The pieces in Dick Smith’s Population Puzzle don’t fit

August 18th, 2010  |  Published in News and Politics  |  8 intelligent opinions  |  Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dick Smith’s Population Puzzle is a one-hour show about what Dick claims is the ‘elephant in the room‘, which no one wants to talk about – over-population in Australia. By over-population he is, of course, referring to the large number of immigrants in Australia as there was no talk of measures to curb natural population growth in Australia (such as introducing a one-child policy).

Preview clip:

Although he’s not claiming to be a racist, I get a strong flashback to the nineties with Pauline Hanson’s cry of being ‘in danger of being swamped by Asians,’ as the effect would essentially be the same. I don’t usually have strong reactions to what I watch but this one had me fired up yelling back at the TV!

Dick Smith the person

Peanut butterTo me, Dick Smith was an Aussie equivalent to Richard Branson. He struggled at school yet excelled as a business entrepreneur with Dick Smith Electronics and more recently, Dick Smith Foods. I didn’t appreciate his face on the packet of his food products but did agree with the principles of buying locally produced foods.

I saw him as an Aussie guy with a thirst for adventure and a man at the forefront of technology with innovative thinking. However, I’m sad to discover I’ve been mistaken – his program shows how narrow-minded he really is.

Australian population growth

ImmigrationDick’s Population Puzzle presents one clear fact: last year Australia’s population increased by 480,000 people. A third were born here, leaving the other two thirds to be immigrants.

We already know how Dick intends for our population growth to stop. In the absence of any talk of a zero or one-child policy, it is obvious from Dick’s narrow-minded view that the only option is to cut down on immigration.

I’m still unclear as to whether Dick views population growth in Australia or globally to be the problem. Stopping immigration in Australia will not help the global issue.

Australia compared to a Bangladesh slum

SlumDick’s program had footage of a Bangladesh slum which was used as a scare tactic to warn Australians of the future we would be dealing with if our population continued to grow. How one can compare the slums of Bangladesh to Australia (considered the lucky country) baffles me.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest countries and ranked ninth for population density with 1,127 people per square kilometre. Whereas Australia, a developed country, is ranked 233 for population density with 3 people per square kilometre.

Using images of Bangladesh slums to dramatize how living conditions will change in Australia if the population continues to grow is a gross exaggeration and plain ridiculous!

The debate on skilled workers

Skilled workersDick also contends to stop immigration by stating that we’re doing wrong by other countries in stealing their skilled workers. Then, as an even longer stretch, tries to link this to the reason there aren’t enough training and development programs in Australia to generate our own skilled Aussies.

Skilled workers are in high demand and as far as I can see we still need more of them, which would be possible if we had both skilled migrants and local skilled Aussies. Cutting the supply of skilled workers from abroad will not give us the miracle of skilled Australian workers overnight. That solution would require the right planning and long term programs put in place.

Dick also neglects to acknowledge that skilled Australians too are emigrating, which would further reduce the number of skilled workers in our country.

The REAL elephant in the room

ElephantWhilst there was a lot I disagreed with, there was one point he made which I could relate to and agree with. The overcrowding in our bigger cities on the east coast (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane) is making it harder to move around with poor infrastructure and public transport. Anyone in these cities could easily relay their experiences being caught in a grid-lock as it becomes part of our daily lives.

Our main cities are getting overcrowded, but these represent only a small proportion of the land available across the whole country. We are a wasteful country and consume more than our means. By doing some planning to put better infrastructure in place, use resources more efficiently and reduce waste, our growing population could be accommodated.

Why Dick is determined to lead our country astray with talk of population control as the solution, I have no idea. Australia is a very lucky country blessed with an abundance of land and natural resources. Refusing entry to immigrants seeking a better life is not a solution and Dick’s Population Puzzle shows how narrow-minded and unwilling he is to find real solutions to the real issues we face, rather than scapegoating an easy target.

Dick Smith’s Population Puzzle aired on ABC, Thurs 12 August, 8.30pm.


