Dick Smith is determined to kick a few hornet nests. Good on him I reckon…
A few people have asked me what I think about Dick Smith’s Fair Go Campaign. I’ve been kind of surprised that a few people thought I’d be hard against it.
In case you missed it, Dick Smith announced last week that he was going to spend a million dollars on his Fair Go campaign, running ads in national papers and on TV.
The central idea here is that Australia has a very high immigration rate compared to our international peers. Without enough investment in housing, that means higher house prices, and without enough investment in infrastructure, it also means a lower quality of life – more traffic congestion, longer wait lists at hospitals etc.
Dick’s solution is to wind immigration back. Currently, it’s running hot at around 250,000 people a year. He’d like to see it go back to its long run average of around 70,000 a year (while increasing our humanitarian intake).
These days it’s very hard to talk about immigration without being labelled a racist.
(Though that said, a former Australian of the year launched a million-dollar ad campaign, and the ABC didn’t even bother showing up.)
But if you’ve got a race card in your hot little hand, go and read this piece I wrote a few months back, which explains why I support Dick’s idea because I’m secretly racist against Swedish people.
Anyway, Dick’s leading with the chin again, so good on him.
And I do think it’s totally right that we do need a national population policy. We do need to be thinking about population growth in terms of what our infrastructure can support. It’s crazy not to.
I don’t have a view on what the ideal number is. Maybe it’s more than what we have now… But right now our immigration policy is set by… actually, who knows? Who knows how our immigration intake gets decided.
There’s no justification. No debate. No decision. It just is.
That’s a pretty silly way to run one of the country’s most important policy levers.
And one of the key emotional touchstones for Dick is house prices. Dick Smith is going hard on that one and that makes sense – you’ll always get a run in the papers talking about house prices.
And look, he’s right. Immigration and population growth affect house prices. How can they not?
And what’s one of the key metrics you look at when you’re trying to predict capital growth in an area? Population growth. Obviously. It’s people that buy and rent houses.
So it just doesn’t make sense to think about house prices as separate to population policy.
But somehow we’re asked to believe that immigration has no possible impact on house prices (or traffic congestion, or hospital waiting lists, of school crowding).
The link is there in theory. It’s obvious. But is it there in practice? Is there evidence for it?
Well, we don’t know. Because we’re not having a rational discussion about population growth. We’re not going out and collecting the evidence. We’re just letting somebody (not even clear who) in Canberra decided and that’s that.
And look, this might sound like I’m talking against my own book. It is true that as someone with a large property portfolio, I have benefited from Australia’s record beating immigration program. (I saw the writing on the wall. I’m not stupid.)
And if we keep importing people like there’s no tomorrow, I’ll make even more money.
But I am not interested in profiting from a system that trashes peoples’ lifestyle – that asks them to commute from 3 hours out back of whoop-whoop or squeeze into a sardine train every morning.
There are a lot of creative ways to make money in real estate. I simply don’t need to be benefiting from crude population growth.
I’ll be fine. Thanks for asking.
So I’m more than happy to say, “Good on you, Dick. Good on you for sticking your neck out and highlighting the blind stupidity of the current system.”
Now I don’t agree with every policy proposal Dick comes up with. I can’t even keep up with them all.
But I think that there is a fundamental and important mind-shift he’s calling for.
And that’s an end to the ‘more is good’ mindset.
Our policy and media debate is still fixated on more. More growth, more jobs, more consumption, more this, more that.
And look, for a long time that served us well. For a long time, we struggled to provide enough food for everybody to live. More was a good shortcut for better when it came to lifestyle.
But those days are long since behind us.
It’s no longer enough to be mindlessly fixated on quantity. We are right to be concerned about quality.
We have economic growth but what kind of growth is it? Does it give everyone meaningful work? Does it share the fruits equally? Is it trashing our river systems in the process?
These are the questions that we need to be asking. These are the questions that Dick is asking the country to look at.
Good on him for putting his money where his mouth is and trying to get the conversation going.
That’s what I reckon.
How do you rate Dick Smith’s antics?