I believe this is my most important speech. I delivered it to more than 1,000 people attending the National Lions Convention in Canberra on Saturday 27 April 2013 and received a standing ovation.
In my speech I ask Rupert Murdoch to return to Australia and become our greatest philanthropist.
I also discuss how we can have a great economy without perpetual growth
Read my speech (below) or view my address on YouTube HERE.
Convention Centre, Canberra, Saturday 27 April 2013
I’m delighted to be here. I usually talk about adventure and exciting – but hopefully, responsible – risk taking. This time I’ll be covering more serious issues, however I can assure you there’ll be a positive ending!
The theme of this convention is “Youth – Opportunities abound”.
Opportunities certainly do abound for our young people, but first I believe we will have to make fundamental changes to our economic system as we reach the limits of growth.
Our present economic system requires perpetual growth in population and the consumption of resources and energy, otherwise it will move into recession. But surely it is obvious that perpetual growth is not sustainable in a finite world?
We presently have a population of 23 million and we are told it’s likely to be 35 million by 2050. What we are not told is – that with recent growth rates that are among the highest in the developed world – we will have 100 million at the end of this century and over 1 billion in 220 years – the equivalent time that modern Australia has existed.
Now not many people could believe 100 million, let alone one billion, is a sensible number for Australia.
We live in an arid country of extremes. While our east coast dams may be full at the moment, we have seen them near empty and many of us are concerned it could happen again.
Most Aussies accept we have to live in balance with our natural environment – but why isn’t this majority listened to?
Kevin Rudd’s downfall began when he said he believed in a ‘big Australia” of 35 million by 2050. Very quickly it became obvious that the majority of Australians had very different views.
However it is clear that our current Prime Minister and also the Leader of the Opposition are pushing the same Kevin Rudd “big Australia” growth agenda. Current growth rates show we are still on track for Mr Rudd’s “big Australia’s” of 35 million.
I believe there is a reason our political leaders are not game to reflect the views of the majority of Australians. I call it “the Murdoch Effect”.
Rupert Murdoch is undoubtedly one of the most successful capitalists of modern times. He’s totally addicted to perpetual economic growth – at least while he’s live.
For example, BRW magazine reports that his growth in wealth in just the last twelve months has been over 50% – from $6 billion to $9.1 billion. Truly staggering!
In my view Rupert Murdoch is clearly the most powerful person in Australia.
By the way, the Americans are astute and patriotic. Their laws required Rupert Murdoch to become an American citizen before he could exert major influence on their media.
While Rupert Murdoch is not elected, from my experience in talking to Australian politicians and journalists, many are fearful of his power.
Interestingly, in the latest “Readers Digest 100 Most Trusted Australians” list, he is placed near the bottom. Only a discredited sportsman and a foul-mouthed shock jock are placed in lower levels of trust than Rupert Murdoch by typical Australians.
Does anyone see a disconnect here? Our most influential is one of the least trusted!
While many Australians are concerned about our high population growth, coming from near world record immigration rates, Rupert Murdoch’s view is the opposite. For example, this is what he said when he landed in Darwin three weeks ago:
“I’m a big one for encouraging immigration. Just look at America. It’s fantastic.”
Now a public comment like this from Rupert Murdoch signals to his journalists – and anyone who may need to have a career with his organisation in the future, even ABC journalists – just what they should be reporting.
And it’s working. Just two days ago in The Australian newspaper a major editorial headed, “The More People the Merrier” lauded Wednesday’s 23 million population milestone and even criticised Japan with its 120 million people for being moribund with its lack of population growth.
All of this signals to all our politicians what they should be supporting if they want to keep Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers on side. And remember, his company controls 70% of the print media in this country.
During his fleeting visit to Australia last September, I have been able to find out that Rupert Murdoch had closed-door meetings with our Prime Minister and also the Leader of the Opposition, yet I have not been able to get one journalist to take the risk and report that these meetings took place or even ask what was discussed.
This seems to be similar to the secrecy in the UK where Rupert Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry that the explanation for being asked to come to the back door of number 10 Downing Street was, “they don’t want me to be photographed”.
