The great immigration subterfuge

By Leith van Onselen

One of the most profound changes affecting the Australian economy and society over the past 12 years has been the massive lift in Australia’s net immigration, which surged from the mid-2000s and is running at roughly twice the pace of long-run norms (see next chart).

ScreenHunter_13730 Jun. 27 07.42

With much of this immigration flowing into the two major cities – Sydney and Melbourne – whose populations have ballooned:

ScreenHunter_13129 May. 26 08.54

It is this massive increase in population that is the key reason why many of us living in the major cities are stuck in traffic, cannot get a seat on the train, are experiencing crowded hospitals and schools, and cannot afford a home.

The population influx has simply overwhelmed our cities’ infrastructure and services. And the plan from all sides of politics – the Coalition, Labor and the Greens – is to continue the policy of high immigration without commensurate investment to cope with the influx.

For a major commodity exporter like Australia, which pays its way in the world by selling-off its fixed endowment of resources, ongoing high immigration is self-defeating from an economic standpoint. That is, continually adding more people to the population year after year means less resources per capita. It also means that Australia must sell-off its fixed assets quicker just to maintain a constant standard of living (other things equal).

The net result of this “Big Australia” policy is that living standards are being eroded as the capacity of the economy and infrastructure to absorb all of the extra people is overwhelmed, and the country’s natural resources base is diluted among more people.

Despite these inconvenient truths, there are still many commentators that champion Australia’s word-beating immigration program.

We got a taste of this view this week by The ABC’s Tom Switzer, who penned a piece in Fairfax claiming that John Howard deserves praise for cracking down on refugees as it allowed him to significantly ramp-up economic migration into Australia:

The facts reveal the Pacific Solution has done more for immigrants and refugees than open door advocates ever imagined…

Simply put, tough border protection not only discourages people from making perilous journeys on the high seas. It also, crucially, boosts public confidence in a large-scale, non-discriminatory migration program…

Implicit in Howard’s advocacy of border controls was a truly sound belief that mass migration is conditional on government control over “who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”, as he put it in 2001…

Just look at the record. With Howard’s policy of offshore processing, unauthorised boat arrivals largely stopped. At the same time, the rate of legal, non-discriminatory immigration doubled…

Let’s get a few things straight.

First, it was the sleight of hand by John Howard that originally mislead the Australian people on immigration. Howard effectively performed a ‘bait-and-switch’ on the Australian people whereby he slammed the door shut on the relatively small number of refugees arriving into Australia by boat all the while stealthily shoving open the door to economic migrants arriving here by plane.

Howard never explicitly mentioned that he was in favour of high immigration because he knew the electorate would be against it. Instead, he scapegoated refugees to give the impression that he was stemming the migrant inflow while proceeding in secret with his ‘Big Australia’ plan.

Rather than being honest with the electorate, the Rudd/Gillard Governments and the Abbott/Turnbull Governments continued the subterfuge. There has never been any community consultation, any national discussion, nor any mandate to proceed with turbo-charged levels of immigration.

This comes despite an Essential Research opinion poll released in May revealing that the overwhelming majority of Australians (59%) believed “the level of immigration into Australia over the last ten years has been too high”,  more than double the 28% of Australians that disagreed with that statement.

ScreenHunter_13128 May. 26 08.47

Second, the claim that the Australian Government has control over “who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” is questionable.

Skills shortages “remain low by historical standards”, according to the Department of Employment, whereas there is a huge surplus of underutilised labour, thus undermining the rationale behind the large-scale importation of foreign workers.

The system surrounding so-called skilled and student visas has been corrupted, with widespread rorting and fraud revealed by the recent joint ABC-Fairfax investigation (see Australia’s hidden people smuggling scandal), leading to claims the system has been overtaken by “crooks and criminals”.

When combined with the Turnbull Government’s policy allowing 6 year-olds and their guardians visa entry into Australia’s primary schools (and conveniently allowing them to purchase established property), along with the proposal to allow migrants to bring into Australia their elderly parents (thus further ageing the population and straining Australia’s healthcare system and infrastructure), it is clear that Australia’s purported “skills-based” immigration system is a farce.

Worse, because of this dysfunctional policy, Australia is on track to nearly double its population by 2050 to more than 40 million people, despite virtually no discussion nor mandate for this dramatic change, nor any plan on how to cope with this growth.

It would be nice if politicians examined the facts, and gauged the community’s views, before pursuing the current high population (immigration) growth strategy. This way, Australia might not have been left with an “infrastructure emergency”, housing affordability problems on a grand scale, and falling livability.

