A SURVEY on immigration published this week seems to fly in the face of all other indications showing that more Australians are objecting to high immigration.
This week’s survey reports that 52 per cent of respondents think Australia’s immigration intake is about right or too low. That seems to run counter to other polls and broader political concern that immigration is too high, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying that he had heard “loud and clear” that “Australians in our biggest cities are concerned about population.
“They are saying: enough, enough, enough. The roads are clogged. The buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrolments.”
The survey result is puzzling until you read that it was done by the Scanlon Foundation which, according to its website, “aspires to see Australia advance as a welcoming, prosperous and cohesive nation particularly related to the transition of migrants into Australian Society”.
So it is a pro-immigration organisation, unlike the pollsters used by media companies and some other organisations’ polls, which are independent.
The Lowy Institute, founded in 2003 and renowned for its independence, does an annual survey on Australians’ opinions on many issues.
In June this year it found: “There has been a sharp spike in anti-immigration sentiment. For the first time in Lowy Institute polling, a majority (54%, a 14-point rise from 2017) of Australians say the ‘total number of migrants coming to Australia each year’ is too high.”
Newspoll reflected the same shift in opinion.
Other polls have majorities of up to 74 per cent wanting a cut to immigration, but these are not polls used by media organisations, and a lot depends on how questions are asked.
I prefer the pollsters used by media companies because over the years they have been tested by polling on voting intentions which invariably are replicated by the actual vote within a couple of percentage points.
There clearly has been a shift in public attitude towards saying that Australia’s migrant intake is too high.
That should not be a surprise. Indeed it should be obvious. The Howard Government (source of so many of our woes) ramped up immigration from a bracket of around 70,000 to 100,000 to a bracket of 150,000 to 200,000. So respondents who thought that 70,000 to 100,000 was “about right” would obviously move into the “too many” group when immigration is ramped up to the 150,000 to 200,000 bracket.
There is bound to be a change of opinion as rising immigration catches up with us and overtakes our capacity to build the infrastructure for the extra population and starts to adversely affect the environment.
Until quite recently the major parties were happy with high immigration because their donors profited from it.
Provided the voters were oblivious to the downside of high immigration, the major parties could get away with it.
But the voters are no longer oblivious. They see, as Morrison correctly points out that the roads are clogged; the buses and trains are full; the schools are taking no more enrolments. So a government on a knife edge and needing every vote is forced to give priority to voters over donors.
Morrison should have addressed environmental concerns, but a Coalition Government will only go so far on that score.
Howard in government was for high immigration. He correctly saw the possibility of a voter backlash, but not the reason for it. Howard said that Australia had to be tough on refugees coming by boat because to do otherwise would undermine public support for immigration.
Conversely the Greens, the multicultural lobby, SBS, the ABC and others have shown no objection to high immigration because they feared it might reduce support for multiculturalism, refugees and no racial or religious discrimination in the immigration program.
However, the more likely trend is that the stresses caused by higher immigration might result in that very reduction in support for multiculturalism, refugees and a non-discriminatory immigration policy.
There is a real danger in Australia that some voters fed up with congestion and infrastructure take it out on multiculturalism, refugees and non-Christian, non-white immigrants.
Indeed, the sensible position for people who support multiculturalism, refugees and non-discrimination should be to support lower immigration.
There will be no public support for a higher refugee intake without a much lower overall intake.
Howard got it the wrong way around. Rather than worrying that being soft on refugees might result in people opposing high immigration, it seems that high immigration might result in people wanting fewer refugees, a discriminatory immigration policy and a winding back of multiculturalism.
Those on the right of the Liberal Party, including Morrison and Tony Abbott, have been careful to stress infrastructure as the reason for support a cutback. But they never mention environmental reasons for lower immigration. One can only hope that there is no pandering to the One Nation types here.
Infrastructure and the environment should be the reasons for cutting immigration. Race and religion should have nothing to do with it.
That seems to be the position of another politician on a knife edge who is putting the voters before donors. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, whose parents were immigrants from Armenia, has called for the state’s immigration levels to be halved.
It was a good call and followed similar calls by former NSW Premier Bob Carr in early 2016.
Berejiklian and Carr are well placed to know the stresses that high immigration set by the Federal Government put on infrastructure, housing, hospitals and schools at the state level, where people feel it.
As politicians respond to calls for lower immigration, several good things might result. First, donations from big business might not be affected (where else can they go), so politicians can in the future ignore their demands for higher immigration. (Of course, it would be better if we had no corporate donations in the first place.)
Second, support for multiculturalism; the recognition that migrants have made Australia a much better place; and a non-discriminatory immigration policy will remain as resilient as ever – something the Scanlon Foundation has found to date.
Indeed, the main thing that threatens them is setting immigration levels too high.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times on 8 December 2018.