In other words, keep the meetings secret!
Rupert Murdoch’s views clearly have influence.
Even though surveys regularly show that most Australians are concerned about our record population growth and immigration levels, few of our politicians reflect these views.
Now let’s see … is America – with its big population – as “fantastic” as Rupert says it is?
Just like Australia, the U.S. has phenomenal growth – primarily coming from immigration. Their population is now over 300 million.
However there’s an obvious problem – many Americans have not benefitted from this perpetual growth.
When I was a kid in the ‘50s, typical Americans were far better off than most Australians. That’s all changed.
Now there are nearly 50 million Americans on food stamps, or the equivalent social services, and the wages paid to many working Americans are less than 50% of what is paid in Australia for comparable work.
Be the breadwinner of an American family and work in Wal-Mart and your pay is likely to be $9 per hour – less than half the minimum that could legally be paid here by Coles or Woolworths.
Imagine that – less than half the pay! I am glad we share the wealth better here and have retained the ethos of the “fair go”.
The ABC Four Corners program last month showed an American family of four crammed into one rented room, just like in Bangladesh, but this was in Florida. The Dad, the breadwinner, earned less than $10 per hour working for the giant Disneyworld Corporation.
Yes, Rupert Murdoch describes America as “fantastic”. It clearly is for billionaire business owners. Imagine if business owners here in Australia could pay their staff half as much. There would be a lot more billionaires – and a lot more misery.
It looks to me as though America has passed the “sweet point” in growth. I am concerned Australia may do the same.
Rupert Murdoch’s media spruiks the “perpetual growth is good” agenda. In fact, if any of his employees openly doubted this growth religion, I doubt they would have a successful career path. They must ensure a never-ending growth in profits is sent out of Australia and back to the U.S.A.
Hopefully we don’t have a problem with phone tapping here, but there is a different form of corruption. It is the corruption of our democratic system.
I have asked a number of our politicians – on both sides of Parliament – why they don’t cover the growth issue that is so important to many Australians. Often the answer is along these lines….
“Dick, I agree with you. It’s impossible to have perpetual growth in a finite world. However, if I mentioned this I would be crucified by the Murdoch press”.
…and so they would be.
Australia’s wealth primarily comes from our mineral and energy reserves and our agriculture. The size of the “wealth cake” is pretty-well finite. In effect, double the population and each individual Aussie is likely to be worth half as much.
We are told that perpetual growth is a necessity if we are to have a viable economic system.
We are also told that the only way to pay for our ageing population is to have lots more younger taxpayers and – because Aussie mothers are not having enough kids – we must maintain our world record rates of immigration.
But hold on. Doesn’t that sound like a type of Ponzi scheme? And Ponzi schemes are illegal in Australia!
And this, of course, is the problem – those new immigrants get older one day and then we will need even more immigrants to pay for their old age. It’s a never ending perpetual growth nightmare! A trillion trillion people in Australia? And then what?
Now I am sure you’re asking is there an alternative – especially when this growth issue will affect our youth and future generations? Can we run our free enterprise system without this type of growth? Can we live in balance with nature or, as Prince Charles would say, “live in harmony”?
The answer is yes. And that’s the positive message I have for young people, for our children and grandchildren.
We can still have growth, but a different type of growth. A growth in “quality” of life – not in “quantity” of life. A growth in efficiencies, a growth in reducing waste. And, most importantly, a growth in satisfaction and happiness.
And imagine a time returning when a young Aussie couple can once again afford a house with a backyard, and where it’s also affordable for one partner, if they choose, to stay at home and look after the kids. That’s what happened before never-ending population growth made house prices four times less affordable compared to the average wage.
Why should present generations of Australians be worse off than previous generations? It’s crazy!
We can have “free range kids” in backyards again rather than “battery kids” living in 60 storey high-rise like termites.
How do we get there? It won’t be easy. First, we must accept that an economic system – such as our present one which requires enormous waste and non-sustainable over-production to keep everyone employed – is no longer acceptable.
Up until the Second World War most of the productivity gains generated by capitalism were used to reduce working hours – otherwise unemployment would have resulted.
