IMMIGRATION: The reverse auction begins as recession looms

nickmack Has anyone noticed how some inner city churches have ‘asylum seekers welcome’ signs? The irony is there are next to zero asylum seekers in Australia. Australia’s border control mechanisms and our Indon neighbours have ensured that just about no one is crossing the Timor Gap on leaky boats any more. Our detention centres are mostly occupied by illegal fisherman and over-stayers, in considerably reduced numbers from the people-smuggling boom times.

Ironically, the Coalition’s policy success in busting the horrific people-smuggling racket meant the sense of urgency about illegal arrivals gradually evaporated and no longer remained an electoral advantage for Howard in 2007. On this – and in many other areas like the economy – Howard was a victim of his own success.

Ideally Australia’s immigration policy should be bipartisan, welcoming and non-discriminatory. The only truly non-discriminatory anti-immigration policy in Australia used to be the Greens party – zero net growth. Then, in the late nineties the policy evolved towards zero net intake plus illegal arrivals and over-stayers: population control demagoguery with a human face.

From Federation on, whether it was under the White Australia policy or not, Australia’s immigration policy eschewed low skilled guest workers schemes. This is what makes Labor’s policy to introduce an extensive ‘pilot’ of 20,000 South Pacific Island guest workers so surprising. Pushed by DFAT and the NFF, the Howard Government flirted with the idea in its last term but believed that WorkChoices plus a low skilled immigration intake would only be more fodder for ACTU.

Could the aggressive lobbying of the former member for Maribyrnong Bob Sercombe be a factor?

A number of Aboriginal leaders have already point out that guest workers will be taking opportunities for Indigenous job seekers. Fair point!

The Federal Government is now weighing up the impact of the economic crisis on the labour market. The Immigration Minister, Senator Chris Evans, has been at pains to quell any fears about the government’s intended increase in the migration numbers and its Pacific Islander guest worker scheme by hinting at cuts of the 457 visa scheme. The Senator has said that the government will rely on economic data to reassess the nation’s migrant intake and may consider calls for a reduction if economic growth slows. The Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard has also weighed in to the debate, warning employers that they must “first check if Australians were available to fill vacant jobs” before applying for 457 skilled visas.

In a pre-emptive move, the Opposition Immigration spokesperson, Sharman Stone, has called for a 20 per cent reduction in immigration in order to help the nation deal with the likely effects of a slowing economy.

Many Australians would consider it entirely reasonable that in a period of increasing unemployment, the job prospects of Australians should be given priority. However, by emphasising that immigration is so exclusively influenced and determined by economic factors, it would appear that the other key issues that influence and shape our immigration policy, namely those that are social and cultural, have at the very least been cast to one side and at worst, are considered redundant.

Arguing the case on social or cultural grounds often involves sticking one’s neck out and identifying a particular race or cohort of migrant. Or is it a case that media bias? The Labor Government is targeting Pacific Islanders because there is not the kind of plebeian angst towards these workers from these microstates compared with workers from Indonesia and China.

Last year, the Howard Government took steps to reduce the number of African migrants under the humanitarian programme. It unleashed a fit of pique among the handwringers in Australia.

Some background: In response to the Darfur humanitarian crisis, Vanstone persuaded Cabinet to tip the balance of the programme towards Horn of African asylum seekers at a 70 per cent intake. This overwhelmed settlement services and the local families recovering from their own traumas arising from civil war and attempted genocide.

Advice from Immigration officials and a number of ugly incidents in Melbourne heightened grassroots heightened concerns about the pace and effectiveness of resettling such migrants in such numbers. Advice included evidence about the establishment and activities of race based gangs, tensions between African families and community organisations resulting in conflict and assault, and a very real concern among community leaders about the increase in crime among African youth.

To balance it out and to take account of specific community concerns, refugees such as Assyrians from the Middle East caught in the cross-fires of conflicts in which Australia was participating, were favoured and more settlement services to Africans were provided.

The announcement by the then Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews led to a reaction not too dissimilar to the 1980s Blainey/Howard comments about slowing down the Asian intake. It was loud and predictable. Andrews was labelled not only a racist, but a political opportunist, in search of the next ‘Tampa’ so as to give the then ailing Howard Government a boost for the pending general election. ABC Radio’s John Faine even went as far as lodging a complaint against Andrews with the Human Rights Commission.

