.
A debate about the optimum population of Australia has been under way for 70 years, but has yet to yield a consensus, whether for expansion, contraction or stability.
At Federation

At the time of Federation, the colonies were recovering from a sharp economic depression, during which both birth rates and immigration fell from historical highs in the 1880ís. The NSW government statistician reported in 1903 that over the previous 40 years births per 1,000 population had fallen about 30%. Immigration had fallen to very low levels and the government felt real concern, appointing a Royal Commission in 1904 to enquire into ëThe Decline of the Birth Rate and on the Mortality of Infants in NSWí. The Commission expressed great concern and recommended a series of carrot-and-stick measures to persuade young couples to want and to have more babies. The Commissionís many recommendations were ineffective when the state government sought to implement them. A persistent fall in fertility was occurring throughout European societies in this period, from rates of 4 children per woman to 3 or 2.5; the colonies were following suit. Never again has an Australian government sought to influence the private decisions of parents.

The frustration of the commissioners with Australiaís growth in population was very real however. The recognition that fertility was falling focussed attention again on migration, for the view was widely held that Australia was empty and must be filled with people.
Between the wars: the Empire Settlement Act and Thomas Griffith Taylor
In the 1920s, with the drama and tragedy of the Great War passed, Australia's constitutional and cultural ties to Britain remained strong, but Australians were increasingly articulating a dream of future greatness as a nation distinct from mother England. Britain still cherished Empire, and from these two dreams arose the concept of mass British migration to Australia. The ideal had its roots in the late 19th Century. The first British expeditions to Terra Australis a century earlier had been dominated by prisoners and their gaolers; Australia then was a substitute for Virginia, no longer (since the success of the colonists in the American Revolution in 1776) available as a distant dump for the excess of Britainís gaols. In 1888, however, a report of the British Lordsí and Commons Committee on Colonisation saw mutual benefit for Britain and her colonies in mass migration of free men. A Colonial Conference of 1907 and an Imperial conference of 1911 gave support, and it was argued that 300,000 Britons could, without depleting Britain, emigrate each year to the dominions. A British Royal Commission (the Dominions Commission) deliberated between 1913 and 1917, and recommended in its Final Report (1917) a major program of British migration to stock the dominions. Winston Churchill foresaw that with perseverance ë....a revolution might be effected in the balance of population within a centuryí, creating an Empire of perhaps 300 million subjects, predominantly of British stock. The Empire Settlement Act of 1922 sought joint action by Britain and her Dominions to effect a program, and Britain allocated 1.5 millions pounds for the project. Bilateral agreements were signed between Britain and Australia, New Zealand and Canada, of which the agreement with Australia seemed the most ambitious. Australia thereby adopted a policy of massive expansion of the population by migration, and between 1920 and 1929 net migration to Australia was high (349,000), though it fell short of the agreed targets (see Borrie 1974, pp97ff).
By the 1920s however, this view of Australiaís future had come under challenge. One of the best known of the sceptics was the academic geographer, Thomas Griffith Taylor, of the University of Sydney. Tenaciously and undiplomatically, Griffith Taylor argued (Powell 1979) that ëall the useful lands (of the planet) will be fully saturated within two or three hundred yearsí, and that ëthe contemporary margins of settlement in Australia already closely approximated the limits which had been set by the very nature of the physical environmentí. In terms which a modern conservationist would applaud, he argued that however we might dream, the productivity of the land set a finite limit to its population, and that the limit could already be foreseen.
Those loyal to the dream of Empire responded by pointing to the power of human ingenuity, arguing that the continent was useless only if we believed it so. In reply, Taylor summoned what data were available of Australiaís water and soil resources, and argued (Powell 1986) that Australia could never support more than 60 million and predicted that we would have no more then 20 million by the end of the century, far below the 100 million that the empire builders foresaw. Attacked as a croaking pessimist, a prophet of environmental determinism, Taylor responded by demanding that geography be taught in schools in place of the classics, so that the next generation could analyse the situation for themselves. Those with a vision of growth were just as determined and, after a stormy decade of debate, Taylor shook the dust of Australia from his boots, and left for Canada, still under attack, still arguing cogently, persistently, undiplomatically his conservationist concerns.

