72% of Aussies do not want a bigger population

Dr Bob Birrell and Dr Katharine Betts from the Australian Population Research Institute have released a new research paper examining Australian voters’ attitudes towards immigration, which is based on a random survey of 2,029 voters conducted from October/November 2019. Below is the Executive Summary along with the key charts:

Until Covid-19 a Big Australia seemed impregnable. It represented a commitment to an open, globalised economy, featuring progressive cultural values and high immigration. The concept of a Big Australia had achieved the bipartisan support of the major Australian political parties. In the case of Labor the focus was on the cultural values, strongly and sincerely held by Labor’s leaders and its supporters, especially among university graduates. High immigration was interwoven with progressive values because of the diverse ethnic and cultural streams of migrants that it was delivering.

In the case of the Coalition, the cultural values aspect scarcely received lip service. However, the immigration component has, or had, become central to the party’s economic objectives. These emphasised maximum growth in the economy and in jobs. Migration was understood to have helped deliver 29 years of uninterrupted growth in GDP.

Prior to Covid-19 population growth in Australia had been around 1.5 per cent a year, of which net overseas migration (NOM) comprised about one percentage point. By contrast, NOM is currently adding 0.3 percent a year to the population of the US, and 0.4 percent a year in the UK.

Australia appears to be an outlier. In the UK and the US, previous government commitments to a similar globalising, high immigration agenda have been successfully challenged by protest movements, represented by Brexit in the UK and Trump’s presidential victory in the US.

The story we tell in this report is that Australia, too, is vulnerable to a similar reaction.

Survey data collected by The Australian Population Research Institute (TAPRI), and by other pollsters, show that around half the Australian electorate want a reduction in immigration.

A majority of all voters think Australia does not need more people and believe that high immigration is responsible for the deterioration of the quality of life in Australia’s big cities, as well as stressing its natural environment. Moreover, at least half the electorate do not support the progressive cultural values that left elites (including Labor’s leaders) regard as legitimating high immigration. Nor do they support the economic arguments advanced to justify it.

Most of the voters who take this stance are not university graduates. On the other hand most graduate voters support progressive values and a significant minority of them say that immigration should be increased still further.

Non-graduates swing right and graduates swing left

Since the 1990s a majority of Australia’s non-graduates voters have moved from supporting left-leaning parties (mainly Labor) to supporting right-leaning parties (mainly the Coalition). Over the same period many graduate voters started to move in the other direction. On average, from 2001 to 2019, 55 percent of non-graduates have voted for right-leaning parties and 54 percent of graduates have voted for Labor or the Greens. This crossover in political alignments represents a fundamental realignment of Australian voters’ preferences. And as we show, it mirrors what has happened in both the UK and the US.

An important factor in this realignment is that the Coalition has clearly and openly rejected Labor’s progressive cultural agenda. Nevertheless, it has maintained a Big Australia immigration commitment, despite the fact that most of its non-graduate supporters do not concur with this. In effect, Labor, having driven much of its former working-class support base into the Coalition ranks, has left these voters with nowhere else to go. Bipartisan support for high immigration means that these voters are homeless as far as this question is concerned, but at least they have a refuge within the Coalition to shelter from progressive cultural values.

The Coalition has clearly been the winner in this crossover because, currently, non-graduates make up around 75 per cent of the electorate. Labor has been left behind, unable to attract a majority of non-graduate voters and vying for graduate voters with the Greens.

We outline the historical background to this transition. This starts with the Hawke/Keating Governments’ commitments in the 1980s and early 1990s to a globalising economic agenda and to a high immigration program, welcoming Asian migrants and the cultural diversity that they and others brought with them.

This emphasis on diversity was challenged by the Coalition, especially at the time of the 1996 election, a challenge leading to a strong Coalition victory fuelled, in part, by support from non-graduate voters.

The vulnerability of a Big Australia

Most Australian commentators think that the immigration component of a Big Australia is impregnable. First, it has the bipartisan support of the major parties. Second, it has accumulated a swag of vested interests in the city building and service industries supplying Australia’s rapidly growing population. These include the construction and property industries and the state governments who see their economies as tied to population growth.