• Wikipedia: Dick Smith – Entrepreneur
• Wikipedia: List of Countries by Population Density
• Wikipedia: Pauline Hanson

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8 opinions. Join the discussion ↓

Eurasian Sensation
3:27 pm on 08.18.10

It’s interesting that immigration and over-population is “the elephant in the room” that no one wants to talk about… yet in this election campaign, EVERYONE’S talking about it, all the time.

If Dick Smith ever listens to talkback radio or reads the Herald-Sun, he would know that if there is one thing Australians love to talk about, it’s that there are too many bloody foreigners.

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5:27 pm on 08.18.10

The only thing that Dick Smith said that I agreed with was that the number of refugees and asylum seekers accepted into Australia should increase (it was only about 2,500 last year – over 90% of the 2,500 were cleared as legitimate refugees escaping from war and persecution. That’s a very small fraction of the 480,000 accepted last year as immigrants).

The rest of the propagandistic negative commercial (as the associate professor mentioned on the Q&A panel discussion that followed) was a steaming load, all missiles incorrectly aimed at ‘over-population’.

Decreasing immigration as he proposed from around 240,000 (minus births in Australia) to 70,000 is absolutely ridiculous. With the over 100,000 deaths we had last year, who’s going to be filling jobs? Certainly not overseas skilled workers, as Dick’s against that. Decreasing population means a huge drop in our economy, and economy is not just capitalist hungry money, it means jobs, livelihoods.

He also asks how we’re going to cater for all the new people coming – how are we going to build whole neighbourhoods and two hospitals and whatever else for all these people? If he knew anything about history and who built the neighbourhoods and hospitals etc. that we have now, he’d know that it was all immigrant work. So new immigrants = new neighbourhoods etc. = new jobs (for locals too) = increased economy. Not reduced standard of living as he insisted, which is a very heavily-loaded and racist assumption to make (because immigrants in his view are perhaps mostly non-White, ‘ethnic’ and ghetto-producing, so would definitely lower ‘our standard of living’, neglecting the fact that most immigrants to Australia are white from Britain and New Zealand – would white immigrants be viewed as ‘decreasing our standard of living’?).

In regards to his naive proposal for reducing or cutting overseas skilled worker numbers and promoting intranational skills development and training — increasing programs in Australia is fantastic, and hopefully will increase our numbers of skilled workers. However, his proposal seems to rest on behaviourist assumptions, that as long as we can train people they can fill the job. Not so simple. With the huge number of professions and jobs out there and the great diversity in interests as well as abilities in our population, we still need more skilled workers to fill jobs, create and sustain industries that Australia alone cannot produce, otherwise industries will collapse in Australia (haven’t we learnt from our own national history already?!).

We need to focus on sustainability, increase jobs and our economy to deal with an increasing population. Reducing the population and immigration numbers is not tackling the problem, it’s exacerbating it. But if we want to continue to be backward and behind in this developing world (as we already are in a lot of respects, for e.g. in health services, transportation systems, broadband for goodness’ sake!), then scapegoating immigration and ‘over-population’ is the way to go.

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5:59 pm on 08.18.10

Very interesting! I didn’t catch the show but I am certainly keen to see it now.

I’m wondering about the statistic ie “Australia has a population density with 3 pp/km2″.

Isn’t much of Australia uninhabitable? ie the middle part with the desert? According to Yahoo Answers (a most trustworthy and reliable source =D ), Australia is 40% of uninhabitable land – therefore I would argue that the figure of 3 people per square km is a little skewed.

So using some numbers from Wiki, Australian population density should be calculated as:
Total area: 7,617,930 km2
Total inhabitable area: 0.6 x 7,617,930 = 4,570,758km2
2010 population (from Wiki): 22,427,335 ppl
Population density: 22,427,335 ppl/4,570,758km2 = 4.9 ppl/km2

Huh ok… we’re still miles behind Bangladesh!

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6:51 pm on 08.18.10

I remember studying this in Anthropology, and the geographer/anthropologist Thomas Griffith Taylor in the early 1920s, had discussed this issue of the limits to our growth and population – i.e. the number of people we could sustain in Australia, taking into account our resources, and also, as you mentioned, areas of inhabitable and uninhabitable land.