This clash between ëenvironmentalismí and ëpossibilismí (see Powell et al. 1980) is paradigmatic; the terms of reference of the protagonists did not overlap. In the short term, Taylor lost the contest; in the long term the founding of his views in knowledge about the state of the continent, rather than in faith in future greatness, may make his judgement the more widely accepted.

Depression and War: end of settlement, end of empire
The dream of the British-stocked Empire of hundreds of millions, built on ëmoney, markets and mení was never realised. The dream was not broken by Griffith Taylorís assault nor by the environmental constraints which he foresaw, but by Depression and war. In the 1930ís, Australiaís birthrate fell below replacement levels for the first time in our modern history (see Table 1 in Birrell and Birrell 1993, also Hugo 1993), and immigration rates fell as dreams of opportunity faded in the misery of mass unemployment, and then in the drama and suffering of war. There is little record of public debate over Australiaís population in the years 1932-45.
The reaction to WWII: populate or perish
The Second World War was a traumatic time for Australia, as for many nations. Casualties were high and Australians spent years under the palpable threat of Japanese invasion. Once peace returned we reacted to the lessons of war. For Australia, those lessons were two. One lesson was that Britain could not defend her southern dominions. The second was that we could not defend ourselves. Japan was defeated, but the populous nations of Asia would not always be poor and subject. Concerned for our security, yet resenting dependence, Australia adopted a dual policy. We sought a new protector, the United States, and we instituted a policy of massive immigration, to build a population with the economic and man-power to defend itself. The mood of public opinion was expressed by A A Calwell, Minister for Immigration in the post-war years, who wrote in 1948 (quoted in Borrie 1974 at p 197):
Additional population is Australiaís greatest need, for security in wartime, for full development and prosperity in peacetime, our vital need is more Australians. The Pacific War taught Australians a lesson we must never forget - that in any future war we can never hope to hold our country unaided against a powerful invader...Australia can increase her population three-fold or more and still provide full employment and adequate standards of living for all.
Between 1947 and 1950, nett immigration into Australia increased over tenfold, from 11,000 to 150,000 per annum and remained over 100,000 net as late as 1990; and as recently as 1990, immigration exceeded fertility as a cause of increase in our population (figures from Bronowski and Shu 1992).
Thus, in the aftermath of World War II, Australia renewed the policy of population growth last adopted in the 1920s. Because birthrates had fallen sharply during the War and the baby-boom was still a gleam in the collective eye, it was a policy of growth by immigration. Because the policy was driven by the fear that military threat might quickly descend on Australia from Asia, we sought migrants from a less alien continent, from Europe. Few modern commentators acknowledge the point, but Australiaís post-war immigration policy was a real liberalisation of our prewar policy of settling Britons to spread the Empire. We took in people from every European culture, with strange tongues and dress and noisy extended families. But we still feared Asia. The terrible bombing which the Japanese had inflicted on Darwin was fresh in our minds and we had learnt with discomfort of the pragmatic plans of the Australian General Staff to abandon Australia north of Brisbane if the Japanese did invade. So the liberalisation did not extend to Asians. Nowadays, many Australians are quick to condemn the European emphasis of our post-war immigration policy but in its time and context, this emphasis was neither illiberal nor controversial. Faced with the same threats, we would probably react again in the same way.
Population policy in the Cold War (1950-1989)
The threats to Australia have not, of course, remained the same. During the decades of the Cold War much change occurred in the issues which determined our attitudes on population.
The end of fear

