The great immigration con

By Leith van Onselen

Back in August I penned an article entitled The great immigration subterfuge, which argued that Australia is running a dishonest immigration program that has cynically scapegoated the small number of refugees arriving into Australia by boat, while secretly opening the floodgates to economic migrants arriving into the country by plane:

…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

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”.

On Tuesday night, ABC’s Lateline aired a fantastic interview with Shen Narayanasamy, founder of the No Business in Abuse campaign, who recently gave a speech at the Wheeler Centre entitled, the Great Immigration Con. In the interview, Ms Narayanasamy lambasts the hypocrisy of Australia’s immigration policy against refugees, whilst calling for a national population debate.

Below are some key extracts from this interview:

… at the height of boat arrivals in 2013, while 25,000 people arrived by boat, we welcomed on average 2,300 people per day through our arrival terminals in our airports.

In total, nearly a million people arrived in Australia that year as they did the year before, and as they have in the years after.

So when we talk about people arriving by boat, they are a tiny proportion of our overall immigration program and we can handle them and handle them quite well without abusing them in offshore detention centres…

This is the reality at the heart of what the Government is trying to tell us. They are trying to concentrate our attention on a tiny proportion of people and distract us from the reality of what we have every day arriving in our airport terminals and coming to work here and joining this community…

I think you’ve got to ask the question of leadership. Right now and under John Howard in fact, it has been an enduring legacy.

We have the highest proportion of immigration per capita than we’ve ever had.

It was higher than the 1950s when both sides of politics thumped on about populate or perish, it’s higher than when Malcolm Fraser took in scores of Vietnamese boat people arriving by boat and made the public case from the pulpit, from the leadership for doing so.

Now, if you create a situation where you try to concentrate the public’s attention and you beat up fear about a tiny proportion of people coming by boat and you don’t make the case for immigration, you don’t make the case for a diverse nation, you end up in the situation that Philippe Legrain described which is seemingly inexplicable, and to some degree I would say that is not really the fault of the Australian public.

The immigration debate hasn’t been had. Their attention has been diverted and it hasn’t been made clear to us the extent to which over the last 15 to 20 years huge numbers of people have arrived in this country and we’re all the better for it…

I think you’ve got to ask yourself, if you’re lying to the Australian public, if you’re not making the case for a diverse Australia, for a large Australia, for an immigrant population that’s coming in every day through our airports, is it any surprise that somebody like Pauline Hanson can get away with the kinds of things she says to a population and win votes.

It’s no surprise at all.

While I disagree strongly with Ms Narayanasamy’s assertion that “we’re all the better for” the “huge numbers of people [that] have arrived in this country” over the past 15 years – given the appalling housing affordability, worsening congestion, and declining amenity experienced in Australia’s big cities – she is spot on in every other respect.

Australians are being conned on immigration by our major political parties: Australia’s current annual permanent immigration program of around 200,000 people dwarfs our humanitarian intake of about 14,000 refugees, so why is all of the focus and effort put on “stopping the boats”? And why is any talk of “immigration” assumed to mean refugees?

Australia is projected to boost its population to 40 million by 2055, almost exclusively via net migration, and this will have profound impacts on our roads and public transport, in our hospitals and schools, on housing affordability, and the environment.

ScreenHunter_15288 Oct. 05 14.32

Australia could easily slash our overall immigration intake back to historical norms without lowering Australia’s humanitarian intake (or even increasing it).

But we must have a national debate on the whole immigration issue – specifically whether it is wise to run an immigration program that is almost three times the size of the 20th century average and whether such a level is supported by the community.

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  1. ceteris paribus

    John Howard, the sshhh “detention camps”, there is “no monopoly on morality” or compassion. Dog-whistles like “tribalism”, a certain “asianisation”, “black-armband view of history”, illegals. The whole nightmare was/is dreadful. The truth about everything related to immigration was never meant to be discussed in polite company. And it, the truth, never was/is.

