Julia Gillard says she wants a population policy, but it's sounding more like a population placebo.
Her opening position is that she does not want a ''big Australia''. She tells us that ''hurtling towards a big Australia is not only undesirable. It is irresponsible.
''If you elect me on August 21, our country will take the path to a sustainable population. I will focus on preserving the quality of life of our Australian sanctuary.''
OK. So what is a sustainable population?
The Prime Minister doesn't want to tell us. She doesn't want to debate the overall size of the population: ''I don't think we should be nominating a number.'' She seems to want to host a debate rather than supply an answer: ''I urge you all to contribute to the national population strategy we are developing.''
All right. Which parts of population policy does she want us to discuss? The birthrate?
No. Gillard says that it is a matter of individual choice how many children we might want to have. No debate there.
So it must be about immigration, right? But no. ''This isn't about immigration,'' she said yesterday.
She doesn't want to debate that, either.
So if it's not about birthrates, and it's not about immigration, perhaps Gillard knows of some other, secret source of population in the fifth dimension.
Because in the known universe, there are only two, and she has now ruled out debating either.
So what on earth is she talking about? She's happy to pose questions, to sound deeply concerned, as she did in a major speech on Tuesday: ''Can we really ask western Sydney to keep absorbing hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people without regard for the key issue of quality of life?''
But her answers are hollow, as she went on to demonstrate: ''I am determined to answer this question in a constructive way, in a real way. I choose my words very carefully when I say this: let's slow down, let's take a breath and let's get this right.''
And that's it.
So this is not a policy, and it's not even a debate about possible policy. It's just a placebo, a sugar pill for the electorate to suck during an election campaign, to keep it happy and quiet. And when the placebo dissolves, nothing is solved.
She has asked her Minister for Sustainable Population, Tony Burke, to write a policy: ''If returned to government, Tony will be releasing a strategy paper later this year for sustainable population growth.''
It's a broad-spectrum placebo that she can pop into your mouth if you open it to ask a question about asylum seekers or immigration or housing or congestion. This allows her to sound concerned, sympathetic, but avoid anything hard, like a real policy.
So suck on that.