Outlining a Progressive Future

A One Child Policy for Australia?


Ex-Democrat MP for South Australia has recently called for the implementation of policies similar to a one-child policy for Australia (through having such things as paid maternity leave and the baby bonus only be available for a woman’s first child). Sandra Kanck, who now heads the group ‘Sustainable Population Australia’ has argued that such a policy is important to reduce the strain on Australia’s resources.

Calls such as this show how dangerous discussion on ‘sustainable populations’ can be when targeted at people’s rights to have children. Having a one child policy in Australia would do no good for the country and would simply create a large amount of social harm. The problems around such a policy are many:

  1. It takes away people’s rights: I strongly believe in the right for one to practice their desired sexual experiences as they wish (as long as consent is provided by all parties) and believe that having children is a part of this experience. I therefore have serious problems with stopping people from having children as I see it as a fundamental removal of one’s sexual rights.
  2. It isn’t needed: Nearly any study in Australia will show you that birth rates are dropping dramatically in the country as young people move away from having a desire to have children. Whilst this isn’t going to create a drop in population at the moment (as death rates are also dropping) in the future it will. This will be an issue for Australia as a smaller young population is required to support the growing older population. No one quite knows how this will work with the current population, but the introduction of a one child policy would only make things worse.
  3. It creates social harm and doesn’t work: If China’s one child policy has done any good, it has been to show us how bad one child policies are. Whilst I cannot predict the sort of problems a child policy or similar in Australia would lead too I can bet that serious problems would begin to occur. Taking away ones right to have children is a huge experiment for a society, which experience has shown will create serious harm. I don’t want this to be an experiment Australia makes.  
  4. It’s not the answer: Most evidence will tell you that if you want to drop population rates all you need to do is create effective family planning measures within a society. Australia has these measures and it is for that reason that we are seeing drops in our birth rates. Adding one child policies on top of these effective methods simply adds a draconian measure that creates a large amount of harm with very little benefit. If we are and ‘Sustainable Population Australia’ are serious are population reduction we should be investing more into effective family planning measures in areas where they are unavailable, which is where we currently see huge growth in populations.

I hope to see Australia and most importantly the environment movement in Australia distance itself from such calls from ‘Sustainable Population Australia’. The solution to the environmental crisis is not to stop people from having children, but rather:

  1.  To invest in family planning for areas where birth rates are growing and
  2.  To invest properly in sustainable policies, such as clean energy and water efficient measures.

‘Sustainable Population Australia’ should be advised that targeting the rights of people to have children is not only draconian but is simply stupid and if they want to create a ‘sustainable population’ it would be much better for them to look at policies that both work and hold onto people’s rights.   

For a more detailed discussion on these issues check out my previous post on ‘The Politics of Population’


April 22, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Climate Change and the Environment, Human Rights | , , , | 5 Comments

The Politics of Population

As an environmentalist I find myself regularly concerned with the way the environment movement, through organisations such as ‘Sustainable Population Australia’, is framing the discussion on population policies. As climate change and environmental degradation are becoming more real, environmentalists are increasingly turning towards population control as a method of saving the environment. Often discussed policy initiatives include lessening migration intake and even implementing policies such as the ‘one child policy’ that exists in China today. The logic here is pretty simple; by creating policies that aim to directly reduce population we reduce the amount of people who have the ability to degrade the environment and in turn reduce the impact humans have on the environment. From that sort of logic it seems like a pretty benign act. Unfortunately however, such policies can create terrible consequences through creating an insular society that ignores the problems of the rest of the world and restricts the rights of its own population.

Framed in a ‘Western’, ‘First World’ perspective populations policies such as those from, ‘Sustainable Population Australia’ tend to fall into two categories; (1) migration and (2) aiming for lower birth rates. I will have a look at both of these policy issues, within the framework of ‘first world’ and discuss some of the serious problems with such policy prescriptions.

Migration: Populations organisations often target lowered migration intakes as a desirable policy, as it provides an easy target that is measurable and somewhat politically favourable. However, such policies don’t create any beneficial environmental circumstances and simply causes serious social problems through inflicting harm on some of those who deserve it least. There are two real problems with policies of reducing migration. First, there is the obvious social problems that occur when a people reject a call for help from another group of people. Living in a society where people care and help for each other no matter where someone comes from or who they are is the sort of society I desire to live in and reducing migration intake fully rejects this ideal. Instead it creates a mantra that states:  ‘Because I was born here and was lucky enough to gain ‘citizenship’ from this nation, I deserve these resources and you don’t’. It is a simply fact that resources are spread unfairly throughout this world and rejecting migration simply says that this is something we are happy to continue to happen, which I cannot stand for.

Second however, and more interestingly for the environment movement, is that the reduction of migration simply doesn’t achieve anything, except social harm. No matter where we  live, we are all people who use resources. Whether I live in Africa, or Australia or anywhere else I live in a state that is based on a carbon intensive energy sector and moving to a different country will not change this. Therefore targeting migration doesn’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but simply changes where they occur. Therefore, a focus on migration simply doesn’t work and we would be better off targeting the production and consumption of resources on a worldwide basis to create a sustainable world population, rather than creating an insular society that focuses entirely on its own impact. 

The second policy provision that is often touted is one that is aimed at the current population of an area; birth control. There are two real problems with birth control policies. First, is the very obvious social issue of the right of a state to control ones sexuality and desires to have children. I strongly believe in the right for one to practice their desired sexual experiences as they wish (as long as consent is provided by all parties) and believe that having children is a part of this experience. I therefore have serious problems with stopping people from having children as I see it as a fundamental removal of one’s sexual rights.

Second, and again more interestingly for the environment movement, is the simple fact that stopping people from having children is a terrible policy idea. Whether we want to believe it or not, breeding and creating a future generation is somewhat important for continuation of human kind and given the extremely low birth rates in the majority of Western countries is seems somewhat ridiculous to claim that we need to drop births rates even lower. The simple fact is that if we do it, we won’t be producing enough children to support the current population when we grow old, which will create serious problems. This still ignores the serious social problems that can arise through the implementation of birth control measures, as seen in China, which are often hard to predict and difficult to solve. 

So what is the answer? There are obvious reasons to have concerns about the world’s growing population. We are now living in a world that holds 6 billion people and it is estimated by the UN that this population will continue to grow to 9 billion before we even have a chance of it dropping. We must look at how we can help curb this growth in population, but targeting migration and forcing people to stop having children is not the answer. Most studies will show that one of the most effective birth control measures is proper family planning facilities and the proper provision of methods of safer sex, especially in poorer areas. If we wish to have an impact on populations we would be much wiser to target these issues in our aid provision, not only helping population issues but also providing great social benefits for those who need them most. We cannot continue down the path that many wish for us to do as it will only lead us to a society that not only refuses to help others, but also neglects to help the environment in the meantime. 

March 22, 2009 Posted by | Analysing the Left, Climate Change and the Environment, Human Rights | , , , , | 6 Comments