There are critics, including us, who think that it is unwise to pursue this policy in a context where Australia’s international trade has become reliant on exports of mineral, energy and rural commodities. Population growth in these circumstances creates an ever-larger workforce dependent on jobs in people servicing and city building industries. Critics also worry about pressure on Australia’s natural resources and on the supply of water. But such assessments have made little headway.

Supporters of a Big Australia think that Australia’s relatively stable record of economic growth has limited the number of voters who have been ‘left behind’ in an economic sense. Thus there is little fuel to feed the fire of insurrection. Moreover, Australia has not experienced the challenges Europe has endured — one and a half million undocumented migrants in 2015 alone, added to the long and severe repercussions of the global financial crisis. These differences, they believe, mean that any voter concern about immigration in Australia will be muted compared to events overseas.

Some analysts also think a movement against a Big Australia will never catch on here because of the march of progressive values through the population. This is the thrust of the post-materialism thesis put by Ronald Inglehart and his colleagues. According to this argument young people have embraced these values, including support for immigration, and will carry this support on into their adult years. We test this hypothesis for Australian voters and find that it is not correct. Older voters, especially non-graduates, largely reject progressive values, including support for immigration.

Another factor thought by some to consolidate a Big Australia is the size of the migrant vote. This vote is crucial to the Democratic Party in the US, in part because of migrant voters’ support for a substantial immigration policy. Our research shows that this does not apply in Australia. Migrant voters are almost as likely as non-migrants to favour lower immigration.

We disagree with the claim that Australia is indeed an outlier. A Big Australia is vulnerable for the same reasons as high immigration was in the UK and the US. There is a large disaffected voter base in Australia, just as there is in these two countries. The difference is that there has been no open fissuring within Australian conservative leadership ranks such as occurred in the UK and the US. There, political dissidents from within conservative or right-leaning parties have mobilised voters’ concerns on immigration.

Most Australian commentators think no fissuring on this scale is likely in Australia. We argue that there have been similar stress lines here. They were an important part of the challenge to Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership in August 2018.

Turnbull led the progressive, Big-Australia wing within the Coalition. But he was challenged by the faction led by Peter Dutton which encompassed most of the Coalition politicians sceptical or hostile towards this agenda. Indeed, it would be surprising if there were no such tensions within the Coalition’s leadership ranks given the party’s embrace of a critical, nationalistic position in response to the Hawke/Keating diversity agenda in the 1990s.

Dutton, who was well known as a nationalist, got enough support (35 votes) to prompt Turnbull to resign. In the subsequent leadership ballot he was only narrowing defeated by Morrison, by 45 votes to 40.

What is less well known is that, while Minister for Immigration from December 2014 to December 2018, Dutton initiated a series of tough reforms. These encompassed more meticulous migrant selection and criteria for citizenship together with advocacy for an overall reduction in the permanent immigration program. The emergence of public debate on immigration levels at the time, and the strength of Dutton’s faction, helps explain why the Morrison government reduced the permanent immigration program from 190,000 to 160,000 at the time of the May 2019 budget.

The post-Covid situation

The immigration issue was already volatile when the pandemic hit. It has become more so as public concerns have mounted about job losses and migrant competition for available work, and about the risks to health if immigration should be revived. Australians have been asked to sacrifice their freedoms in order to quell the virus, and many have suffered severe personal and financial losses. The evidence currently available shows that they are hostile to any resuscitation of a Big Australia. Such a move would amount to telling voters that their sacrifices had counted for nothing.

In this more volatile situation voters’ concerns about a Big Australia are likely to be more readily mobilised, as they had been in the UK and the US.

This hypothesis has already been tested, from an unexpected quarter. It came from Kristina Keneally, Labor’s spokesperson for Immigration. In May 2020, she proposed lower immigration and an ‘Australia first’ hiring policy. This may have reflected recognition within Labor’s leadership that their parlous electoral situation required a search for a greater share of non-graduate voters.

