Laura Tingle: If you don’t support Big Australia, you are racist


A week ago, ABC chief political correspondent Laura Tingle wrote an article attacking Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s pledge to moderately lower Australia’s migrant intake.

“The opposition leader has opened the doors to migrants being blamed not just for housing shortages but for all these other problems, too”, Tingle wrote.

“The significance of a major political leader playing so divisive a card on our community is a step that shouldn’t go unnoticed, no matter how inured to it we have become over the years in the wake of Pauline Hanson and “boat people” politics”.


“It is deadly simple, but very dangerous, politics”, Tingle argued.

On Sunday, Tingle told a panel discussion at the Sydney Writers Festival that Australia is a “racist country”.

“We are a racist country, let’s face it. We always have been, and it’s very depressing”, Tingle told the audience at Sydney’s Carriageworks.

Tingle once again accused Peter Dutton of encouraging abuse towards migrants looking to buy or rent property in Australia by suggesting “everything that is going wrong in this country is because of migrants”.


“I had this picture of people rolling up to an auction or to rent a property. And if they look a bit different… he [Dutton] has given them a license to be abused”.

“And any circumstance where people feel they are missing out… To give license like that. I find profoundly depressing. And a terrible prospect for next election”, Tingle said.

Crispin Hull from the Canberra Times neatly exposed the faulty logic behind Tingle’s thinking.


“In the past quarter century, the immigration consensus has had an appalling effect on Australian living standards”, Hull wrote.

“It took a while for the public to twig. And it has taken until now for one of the major parties to break ranks and state the obvious: high immigration and high population growth are the cause of the housing crisis and the strains on every element of social and concrete infrastructure”.

Hull also attacked the media’s response to Dutton’s proposal to moderately cut the permanent migrant intake, whereby the the likes of Laura Tingle have accused Dutton of “racism and dog-whistling”.

“They [the media] have simply got it wrong”, Hull says. “I do not think that the two-thirds of people who told Resolve that immigration was too high are racist. They do not care whether their timely hospital bed has been taken by someone who is brown, yellow or white. Or what the colour of the people are who are congesting the roads. Or who is shutting them out of housing”.


“They are just agitated that too many people are causing them to be shut out. It is insulting and misguided to brand two thirds of Australians as racist”.

“We are now talking about hundreds of thousands of immigrants. Half a million last year and half a million this year. Voters are not just fearing, they are actually seeing housing, bulk-billing, and decent wages out of reach”, Hull observes.

Crispin Hull argues that the “costs of ramped up immigration over the past 20 years have been too high and the benefits negligible”. The whole migration system has been perverted.


“Immigration lawyers and agents and universities have made a mockery of any constraints that might have made the system workable”.

“The agents have enabled the unskilled to be presented as skilled and the universities have warped temporary education visas as tickets to permanent residency”.

“The voters realise that they have been duped”, Hull argues.

Crispin Hull is right, as usual. Australian voters have never supported excessive levels of immigration.

A literal conga-line of polling conducted prior to the pandemic showed that Australians do not support high levels of immigration. For example:

  • Newspoll (2018): 56% want lower immigration;
  • Essential (2018): 54% believe Australia’s population is growing too fast and 64% believe immigration is too high;
  • Lowy (2018): 54% of people think the total number of migrants coming to Australia each year is too high; and
  • Newspoll (2018): 74% of voters support the Turnbull government’s cut of more than 10% to the annual permanent migrant intake to 163,000 last financial year.

Polling released this year showed that Australians want immigration cut hard.

Understandably, opposition to high immigration has strengthened on the back of the current record numbers.


Until now, politicians have refused to make high immigration an election issue, because they knew the public does not support it.

As explained by Abul Rizvi in the lead up to the last federal election, “if the prime minister were to come out and say, ‘I’m going to increase my migration program to 190,000 per annum as assumed in my budget papers’, he’s gone, 100%. He’ll never say it – and neither will the opposition”.

Hopefully, now that Peter Dutton has promised to lower immigration (albeit modestly), ‘Big Australia’ immigration will be front-and-centre of policy debate, with all sides needing to defend their positions rather than remaining silent.


Meanwhile, unrepresentative swill like Laura Tingle will continue to brand us racist.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.