After the Second World War the productivity gains have been primarily used to produce more “stuff”. Go into a typical shopping centre and probably half of what’s for sale is not really necessary for our continued well-being.
But if we don’t keep buying and throwing out this stuff, gross unemployment and recession will result.
At the present time, over 90% of what we buy becomes waste within six weeks of purchase and each year we currently use 1. 5 times more of the earth’s resources than we replace in that year. That’s clearly not sustainable.
Surely it’s obvious that if an economic system that produces huge amounts of waste can work, then it can work even better with less waste? But that will only happen when everyone, especially our political leaders, are free to discuss how we can make the changes that are necessary.
My belief is that capitalism is still the best and proven way forward, but new laws will be required that put a true cost on what we consume. These new laws will ensure products are not marketed or sold unless they are produced sustainably – that is, there is no net depletion of the world’s resources – so future generations, our kids and grandkids, will have the same opportunities we had.
This will need to be coupled with reduced working hours. In effect, the productivity gains that have been produced by modern capitalism, mainly through technology, will not primarily be directed at making more “stuff” that we really don’t need – but instead be directed to allowing people to have more free time so they can choose to do what they love most.
Of course, we would still have immigration, but closer to 70,000 migrants per year rather than the present 200,000 or more. This level of 70,000 migrants would still be high per capita by world standards but will allow us to stabilise our population at less than 30 million rather than have never-ending, unsustainable growth.
The challenges will be great. I have benefited from the present form of growth more than most and I could say nothing, however for the sake of our young people I believe we should debate these issues now.
I do not, for one second, take for granted the fact that I have the freedom in Australia to publicly state views which may offend powerful interests. This is my way of saying “thanks” to those who risked or lost their lives so we can have this freedom.
Finally I have a request to Rupert Murdoch.
I would normally write to him; however in his last letter to me he terminated all further communication. I shall quote directly from his letter.
” – – – After your insulting remarks about our newspaper front pages I see no further need of reply”.
Mr Murdoch was referring to the way I publicly stood up for Cate Blanchett when she was unfairly attacked on the front page of his Sydney Daily Telegraph newspaper.
I will always try and stand up for Aussies if they are not being fairly treated – especially by foreign-owned entities! I wonder if someone like Tony Abbot would also be quickly cut-off if he, too, dared criticise a Murdoch publication?
Some democracy! Some freedom of speech!
Rupert, despite your incredible success and wealth you are not known as a philanthropist.
Hopefully you do fulfil your obligations as an extremely wealthy person and give very substantial amounts away, but for some reason you do it secretly.
Your newspapers described your late mother, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, as “an old fashioned philanthropist”. By that I think they meant Dame Elisabeth was a wealthy person who openly fulfilled her obligation to help others who were less fortunate.
But why should that be “old fashioned”?
Lions Club members who I am addressing here today can’t arrive at a bush fire clean-up wearing a balaclava so their contribution can be kept secret. Why, then, should the wealthy be ashamed to be fulfilling their duty to help others?
Rupert, come back to Australia. Take up your Australian citizenship again.
Why not show your kindness and set up Australia’s first $1 billion charitable foundation? You will still have $8.1 billion left – that’s plenty for the kids and grand-kids!
Become one of Australia’s greatest philanthropists. Perhaps you could follow Twiggy Forrest and sign the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett “Giving Pledge”?
Open up a small office here where desperate Aussie families can write to you and ask for financial assistance. I’m holding some of the typical letters you would probably receive – they are truly moving.
But I wonder if, at the present time, you are quarantined from such things?
Rupert, you have a huge opportunity to make a personal difference to our youth and an opportunity for our youth to be inspired by a person whose professional success is unquestioned.
Who knows? You will probably end up at the top of the Readers’ Digest’s “Australia’s Most Trusted” list.
There, I said there would be a positive ending to my presentation!
I thank you for listening to my thoughts, and I also thank you as Lions Club members for the way you “roll up your sleeves” and help others.
To use a unique Australian expression “I dips me lid” to all of you.