International perspectives of home

Spending time with intelligent people who care is a blessing. Its also challenging.
Thankfully, I’d chosen to bring a bottle of Shiraz (Red Belly Black, surprisingly smooth) to the Sunday night dinner party, and it fitted right in. Not sure how it came up, but Australia’s immigration policy took a bit of a hammering, particularly from the European contingent, and this was pre London riots.
The basis of the indignation was a little simplified, and I disagreed with most of the statements and yet I still agreed with its conclusions – that Australia could afford to and economically would probably benefit from increasing the quota of refugees that we take in.
The argument consisted of a number of independent statements, which centred around Australia being a lucky country with plenty to go around, so we should share. Individually this was represented by teh following arguments:
  1. Australia has heaps of land and even if only a small percent of it is habitable and productive, it would still be more than what is available in Europe on a per capita level.
  2. The claim that Australia doesn’t have enough water is a localised issue, as the QLD floods demonstrate that in some places Australia has too much water.
  3. That Australia is a rich country because of its abundance of natural resources and this has contributed to the low level of national debt and low unemployment rate.
Now, I know lots of Australian’s would scoff at some of the statements above. But do we base this understanding on myths or on facts?
1. Population density. 
No one doubts Australia is big (5th largest country globally after Russia, Canada, USA and Brazil), and as a young nation our population (20,601,000 at last count – 2008 census data) is still small compared to other countries our about size (e.g., US, Brazil).
The typical defence to our low population density (2.68 ppl/Sq km compared to Germany’s 230.71 ppl/Sq km) is the amount of arid land we have, mostly due to a lack of water. 
Finding stats for inhabitable land is harder. What I did find was this infogram by www.human.org.au which was pretty interesting. If you can’t read the stats below, adjusted for inhabitable land than you should download the original here. The stats unfortunately are not well referenced (other than they come from the University of Wollongong) and I have struggled to find anything better on the web. 
The message is pretty simple though and it is that based on inhabitable land quantity, Australia is still pretty empty. 
Judgement: We have plenty of room – which is not a surprise, but the extent of the difference is.
2. Availability of fresh water in Australia.
Australia has 398 Cubic km of annually renewable fresh water. (Pg 227, ‘The worlds water, 2006-2007: the biennial report on freshwater resources’ By Peter H. Gleick, Heather Cooley, David Katz). That equates to 0.05 Cubic METERS of water per Square km. Comapre that with Austria (Sorry Kristop, Germany wasn’t available) which has 84 Cubic Km of annually renewable fresh water and just 84,000 Sq Km of land. That is 1 Cubic Meter of fresh water per Square Km. Quite a difference but not really a surprise. Access to water is a big issue for us and I will do further research at another time to determine if it is taken into consideration in the ‘inhabitable land’ considerations, as it should be.
Another good source of water data for Australia is the BOM.
Judgement: Availability of water is a major concern for Australia. What is needed to address the issue (in my opinion) is investment in infrastructure for water security and good policy on water rights. Not easy, but achievable and no excuse.
3. Australia is a rich country because of our abundance of natural resources, particularly the mining industry. 
Australias latest national account are available here. They indicate on Pg 32, table 14 that Mining contributes about $120,000 M in Gross value add to the GDP per year. That is 9.26%. That is about the same as manufacturing (which everybody knows is dead, right?) or a little more than construction or a little less than either finance and insurance services or professional and technical services. I wont even go into employment figures which I know are even less! 

According to these latest stats, Mining is by no means going to be our saviour from the current global economic  situation either, as it was the largest shrinking industry in the last year to March 2011.

Judgement: Wake up Australia, the miners have got the government by the balls and are holding us all ransom. Even worse, we are propagating the myth for them at the international level to the detriment of all the other amazing industries we have. Rather than subsidising these companies we should be making sure we get a fair share of what will never be returned to us, and that this share is invested in the infrastructure we need to support a sustainable future, not infrastructure that hastens the existing consumption of natural resources.

Australians – Who are you now?

Do you feel like Australia is over-regulated these days? Do you lament that the iconographic image we built of our-selves through the blood, sweat and tears of the Diggers and the integrity and determination our international sports stars during the 80’s and 90’s has been lost? I do and I hope you do to.

The image and identity of Australia as a land of larrikans, opportunity, fairness and a place where we work hard and play hard is important to me, because I’m Australian. When I meet people overseas and tell them I’m Australian it colours and tints their perspectives and judgements of who I am and can massively impact on my life.

When I was contemplating this trip I heard reports from some Poms and Aussies returning from London that  we worked just as hard, if not harder in Sydney than they do in London. Including longer hours. I was appalled. It ruined my mental projections of Aussies abroad and probably put a few cracks in the rose tinted glasses I know I wear when thinking and analysing Australia. This is one of the reasons why Morgan Parkers post struck such a chord because he has returned to Sydney after a long period away and about 6 months travelling by motorbike through Asia, and it seems he got a bit of a shock.
I wonder, what will Australia be like when I return? Will it have changed as much as how I look at and conceive it? Historical foreign policy choices are certainly starting to have much more of an impact on my thinking.