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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2279


Senator HARRADINE (1.10 p.m.) —I want to raise today the issue of the inquiry report into population and development that was contracted recently by the federal government. I do not want to go over the issues I have already canvassed before. Suffice it to say that I remind the Senate that I queried the appropriateness of the membership of that inquiry on a number of occasions. The Senate Hansard of 22 February will show some details about the backgrounds of the individual inquirers.

  When the inquiry reported, the press almost unanimously took it as being an endorsement of Mr Bilney's policy, adopted last year, of increasing moneys threefold to population control programs over one year and fivefold over four years. Money to be spent on those programs was in fact diverted from genuine development assistance and poverty alleviation programs.

  The members of the press appeared to have merely read the executive summary. I did not read just the executive summary; I read the report and made a press statement about it which I seek leave of the Senate to have incorporated in Hansard. It is the press statement dated 13 April 1994 and it is headed `Population not the problem: inquiry'.

  Leave granted.

  The statement read as follows

MEDIA RELEASE

POPULATION NOT THE PROBLEM: INQUIRY

"A close reading of the Inquiry Report into Population and Development shows that population growth is not the problem that many people think it is," Senator Harradine said today.

"The message which emerges time and again from the Inquiry Report is that population growth as such is rarely a problem," he said.

"For example the Inquiry accepts that `there is little direct evidence on whether rapid population growth causes poverty.' (Final Report Executive Summary, p 3).

"It also accepts that `the effects of population growth on the environment are not unequivocally positive or negative.' (Final Report Executive Summary p 3)."

Senator Harradine said the inquiry acknowledged that `in many areas where the effects of reducing population growth are commonly judged to be advantageous (e.g. education, exhaustible resources, poverty, savings), the benefits of population policies are likely to be modest compared to the benefits of more direct policies that accomplish the same ends.' (Final Report p 5).

"What is disappointing about the Report is that, although it concedes that population growth is not the essential problem, it is willing to endorse population policies as second best solutions because governments are unwilling to adopt direct policies in the first place," Senator Harradine said.

"The Inquiry says `If governments seek to improve the economic position of the poor, it is best, where possible, to use direct policy instruments, such as increased access of the poor to land, credit, public infrastructure, and services, particularly education and health. Some of these policies will be opposed by powerful pressure groups.' (Final Report p 19).

"The contributors concede that poverty, environmental damage, educational inequalities, poor housing etc are caused by factors other than population growth per se.

"It is therefore erroneous for the Inquiry to conclude that `slowing population growth from high current levels, especially in poor, agrarian societies facing pressure on land and resources, is advantageous to economic development, health, food availability, housing, poverty, the environment and possibly education.' (Final Report p 30).

Senator Harradine said the inquiry had seriously failed to meet a requirement in its terms of reference by providing information which will allow the Government `to assess the relative costs and benefits of population activities in achieving improvements in development indicators vis-a-vis alternative policies' (Preface p i) even though the Inquiry conceded superior direct policies exist.

"What is urgent is an independent assessment of the relative costs and benefits," Senator Harradine said.

"This is particularly vital in areas of maternal and child health. The paper by Montgomery and Lloyd from the Population Council of New York—an Institute well known for its population control advocacy—failed to identify alternative measures to overcome high infant and maternal mortality.

"Third World feminists themselves have pleaded for more money for health programs rather than it being spent on population control. Bangladeshi women's activist Farida Akhter appealed last year to PM Paul Keating: "If you're giving any money at all, don't give it to the population controllers. We don't have money for health programs. Please, divert it to health programs."

Another major failing of the report was its downplaying the violation of individual human rights inherent in many target-driven population control programs", Senator Harradine said.

"The paper by Karen Oppenheim Mason is a disgrace. It is a whitewash of various coercive population control programs by accepting the concept of human rights relativism and denying their universal character," he said.

"The Government must immediately reject this concept which is totally repugnant and is the cause of gross and continuing violation of human rights."

Statement released Wednesday April 13, 1994

Contact: Senator Brian Harradine (06) 2773735


Senator HARRADINE —I thank the Senate. It was my view then and it remains my view—supported, as I will show, by the most significant observer on this issue in Australia—that the executive summary failed to indicate properly the trend of the papers that were prepared. I think this view is clear from the next document I will seek leave to incorporate. This document, `Review of: The Independent Inquiry Report into Population and Development', is by Professor R.C. Duncan, the Director of the National Centre for Development Studies at the ANU in Canberra. Professor Duncan is recognised throughout Australia as being the foremost observer in this area. He was formerly a head of a division of the World Bank, so he is no slouch.

