The immigration debate that isn’t

Immigration is what Australia has been built on and there is no indication that it will change soon regardless of recent dog whistling, writes Fotis

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the “fair dinkum” reduction of the migration ceiling from 190,000 permanent migrants to 160,000, last week. This announcement was cynical and far from ‘fair dinkum’, nor was it premised on reality.

Sydney and Melbourne do attract most of our permanent immigrants. These cities provide access to jobs, particularly entry-level employment, which new migrants take first, yet Adelaide, Darwin, and other regional centres are crying out for more immigrants.

Various political parties have made the population dead cat jump over the last 20 years. The ALP’s Bob Carr is a vociferous anti-immigration advocate; One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, naturally; the Greens; and even our former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, flogged that horse.

Migration policy fails when it used as political and cultural bait for votes.

In his announcement, Prime Minister Morrison did not mention the 315,411 temporary entrants per annum, of which over 130,000 were overseas students and on which our tertiary sector is over-dependent.

Universities have lowered their entry-level requirements to allow in fee-paying students, many of whom have low level English language skills. Tertiary institutions’ thirst for fee-paying foreign students is damaging what was once attractive about our universities, the quality of their education. Worse, they are harming foreign students many who suffer from isolation, lack of services, and ultimately poor academic outcomes.

The Prime Minister’s spin – that is all it is – is premised on the average intake of permanent migrants to Australian over the last two years. The call for a reduction of the ceiling of 190,000 to 160,000 is not a real reduction. We have been settling around 160,000 permanent entrants per annum over the last two years. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 137,712 new permanent settlers, including humanitarian entrants of 23,877, settled in Australia in the 2016 – 2017 period. This does not include an additional 78,890 Australian citizens returning and 31,856 New Zealanders coming in as Sub Class 444 visa holders.

Among the 78,890 Australian citizens returning are thousands of Greeks who were born to Greek-Australian citizens living in Greece. Many of these were born as far back as the late 1960s but have been coming to Australia to escape the Southern European financial crisis. They are coming ‘back’ though many have never stepped foot on Australian soil before.

Many immigrants who live in marginal seats, especially in the outer urban areas, want to shut the door behind them.

The Greens are closest to One Nation in their desire to reduce immigration. Unlike One Nation, the Greens do not use racist grounds but rely on the unintelligent sustainable grounds’ argument. This argument is no different to that proposed by the Prime Minister, albeit with a different audience in mind.

If migration policy were left to the Greens, the numbers of permanent immigrants would be more than halved. There would be an increase in humanitarian entrants to around 40,000 from the current 23,000, and a trickle of permanent migration limited to family reunions.

The Greens’ statement dog whistles: “The current level of population, population growth and the way we produce and consume are outstripping environmental capacity. Australia must contribute to achieving a globally sustainable population and encourage and support other nations to do the same.”

Proper planning and environmental strategies and appropriate new sustainable urban and transport developments would be a better focus for Labor and the Coalition. But regardless of our planning efforts, we do fairly well in housing, transporting, employing and servicing our new settlers compared to most other developed economies.

The poorer the migrants are, the more motivated they are to achieve and develop educationally and economically.

The benefits of migration to Australia are socially, economically and culturally obvious. One needs to think about migration the next time they drink coffee, eat kebabs or noodles, look at our architecture, buy tickets to entertainment and sports, use new technologies or examine linkages to international markets. Not to mention love in recognising the reality of increased intermarriage between cultural groups.

The poorer the migrants are, the more motivated they are to achieve and develop educationally and economically. Poor permanent migrants buy cars, white goods, housing and education, not temporary entrants or foreign students.

As journalist George Megalogenis points out in his 2004 book, Faultlines: Race, Work, and the Politics of Changing Australia, “There is a greater chance of being left behind in a new Australia if your lower-income parents are ‘white’ and were born here, than if they came by boat from, say, Vietnam.”