In amongst all of this hysteria, the Federal Labor Party was unusually quiet. Its pollster knew Andrews had a point and that it was resonating with the silent majority. Both the Federal Labor MPs for the electorates covering the Dandenong area were conspicuous by their media absence.

(Interestingly the current Minister left the proportion of African refugees the same as Andrews’ decision – 33 per cent from Asia, Middle East and Africa each plus the remaining 1 per cent to contingencies. Do you think Jon Faine will lodge a complaint against Evans?)

Politicians from both sides should be wary of ignoring the will of Australians when shaping our immigration policy. The Pauline Hanson phenomenon provides a salutary lesson as to the savage reaction that the voters when the key driver to immigration policy was the family reunion intake over skilled workers and businesspeople: it was great for self appointed ethnic leaders and fundraisers but it lost the ALP votes.

The old 1970s view that multiculturalism was about undermining the host culture and was particularly championed by disgraced former MP and former La Trobe Uni academic, Andrew Theophanous. This ‘hostile’ multiculturalism is still on display by those who oppose a citizenship test. Thankfully this has bipartisan support and it inspires confidence that Laurie Ferguson, who supported the policy of detention, is driving this part of the portfolio.

It is unlikely illegal arrivals will trouble the Rudd Government as Indonesia now polices people smuggling very effectively. The danger for Rudd is if the labour market becomes considerably weaker, some of the social and cultural limitations of the current immigration intake will show up and the guest workers ‘pilot’ will be taking opportunities from motivated Australians on low income. At that point, Rudd should promote earthy Laurie Ferguson as his Immigration Minister.

If Sharman Stone is looking for a sleeper issue in immigration, she could do no better than proposing the reform of the dysfunctional Adult Migration English Program (AMEP) which allows 5 hours of English lessons per week over 5 years with no requirements to job search for new migrants. How the Howard Government never fixed this rotten program beggars belief!

Immigration policy should not be the sole tool of big business (457 visas), big agriculture (guest workers) or rent-seeking ethnic leaders (increasing family reunions). It belongs to all fair and open minded citizens, who believe that immigration should enhance the existing diversity, not detract from it. Immigration has been most successful when governments have brought the Australian community along with them, rather than getting ahead of what will be reasonably tolerated.

There must be an honest and open debate about the social and cultural impacts of immigration. It is not unreasonable to expect that migrants aspiring to citizenship should demonstrate some capacity to successfully integrate into the Australian way of life. Citizenship has never meant giving up their roots or identity; it’s about a willingness to accept and embrace Australian values and our western democratic traditions and institutions.



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8 responses to “IMMIGRATION: The reverse auction begins as recession looms

  1. Peter

    Eminently well said. Sober, sensible, reasonable.

  2. facts please?

    “The irony is there are next to zero asylum seekers in Australia.”

    This is such complete rubbish.

    According to the Immigration Department, 2215 humanitarian visas were issued on-shore in 2007-2008.

    This figure does not include the number of unsuccessful or pending applications, all of whom should be ncluded in the “asylum seekers” category.

    Unless Nick Mac has access to some amazing new post July 1 2008 statistic that says that all of Australia’s asylum seelers have suddenly ‘disappeared’ then we should conclude that he is speaking out of his arse!

  3. Nick Mack

    Onshore and offshore humanitarian visa holders are given to bona fide refugees, not asylum seekers. Or put another way, once granted asylum they no longer seek it. DIAC’s 2007-8 annual report confirms the declining numbers in onshore asylum seekers:


    The use of immigration detention as a means of resolving a client’s immigration status has declined since 2002–03. The percentage of unlawful non-citizens now detained after being located by the department has halved to about 17 per cent and the number of people spending more than two years in immigration detention has also halved since 2002–03.

    Pp 122

    In 2007–08, there were 8404 compliance related departures, including 4055 monitored departures, 722 voluntary returns, two criminal deportations and 3625 removals from Australia. This is a decrease of 11 per cent from 2006–07 when there was a total of 9489 (4433 monitored departures, one criminal deportation, and 5055 removals from Australia). This reflects an increased focus on more effective case management aimed at regularising client status, a reduction in the number of illegal foreign fisher apprehensions and promoting voluntary departures.

  4. I back Mack

    Until a request for refuge has been accepted, the person is referred to as an asylum seeker. Only after the recognition of the asylum seeker’s protection needs, he or she is officially referred to as a refugee and enjoys refugee status, which carries certain rights and obligations according to the legislation of the receiving country.