Most importantly, our end of fear of our Asian neighbours faded, for two reasons (see Chapter 6 in Betts 1988). First, our fear of being invaded, given acute reality by imperial Japan, slowly diminished. In defeat, Japan remained studiously pacific. The spread of communism to China and Indochina kept the fear alive for some years but, as the Cold War settled into stalemate, the call to defend the free world slowly lost its urgency. Second, our Asian neighbours, once so alien, gained independence and began to adopt democracy and its institutions. None showed any propensity to follow Japanese bootsteps towards Darwin, and some fought with us to contain the emergencies and wars which flared in our near north, in Malaya, Korea and Vietnam. Racial, language and cultural differences remain between Australia and her neighbours, but political differences have narrowed, and we have found common interests in trade and regional security. By 1974, when the Federal Government commissioned a National Population Inquiry, the issue of fear of conquest had faded so completely that military security was not mentioned in its Report, even as an issue to be dismissed. The 1991 Report of the Nation Population Council (Withers 1991) similarly made no mention of military security.

Old dreams

The old dream of growth without limit is still cherished by many responsible Australians. The dream is given eloquent expression by Mr. Hugh Morgan, a chief executive of Western Mining Corporation. The following passage represents his argument:

If Australia had a population of 100 millions, say, and a growing, dynamic economy, we would not have to worry about immigration. We would be, along with the Japanese, and Germany, a significant world power...But that is not the case. We have the potential to be become a great nation but, apparently, no longer the will. In another generation, if we continue in our present course of drift, self doubt and despair, this country will be up for grabs... (Morgan 1991).
Morgan is a business leader with a long-term view; his company is seen by government, and sees itself, as part of Australiaís long-term economy. His view is clearly a continuation of the vision of growth which Griffith Taylor had criticised 70 years before, and it is shared by a significant number of Australians. Former Prime Minister Mr. Fraser, for example, argues for a much larger human population of the continent and successive Chief Ministers of the Northern Territory have spoken of the opportunity to double our population, by settlement of Australiaís northwest. This view has not been decisive, however. It was not, for example, able to prevent a major reduction in Australiaís immigration target from 120,000 in 1992 to 80,000 for both 1993 and 1994 and to lower levels since, decisions driven by public concern at unemployment (not over-population).

New dreams

The old dream of a great Australia has found an ally in a new-old dream which seems to me to hark back to a social dream with which Malthus had to contend. In his time the idea grew that the evils of society - conflict at the personal and class level, immorality, poverty - would be solved by the perfection of the individual. Education and technology were recognised as powerful; combined with Christian faith and ethics, it was hoped, mankind would progress to a new level of achievement, a synthesis of piety and progress. Much of Malthus' writing was directed to challenging this idea with the cold facts of demography; that a clergyman should challenge so Christian a commitment was part of the controversy which Malthus stirred.

In our time I sense that dream alive again in the human rights movement, which sees human progress as blocked by intolerance; and sees new heights of human progress achievable when all forms of intolerance are eliminated. Eminent Australians such as Malcolm Fraser and Brian Burdekin speak as though the only problems which Australiaís faces are those of discrimination and intolerance. They sense that a big-hearted opening of Australia to the world's needy will create no problems because big-heartedness, tolerance, respect for human rights are virtues, and they instinctively reject the possibility that such virtues might have consequences which degrade our environment, drive unique species to extinction and leave a bitter environmental legacy for our grandchildren.

In recent decades, many environmentalists have described in terms of personal hurt and injury, how they have been attacked as racists for expressing the view that the needs of the environment of this continent might conflict with human rights concerns for unlimited immigration (see for example Moore 1991, MacLeod 1991, Coulter 1991). Passionate commitment to principle often leads to intolerance; we know this from our own history of political and religious wars. Still it is ironic that the modern commitment to tolerance, to the elimination of discrimination and the hatreds which generate discrimination, does not make its advocates tolerant of those who question their assumptions.

The doctrine of human rights addresses many human problems in valuable ways, but it provides little guidance when we are faced with the reality that admitting another 1 million of the worldís needy to Australia would exacerbate still unsolved problems of environmental degradation, from river pollution to soil erosion and salination of once-fertile land.