  The Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Bilney, sought this review of the independent inquiry from Professor Duncan. I was grateful to Mr Bilney for sending me a copy, with the caveat that it not be quoted publicly until the matter had been considered by cabinet. That has happened. I now seek leave to have this document incorporated in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The document read as follows

Review of: The Independent Inquiry Report into Population and Development of April 13, 1994 by R.C. Duncan, National Centre for Development Studies, ANU, Canberra

  The terms of reference for the Inquiry obliged it to "review the evidence on the links between population growth and development" to provide information to allow the Federal Government of Australia "to assess the relative costs and benefits of population activities in achieving improvements in development indicators vis-a-vis alternative policies". As well as looking at the relationship between population growth and economic growth, health, housing, education, wealth distribution, food, resources, and environmental issues, the Inquiry was directed to look at the human rights issues involved with population policies.

  My overall impression of the Report is that the Inquiry team has done a very creditworthy job in reviewing a substantial body of literature on these various, mostly complex, issues and has provided you with a review that gives a generally well balanced view of where knowledge of these subjects stands at present. From an academic viewpoint, the review is a very useful compilation and analysis of the research done in these areas and points to many areas where current knowledge is inadequate and further research is needed.

  My major criticism of the Report, as you will see below, implicitly reflects the omission of an economist from the team with expertise in economic growth issues. This would have given a needed macro-economic and general equilibrium breadth to the review. Another criticism that I should mention at this point is that the Executive Summary issued does not reflect fully the thoughtful, generally balanced presentation I found in the individual chapters of the Report. Someone reading only the Summary would not get a full idea of the complexity of the interactions in the relationships discussed or of the policy implications drawn out by the authors.

  The early part of the Report is concerned with the relationship between population growth and economic growth (usually measured as per capita GDP). Here, the Report focuses mainly on simple correlations or regressions between population growth and per capita GDP growth, in particular on a body of research stemming from Kuznets' (1967) paper showing that there wasn't any simple cross-country correlation between them. Subsequent work confirmed this result for later time periods, however, Prof. Kelley of the Inquiry team has, in recent studies, found a negative relationship between these two variables for some developing countries in data covering the 1980s.

  The focus on this simple relationship is almost entirely misplaced. It was useful for Kuznets to compare the data in this way to show that one could not draw general conclusions about economic growth rates from what happens to population growth rates. But this simple relationship does not provide an adequate framework within which to look for the sources of growth. For this purpose a framework of analysis drawing together land, labour, human and physical capital, and technology is needed.

  There is an easily accepted and widely demonstrated statistic that high-income, developed countries have low population growth rates. But with the diverse group of what are presently developing countries, there need be no systematic relationship between these two variables. Over a period of time some fast-growing developing countries will have population growth slowing because they have begun a demographic transition—usually as a result of improving living standards—as costs of educating children have increased, infant mortality has fallen, life expectancy has increased, health of women has improved, and the birth rate has fallen. In other countries, population growth may be increasing and income increasing, because even though infant mortality has fallen and life expectancy has increased, the birth rate has not adjusted to these changed circumstances. In other countries the population growth rate may be increasing as income grows because the population is adjusting towards some optimal, higher level. Population may adjust to a higher level even though per capita income is not growing very fast (after all, people are a resource, especially educated people). And then there are the most unfortunate cases of countries at very low per capita income levels where population growth may be outstripping income growth (for the open-access resource reasons that Prof. Panayotou suggests may exist in some very poor countries with highly inadequate property rights, especially for land).

  It is important to make the point that it is not possible to make a general argument that slowing population growth will increase economic growth. Cause and effect does not run in this direct—or, at least it mainly goes in the opposite direction, from economic development to slower population growth. Indeed, the Report mostly accepts this view, although the focus of Prof. Kelley's chapter on this relationship could be misleading. It would have been better to have had a broader discussion of the relationships in the economic growth process, showing how population growth was largely endogenous to the process.

  As regards the relationship between population growth and social indicators or aspects of economic well-being—such as health, education, food availability, housing, resources, and the environment—the Report generally provides a balanced review of the literature. On most counts the available evidence does not point to a negative impact from high population growth—especially evidence from cross-country studies. This is not surprising. As the authors show, the two-way flow of effects between these variables is important and pervasive—between fertility and health, fertility and income, and fertility and education or the environment. For example, in the absence of coercion, family planning services will only be used if family demand for greater control over fertility exists. But if demand for reduced fertility is increasing as economic development takes place (and/or infant mortality declines), it is hard to sort out the direct effects of the public provision of family services from the family planning that would have taken place regardless. Moreover, since individual country circumstances are so different, cross-country analysis presents enormous problems in isolating effects. Because of the pervasiveness of the feedbacks between these variables, examination of simple correlations between variables and drawing conclusions about cause and effect is dangerous—a fundamental problem which the authors acknowledge but sometimes neglect in their conclusions.