He discussed how particular peoples and races are more suited to particular climes in Australia, and encouraged immigration of non-whites (spec. non-Nordics) such as Mediterranean and Asian people to Australia to inhabit Australia.

He came to an estimate of 65 million as our maximum capacity, and encouraged that environmental knowledge be taught and practiced to sustain this population. However, he did prefer a population in the 20 millions. Having said that, his image of the Australian population would not be what it actually is today, which is 70% white – he described Europeans (ex. Southern Europeans) as manifestly unsuited to settle the much-vaunted Australian tropics.

Keeping in mind that he was writing in the 1920s, with the technologies we have today, maintaining a population over the 20 millions is very achievable and advantageous to our growth as a nation and for our own livelihoods. We need to think sustainability, management, development and planning, not immigration cuts.

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12:49 pm on 08.19.10

At no point during “Population Puzzle” did the program target any specific ethnic group. Reducing immigration on its own is not a race issue – the fact is the top two origins of migrants to Australia are Anglo countries:

Origins of migrants to Australia (2006)
1. United Kingdom 23,290
2. New Zealand 19,033
3. India 11,286
4. China (excludes SARs and Taiwan) 10,581

But let’s discuss the real issue here – whether Australia is overpopulated.

Do we have an abundance of land and natural resources? In terms of land mass, minerals and fossil fuels – yes. However, only 10 % of Australia’s land mass is arable land suitable for soil based agriculture and livestock production (Nix, N., 1988, Australia’s Natural Resources, in How many More Australians, Day, L.H. & Rowland, D.T. Longman, Cheshire.). As our population grows, we are turning prime agricultural land into residential areas, further reducing our nation’s food production capacity. We have already exhausted our natural freshwater capacity as shown by the fact most major cities are now reliant on desalination plants. So in that sense, we have already exceeded Australia natural capacity to support its population.

In a finite world, continual population growth is not sustainable. Real economic growth is driven by efficiency, improving productivity and innovations – not population growth. If overcrowding in our cities is a problem, then further immigration will only exacerbate this problem. It is likely our quality of life will decrease as a result.

Reducing immigration is one solution to the problem. Our alternatives are moving people away from cities or substantial improvements in infrastructures – neither appears possible under current leadership options. How can we solve the problem of overcrowding in our cities?

In closing, it is rare to see someone standing up for what he/she believes in and not for financial/political gain. We don’t have to act like our politicians; attacking a person doesn’t get us anywhere. Let’s discuss the issues and work towards a solution together.

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4:49 pm on 08.24.10

Thank you, Lawrence!

Phew – let’s get a grip on the hysteria, people. Nothing that Dick Smith was proposing was a racist attack.

We are breaking this country right now – have you tried to drive in an eastern capital lately? Seen the Murray?

The suggestion that there might be another way to think about population policy other than growth, growth, growth at all costs is a request for us all to open our eyes and minds to a new idea.

Historically Australia has desperately needed more population, but we are reaching a point where we should start asking the question – where is equilibrium and what does it look like?

We are supposed to be a smart country – let’s get our heads out of the sand and plan for the future.

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Mark Sharma
8:01 pm on 09.03.10

Just stopped to say that Dick Smith’s last name should be “Head”. There is NO such thing as “Sustainable Population”. Australia desperately needs more people and Young, English speaking Asians are perfect for it. I have campaigned for it and I will campaign for it FOREVER!

Anyone who speaks against Skilled Immigration is RACIST without any doubt!


Mark Sharma

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Mark Sharma
11:05 am on 09.04.10 Further proof that if my message had reached Asian Population of all types (South, East, Middle East) then results would have been even better. It is also a proof that Australian main stream media is bias. I was the only candidate in Whole of Australia who was defending Immigrants and Immigration yet Media chose to ignore me.

They even had a farcical “debate” between Tony Burke and Scott Morrison at National Press Club where basically both Burke and Morrison bashed Immigrants and Immigration. Only bias Australian Media can call it a “debate” where both sides were agreeing!

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