The Left must embrace the immigration debate

By Leith van Onselen

Michael Bayliss and Mark Allen have penned an excellent piece over at New Matilda calling on the left to stop ceding the immigration debate to the likes of Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson and instead offer a sensible alternative that balances sustainability with social justice:

The very mention of the word ‘sustainable population’ has proven to be a poison chalice to many on the left since the late 1990s, and probably for quite some time before that.

Firstly we had Pauline Hanson who proclaimed that we were being ‘swamped by Asians’. This put the first nail in the coffin…

Later, in 2002, John Howard won an election campaign over the Tampa ‘crisis’ and the slogan ‘we will decide who comes into this country’. A decade and a half later, we had Brexit in Britain, One Nation (again!) and Manus Island cover-ups in Australia. At a global level we have recently witnessed the rise of Donald Trump in the US as well as a growing right wing nationalist sentiment in Europe.

Once again, it appears that population = illegal immigrants = the rise of conservatism.

No wonder many on the left avoid the topic like the plague…

Yet to ignore the population issue means that people like Trump and Hanson seize the narrative…

As a result we see the population issue manipulated to meet an agenda that singles out a particular demographic or demographics. A prime example of this was when LNP candidate Fiona Scott tried to blame increased congestion in Western Sydney on asylum seekers during the 2013 election campaign. This is despite the fact that refugees comprise a small fraction of Australia’s overall annual population growth.

Rational discussion by those on the left would not only allow commonly repeated untruths such as this to be shown up for what they are, it would also provide an avenue for people to discuss population without feeling that they are being disenfranchised by their peers on the progressive side of politics…

Secondly, as long as the left avoids the population issue, we continue to play into the hands of big business, mainstream politicians, economists, and other powerful people who have a vested interest in maintaining a high level of population growth.

In a recent article in the Australian Financial Review, “Australia’s most prolific apartment developer” Harry Triguboff was asked about the potential oversupply of apartments in Sydney and Brisbane leading to falling rents, to which he responded, “I will simply bring in more migrants”…

We do not expect everyone on the left to agree, but to close down all discussion on population could have far reaching consequences in these uncertain times.

The article, which I highly recommend that you read in its entirety, highlights several pertinent points.

First, the initial rise of Pauline Hanson following the 1996 federal election fractured The Greens and caused them to abandon their long-held opposition to mass immigration.

As documented in Green Left Weekly in 1998, fears of being associated with Hanson’s “racist” and “xenophobic” views caused The Greens to abandon their policy of “stabilising” Australia’s population and “a zero net migration policy” to one of opposing cuts to immigration. Since that time, Australia’s population has surged by nearly 30%, mostly via immigration, without a whimper of opposition from The Greens or the left more generally.

Former Prime Minister John Howard wedged the left even further he performed an immigration ‘bait-and-switch’ in the early-2000s, effectively slamming 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.

John Howard never articulated to the Australian people that the Government was going to dramatically expand the nation’s immigration intake. Why? Because he knew the electorate would be against it. Instead, Howard scapegoated refugees to give the impression that he was stemming the migrant inflow while proceeding in secret with his ‘Big Australia’ plan.

And rather than oppose the subterfuge, the left stood by silently for fear of being labelled “racist” and “xenophobic” if they opposed such high levels of immigration.

Rather than “stabilising” the population, as initially advocated by The Greens, Australia is now on track to nearly double in size to around 40 million people by 2055:

ScreenHunter_15116 Sep. 26 15.29

Driven by annual population growth that is nearly twice as high as the post-war average, mostly via immigration:

ScreenHunter_15907 Nov. 03 16.07

With both Melbourne and Sydney projected to grow at a breakneck pace for decades to come:

ScreenHunter_15805 Oct. 31 13.53 ScreenHunter_15806 Oct. 31 13.53

It is the above 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/or cannot afford a home.

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.

With the debate over immigration heating-up both in Australia and abroad, it is high time that The Greens entered the fold and advocated on behalf of Australia’s environment and living standards.

