The Coalition’s personal income tax package looks to be stuck in the Senate after One Nation leader Pauline Hanson on Monday pulled the party’s support unless the Morrison Government agrees to build new coal-fired power stations to lower energy prices.
The loss of One Nation’s two Senate votes has left the Coalition four votes short, meaning they would need all four remaining cross-benchers – Cory Bernardi, the Centre Alliance (two votes), and Jacqui Lambie – to vote in favour of the tax package. And with Centre Alliance wavering, this prospect is looking unlikely.
Therefore, One Nation finds itself in a unique situation to leverage the Government. Unfortunately, it has taken the daft route of insisting on more coal fired power stations – a position that is unlikely to resonate well with Australian voters and doesn’t make sense economically or environmentally.
One Nation would be far wiser if it instead demanded the Government hold a plebiscite on Australia’s future population size, the answers of which would then be used to formulate Australia’s immigration intake to meet the said target.
A population plebiscite makes sense on a number of levels.
First, One Nation overwhelming supports lower immigration. This is a foundation stone of the party. Therefore, a population plebiscite would play straight into the party’s base.
Second, letting Australians vote for lower population growth would be beneficial economically, environmentally and socially. If enacted, lower population growth would decongest Australia’s cities, thereby boosting productivity and liveability. It would reduce Australia’s carbon emissions and damage to the natural environment. It would lift wages. It would reduce pressure on the Australian, lifting competitiveness of the tradeable sector. And it would spread Australia’s fixed endowment of natural resource wealth among fewer people than under the existing ‘Big Australia’ mass immigration program.
Finally, lowering population growth through immigration is overwhelmingly popular among voters, as evidenced by the majority of recent opinion polls:
- Newspoll: 56% want lower immigration;
- Essential: 54% believe Australia’s population is growing too fast and 64% believe immigration is too high;
- Lowy: 54% of people think the total number of migrants coming to Australia each year is too high;
- Newspoll: 74% of voters support the Coalition Government’s cut of more than 10% to the annual permanent migrant intake to 163,000 last financial year;
- CIS: 65% in the highest income decile and 77% in the lowest believe that immigration should be cut or paused until critical infrastructure has caught up;
- ANU: Only three out of 10 Australians believe the nation needs more people;
- Newspoll: 80% of NSW voters do not want the state’s population to increase.
- Australian Population Research Institute: 72% of voters say Australia does not need more people; 50% want immigration to be reduced.
To avoid accusations of racism, the plebiscite should be about Australia’s future population not the rate of immigration.
Here is an example of the type of question that could be taken to the Australian people:
Australia’s population is currently 25 million. Under zero net overseas migration (NOM), it is projected to reach 27 million by 2060.
By 2060, do you believe Australia’s population should be:
- 27 million;
- 30 million;
- 35 million;
- 40 million;
- 45 million?
Obviously, there is room to move on the language and the chart should be updated by the ABS to show the level of NOM corresponding to the choices, but you get the idea. The important thing is that Australian’s views are sought and this consensus is then used to formulate a national population policy.
In it’s 2016 Migrant Intake Australia report, the Productivity Commission explicitly called for a national population strategy, rather than flying blindly. A population plebiscite is also the democratic thing to do.
By demanding a population plebiscite in return for its support of the Coalition’s tax cut package, One Nation could wedge the three major parties on immigration and win favour among the millions of silent Australian voters that are being crush-loaded by the ‘Big Australia’ policy, and whose views have been completely ignored.