We need to understand, if we are to understand our times, that the fall in fertility which worried the federation fathers continues to a degree no one predicted or planned. Although the historically low, below-replacements birthrates recorded in the Depression and War were reversed in the 1950ís and 1960ís, the reversal proved transitory. For reasons no-one really understands birth rates dropped again in the late 1960ís, ending what is now called the baby boom. Birth rates in Australia have been below replacement since 1975 (Hugo 1993 and Table 2.1 in Bronowski and Shu 1992), but now without any external crisis or internal depression. Australia has thus participated in the trend familiar to demographers of Europe, throughout which birth rates have since 1975 fallen below replacement (van de Kaa 1990, Bachi 1990). Fertility in Australia has been below replacement now for 20 years now, too short a time to produce a negative rate of natural increase, but long enough to ease the rate of natural growth to less than 1%. Our population has remained at the low end of range predicted for the turn of the century because, during the World Wars and the Depression and since the latter part of the Cold War, Australians, in the privacy of their families, have decided to have fewer than our parents, and fewer than needed for natural replacement. To those who dream of the greatness of Australia this makes mass immigration more essential than ever; to those who dream of an Australia in which tolerance has no limit this creates an obligation and an opportunity for Australia to express that tolerance by unlimited immigration; to those who dream of a sustainable Australian society, this creates an opportunity to manage our population in that quest for sustainability.


It is of interest to plot the role of knowledge in the debate over our population. One summary of that knowledge can be found in the Report of the National Population Inquiry to the Federal Government, submitted in 1974, which drew together prior attempts to estimate the carrying capacity of Australia. It is an interesting feature of their summary (Table V.1 in Borrie 1974) that attempts to estimate the sustainable population of Australia stopped with the onset of World War II, which is understandable enough, but did not resume when massive immigration programs were envisaged and implemented after the war. When the Council met, nearly 4 decades had passed without a published consideration of the question, and the Councilís Report did not break this drought. It made no recommendation for an overall population for Australia, noting that ëthere is no common national equation regarding population growthí. The Report sensed some consensus that the largest cities were overcrowded, but not the country as a whole.

One substantial assessment of the carrying capacity of Australia was published during the Cold War (Gifford et at. 1975), by a group of scientists of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organisation. In a short, impressive summary entitled Biophysical constraints in Australian food production: Implications for Population Policy, their theme was stated in terms which today sound familiar.

Their introduction:

It is inevitable that continuous population growth must cease sometime. Smooth transition to a stable population...is impossible in the absence of a long-term population policy. Biophysical aspects of current population policy can only be responsibly based on what we know.

Their conclusion:

With food export eliminated...(food)...could be supplied...for 60 million...without...agricultural instability. If...the present...proportion of food export (65%) (is)...maintained then of the 60 million people supportable on Australian protein diets, only 22 million could be resident in Australia.
In short, their survey of post-war trends led to an estimate of sustainable population towards the low end of the prewar analyses summarised in Borrie (1974).

From the mid-1970ís through the 1980ís, years in which concern over the environment, the greenhouse effect and the loss of biodiversity was growing, the population of the planet was rising more rapidly than ever and Australiaís immigration rates remained high, the question of Australiaís population was left unconsidered. We gave great attention in this time to the symptoms of the plague that our species has become, but little attention to the plague itself. This silence is evidence of the power of the human rights movement to stifle the expression of concern over population. Accounts of the effect of concern for human rights on the immigration debate (e.g. Chapter 1 in Betts 1988 and pp 226ff in Birrell and Birrell 1981) make clear that in Australia it was politically correct in this long period to be concerned about environmental degradation, and politically incorrect to comment on its cause in increasing population.

The post-Cold War present (1989-1993):
Since the end of the Cold War a remarkable change has occurred in the debate over Australia's population; from being an issued ignored it has become part of the political mainstream.
The environmental movement has begun, remarkably slowly, but has begun to include the management of population in its programs of environmental conservation.

