Smoke and mirrors with refugees

It was kick-a-refugee week again in Australia last week. Whether the Coalition or Labor is in power, it is the same smoke-and-mirrors game. Get demonstrably tough on a few refugees to distract attention from the massive, unsustainable surge in overall immigration.

Belt up a few people who come in by boat and ignore the hundreds of thousands of people arriving by air with visas that they hope one day to turn into permanent residency.

Labor took a leaf out of John Howard’s propaganda book when it introduced draconian legislation last week to make it a criminal offence for a person not to cooperate with their own deportation and to empower the Minister to refuse entry for any national of a nation that does not accept deportations from Australia.

Sounds suitably tough to assuage voters who lapped up Pauline Hanson’s racist “swamped-by-Asians” warning 28 years ago with regular updates, including another in the Senate a fortnight ago.

But we now know that Hanson was absolutely right it one respect: we are being swamped.

It does not matter whether we are being swamped by British, New Zealanders, Americans, Indians, or Chinese, we are still being swamped.

Hanson’s reminder came in the same week that the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that Australia’s population growth in the past year was greater (as a percentage) than at any time since 1952.

The increase was 659,800, of whom just 17 per cent were births and 83 per cent (547,600) were immigrants. Together, Sydney and Melbourne took nearly half the population growth.

This is self-immolating insanity. The only people who think they are profiting from it are the big retailers and construction companies.

The quality of life is getting poorer for the majority, especially the young and, ironically, the recently arrived who are being shut out of reasonably priced housing and are being squeezed by an ever-more-costly health system.

You need about 350,000 dwellings a year for this sort of population growth. Last year we built 170,000 and next year it will probably be less given labour shortages in the construction industry. The problem is worse if you consider the 20,000 dwelling demolitions each year.

Skills shortages have been caused by the long-term deterioration of Australia’s training regimes as governments withdrew money and support and added deterrents to training with HELP and HECs fees. Bringing in more people will only make it worse.

The notion that immigrants take existing jobs is largely disproved by low unemployment rates. But they do take housing or make it more expensive by putting unsustainable pressure on housing supply. It is not helped by the deformed tax system.

High immigration has also put downward pressure on wages, again mainly hurting young people and recent migrants.

The solution is not just to build more dwellings. That takes valuable agricultural land and encroaches on important wildlife habitat. Relaxing planning rules would make that worse, not better. Relaxing planning rules and cramming in more people also threatens the amenity of existing suburbs. More dwellings just adds to congestion.

A major problem with this debate is that so many people think that if you support multi-culturalism you must support high immigration and that not to support high immigration is racist. People like Hanson make that worse.

In fact, though, high immigration will ultimately be one of multi-culturalism’s biggest threats.

The past 20 years of high population growth has coincided with poor wages growth; poor productivity improvement; lower home ownership; higher health, education and transport costs; and greater inequality. Inevitably that leads to scapegoatism and intolerance.

It also leads to higher crime rates, not just against property, but also violent crime as those missing out lose their sense of belonging and social cohesion and become alienated and angry.

It is standard criminology: no matter what the absolute wealth, higher inequality leads to higher crime rates. For example, the US is wealthier than most European countries but has a much higher crime rate.

In Australia we should watch out for this. In the year to March the number of billionaires in Australia rose 14 per cent to 159. That is up from 117 in 2020. The rich are getting richer. The poor are getting more resentful. 

Last week’s knee-jerk kick-a-refugee legislation continued the infectious trend of the past 20 years. In the haste to pander to fear, the legislation subverted humanity, proper processes and the truth. 

The biggest lie is that Australia has control of its borders. After Covid restrictions ended the Government had no idea how many people would apply for and be entitled to a visa. Australian law sets conditions and if someone meets those conditions, in they come. It is uncontrolled. The Minister can only set targets.

The Australian Parliament should set the annual number, not the Minister, because these days the governing party usually only has a third of the primary vote, and poll after poll shows that a majority of people think immigration is too high.

So, to disguise and divert attention from uncontrolled legal immigration, governments do what they did last week – go after refugees, in this case mainly Iranians.

But refugees are only a small part of overall immigration. Only 186 Iranians are in immigration detention. Only 10,000 boat arrivals before 2013 remain in legal limbo in Australia, all living in the community.

These are small numbers compared to the 550,000 who came in in just one year.

The sad thing is that if we ratcheted down overall immigration, it would be possible to take more refugees than we are now taking.

For the past 20 years the major parties have been wedging each other into ever more cruel positions on refugees while allowing each other to ramp up immigration in a way that has been demonstrably against the broad public interest for the narrow benefit of some big donors.

This will not last much longer. All the polling is showing that younger people are getting angrier and more engaged with progressive causes and they are not getting more conservative and apathetic as they grow older, as happened with previous generations.

And they are getting mighty concerned about climate change, the environment and the effects of over-population.

Independents, Greens and other minor parties are the beneficiaries. Before long the major parties will not be able to form majority government and the price of power will be to end the immigration Ponzi scheme and to more fairly distribute the nation’s wealth through tax, education, health, and housing policies and to look after the environment better.

Crispin Hull

This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 2 April 2024.

6 thoughts on “Smoke and mirrors with refugees”

  1. When The Greens were still an environmental party back in the early nineties they recognized that the biggest threat to the environment was more and more people. They had a Zero Population Growth policy. On their website this policy has been watered down to nothing.

    Recently I wrote to my local federal member of parliament asking what their end target population for Australia is. I got a nice email in return which blathered on about how immigration “in the past” had helped Australia. It did not answer my question.

  2. How do we get people into parliament who have enough knowledge, experience and intestinal fortitude to actually get things done? The pre-selection systems of the majors guarantees only time servers are elected; even the teals needed Holmes A’court’s money. An arts/law degree is not much use for understanding climate change, the fallacies of neoliberalist economics, how business actually operates etc etc. Yanis Varoufakis “Technofeudalism” (2023) suggests nominees should be chosen by lot from the whole community; Australia already has compulsory voting which is the second pillar of his proposal.

  3. ..All the polling is showing that younger people are getting angrier and more engaged with progressive causes ……..but unfortunately they are being manipulated, especially when it comes to the housing crisis. We now have the Domain supported YIMBY’s blaming empty nesters, Boomers, green tape, golf players, councils, planners and of course politicians for the brutal reality they face.

  4. You’ve covered many of the same issues as in my letter of 28th March in the SMH, which was accompanied by a swathe of similar protests at the immigration Ponzi. But I am not sure the Greens will agree with all you say. They indulge themselves on environmental issues, then are totally silent or even critical of those who oppose high immigration, despite the patent destruction that more housing, traffic, food production etc bring. They come from the school that says: you’re against high immigration, so you must be racist. It’s a bugbear we face at every turn, even when we point out, as you have, that a decreased total intake allows more space for humanitarian intake. The Greens are hypocrites.

  5. No, being an island in the middle of nowhere, we DO have good control of our borders, much more so than US and EU. A Million Net Migration in two years is deliberate, malicious, Labor (ie Treasury) policy. If you call it population replacement, of course, You’re A Racist. But it’s still population replacement.

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