  2. Howard, the Lance Armstrong of Australian politics. We all know that he played dirty, lied and cheated. Treated others like shit to get what he wanted. “It’s not about the boats” he’d say. John, it was always about the boats.
    The masses aren’t onto him yet, but they will be.
    And his pissy little team of domestiques, Costello, Reith, Ruddock, they’ll be found out as well.

  3. The thing is, these guys write the laws. Laws should be about morality, not money, and it’s no secret that immigration intake has been about immediate money – let the rich buy their residency, let the refugees rot in detention centres.

    That’s law but that’s not moral.

  4. St JacquesMEMBER

    I saw through Howard’s bait and switch con when it was happening, but I quickly stopped talking about it because everybody around me refused to listen and censored me. It left me frustrated, even furious. Now the Oz economy is little more than a vast population Ponzi and it is all but inevitable that we are going to become the next Argentina with a similar wealth, health and social profile, including a huge and angry divide between the haves and have nots. Australia, “the Lucky Country”, is dying.

  5. Little Johnny was no less than a little spineless puppet serving his pro business masters.

    Even former die hard Libs are now seeing through the charade.

    ‘ONCE liveable Melbourne has become hideously overcrowded. Schools are full to bursting, the traffic a nightmare, family homes beyond the reach of average income earners and our hospitals overcrowded.

    There are two ways to fix this chaos: either we spend tens of billions on new infrastructure in a futile attempt to meet rapidly rising demand or we reduce population growth. And the best way to do this is slash overseas immigration.’

    • “new infrastructure in a futile attempt to meet rapidly rising demand ”
      I wouldn’t call it futile. What happened to the huge amount of money new immigrants brought and all that extra tax payers? Those should obviously be allocated for infrastructure, but abbott/turnbull would rather use those for tax loopholes.

      • Also spending on infrastructure would actually provide a productive economy, rather than current pile of rorts and loopholes al in the name of trading second houses with each other.

      • I wouldn’t call it futile either Kevin, but as a Civil Engineer with a network modelling exposure I can tell you that current levels of added capacity through infrastructure development isn’t even treading water. Any future large scale developments that actually address the problem long term would bring mass disruption and chaos. In terms of transport, we’re practically at that point now without the development! The answer here is significant cut back in immigration and continued incremental additions to the networks to bring them back up to a reasonable efficiency. It’s a ten year horizon at least. But, I can tell you there isn’t a Government bean counter and/or consultant out there who would rubber stamp this without the dogma of continued network growth underpinning their business cases. Catch up development is never going to cut it.

  6. I’m not really an immigration fanboi but lets soften the rhetoric for a moment and maybe work our way backwards rather than simply focusing on the forwards calculations.
    It seems to me Australians need to set growth goals for specific time frames, something like
    2020 = 25M
    2030 = 30M
    2050 = 50M
    or maybe you’d all rather
    2020 = 24M
    2030 = 22M
    2050 = 18M
    Make no mistake about it, each goal comes with it’s own set of consequences, and it seems to me that it’s the consequences of growth that are being poorly managed. Personally I don’t see our nation exceeding it’s carry capacity any time soon and furthermore I can see a need for a radical transformation of our labor force if we honestly expect to address the best opportunities the world is delivering to our door step. Many of these opportunities are ours for the taking but that doesn’t mean that someone else wont come along and pick them up if Aussies fail to execute and convert their opportunities into viable businesses.
    One transformation we desperately need is a much deeper understanding and integration with our main customer, hint: the flag is Red and has 5 yellow stars. We only delude ourselves when we pretend that we can pray to one god while tithing another, this sort of duplicity never ends well.

    • Yawn. Someone opposes rampant population growth so therefore it follows that this someone wants to depopulate Australia. Been there done that with the proponents of the current policy a number of times before.