There is no need to speculate on the response. Polling in the aftermath of Keneally’s proposal showed that a big majority supported this hiring policy. This was especially the case amongst Coalition voters, 75 per cent of whom agreed with the proposal.

Should pressure grow to revive a Big Australia, and with it public unease, it is unlikely that the Coalition would be united in support. This is why the Dutton faction is important. It would probably mobilise to oppose such a move, especially if Labor follows Keneally’s example and took a stand.

Most commentators do not appear to understand the situation. The assumption seems to be that a Big Australia will be rapidly revived. We question this assumption.

The full report can be downloaded here.

Unconventional Economist
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Comments

  1. A good start to helping Australian citizens and permanent residents to get work is to scrap working rights for partners of student visa holders.

    In time scrap working rights for students all together.

    • chuckmuscleMEMBER

      Disturbingly on 37% agreed that importing slave labour kept wages down. Could be a “Not my job, I’m too highly valued” attitude that almost all of us mistakenly possess.
      I hope I’m alive to see the day where CEOs are on their knees begging parliament to do something about the wages growth in this country. Will have made a good step toward reducing inequality.

      • This covid depression will only really kick in come June 2021 and I expect some changed attitudes as some of the ‘uneffected’ workers cross over to become ‘effected’ underemployed.
        Its the only way this will change

        • LOl yeah agree with the timing and the attitudes you’ve described.
          It sucks to be ‘effected’ like that.

    • Partner working rights is a massive scam … it is also a massive enabler. You get rid of partner work rights and the equation changes dramatically.

      • It seems to be a popular migration option for couples from the subcontinent and Latin America. For the cost of a questionable education provider, you get work rights for yourself and your partner, and may learn something too (though unlikely).

  2. I’m very glad to read that intro. Let’s hope we manage to question big Australia without the schisms of the U.S. and the U.K., though i doubt that will be possible. I think some are in for a big surprise, their understanding of Australia will be fundamentally challenged

    • Even better is the way the protest vote ( Trump / Brexit ) has been reframed by the mass immigration globalists . Whereas previously you were just an uneducated deplorable if you had the temerity to dare send a signal that you didn’t like the direction your nation was taking , you are now labelled a racist Nazi who is probably ready to stage a violent Proud Boys style coup if the previous establishment isn’t reinstated ASAP.

      Nice.

  3. The big Australia call will grow louder. The left will want to provide refuge for all those displaced third worlders as a result of our contribution to climate change. The right, as a result of our slowing economy.

    As things become more desperate us locals will reach out to vocal yet seriously flawed options. This situation, where you have desperation mixed with unwanted decisions being dumped on the populace is how fascism rears its head.

    • The coronavirus lockdowns have led to a big increase in worldwide poverty. The left supported them, but the left also never misses a chance to find anything bad we’re even tangentially responsible for in the world and to use it as a reason why we must take hundreds of thousands of refugees.

      I’m expecting to see that as the next reason de jour.

    • Yes I agree. Surely will come, The covid will keep us busy for the next couple of years imo, it’s effects are more than illness death and economic downturn its states keeping separate for good reason, police violence against women with child appended, and pregnant women is a first since early days and earliest times in the colony when the english sold women off the ships for rum and then onsold . Women are angry.fearless. Young women too. It happened in Ireland before english out. Public angry. Public, especially women, buying direct from farmers, grain growers, meat farmers arrangements. Feral links forming underneath the usual pyramid of feeders on the supply chain.
      And I agree along with non progressive graduate and a murmering crowd of non graduates we don’t like the universities rorting our country. Nor the housing club parasites scomo down profiting from homes at our harm.

  4. I’ve discussed this with Bob, and there is no question as to the integrity of the research. But I say again, Morrison is completely open about restarting mass migration, and it’s quite possible he can do it. Dutton or no Dutton.

    I don’t see any possibility of Albanese Labor “taking a stand” on this question. It is a matter of record that he walked away from Keneally, and she was forced to recant. Material migration issues will likely go to the 100% “woke” Wong.