  5. how does Ruddock sleep at night?

    The Australian television network SBS plans to air a documentary next month alleging that the Taliban killed as many as 20 of the refugees when they returned to Afghanistan. SBS says dozens more are in hiding to avoid the Islamist militants.

    The Australian government wants to investigate the allegation that the 20 were among 400 asylum seekers who were denied entry to the country.

    The film’s producer has spent six years tracing many of the rejected Afghan asylum seekers.

    Hundreds were held on the island of Nauru under the previous government’s controversial policy of shipping illegal migrants off to remote camps.

    About 400 Afghans went home after the government of former Prime Minister John Howard rejected their requests for asylum. Refugee advocates say officials told them it was safe to return home and that they risked being held in custody indefinitely if they refused to go.

    One of the architects of the old policy, former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, says the returnees were treated properly.

    “It was in a creditable process and they voluntarily agreed to leave and if people have lost their lives one doesn’t necessarily know that this is because they were particularly targeted because of who they were,” he said.

  6. Obi Wan Kenobe

    Sounds like the old 1940’s and 50’s Labour Party.

    Slowing migration doesn’t work economically, and doesnt preserve jobs for those already here.

    Population growth = demand growth for goods and services (housing etc…) and always creates jobs and wealth.

    Cutting migration is exactly the wrong thing to do in times of economic downturn.

  7. philip travers

    This subject,seen only from an Australian perspective,is bound to be amusing sometimes to countries that surround us accept Singapore and New Zealand,where New Zealand tries much harder to laugh at Australians for a lot of other matters.Seeing it generally cares about Islanders.At not wanting to be over critical of the above writer of the subject,I think,there is always a meanness in describing people as numbers alone,and their needs by numbers alone.And that is what he is defending about himself and uses some statistics in doing so.I think,the ecological footprint approach to the requirements of a human being that has been trialled and calculated,by people living in house accomodation,and having more than a subsistence existence,but,a varied existence,by applying the intelligence of citizens,using Permaculture inspired ideas is a good one. Check it out,and think about it.You can make some good comparisons when Permaculture is applied in a populace eg., Cuba,and even then.. there are difficulties in the matters of survival for reasons not populace related,but Weather related.I take the threat to Aboriginal jobs seriously,but,even saying that,it has a sort of inbuilt racism,because why assume in a technological using society,that the so called low skilled in jobs this year,may not be in high skilled jobs next year!?What really does it take to fix a very large,land or marine based diesel motor!?Insight,applied knowledge of a trouble shooting sense,tools time,and capacity physically.Look at the bloody payrates of marine diesel engineers,and well!? There certainly is social isolation being of a certain racial characteristics in a larger numbers of such.But wether it is the new who are large in number or the old populace,matters remain fluid,if racism isn’t worked up. Not every kid that travelled on a red rattler in the sixties,when Italian older people,women in black, travelled on them,who couldn’t understand the language,were being racist,when they complained about the lack of English being spoken,it was the unfamiliarity that then was defined by being Italian.And some days,as a individual,I would be non-plussed by being approached by someone attempting something in another language.So its clear,I think,that racism,should be only considered as that,where abuse or some other form of non-acceptance in completion and intentions of criminality displayed.Being pissed off is anyone’s rights.The fact remains the individual only has a token say over what transpires as population policy,and in that being the case,it is loaded against the advantages and disadvantages of such,when policy is working.On the matters of farmers,the NFF, is a blow hard organisation,always using government like Murdoch types,yet there remains something very valid in the approach of guest workers.I personally still work on a potato farm,and have picked fruit,and have enjoyed the work,and even farmers,company,even if I thought the money was lousy.I would like other Australians to just have a similar attitude,so the crops and other work in season is done.AS a long term unemployed person,I dont people should be forced to do this work,and government is copping out badly on matters of seasonal work,not quite understanding something.And it is very hard to describe what that is.My own thoughts on that are,the restrictions put on workers who had left jobs,and just wanted the dole for sometime,even if they owned a few assets and savings,just plain tired..and wanting to work for the man.And you simply cannot separate population policy from individual needs,like time to introspect,invent,need,want and pursue wholesome relationships,rather than the economically engineered.

  8. philip travers

    There may be a not or two missing above.

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