A distinctive population movement has appeared in Australia, which includes academic groups and one public interest group, Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population. Their memberships are in the hundreds rather than thousands and they lack the international networks which make the green movements so effective but they resemble the green movements in being focused and articulate and galvanised by knowledge.

The academies of science have taken up the issue, an international consortium of academies meeting in New Delhi in 1993 (Graham-Smith, 1994) , and the Australian Academy of Science convening a symposium on population in 1994 (Stone, 1995).

The need to control population has been taken up by parties with other agenda. Both Australians Against further Immigration and the One Nation Party cite environmental concerns for the control of immigration, together with their more xenophobic agendas. This may be a unwelcome development for the population movement, but those group would not plead the environmental argument if they did not feel that it gave strength and acceptability to their other agenda.

The mainstream political parties which form our government and alternative government have begun to take up the issue. The Federal Governmentís National Population Council, while avoiding the question of sustainable population did note (Withers 1991 at p 123) that ”national ecological integrity...may be advanced by lower population growth” and also made some procedural recommendations which were quite radical (Withers 1991 at p 124): that our present Department of Immigration be replaced by a Department of Population, that its Minister have Cabinet rank, and that the Governmentís Bureau of Immigration Research become a Bureau of Population Research (it became BIPR, the Bureau of Immigration and Population Research in late 1992, and in late 1994 became BIMPR, the Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research). The Council clearly foresaw the need to address population as an issue.

In 1994 the House of Representatives Standing Committee for Long Term Strategies, a bipartisan committee of legislators, with a general brief to report on “matters...relating to the strength and well-being of Australia” undertook an Inquiry into Australiaís Population Carrying Capacity.1 The report of the Committee, published in late 1994, reinforced and extended the 1991 Report of the National Population Council and recommended two elements of policy would have been novel for any Australian government. The Committee recommended that Australia should not pursue rapid population growth, essentially for environmental reasons; and strongly recommended the development of a policy on population, which should determine (rather than be determined by) immigration policy.