    • SupperannuationMEMBER

      Labor and LNP would see a report like this and just think that they need to change the message rather than reduce the numbers.

    • Yeah but also if they could have done it they would have already now.
      Even Dan Andrews has no confidence in Victoria’s contact tracing with a range of issues in multi cultural mess they’ve made of Vic.
      There will be no third lockdown. There will be calls to jail people that do not obey.. and calls to increase english requirements.
      I can feel the anger.

  5. my toranaMEMBER

    In effect, Labor, having driven much of its former working-class support base into the Coalition ranks, has left these voters with nowhere else to go. Bipartisan support for high immigration means that these voters are homeless as far as this question is concerned, but at least they have a refuge within the Coalition to shelter from progressive cultural values.

    As I’ve said for years. If Labor could turn their Banyan tree around, pull out the roots of all their boring stagnant policies and vested interests and take a stand for workers they could win an election. If they embraced DLS on China as well…golden century.

    • You could argue that Labor are standing by their ‘principles’, come hell or high water, and won’t compromise these to win the next election (to be admired to an extent). Tony Blair just said, stuff the principles, we’re not getting into power unless we shift toward the political centre. The moment they did, they swept the Tories from office.

      Labor could do the same but they’re standing with woke-ism instead and a woeful set of principles. Grabbing power is obviously not high on their list of priorities because the answer, as you say, is staring them in the face.

      • Totes BeWokeMEMBER

        The answer is to force Labor to change by getting those still unbelievably rusted on, hoping Labor will change to abandon them. Strategically decimate them at the election in chosen seats to be replaced by an independent.

  6. my toranaMEMBER

    I think he’s naive about Dutton though. Dutton remessages and distracts but doesn’t change the numbers. Remember when the permanent number was reduced but the temporary and bridging visas kept climbing.

  7. 72% of Aussies do not want a bigger population
    In the Poker game of life, I will see this statistic and raise with
    98% of Aussies do not have the needed skills to provide globally valued labour in a non population ponzi environment
    While the first statistic might be an aha moment the second is most definitely an ah-F*** moment. and trust me on this, Ah-F*** trump Aha’s every day of the week.

      • Probably true but so what?
        The skills that Australian immigrants don’t have is hardly an excuse for the lack of valued skills the rest of us(other 67%) also don’t have.
        In my opinion we will never even begin to address the Population ponzi problem until we address the skills deficiency problem. Maybe it’s a chicken / egg thing but we need to begin the change on a strong footing (by developing a strong globally valued skills base) or we will simply slip back to our old ways (Population ponzi) at the first sign of trouble…and there will be troubles with the transition, that I can guarantee.

        • The point is that the migrants aren’t doing much to fix the situation.

          If we took in only migrants who have rare skills, then we couldn’t have a population ponzi, because there aren’t enough of those.

          There’s less incentive to develop rare skills when it doesn’t make you any more money than rubber stamping mortgages or filing for migration visas. You probably can’t develop a highly skilled economy within a ponzi economy, e.g., Dutch disease.

          • I agree completely BUT this in no way changes our need to start our transition at the skills level.
            To make this possible every Aussie needs to not only accept but rather embrace this education and transition challenge, it’s not something that any government can dictate, the burning need to develop these skills must to come from within us (ordinary Aussies). We need to be saying that the status-quo is simply not good enough, we need to agree that we are cheating our kids out of their rightful future.
            Unfortunately we are socially sooo far from making this decision that suggesting we can transition is simply laughable.

  8. Totes BeWokeMEMBER

    What a fantastic article. Exactly how I’ve seen it for 20 years

    “This may have reflected recognition within Labor’s leadership that their parlous electoral situation required a search for a greater share of non-graduate voters”

    lol. What can be said? BTW, Keneally has NOT SAID immigration should be reduced, and has CLEARLY reiterated what she said in case it was misinterpreted. Her actual comment and meaning was to reduce temporary migration and INCREASE permanent.

    Winning government is ripe for the taking by a brand new party.

