In the brouhaha over immigration in the past fortnight, we must ask ourselves how did Australia allow 512,000 people enter Australia as immigrants in the past year? It is a critical question to this nation’s future.
How did we allow this mind-blowing number in when we have a housing crisis; a hospital-waiting crisis; a congestion crisis; an endangered-species crisis; and an infrastructure crisis? And when more than three quarters of voters surveyed say that it is too many.
To answer, we should go back to the launch of the Federal Liberal Party’s 2001 election campaign.
Prime Minister John Howard said, “It is also about having an uncompromising view about the fundamental right of this country to protect its borders. . . . We have a proud record of welcoming people from 140 different nations. But we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”
The detail is important. The overall message is that Howard is tough on immigrants. He has to respond to Pauline Hanson’s “swamped by Asians” rhetoric.
He does it brilliantly. His “we decide” approach indicates that the white fellas are in control. There will be no swamping by Asians. Nonetheless, we have been swamped. White, brown, yellow, or pink, we have been swamped by far too many immigrants who have stressed every element of our economy and social infrastructure.
But let’s look at the detail. Howard said “we” will decide “who” and “we” will decide “circumstances”. That is all. Note, Howard did not say, “we” will decide “numbers”. And the “we” was not the Australian people, or even the Parliament. The “we” in his vote-attracting policy of pretending to get tough on immigration was just one Minister.
Without setting absolute numbers, it is very easy to see how 512,000 people (net) came to Australia in the past year, resulting in the sort of Third-World population growth that strangles economies and living standards.
Under Howard’s parameters, which are still in place, the “who” is anyone who satisfies some family, work or other immigration criteria. And the “circumstances” are whether you have got a business sponsor; whether are you family reunion; whether you travelling by air; etc. If so, the “we” (the Minister for Immigration) will let you in.
Not only “will” let you in, but “must” let you in. In the ensuing 22 years, an army of immigration agents has grown up matching prospective immigrants to the “who” and “circumstances” and getting them entry which, under law, cannot be denied.
So, a statement that looks like Howard and his government are in total control of immigration in fact describes the Howard Government’s utter lack of control over immigration whereby big business demanded that nothing be done to restrict numbers and end their pool of cheap labour and ballooning consuming customers. And the anti-union-obsessed Howard went along with it.
The voters sucked up the misleading slogan. They thought cruelty to a few refugees meant that immigration was under control.
But it was not. Tick the two “who” and “circumstances” boxes and in you come. Even if there are a totally unenvisaged 512,000 of you. Or a million or two million.
To disguise the lack of control and the swamping of our economy, Howard demonised a few boat refugees and made a big media splash about it so voters would not notice that the total intake (coming in unnoticed by air) rose from about 70,000 a year to 200,000 or more.
Fast forward to 2023 and the so-called Covid backlog: 512,000 people ticked the two boxes and in they came. It was so large, and so obvious that even the most moronic voter took notice and something had to be done.
And so, we come to last week’s government announcement of what will be done. It is just as big a con trick as Howard’s “we will decide” con trick.
The con trick is what behavioural scientists, pioneered by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, call a shifting reference point.
People use the new reference point as a benchmark, irrespective of absolutes. And scurrilous marketeers and others exploit that reference point to make people accept the unacceptable and to pay more than they should.
So, what did the Government do in the face of the 512,000? It said calm down everyone, we are going back to a more standard level of immigration. We will halve immigration to “a more normal” or more “sustainable” 250,000 people – the number of people who came in in the years immediately before Covid.
This is a complete con trick. 250,000 people a year is not normal nor sustainable. It should not be used as a reference point for what is normal and acceptable. That is what used car sales people and real-estate agents do when they move the price reference point.
Normal immigration is the level before Howard ramped it up from a then post-war average of around 70,000 to 200,000 plus.
And he was politely complimented by the Vice-Chancellors (really CEOs} in the higher-education sector which raked in fees from international students and poured into “research” for their mates and too bad about undergraduate teaching standards.
This has been a quarter-century con trick which has generated wealth for some elites at the expense of the broad mass of Australians, including recent immigrants who are now part of the Australian community.
It is an appalling let-down that the Albanese Labor Government has been a sucker for the property-retail-big business con trick of the false reference point.
Voters must get this right: 70,000 is normal; 250,000 is a mad squandering of the living standards of all but a tiny elite of Australians.
In the past, migration contributed immensely to Australia, economically and socially. And was valuable when Australia was under-populated. Now it is not.
The trouble here is that immigration is not seen as a hard economic and environmental issue. Too many people see it as a leftist right-thing-to-do thing, especially in the ABC. Supporting high immigration means you are in favour of multi-culturalism, diversity, anti-racism, tolerance etc etc.
No, you are not. You are condemning the bulk of people, including all those diverse people who came here recently to ever increasing pressure.
Accepting the new reference point of 250,000 people a year, means damning young people to renterdom; commuters to congestion; koalas to die to make way for housing; and condemning Australia to be a net food importer, and on and on it goes.
Without an absolute numbers limit set by Parliament on the basis of just topping up low fertility to zero or low population growth, Australians will be in danger of falling into the arms of dog-whistling racists who will play the immigration card for the worst reasons. If that happens all of the pro-diversity but mis-guided pro-high-immigration proponents will have defeated the very things they stand for.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 19 December 2023.