In order to satisfy its support base, and ensure social justice concerns are met, I recommend that The Greens argue to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake (currently 14,000 per year) while cutting back massively on Australia’s economic intake (currently around 190,000 people per year). This way it could achieve both goals: reducing population growth and saving the environment while also being a good and caring global citizen. After all, when it comes to protecting the environment, it is the overall numbers that matter, not how the migrants come.

Of course, The Greens should also highlight the associated benefits from running a moderate immigration program, including less pressure on housing and infrastructure. But the environment should be its main focus.

The key point is that The Greens, and the left more generally, must stop ignoring the whole population issue and actively enter the debate. Otherwise, they will be left behind – both in a policy sense and at the ballot box.

[email protected]

Leith van Onselen


  1. The Greens are one of the big three environmental-trashing parties. They really should change their name. The current name implies concern for the natural environment.
    IMO the party with the best environmental policy is actually One Nation. They support zero net immigration.

    • If you completely ignore climate change, then yes. If you think climate change is real, then they’re probably the worst party.

      • I disagree. If humans are trashing the planet and changing the climate (in a bad way) then surely controlling the number of humans is a sensible first step.
        Rampant population growth while paying lip-service to the environment does not cut it for me. In other words I am concerned about climate change and I will vote One Nation.

      • So this becomes an interesting math question, I think. I mean you’re not actually “controlling” the population as such – the overall global population presumably stays the same, just the distribution changes. BUT I will concede that there’s a case to be made that people in other countries will emit less carbon than people here (given we have some of the highest per capita emissions in the world).

        Presumably ON’s climate change policy is that there is no such thing, and therefore there would be no action taken on climate change whatsoever. So it’s a question of whether Australia’s current population with no efforts at controlling emissions is better than a slightly larger population that makes substantial efforts at controlling emissions. Honestly I don’t know what the numbers are (though I feel like the latter is better – could be wrong though, as it would depend on how much effort is made to control emissions). And there’s also presumably some wider effects on global efforts of one of the richest and most emissions-intensive countries just ignoring climate change completely.

      • Letting poor people from more-badly-managed countries come to Australia is insanely bad for the environment.

        For the good of the environment all countries should manage their population and the environmental impact per person.

        * Australia should firstly manage its population and secondly manage the impact per person. Rampant immigration defeats that.
        * The more-badly-managed countries must not be allowed to avoid the issue by shipping their excess people to Australia. Each poor person who comes over effectively “makes room” in the more-badly-managed country for another to be born.
        * Australia has a large carbon footprint per person. Allowing a poor person from another country to come here increases their carbon footprint and increases the overall environmental impact.

      • Agreed this what usually people say “its the world population that matters so migration isn’t an issue”. Well a lot of the reason why these people want to migrate is because of overcrowding and the problems that mass population gives you (high income inequality, bad pollution, class systems, etc). The more people you take from those countries the more you delay the pain that would spark severe reforms in the countries with those problems already. It’s called moral hazard – immigrating from those countries is like bailing them out and delaying the need to solve their own population problems via other means whilst increasing your own.

    • Exactly. zero immigration by scientific research is a correct move at this time, obvious by inspection of the harm incurred by the overwhelming population increase. Zero immigration should persist unless population falls a lot.
      Opponents to Pauline merely had to repackage sense as racist.
      Opponents just had to package her as a moron and uneducated.

      • Well, she is doing pretty well communicating with the public compared to Malcolm Turnbull, so what does that make him?

    • “Allowing a poor person from another country to come here increases their carbon footprint and increases the overall environmental impact.”

      Even someone from a relatively well off place like Europe will double their future emissions and those of their descendants compared with remaining in Europe. Immigration to Australia is a greenhouse gas emissions disaster. Hanson’s policies have the best emissions minimisation by accident.

      • Part of the reason we have such a high per capita carbon footprint is the geographic reality of the continent. Ignoring the issue of land clearing and exporting coal, if the population doubled it is likely that the per capita figure would decline. The per capita measurement is arbitrary and highly misleading. As mentioned above, the impact on the environment is more than carbon footprint.