Australia desperately needs a frank and honest national conversation about population policy, which focuses on whether or not large-scale immigration is benefiting the living standards of the existing population. Not the current ‘smoke and mirrors’ approach that conflates immigration with refugees, or the divisive “Hansonites vs progressives”.

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Unconventional Economist


    • Agree – I am in favour of higher immigration levels that possible UE is comfortable with. However, I caution that reducing general immigration to substantially lower levels could have serious consequences later on. Yes we need a debate about infrastructure – the current situation is not tenable… and is getting worse. And its eminently fixable! Look at Japan! Look at London!

      In saying that, however, I do make the point, Howard was right about the risk on boat arrivals. We could easily seem hundreds of thousands arrive yearly, if circumstances dictated it. And Indonesia, wouldn’t do a thing to stop it… IF we are to remain a single country in the long-term, we have to be able and WILLING to enforce our right to choose who comes. Otherwise whats the point??? And some of us will probably leave.

      Many, not all, great invasions in history often started with a trickle. Good comment about “Europe’s Long War with Islam” by George Friedman this morning (worth a read if you get the chance)… he closes with “Nothing about this is new, and both sides have given as good as they got. But we are in a period when the initiative is shifting—this time away from Europe to the Muslim world. Europe has lost its grip on North Africa and the Levant, and the first population movements and small attacks are occurring. It will not stay this way.”

      No it won’t, fast forward a hundred years and Europe will be very different place. By then, Holland for be predominately Moslem nation, the first European nation to be so, since the Moors were kicked out!

      • Gen Y Home Buyer

        What serious problems do you see occurring in future if Australia were to lower immigration levels to the long-run average of 70k / year?

      • The biggest threat, is our inability to defend ourselves against Indonesia! Wars are about numbers – and on every front Indonesia wins. Islam is a warriors religion. People who don’t understand it laugh at it. You shouldn’t Moreover, unlike Christianity, it is also a political religion. It brings (Middle East is not a good example at present) strong leadership, and pax, even if it is by the sword. Turkey is actively helping refugees to get into Europe – why? because it wants the Islamification of that continent. The EU cannot simply understand that train of thought – offer a bit of money, and that would fix the problem… hahahaha… And I can see where they are coming from. As a Christian, I am happy to prothletise to anyone basically. Was talking to a German electrician the other day – he made the point that Turks in Germany were more Moslem than Turks in Turkey. Mainly a reaction of living within a Western society. They now cover up in Burka’s, etc. etc. Turks never did that when they arrived post WWII.

        Granted this may seem arm waving – and clearly not a threat now, or even in a decade, but things change so quickly. In five decades, Indonesia will be a very different nation than it is today. There are major social changes happening. Even within the next decade, their military will be equal to ours (better/larger army vs our navy). History shows that everything is eventually in flux… nothing remains the same.

        In 1934, no one predicted there would be a global war within five years, Germany didn’t even have an airforce, navy, and a tiny army. And those who did wave their arms, even a year before the invasion of Poland, was such (e.g. Churchchill) were termed as old war mongers, idiots, hopelessly out of date. What sane person would want to start another war – look what happened in WWI … it couldn’t happen again! We were more educated, lives had improved out of sight – global trade was enormous. Why risk that??? It sounds very much like the modern era. But lo and behold – someone did. They had an entirely different vision. It only takes one.

      • John Howard let more Moslems into Australia than anyone else. Given the length of time he was in, even Rudd/Gillard can’t beat him. SO you know who to blame.

        I broadly agree that illegal boat arrivals are a huge risk- as Rudd found, rapid exponential growth is a really bad look. Boat arrivals are undoubtedly a diplomatic tool that Indonesia likes to use which is why they’re so pissed at boat turn backs.

        Where you’re wrong is the broad assertion that boats=bad while legal=good. If we accept your thesis of invasion-by-stealth- (and I’m not quite sure I do in the same way) then most, in fact nearly all, Moslems coming into Australia have done so legally. And, frankly, if I were a terrorist, I wouldn’t muck about with boats. I’d get a student visa and come out here and study, using some of that lovely money that gets funnelled to terrorist organisations.

        I think MB’s original article puts the case fairly well, the problem is in the huge numbers, which would still cause infrastructure strain even if everyone coming in was from the UK. We could have afforded to build effective infrastructure, but Howard and Rudd pissed away the mining boom.

        And let’s not just pick on the Moslems, I get a bit nervous about ex-mainland Chinese who are happy to protest about Australia’s stand on the South China Sea. Good to see them enjoying our freedom of speech in a way that would see them get arrested back home

        But I think the main point is that the numbers issue is quite separate from the cultural issue. Even if you could clone 300,000 Pauline Hansons every year, it’s not going to solve the infrastucture and economics of the issue. And I think MB’s position on this is clear- large immigration favours lazy rent seeking business at the expense of everyone else.

