Submission—Australian Academy of Science's role in the sustainable population debate

On 30 June 2010, the Australian Academy of Science made the following submission regarding its role in the sustainable population debate.

Professor Suzanne Cory, the President of the Australian Academy of Science, has welcomed the recent statements by the Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, about a sustainable population for Australia.

The Academy has consistently advocated that a large increase in Australia's population should not take place without a full analysis of the consequences for the environment, in terms of land, water, sustainable agriculture, pressure on native flora and fauna, and social issues.

The Academy has a long-standing record of supporting the development of evidence-based public policy in this complex and contentious area. In doing so, it has sought to include the perspectives and expertise not only of scientists but also other disciplines.

An Academy Working Party submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee for Long Term Strategies 1994 Inquiry into Australia's population carrying capacity, chaired by the Hon Barry Jones, called for the initiation of community-wide debate with the aim of developing a national policy on this issue. The inquiry report Australia's Population Carrying Capacity: One Nation, Two Ecologies echoed this call for informed debate.

Two public symposia held in association with the Academy's annual Science at the Shine Dome event have been on population-related subjects. The first in 1994 was entitled Population 2040: Australia's Choice and the second in 2002 was on the topic Transition to Sustainability. The next symposium Australia 2050: Population Challenges to Sustainability, to be held on 6 May 2011, will continue this momentum.

The Academy also sponsors the Fenner Conference on the Environment series, which has a track record of stimulating broad debate on population issues. The 2004 conference on Understanding the Population-Environment Debate: Bridging Disciplinary Divides was informed by a review of relevant research entitled Population and Environment in Australia: 2003, and feedback from a related open online conference. The 2007 Fenner conference considered Water, Population and Australia's Urban Future and this year's conference was on Healthy Climate, Planet and People: Co-benefits for Health Flowing from Action on Climate Change.

To further inform the debate, the Academy will draw on the intellectual resources of its Fellows and discipline-based national committees for science, and actively engage with the other learned academies (humanities, social sciences, and technological sciences and engineering). A recently awarded three year grant from the Australian Research Council's Learned Academies Special Projects scheme will contribute to this process. In addition to commentary and advice that is independent of institutional and political views, the Academy is able to provide a neutral space for the conduct of community debate.

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