        Just from a numerical point of view, pop. 50m would have a large impact on our environment and resources, but very little effect would be from carbon dioxide. Australia only produces about 2% of global carbon dioxide (ignoring coal exports), so unless CO2 can spontaneously co-locate to the southern hemisphere based on political ideology, that won’t be a large change.

        The other factor to consider is that most likely fossil fuel use will decline significantly over the next few decades reducing the carbon foot print, however we don’t want that to be used as an excuse to prop up the arguements for endless growth.

  2. Well said Leith. Their silence on this issue is damning. If any party should have a well articulated population policy it is the Greens yet they remain silent for fear of confusing their inner city constituents. Meanwhile, big business continues to set the agenda for immigration policy.

    • +1 Reduce permanent and long term arrivals to 300,000 p.a. until education, environmental and health benchmarks are met and maintained for 12mths.

  3. Gen Y Home Buyer

    They should rename themselves identity social justice warriors. Only rich inner-city lefties could expect those who can’t make ends meet to care about the reef.

  4. “Firstly we had Pauline Hanson who proclaimed that we were being ‘swamped by Asians’.”

    The amazing thing about this is that, despite offending many people, it was absolutely true. This clanger Pauline dropped clearly mapped out the direction our politicians were taking us, and actually gave Australians a heads up and a chance to rationally debate what our future should look like. “Swamped” has all sorts of negative connotations, but if you take a walk around Sydney and Melbourne you will see that the number of immigrants is huge. Foreign property investors, student visas, cheap labour on work visas, slave labour crammed into hirise along the transport corridors. Most of that influx is from Asia.

    Despite the fact that Australians are pretty dumb, to our credit we have absorbed this and there is no racial tension to speak of. Everyone pretty much gets along. Mostly hate crimes in Australia have to be made up – to deal with the shortage – or our hatred is directed against Pauline Hanson who had the cheek to tell us in her rough fish&chip dialect that the pollies (like Howard) were cooking up the Australian sell-off that would eclipse all other “going out of business” sales.

    Man who tells the truth should have one foot in the stirrup. (supposedly old Armenian saying)

    • That’s it DM – Pauline’s oft quoted remark was the clarion call. Eventually heard by the people who had to live with the consequences of the population ponzi (think places like Geelong or Western Sydney) but ignored by the vast majority of Australians until it eventually dawned on them that maybe all this immigration stuff is why they spend so much time on congested roads, can’t get a seat on a bus or in a train, have to line up for attention in a hospital……and as for schools, don’t ask.

      And with all this, and despite seeing what is happening in teh EU and USA our MSM and political establishment says nothing, zippo, naada…………..instead substituting BS ‘controversies’ about so-called gender issues/rights and endless ridiculous navel gazing about how ‘racist’ white Australia really is

      It’d be funny if it wasn’t just so down right pathetic

      • For everyone concerned, it is far more helpful to the aim of stabilising population globally if those advocating for this laudable goal stick with a focus on the numbers of people and ignore where they might come from and what nationality they might be. Of course the argument about people moving from a low emission per person environment to a nation where emissions per person are high is a valid argument in support of the environment and the answer is not to condemn some people to poverty but to assist them to behave like Thailand did in the 1970’s and others that have reduced population growth and then experienced a rapid rise in per capita wealth.
        Straying down the path of considering ethnicity distracts from the main aim, which is a sustainable Australia

    • I don’t understand why more people don’t admit that she did get that right. She’s horrible but she was right on that one.

      AS I explain to plenty of potential migrants over here in the course of my work, Australia is a pretty special place and we have done an amazingly good job of integrating everyone with relatively little violence. But you can’t take that for granted, which is what the gov and big business is currently doing. Successfully integrating people from all over the world and making them become Australian where someone initially from China can look at someone from Vietnam or Africa or Lebanon and say ‘they are just as Aussie as me’ requires certain pre-conditions which we seem to be trashing right now.