      • Courses for horses – as I mentioned above, infrastructure is actually an easy fix…

        But I disagree on immigrants on planes, you can stop that quite easily. A legislative fix. And it always will be. A red herring.

        Boats are an entirely different proposition. When it starts again (and I believe a certain inevitability about it), and if the circumstances are right (e.g. civil war in Indonesia, Bangladesh, or even a major volcanic eruption along the Indonesian archipelago; or it could be a war over PNG, if Indonesia runs out of arable land.), the rush will be on. And we will be talking about millions upon millions. There is no where else for them to go… And once here they will never leave.

        Who knows??? Its largely inevitable IMHO. This empty land can never remain empty. It will be filled one way or another. I suggest we dictate that front.

      • Good work RT.

        When ISIS came on the scene I believed the general Muslim PR that is promulgated in the west, so I was baffled by the claims from ISIS that they were following the tenets of Islam, and the simultaneous denials of this from other muslims. Who was telling the truth? To find the answer, I started reading the Koran, which is readily available online in presumably reliable English translation. I fully expected to find that ISIS were indeed a bunch of violent psychopathic nutters who were violating the fundamental principles of a peaceful religion.

        I was wrong. The whole “religion of peace” thing is utter bullshit, and it’s all right there in the Koran, the Hadiths and the Sunnah. Islam is a violent socio-political ideology and it’s aim is the destruction or conquest of anybody who isn’t a muslim, and that’s the simple truth of it.

        If anybody doubts this, go read the Koran and those other foundational documents I mentioned. You’ll be unpleasantly surprised.

      • RT
        Agree re boats etc but re immigration…If we are not an industrial technically advanced country it doesn’t matter how much cannon fodder you have. The history of WW2 shows that. Czekoslovakia et al had immense civilian armies which were almost a liability because they were inadequately armed against a modern force. No matter how big our population it seems we have no interest whatsoever in having a resourceful productive economy necessary for the successful prosecution of a serious war. Combine that with our sense of self-entitlement and general unwillingness to put up with any mildest inconvenience to our lifestyle….We’re screwed anyway. best to just raise the white flag.

      • You’re an idiot sometimes, Europe is already a very different place from 100 years ago! Look Ma no monarchs…

        The US are the death & murder faction in the modern world not Islam or anything else – as for your Christian crap – see the inquisition…

      • Any entity that does not protect its borders is doomed – the EU. The US via its idiotic policies and war mongering has caused the crisis aided and abetted by a few degenerates – Soros for instance. The US has decided it can compete with the rest of the world and does not know how to. It has decided to trash the rest of the world to level the playing field.

      • @LSWCHP, Islam, just like Christianity, can change and there are a lot of moderates and most of them haven’t even read the Koran… As for ISIS, that’s not Islam, that’s simply terrorism using Islam and actually stopping it from evolving just like Christianity did.
        @RT, in regards to Indonesia and armies winning wars due to numbers, you are completely wrong on this one. Numbers do matter for sure but wars these days are very different and more technical than ever even the conventional ones between armies. If we have good well equiped smaller numbers and we are prepared, Indonesia has nothing on us.
        First thing we need to do to achieve this is bring back Conscription or at least be more reasonable and make it easier for the willing to join the reserves…

      • Terror Australis

        Did you like the parts of the Quran that said:

        “And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain.

        And we utterly destroyed them, … utterly destroying the men, women, and children, of every city.

        And when Allah thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them.

        And thou shalt consume all the people which Allah thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them.

        Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword.

        But of the cities of these people, which Allah thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.

        And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.

        So smote all the country … he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as Allah commanded.

        Thus saith Allah … go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. ”

        I bet you didn’t because those quotes are from the Bible, not the Quoran
        (substitute “the Lord” for “Allah”)
        Point being, that the Christianity is not a “religion of peace” either, if read too literally.

      • More idiots! Yeah those scary muslins have how many nukes? They’ve invaded how many countries in the last 100 years? The idiotic bigotry against a non threat is just mind boggling

      • “”In 1934, no one predicted there would be a global war within five years, Germany didn’t even have an airforce, navy, and a tiny army””………….thats not right at all. Germany’s army in hiding was there, it was called the SA and the SS. Likewise there was an airforce in hiding. Compared to 1939 the size of the armed forces was modest but it is not correct to say there was no military forces. To compare the military potential of Indonesia to Germany in 1934 is incorrect. Indonesia has nowhere near the capacity to arm as quickly as Germany did between 1934 and 1939.