  The main point to come out of the chapters on those issues, and one which the authors emphasise, is that population growth is not the main variable on which policy in developing countries should focus in order to make major improvements in environmental conditions, food availability, education, housing, etc. The first-best policies to resolve the problems that arise in these areas are far superior. Government policies should focus mainly on establishing appropriate property rights, making sure that activities generating externalities are taxed or otherwise penalised, providing education—especially at primary level, and especially for females—giving women equal rights and opportunities, etc. As Prof. Ahlburg says: "If the government seeks to improve the economic position of the poor, the largest and quickest impact will come from the most direct policy instruments available. Amongst such instruments are policies to increase access of the poor to land, credit, public infrastructure, and services, particularly, education and health."(p.23)

  But does this mean that because it is difficult to find strong positive relationships between slower population growth and the various aspects of economic well-being that provision of family planning services is not useful? As the Report makes clear, family planning information and services are valuable tools in helping a family maximise its economic welfare. Just as the family is better off with more education, more information about farming practices, more information about managing production or price risks, or more information about protecting against disease, so it is better off with more and better family planning information and services. However, providing education and information in all of these areas comes at a cost, either to the family, the taxpayer, or from foreign aid. Therefore, the important question is: which activity provides the greatest return? Unfortunately, as the Report's review of the evidence makes clear, the knowledge to answer the question with any accuracy does not exist at present.

  Therefore, how much of the Australian foreign aid budget to devote to family planning services has to be a matter of judgement. But the judgement can be informed by the Report. The report makes clear that family planning services have to be part of a "package" of aid that focuses on economic development. To quote a statement from Prof. Panayotou (made in relation to correcting environmental problems but which is generally applicable): "The policy implications are threefold: (a). . . the emphasis of outside assistance and pressure should be primarily on policy reform and capacity building; (b) to accelerate the demographic transition, family planning services should be made available to those who want and need them [my emphasis]; (c) social and economic change that helps create demand for family planning should be emphasised, especially education, health and employment measures that benefit women. . . "(p.25)

  On the issue of Human Rights, I am not an expert so I can only give you an uninformed impression of the chapter on this subject. Overall, I believe the various arguments on this highly sensitive topic were fairly canvassed. The author ends by providing a listing of what seem to be clear human rights violations which foreign aid decisions should consider in the provision of aid for family planning services. As Dr Mason states: "Forced sterilisation and abortion are regarded by most observers as clearly constituting an unacceptable violation of human rights." (see Abstract). Also, services which reward recruiters to family planning services or which penalise or reward communities for meeting targets or otherwise putting collective pressure on individuals generally are regarded as unethical, leading as they apparently do to the purveying of false information about the effects of family planning services.

  An important consideration which Dr Mason stresses and which should also warrant close attention in aid projects of this nature is the "process by which population programs are created—in particular, whether the individuals most affected have a voice in the program's creation. . . " (see Abstract).

  I would also make the point that, given the evidence is generally lacking of clearly adverse impacts of fertility decisions on collective well-being, it seems that it would be best to be very careful about sanctioning family planning services which look in any way to be infringing on a family's right to decide on the number of children born.


Senator HARRADINE —I cannot quote the whole of the document because it is incorporated, but I will have to raise a couple of matters here. Professor Duncan says:

  My major criticism of the Report, as you will see below, implicitly reflects the omission of an economist from the team with expertise in economic growth issues. This would have given a needed macro-economic and general equilibrium breadth to the review. Another criticism that I should mention at this point is that the Executive Summary issued does not reflect fully the thoughtful, generally balanced presentation I found in the individual chapters of the Report. Someone reading only the Summary would not get a full idea of the complexity of the interactions in the relationships discussed or of the policy implications drawn out by the authors.

Members of the press should have a look at that because they have run off with the executive summary and presented a distorted picture to the people of Australia. Indeed, on the next page, Professor Duncan continues:

  It is important to make the point that it is not possible to make a general argument that slowing population growth will increase economic growth. Cause and effect does not run in this direction—or, at least it mainly goes in the opposite direction, from economic development to slower population growth.