      • Unfortunately, that’s not quite true. The crimes committed by the Somali community is under-reported, ignored by the media and not pushed through to the legal system by the police, who have been neutered by Human Rights lawyers.
        I live in the inner north west and 4 13 year old kids including my son have been racially vilified as “white c&nts” , stolen from and when they retaliate – 20 Somalis from neighbouring suburbs show up and assault them. I was called to Melbourne last week where 20 Somalis attacked my son and his friends.
        This goes with running battles throughout parks and streets in N. Melbourne and Flemington amongst these clans.
        Ironically, the elders are supposedly sending kids back to Somalia to keep them out of trouble – which begs the question, how does a refugee exporting country suddenly not be a danger to the refugee? Obviously the UNHCR determine the % and target countries. None of it is accurate – it’s a mechanism to transport, on an industrial scale economic migrants. Ask the citizens of Lewiston, Maine, St Paul’s, Minnesota, Edinburgh, Scotland and the Scandinavian countries absorbing an entire population of one country that does not meet the criteria of actual war zone (any longer anyway).

    • What’s “swamped”, though ?

      In 1996, “asians” (presumably we’re talking about the slanty-eyed kind, so Indians don’t count) were about 2.5-3% of the resident population. Today they are about 4.5-5%.

      So, relatively a significant increase, but in the overall scheme of things, does an extra 2-2.5% count as “swamped” ?

      • I thought India was part of Asia? I would say that “swamped’ means a large visible change.

        Those numbers you quote come from where? The ABS? If you suggested those tiny figures to someone on, say, the North Shore of Sydney, it would be a joke. They just don’t make sense unless you assume that most of that 4-5% of people are rounded up to mill about Chatswood Shopping centre all day while the Australians of anglo descent stay indoors. Same with the private school kids getting off the train at 3:30 – the 95% of anglo kids must get picked up by their parents. Yeah right.

        Nobody in North Sydney really cares much about the change in demographic, however the point is that we made the decision to sell off Australia and throw our productive industries under the bus. It shows, despite the silly figures from the ABS. Sweden (a small country) can manufacture a jet fighter. Finland produced Nokia. Australia has F.. All except dodgy hirise to flog off to foreigners. That is the issue here.

      • I thought India was part of Asia?

        It is. But I don’t think Pauline was thinking about the currymunchers in her speech.

        I would say that “swamped’ means a large visible change.

        Well that’s not really a useful measure. I mean, if you live out the back of Burke then you’d think we were being “swamped” if a busload of tourists showed up.

        Those numbers you quote come from where? The ABS?

        Here (2015) and here (1954, 1971, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2010).

        I suspect the real reason there’s a perception of a massive Asian presence is that the tourist and foreign student demographics have shifted substantially (he says without bothering to look it up – I’ll probably regret that) over the last decade. But, again, I don’t really think that’s what Hanson was worried about.

        Nobody in North Sydney really cares much about the change in demographic, however the point is that we made the decision to sell off Australia and throw our productive industries under the bus. It shows, despite the silly figures from the ABS. Sweden (a small country) can manufacture a jet fighter. Finland produced Nokia. Australia has F.. All except dodgy hirise to flog off to foreigners. That is the issue here.

        Yes ?

      • How would the ABS know how many people are in Australia? That’s a loaded question – expecting you might answer “the census” and hillarity will ensue. I suspect they lost track a long time ago. Maybe they can do a count based on airline records going back 20 years? Probably not as that would not be the proper way to do it. Numberwang.

        You know what is the telling thing about your reply? :-

        “But I don’t think Pauline was thinking about the currymunchers in her speech.”

        It comes down to detecting and enshrining a Pauline Hanson thought crime from 20 years ago. We are in a huge mess because many of us have been implanted with a brain bug that obsesses over people that think Wrong Thoughts. Pauline Hanson said “swamped by Asians” and she is up there with Pol Pot and Vlad the Impaler as a timeless villain. This Thought Crime Reflex cripples us making it impossible to plan our future. This reflex was placed in our brains by someone else – it is not a personal choice. That is what this post is about – Australia is shooting itself in the foot(s) and we are comprimised by ideology that closes down reason and debate.