      • Nothing wrong with Japan. Achieving a smaller population with a better quality of life is a good thing.

      • Seriously people! Big bad scary “muslim” Indonesia (nobody ever mentioned that when they were cold war dictator run puppets) at their most militaristic with support from kissinger couldn’t hold East fucking Timor!!!

        The stoopid is thick

      • astrolin – you are factually incorrect about Germany – the planes they used WWII hadn’t yet been developed in 1934? Yes they had some aircraft, but it did not constitute an operational airforce, especially compared to what the UK and France had at the time.

        And in regards to Indonesian military – you are vastly out of date! ( – also note that Indonesia gets have of its budget internally from 100% owned companies, along similar lines of the PLA. Yes, currently, they predominately concentrate on internal security. But things change. they are in fact, just behind us, and in a decade, are expected to over take us. Our navy will secure our borders though…

      • It’s all well and good having lots of cannon fodder, but how are they going to transport and supply them ?

  1. Gen Y Home Buyer

    Encase there are any Labor or Greens fanboys/fangirls out there, I have spoken with Anthony Albanese and Jim Casey and they both defended Australia’s high levels of immigration. Albo at least tried to give a reason: that without population growth we will not have enough people of working age in 30 years. Jim Casey denied that high immigration affected house prices. I suspect he cannot get past the (false) thought that any objection to high levels of immigration must be racist.

    • Becoming an increasingly dumb argument as robotics, etc. will automate many tasks. Politicians are just pandering to the dumb as a box of rocks business lobby.

  2. Terror Australis

    Yes, we have too much immigration.
    No, the answer is not inbreed flat earthers and racists like One Nation.

    Cue Crazy Richard in 3,2,1…
    As soon as he gets back from the Bowls Club.

    • Gen Y Home Buyer

      Normally I would agree with you. But the ponzi immigration cartel is so strong that calm and rational discussion of immigration goes nowhere. How did the Sustainable Australia Party do last time? When your only option is an elected Hanson or unelected rational alternatives, pragmatism suggests Hanson. Watch her vote rise

      • Terror Australis

        Many good points there.
        I’ve been saying for a long time that we need a “Hawke era” national summit on population strategy that brings together politicians, economists, ecologists, technologists and demographers that maps out a sustainable way forward. Sadly, I see no prospect of that while racists and crazies suck all the oxygen out of the room.

        Housing affordability is my number one concern and the reason i joined MB.
        I agree that population is ONE of the reasons, but not the ONLY reason and possibly NOT the main reason we have obscene housing prices in Aust.

        At the end of the day the situation is this:

        Under Labor/Liberal policies, I can’t AFFORD to live in this country.
        Under One Nation policies, I don’t WANT to live in this country.

      • I agree with you there GenY, I voted SAP, we still have the same mob calling the shots(Lab/Greens/LNP in any case are a waste of a vote). Eventually more people will realize this and will vote Hanson, on the other hand I don’t think Hanson knows what her top two priorities are to get through parliament(you’d think its population & housing affordability). She might not even be aware of why house prices are, how land supply rules are benefiting this pozi and then the tax structure in this country which favors the selected. To me that is the biggest issue, she can easily be diverted in a debate to a wrong direction which puts her against the “politically correct”.

      • Very true. The pro-immigration forces are a mix of big business globalists who see increased profits through increased customers and wild-eyed assimilationists who label any opposition to uncontrolled immigration as racist. These are powerful forces, and thoughtful opposition to them goes nowhere. I voted for Sustainable Australia at the last election, and look how that turned out.

        I think we need a bit of wild-eyed action on the anti-immigration side, and Pauline and her crew certainly fit the bill there. One Nation picked up half a million protest votes at the last election, and like Trump in the US, if the major parties don’t address the valid concerns of those (like my three children) who are being fucked by their policies then more and more votes will go to the extremists.

    • Nothing wrong with migration as it is managed and aligned with national skills needs from a strategic perspective (don’t think politicians can spell the word let alone understand what it means). Uncontrolled migration will be a disaster.

      • Barely controlled immigration is what we have, and the grip is loosening every day. Being an Australian means almost nothing and means less and less with every passing year. I went to a certain very large shopping mall in Perth and it seemed like the majority there were Indian or Chinese. No doubt they are Australian “really”. I predict that just as the kids are calling toilets bathrooms and mates buddies and bums butts, it won’t be long before becoming the 51st state looks really attractive to the people who call themselves Australians. Let’s face it, we can’t defend ourselves and we won’t even try. We don’t have an identity worth fight for, and we have no blood ties to bind us together.