    • Didn’t she say initially that the size and composition of the immigration program should be reconsidered? It looks to me that later on she recanted somewhat.

      • Totes BeWokeMEMBER

        Probably true. I remember reading her initial comments on MB, and thinking it were purposely ambiguous. Then they got to her I’m guessing like they did Gladys.

    • Stewie GriffinMEMBER

      Yup certainly as I’ve come to see it, although it was a little later for me – from around 2010, I was more of a classical liberalist economically come progressive Uni graduate socially until around then. This was the real money bit for the points you regularly make:

      Since the 1990s a majority of Australia’s non-graduates voters have moved from supporting left-leaning parties (mainly Labor) to supporting right-leaning parties (mainly the Coalition). Over the same period many graduate voters started to move in the other direction… An important factor in this realignment is that the Coalition has clearly and openly rejected Labor’s progressive cultural agenda. Nevertheless, it has maintained a Big Australia immigration commitment, despite the fact that most of its non-graduate supporters do not concur with this [SG: For the moment]. In effect, Labor, having driven much of its former working-class support base into the Coalition ranks, has left these voters with nowhere else to go.

      Labor are currently ruled by ‘big brained’ University educated progressives, just as much born into privilege as the Generalisimos who rule the LNP. But unlike these ivory tower dwelling elites, the LNP don’t (publicly, at least) look down their noses and sneer at half the population for being immoral individuals simply because they are rightfully resistant to MultiCult and mass migration, or that they are tired of being constantly told of their rac!sm by other ‘big brained’ progressives.

      Morality dullard’s we all know and recognise from TV, the work place and even these comment sections, whose sole experience of rac!sm was studying it at University, and who otherwise enter the work force with ZERO skill sets other than sniffing out trace amounts of rac!sm with the electron bigotry microscope – which they point in every direction but themselves.

      It is an indictment against Labor and their abandonment of half the population on their contrived morality stance, that we have one of the worst Govts in our history. Govts, like swords and blades are only kept sharp by the stones they are sharpened against, and the morality dullards of Labor only ever offer up clods of dirt.

      • Totes BeWokeMEMBER

        Thanks Stewie.

        “It is an indictment against Labor and their abandonment of half the population on their contrived morality stance, that we have one of the worst Govts in our history”

        Exactly how i see it.

        IMO Labor would be easy to wreck.

        Just need a reasonable number of people involved, a modest amount of money, and a solid plan.

        • You don’t have to wreck Labor,
          They are doing very well on their own in that regard.
          Then again oppsitions do not win elections, governments lose them.
          The way this government is going that will be the case next year.

          • Totes BeWokeMEMBER

            Labor wrecking themselves is an uncontrolled crash, resulting in a stronger LNP.

            We need Labor replaced with people to oppose LNP, not make LNP stronger.

            LNP won’t wreck themselves while the best alternative is Labor. That’s the whole problem Australia is experiencing.

          • Totes BeWokeMEMBER

            Gunna is far too loyal to the Labor party. His policies are far too woke to attract voters.

        • bolstroodMEMBER

          I dont think the LNP can continue to be exposed for the empty and corrupt vessel they are without some electoral reckoning.
          The best we can hope for is a change of Govt.
          A Green / Labor Coalition. 😂

          • Totes BeWokeMEMBER

            In my view most people know exactly what LNP are, and they don’t like it. The way I see it is pretty much exactly the same as the article above. I entirely blame Labor.

            If Greens and Labor settle down a lot with the woke stuff and oppose such high immigration, they’ll govern for decades.

  9. SnappedUpSavvyMEMBER

    looks like the universities brain washing of graduates is not enough, they need moar brain washing

  10. Totes BeWokeMEMBER

    72%?

    Similar survey outcome as will you vote Trump, do you have haemorrhoids, have you ever fat chicks etc.

    It’s probably more likely over 92%.

  11. Make sure you don’t have three investment properties with mortgages before you wish for no more immigrants. Australian properties doesn’t worth this much without foreign buyers.