      • Yes! Your Thought Crime detectors have triggered and identified me as “One of Them”. Your consistent and well reasoned arguments are wasted on the likes of me.

      • Your consistent and well reasoned arguments are wasted on the likes of me.

        You mean where I asked for an objective measurement, provided some data, and pointed out that the increase in “Asians” makes up about 2% of the population ?

        To which you replied that how you felt was more important and since how you felt didn’t match the data then the data must be wrong ?

        Yes, I imagine they are.

        But, hey, keep regurgitating that rhetoric if it makes you feel better.

      • You should take the advice of DrSmithy and ignore that photo – ABS figures tell us that its all OK, so logically that photo must be a fake.

    • Part of the reason we have such a high per capita carbon footprint is the geographic reality of the continent.

      Only a small part. Melbourne uses more petrol than London but has only about a third of the number of people as London. That three times as much petrol consumption per person is not going to change very quickly as Melbourne gets larger and larger.

  5. Greens “Big Australia” policy is going to cost them big.
    The only way the other parties will get it is if Hanson’s vote increases significantly.
    But will enough people vote for Hanson as a low/no population growth party to give her control of the senate balance of power at the expense of the Greens?
    And will it be on the basis of immigration induced unsustainable population grwoth?

    • I’m afraid the political elite’s perception of the public is such that they would rather conceed that the electorate has gone all deplorable and still not address the primary concern. I am observing australian born asians who are borderline going to vote for Hansen for her population principles – a generation of locked out renters will do that to you even if she has a go at your own race every now and then.

      • That is good to hear Calvin.

        A lot of Muslims voted for Brexit. And 30% of the legal Latinos voted for Trump.

  6. the green need to push their loon elemnt out, let the regressive go

    calling for a curb in immigration is not = to racism.

  7. The Age actually linked a story about train over crowding to population growth – about time they started reporting causes and not just consequences.

  8. matthew hoodMEMBER

    They seem to never know where there stumps are when they go into bat. You mark middle for a reason.

    • The point is property developers will be allowed to create more high rise apartments near the train station. As long as they are all purchased by Chinese investors who keep the apartments vacant it is all good.

    • @patrician, great illustration of how infrastructure to catch up with previous demand is not only failing to do that, but swamped by the continued growth. They are merely making things less bad.

      • +1 Running flat out to stand still
        Cui bono?
        Like trying to patch a hose with the water on.
        Turn the f#cking tap off!

  9. Why did this article not mention jobs?

    ALP and Greens printed 457 visas like mad – thus throwing 1 million Aussies onto the unemployment scrap heap.

  10. Rational discussion by those on the left would….

    This makes the presumption that either ‘the Left’ or ‘the Right’ are even capable of rational discussion at this point. We are well beyond that, the battle lines have been drawn and the jerseys are being slipped on.

    Ironically enough, the man best placed to try and bring both parties back to the dinner table – a socially liberal and fiscally conservative PM – is scared to even pick his nose lest his backbenchers start whispering to the press gallery.

  11. The very mention of the word ‘sustainable population’ has proven to be a poison chalice to many on the left since the late 1990s, and probably for quite some time before that.

    Indeed. I recall The Greens made a major reset to their population growth policy in the 1980s when it rapidly became politically incorrect to have any sort of low population growth policy. The Greens spokesmen went to great pains to assure everyone that they in no way supported zero population growth.

    This was after the concept of zero population growth gained some political traction in the 1960s and 70s but interest in the issue declined when it appeared that Australia’s rapidly declining birth rate at the time would reach zero population growth before long anyway. But that temporary decline just made the issue temporarily dormant. Sooner or later it was going to come back for one reason or another (the reason now is mainly immigration).

    I’d say the political mainstream (which includes The Greens and has for most of their history) never accepted limiting population growth and aren’t about to anytime soon. Any “Left” party (or any main party) announcing any sort of lower population growth policy would be a major, major change.