When reviewing the chapters of the inquiry, Professor Duncan says on the next page:

  The main point to come out of the chapters on those issues, and one which the authors emphasize, is that population growth is not the main variable on which policy in developing countries should focus in order to make major improvements in environmental conditions, food availability, education, housing, etc. The first-best policies to resolve the problems that arise in these areas are far superior. Government policies should focus mainly on establishing appropriate property rights, making sure that activities generating externalities are taxed or otherwise penalised, providing education—especially at primary level, and especially for females—giving women equal rights and opportunities, etc.

He then quotes the head of the report, Professor Ahlburg:

As Prof. Ahlburg says: "If the government seeks to improve the economic position of the poor, the largest and quickest impact will come from the most direct policy instruments available. Among such instruments are policies to increase access of the poor to land, credit, public infrastructure, and services, particularly, education and health."

Any member of the public reading the press report of the inquiry would not have got that message at all. Professor Duncan then makes some observations about family planning services, and they are in the documents I have tabled. He then says:

Therefore, the important question is: which activity provides the greatest return? Unfortunately, as the Report's review of the evidence makes clear, the knowledge to answer the question with any accuracy does not exist at present.

  Therefore, how much of the Australian foreign aid budget to devote to family planning services has to be a matter of judgement.

He goes on about that particular matter. I believe that it is essential for the press and members of parliament to read carefully the document that was originally presented—this document, this review. The government has not done the cost-benefit analysis, which it said it would, of population activities in achieving development indicators vis-a-vis alternative programs that would more directly and more effectively attack the problems of poverty and inequality in developing countries. I have not got time to go into that. The government has not done that. What the government has said is that that it will be developing a stricter approach to human rights.

  Without going into the matter, I would suggest that honourable senators look at the Hansard for Estimates Committee A of 21 June, from page 345 on. They will see there some of the issues in respect of human rights that were raised by me and by others, including Senator O'Chee. This is a very important matter indeed. Professor Duncan made a comment about what Dr Oppenheim Mason said in the report. I observed in my press release that Dr Oppenheim Mason's paper was a disgrace—a violation of individual human rights inherent in many target-driven population control programs. That is the key.

  The question is whether these programs are demographically driven or target driven. If they are, then inherently they become coercive. I believe that, unfortunately, the government still has demographically driven population programs. I raised the question in regard to Vietnam. I raised the question about China. I even raised the question about Papua New Guinea. Indeed, in Papua New Guinea and in the Pacific islands now it is a demographically driven program that the government is about. It is not approaching the issue from the aspect of adopting development programs that will attack the problems more directly. In respect of human rights, Professor Duncan in his paper made this final statement:

  I would also make the point that, given that evidence is generally lacking of clearly adverse impacts of fertility decision on collective well-being, it seems that it would be best to be very careful about sanctioning family planning services which look in any way to be infringing on a family's right to decide on the number of children born.

I was very pleased to see that the shadow minister for foreign affairs, Mr Peacock, the opposition spokesperson, took Karen Oppenheim Mason to task. I quote an extract from a press release he issued on 19 May:

Mr Peacock said he was unequivocally in favour of safe and voluntary family planning services provided without reference to demographic goals. Mr Peacock simply cannot accept any undermining through the Australian aid program of parental freedom of choice. According to Oppenheim Mason, however, this is an `extreme' and `untenable' position. Oppenheim Mason's views on this issue, Mr Peacock says, are not credible as a basis for public policy in this country.

That is true. If the government is going to print up this report and utilise it at the Cairo conference, I beg the government not to make a fool of Australia by having the Oppenheim Mason paper included, because it is an absolute disgrace. It whitewashes various coercive population control programs by accepting the concept of human rights relativism and denying their universal character.

  If we are going with the papers in the report, a proper executive summary should be done. I asked for that in the estimates committee on 21 June, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Evans, to be fair, said that he would raise it with Mr Bilney. He said:

I am inclined to agree with you that the summary could better reflect the actual content of the report. I think Professor Ahlburg's own overview is pretty good as a detailed account of the content of the report. But when it gets back to the very bald executive summary—

I remind the Senate that the summary is the only thing the press reads, the only thing the Australian people have seen or read in the media—

that was clearly done in a bit of a rush at the last minute, I am not sure that it does convey fully the flavour. It may well be possible to get a better executive summary of the thing at the beginning in the form in which it will be bound for Cairo.

I believe it is for the press to be fair with the public, because great matters of importance—human rights and other development questions—are involved.