Our Prime Minister is dog whistling because of focus groups, push-polling and his advisers’ poor advice. This in the service of gouging votes from the outer suburbs and marginal seats across Australia by energising their fear of over-population. Many immigrants who live in marginal seats, especially in the outer urban areas, want to shut the door behind them.

The absence of serious social and racial conflict in modern Australia is premised on our relatively successful immigration and integration policies since the end World War II. The race-based Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, commonly called the White Australia Policy, was endorsed by conservatives, labour unions and the Australian Labor Party. It created an economic downturn when Chinese immigration was halted; the entrepreneurial flair and the economic development of Melbourne and Sydney which had been partly due to Chinese migration.

Bulletin Pic xxx1901 White Australia

The desire to increase migration under the motto “populate or perish” by the post-war Labor leader and Minister of Immigration, Arthur Calwell, was underscored by his desire to populate without Asians. Calwell writes in in his 1949, I stand by White Australia, “Establishment of a quota system for Asians would be an undermining of that Australian ideal which, I am sure, Australians would not tolerate.”

Greeks, Italians, Maltese, Jews and former Yugoslav people, once restricted by the White Australia Policy, were now considered, if not ‘white’, then at least more attractive by nativists. A non-discriminatory migration policy was not established until the late 1960s and not formalised until 1972.

The calling out of ‘Australian values’ is as disingenuous as is the call to reduce immigration numbers.

Chinese permanent settlement in Australia has outstripped British immigration from 2010. The Australian Parliament’s website states, “China surpassed the UK as Australia’s primary source of permanent migrants in 2010–11. Since then, China and India have continued to provide the highest number of permanent migrants.

There is no indication of willingness, ideologically or economically, for any government to halt Chinese and South Asian migration. When John Howard was diverting attention towards refugees and asylum seekers, Australia experienced one of the largest immigration booms since the post-war period from China and South Asia.

Planned immigration is important and the absence of major social tensions in Australian society is a good indication of how well that has worked. But migration policy fails when it used as political and cultural bait for votes.

Governments in Australia have always sought to determine the numbers of permanent settlers to Australia, knowing full well, that the real population increases and economic development in developed nations are sustained through continuous permanent migration.

The calling out of ‘Australian values’ (as recently highlighted by our Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge) is as disingenuous as is the call to reduce immigration numbers. This is not a new argument; it has been around for a long time and is used by both major political parties.

There are more real and practical reasons to have accessible English language lessons and labour market programs, rather than ‘Australian values’ lessons.

There are no unique Australian values. We have built on ancient democratic and civic values that accord with most modern democracies. There may be good reason to have civic lessons about multiculturalism, gender equity, acceptance of LGBTIQ people, racial discrimination and so on, especially for those come from more traditional societies, or even theocratic and authoritarian nations. However, there are more real and practical reasons to have free and accessible English language lessons and labour market programs, rather than so-called ‘Australian values’ lessons.

Maybe the recent terrorist acts where one immigrant killed another immigrant who had made a great life in Australia and the plot by Australians uncovered by authorities may not have arisen if we provided foundational understanding of the notions of democracy, justice, equity, liberal and social values and the rule of law. Many of these concepts historically precede British, Christian and Muslim derivations of law and justice.

Then again, crimes will be committed by anyone, thus the need for laws. Australia was colonised by those once considered criminals and no one ever asked Aboriginal people about settlement and immigration intake.

In the end, Australia is and will forever be a modern, democratic nation born and fuelled by migration and diversity.

2 responses to “The immigration debate that isn’t

  1. Yes, A nation built on Immigration, logging and Whaling. So it must be good. We need a big steam powered pulp-mill with thousands of migrants shovelling whale blubber into the furnace. It’s nation building stuff. And they can live out in the regions. It’ll be just like the good ol’ days. prior to the invention of electricity, and the exponential human growth that has poised the entire planet on the edge of oblivion.

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