    • ‘Personally I don’t see our nation exceeding it’s carry capacity any time soon ‘

      Presuming you mean on the proviso we appropriately plan for it? Because any of the business owners I know (transport companies) who’ve been completely strangled by the current congestion would disagree at the moment.

    • St JacquesMEMBER

      Has nothing to do with “carrying capacity” and everythiung to do with the quality of the economy. If we stop the Ponzi now, the economy collapses because that is all Oz is these days _ a de-industrialized second world country, short on skills and knowledge, but continue the population Ponzi, and the Argentina outcome, complete with political instability and hopelessness is guaranteed. It would actually better for the medium and long term future if we had a short and very sharp shock now, CB, when there are still a few scraps of industry and skills left to build on. Anyway, a smaller population would live better off our rapidly depreciating resources base.

      • It would only crash if you buy into the neo-con theory. The government could step in and provide productive investment that are direly needed.

      • St JacquesMEMBER

        With our irreparably broken system of government and its ignorant, mercenary “reps” ? Very, very optimistic. Argentina is the outcome they’re working towards.

      • Mate the problem that I have with all this ranting about population ponzi is simply that those that complain the loudest are, from my observation, also those least likely to earn their way in an unprotected non-ponzi economy. As much as they may complain, truth is they profit from the status quo….as I was saying each decision has consequences. If you want Australia to have a 2050 population of 50M than it follows that Syd/Melb will need to absorb an extra 10M a piece over the next 35 years.
        That means turning Syd/Melb into Shanghai like high rise cities there is no other solution (decision creates consequence leads to planning and hopefully execution), but you cant sit back and wish for 1/4 acre lots with backyard cricket and yet hope you get all the benefits of big Australia without accepting the consequent costs.
        If you happen to be one of the few (and lets be honest it’s only a handful of Aussies that ) already earn your way in the global sense than reducing the population ponzi is probably good news for you because it would in all likelihood result in a depreciated AUD and skyrocketing earnings.

      • St JacquesMEMBER

        Yep Turning off the population Ponzi economy would shock the economy but it would force us to invest in ramping up our skills and investing in productive, value adding enterprises,the sort an engineer like yourself would thrive in. But it isn’t going to happen because the politics now make it impossible.. Endless Ponzification is the easy smooth way, and Argentina, with its divided society between the land owning elite and poorly paid masses, is where we are most certainly headed.

      • @StJ,

        All ponzis come to an end, and this one will too – choosing the timing and hence preparing for it carries some obvious benefits.

    • I dunno CB, I think you’re presenting a false dichotomy there.

      How about a population figure of 28M reached around 2030, and then sustained at that level indefinitely through social policies that encourage childbirth and provide people with the economic ability to have a few kids, while also adjusting immigration as required? Is this not a feasible goal?

      • Apart from no one has yet discovered policies that raise TFR, that sounds fairly reasonable, and I also suspect that the immigration numbers required to maintain 28 mill with our current TFR are higher than a lot of people think)

      • Hey as I said I can cope with either outcome and in reality the reduced population ponzi actually benefits me personally because it makes my external earnings more valuable, but that puts me definitely in the minority. I have yet to meet an Aussie that doesn’t puff out his chest and declare himself and investment genius whenever the topic of Investing is raised (and given my current line of work it is raised very often) naturally they’re all heavily “invested” in Syd/melb RE. If I talk about alternate investments that profit from productive growth you quickly figure out which clients understand wealth creation and which clients simply expect to profit from irrational asset revaluation. If I had to put an honest number to this I’d say it’s less than 10% of the Aussies that I talk to, by contrast I’d say it’s closer to 50% of the clients in the NE USA.