Three of Australia's political parties have adopted a population policyThe Democrats were the first to adopt a population policy, in 1990. Citing concerns about the human impact on the Australian environment, they adopted a policy of zero net migration. The One Nation party has adopted a similar policy of zero net immigration, citing concerns over the environment and over social cohesion. This year the ALP adopted in its platform a policy on population. The policy does not recommend a specific limit to migration and much is said in the full text of the policy about human rights and the good things which migrants have brought to Australia. Nevertheless, the ALP now accepts that it is time to have a policy, that migration levels should be decided within the framework of population policy and that environmental constraints must be a major factor in determining population size.
The conservative coalition of Liberal and National Parties is now the one major political grouping not to have a policy on population. I know from my own correspondence with the relevant Minister that they are listening on the issue; that the old unwillingness to take it on has gone; and that - like conservative parties elsewhere - its thinking may be moving faster than its formal policies. The concept that a limit to population is set by available resources is now part of the mainstream of political ideas. And that idea was the central point of Thomas Robert Malthus, in his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population as it affect the Future Improvement of Society..
Tribute to Malthus
The great question is now at issue Malthus wrote in his pioneering 1798 treatisewhether man shall henceforth start forwards with accelerated velocity towards illimitable .. improvement; or be condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery......
In his day as in ours....
It is much to be lamented that writers on each side of this momentous question keep far aloof from each other ... Their mutual arguments do not meet with a candid examination.....
The core of Malthus' argument was as follows:
That food is necessary to the existence of man
That the passion between the sexes... will remain .. in its present state.
Assuming (this)... I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth of produce subsistence for man.
This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall some where; and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind.
With hindsight it is clear that Malthus misjudged all his major points. He underestimated the power of population, estimating it able to double the population of (say) England in 125 years. He did not anticipate that medical science and public health measures would reduce the death rate so that in our time, the doubling time of the world's population would drop to 30 years. He also underestimated the power of the earth; he considered it impossible for agricultural productivity to keep pace with the population growth rates which he anticipated, let alone with those that have actually occurred. He suspected that the affluent would have the resources to control their conditions of life; but he assumed that the masses would always be battlers, more or less helpless in the face of hardship. He did not anticipate how large a section of the community would become middle class, and both determined and able to control their fertility, and he therefore he did not anticipate the extraordinary drop in fertility which has over the last century fundamentally weakened the power of population. He did not guess that fecundity could or would ever be separated from 'the passion between the sexes'.
He and Griffith Taylor would have claimed some justification in the slow natural growth of Australia's population which, without the mass immigration of postwar years, would now have plateaued at perhaps 10 million, but they would have expected the slowing to be caused by recurrent famine. In fact it has occurred in an abundance of food and other resources, because of continually falling fertility.
So it is easy to argue that Malthus was simply wrong, and his ideas of no relevance to the growing debate about Australia's population. Yet he left one abiding insight which, as this conference shows, many still find relevant. He understood the potential for population growth to overwhelm every other advance in the human condition. Despite our present ability to pick holes in his argument it seems hard to deny, when increasing tracts of our own country are subject to salination and our topsoils to erosion following brief periods of clearing, irrigation or inappropriate grazing; when hundreds of millions of Chinese are threatened by a flooding river (the great Yangtse floods of 1998) because they have settled in the lee of flood-control dams, now silted and in danger of bursting; when we know the masses settled there because, as in Bangladesh, all the unthreatened land is full; when we know that this over-inhabiting has followed the clearing of forests and jungles, which has threatened hundreds of species, to increase human settlement; when we see how all the progress in the infrastructure of India is overwhelmed by the insistent high growth of its population from 200 to 400 to 800 to 1000 million; when we sense how much of the political passivity of China, the willingness of its masses to accept a politically oppressive regime, stems from their collective memory of recurrent famine; it is hard to deny this central point.
There is one more issue that I sensed in reading Malthus and that still seems relevant. Malthus spent much of his time arguing against the view, which today seems absurd, that the solution to the problems of humanity lies in the perfectibility of the individual. Proponents of this view hoped, prayed and believed that education, self improvement and Christian self-discipline would rid society of greed, corruption, revenge, cruelty, wrongful passion between the sexes and, somehow, the problems raised by the insistent growth of populations. t would be hard today to understand why so utopian a view could ever have gained wide currency, if our own debate over population were not similarly blurred by an impossible dream to which many decision-makers subscribe. We know the value of economic growth for prosperity; we know the importance controlling our activities so that they do not endlessly degrade the environment. So we have set up commissions and committees and symposia to help us attain a condition of human perfection known as sustainable development. In my view the hope that we can devise ways of growing without limit and without impact is as forlorn - and as obviously forlorn - as the old hope of individual perfection.
Malthus' thesis was in retrospect one of cool realism in the face of dreams of unlimited progress made possible by an impossible perfection. Such realism is still needed. The slow but insistent admission of the issue of population to the political mainstream is evidence that in the tense calm of the Cold War, in the noisy calm which has followed its end, that realism is spreading. The old dreams of expansion and perfection still persist however and it remains important to encourage the realism which was Malthusí legacy.
Literature referenced

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Betts, K. 1988, ‘Ideology and Immigration. Australia 1976-1987, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

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Bronowski and Shu 1992

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Malthus, T. 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population

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Powell, J.M. 1980, “Taylor, Stephansson and the arid centre: an historic encounter of ‘environmentalism’ and ‘possibilism”, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, pp. 163-183.

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Stone, J. 1995b, ‘Empty or full? The debate over the population of Australia’, in Population 2040 Australia’s Choice, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra.

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Withers, G. 1991, National Population Council: Final Report, Population issues and Australia’s future. Environment, Economy and Society, National Population Council, Canberra.
 This paper is an update of an earlier article with the same title (Stone 1995b)

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