    • I would beg to differ. Uncontrolled migration is what you have got now as its not linked to any national strategy re industries, job types/skills, etc. Nor is it linked to a national infrastructure plan like building new cities rather than throwing up tons of pointless dog boxes and causing congress.

      • Terror Australis

        “Unplanned” but not uncontrolled.
        If it were uncontrolled there wouldn’t be people right now in those shitty camps on Manus or Nauru.

      • What industries would those be? And anyway, as an exporter of education why the hell can’t Australia educate it’s own people to work in any industry we might happen to have?

  3. Like the UK when they voted to leave the EU, the same problem exists here for Sydney and Melbourne…we are not racist, we are not xenopobic, we are just full. This was the logic that prevailed in leading many to vote for exit from the EU. The same sentiment will lead to increased rhetoric about illegal foreign purchasing of established property, 457 visa rorts and the exclusion of our children from the chance of a future in their own country.

    • I am so angry about 457 visas! They are still bringing in experienced workers on 457 visas and paying them illegal salaries!

      It is disgusting that Gillard gave out 125,000 x 457 visas per year! I can understand Abbott doing that, he hates Aussies.

      The solution is to get firms to give $1000/week to government for each 457 visa and government then passes it on to the worker.

  4. What this actually shows is the failure of the system of elective government to “represent” the preferences of the citizens being governed.

    The election has come and gone. The new politicians have been selected. But what has changed? Nothing! Or almost nothing.

    On population growth, Establishment politicians – and even minor party politicians – simply do not share the preferences of the overwhelming majority of the People (as shown in the figures above). As in many associations, those in charge like the idea of an ever bigger organisation with more members to push around. Their aims simply do not coincide with aims of the members as a whole.

    In the Australian context, in order to stop the “population ponzi” it would be necessary for a majority of politicians to come from extreme parties (like One Nation). But many voters – even if they preferred lower population growth – would be very reluctant to see a One Nation government!

    Therein lies the essential problem of elective government. It simply cannot reflect the divergent preferences of voters. We can see this mathematically with the simplest of examples:

    a) Party A supports policies X and Y;

    b) Party B supports policies not-X and not-Y; and

    c) voters prefer policies X and not-Y.

    Can’t be done!!

    And this doesn’t take into account that the winning party will not only get to implement its policies but will have control of the Executive as well. Even if – for example – one supported some of One Nation’s policies (such as migration targeting zero net population growth) would one want to see them as Ministers? Would one want a climate denier or someone with racist views holding a ministerial position?

    And it doesn’t take into account the fact that the system is highly cartelised. For reasons of Game Theory (such as Schelling Focal Points in media coverage) a few parties tend to dominate. And the members of those parties simply do not share the aims of the Subjects they rule.

    This same game is being played out in the US with the collapsing “Trump Rebellion” and the unsuccessful “Sanders Rebellion”. If it goes on, one could foresee a “refeudalisation” of society where the People are sacrificed to the interests of their ever more powerful “Lords”.

    Leith van Onselen can go on writing articles like this until he is an old, old man and the country has gone to ruin about him. But nothing will change unless the system of government is changed.

    It won’t be easy. It may not succeed. But if one has a choice between:

    a) a campaign which has a 5% chance of success; and

    b) a campaign which has a 0% chance of success,

    which does one choose?

    Think about THAT on your death bed!

    • On 2 July, I voted 1 SAP and then ONP. I encourage everyone on this website to do the same.

      She is basically the only one pushing for zero net immigration. SAP should also have the same policy.

    • If you keep the current electoral system then you can’t blame the voters or the politicians. Voters have no real choice and politicians have no need to listen to anyone because they’ll be elected regardless.

  5. I had to sit through a discussion between the ‘I got mine’ crowd in the office this morning about how housing unaffordability only exists because young people here won’t work hard and sacrifice for it like an immigrant would (probably right to an extent, but I wouldn’t want to share my house with 20 renters to pay it off, in some countries that’s how people live so they’re comfortable with it). Meanwhile those old guys are all multimillionaires from doing nothing more than buying 20 years ago. The laughter coming from them killed me the most, no [email protected]%ks given.

    • Terror Australis

      Baby Boomers I assume?
      Next time remind them that they all got a free ride on the “nominal income inflation gravy train” for the best part of three decades and see how that goes down.

    • Speaking as one of the ‘old guys’ with a wrecked body from hard work I am really seriously extravagantly totally infinitely pissed at this whole thing of ‘all you have to do is buy a house in Sydney and sit on your arse’ self-laudatory BS philosophy! (You can quote me to them!!!!) Now we’re destroying the country even further just to give this bloody stupid balloon more hot air!

      Great article UE!