    • I love it when people put forward constant compound growth on a finite planet as a solution.
      Malthus timing was obviously grossly wrong.
      Many argue that the Limits to Growth was wrong (timing or absolutely)
      Many argue that peak oil was wrong (timing or absolutely)
      I personally think that we will overpopulate our way to massive poverty and massive population retrenchment within a century.
      “In 2008 Graham Turner at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia published a paper called “A Comparison of `The Limits to Growth` with Thirty Years of Reality”.[29] It examined the past thirty years of reality with the predictions made in 1972 and found that changes in industrial production, food production and pollution are all in line with one of the book’s three scenarios so far – that of ‘business as usual’. This set of predictions in LtG goes on to forecast economic and societal collapse in the 21st century.”

      • That’s silly analysis because we’re not talking about a world with more people rather just what percentage of the worlds population will call Australia home.
        Like it or not most of these people already exist, so unless you’re advocating some form of Genocide or Pandemic, than we all (globally) need to figure out a solution. Locally this will translate into acknowledging our share and taking the appropriate steps to plan for this local population increase.
        We could always say our share is zero and see if the rest of the world respects and supports our decision, however if history is any guide, we will see that these sorts of isolationist policies typically don’t end well. As I said decisions and consequences, all perfectly understandable all predictable.

      • “I personally think that we will overpopulate our way to massive poverty and massive population retrenchment within a century”

        Don’t really see it given most countries are either below replacement TFR now or on track to get below replacement TFR quite quickly, and peaking population for those countries is therefore within sight within only a few decades. Agree that the big story will be very large countries seeing contracting populations for most of the second half of the century.

        The obvious exception is sub-Saharan Africa, but it’s just as true to say that their existing poverty is causing their high birth rate than it is to say that over-population causes their poverty.

      • If I recall correctly the one thing Limits to growth has got wrong is population growth, which has been substantially slower than predicted. Only makes a difference of a few years delay in timing to their model outcomes though.

      • @MIkeD,

        Given LtG’s key proposition is that exponential population growth will lead to societal collapse given linear growth in things like food production, that actual population growth is sub-linear currently and has been sub-exponential virtually since it came out, the difference between projected and actual is a very problem for LtG’s hypotheses.

  7. Interesting in the Essential poll released yesterday, around half of ALP/Lib voters said immigration was much too high. But only 20 per cent of Greens voters did. Its time the media blowtorch was applied to the Greens. Maybe they should change their name to the Browns? Because there is nothing green about their silence for year after year on our massive rate of population growth.

      • I think it was Dr. Smithy who pointed out that the words immigration and refugees are now synonymous for a lot of people. When we can all talk about one, without thinking about the other, then we can hope for some reasonable discussion and progress.

      • The Greens may just think that every human being has equal rights to a freedom of action and life and so that the millions from Syria and other places in chaos or where minorities are persecuted are as worthy of a good life as someone who won the lottery of birth: country, race, family, education. They may be the ultimate christians.

    • sydboy007MEMBER

      i’ve had a number of heated discussions with my housemate over this issue. she’s from the uk and really hopes to be able to get sponsored in her job. she thinks there shouldn’t be a restriction on the movement of people, basically open borders. when i point to europe as to what happens with such a policy she sees that as some sort of racism / bias / islamaphobia.

      it’s hard to explain the issue to people who only know the current environment. i mist the sydney of the early to late 90s where the trains weren’t congested, driving in the city was good, a person on the median income could afford to rent a small house <10Km from the CBD.

      can we maybe kidnap pauline and do some intensive work with her. she can achieve her goal if only she'd fracking change her rhetoric. she's nearly got the people on her side. she just needs to drop the racial bigotry and then the LibNuts and flase labor flag bearers would find themselves getting the biggest political wedgie of all time. prob give johnny a boner just thinking about it 😀

      • Yes, I miss the Melbourne of the turn of the century and before. Before the slick shiny boxes destroyed the quaint corners of the city and the manners of people declined in response to overcrowding. Well do I recall hearing Lord Mayor Robert Doyle on Jon Faine’s ABC radio show about four years ago. Faine is a supporter of Big Australia which is why I stopped listening. As a supporter of BA, Faine left Doyle to go on unchallenged spruiking the wonder of a rapidly expanding Melbourne. So much cultural diversity, that was a great bonus Doyle said. And as Doyle said to the caller who was complaining about Doyle’s support for a Big Melbourne, did the caller really want to go back to the 1970s when Melbourne’s population was in the 2 millions? Doyle made it sound as if Melbourne was a horrific place back then and it was thanks to population growth exponents like him that we had the “wonderful vibrant” Melbourne of 4 million people we had now. I love that word he used “vibrant.” Media spin writ large. Crammed into sardines on a train for your 25 minute ride home? Channel the “”vibrancy.”” Stuck in traffic? Think of the “vibrancy”. Cant afford a house. Leave your rented dog box and walk up a bustling Swanston Street between Flinders St Station and Bourke St Mall. Live the “vibrancy.” You see? It’s all better now.

    • I’d forgotten about that.
      Another example of just how worthless our degrees and qualifications are becoming.

  8. And yet again, I note that our natural growth is about to fall off a cliff as the Death Bust has already started.

    “2,300 people per day through our arrival terminals in our airports.” what the? tourists? Dear me…

    “By 2030 the number of deaths will rise to around 4000 per week, topping out at 5000 per week as the baby boomer generation dies off in the 2040s.”

    Sorry, as I pointed out to Mr S, 1946 plus 70 is 2016. Boomers are already stated to die in greater numbers.

  9. Howard, oh dear.
    The Oz is reporting that yesterday he described the idea of royal commission into banking as astonishing and ridiculous because they were well-run, safe, profitable and had seen Australia through the worst of the gfc.
    Further he listed five great reforms completed by 2007, financial deregulation #1 followed by tax and labour market and tariff reforms and ridding the government of ownership of commercial enterprises.

    Even a finance philistine can see through this twaddle. Obviously hasn’t read Garnaut/DLS book or read MB. Or perhaps anything other than Wisden.

    Icing on this cake is Liberal president Richard Alston saying that foreign donations are good for democracy and rejects suggestions that donors expect something in return. Never mind the facts Richard.

    • CEDA believes that Australia’s migration program has played an important role in the nation’s economic success. The almost unprecedented 25 years of economic expansion was facilitated by a responsive migration program that was able to access skills and labour needed to handle the largest terms of trade boom in a century. It also connects Australian businesses with global talent and new trade opportunities. Its continued contribution to Australia’s economic growth will now be challenged by the forces of technology, digital disruption and growing political extremism.

      This policy perspective examines what changes in public policy with respect to the migration program are necessary to sustain its contribution to Australia’s economic development and social cohesion and to maintain community support.

      Sponsored by Fragomen Worldwide, an immigration services company.

  10. The bankers who have created this economic debt crisis will no doubt offer solutions that will be difficult to refuse.  We will be encouraged to open our borders further to mass immigration so that we can grow our economy, keep wages down and encourage higher house prices.  Let’s flood the economy with cheap credit and cheap labour.  

    There is still lots of space for more cattle.  This paddock for example only has a few cattle and they don’t seem to be breeding very well at the moment because they are too busy eating grass–funny how they don’t seem to be getting any fatter (indeed many have failed to store up any fat at all!!!). The obvious solution is to introduce exotic new breeds and watch them fight over imported bails of hay when all the grass has been eaten or trampled into the ground. A farm can never be too big.  Hey, if we are lucky we might even sell the farm for a small fortune to a foreign investor before all the cattle crush each other or die of starvation.

  11. Grow the economy- what does this mean for individuals? Is it better or worse? Does it mean more wealth at a lower quality of life. Migrants from Mumbai love Melbourne- far less people in Melbourne (at the moment anyway). There is no way it is going to get better. All downhill from here. It is the favoured destination for those escaping crapholes. What a great compliment! Escape one but create another. Just wonderful.