A golden opportunity to stuff up national prosperity
10 May 2016
A LITTLE while ago, in a comment on PNG Attitude, I mentioned the Labor politician Arthur Calwell and the Australian post-World War II migration program. As I was a child migrant, the program has particular resonance for me.
Then Peter Kranz pulled me up when he pointed out Calwell’s support of the White Australia policy.
Indeed my fellow migrants and I were all white, originating either in the United Kingdom or Europe.
However, if you look beyond the racism, it was indisputable that the program heralded a period of prolonged economic growth and prosperity in Australia that lasted well into the 1980s. At the same time it also enriched Australian culture.
Towards the end of that period Australia was providing refuge to thousands of Vietnamese who arrived by boat after the disastrous war in their country.
Those refugees also added to the ethnic mix and impacted our economy in a positive way. Their arrival also heralded the true beginning of multiculturalism.
If you look further back in Australia’s history you can see similar migration events that preceded periods of economic prosperity.
Because of the ‘open’ Australian immigration policy, personal wealth and income in Australia was five times greater than anywhere else in the world between 1860 and 1880. Many of the migrants who helped achieve that enviable situation were Chinese.
Then open immigration was effectively closed down by the White Australia Policy. What followed was a period in the economic and social doldrums culminating in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In his recent book, Australia’s Second Chance: What Our History Tells Us About Our Future, George Megalogenis argues that it wasn’t resources booms that heralded periods of prosperity in Australia but booms in human capital.
If you believe Megalogenis, our attitude to asylum seekers is actually working against us.
We would be far better off embracing as many refugees as possible and helping them settle here no matter how they arrive.
Strong migrant flows and economic growth are inexplicably linked. Contrary to popular belief, migration underpins growth in housing construction, service industries and innovation technologies leading to lower unemployment and wages growth. Patchy and unsustainable resource booms are unable to do this in the long term.
Our xenophobic politicians don’t seem to be able to see this. Instead they have a cruel and inhumane attitude to what they call ‘illegal’ migrants.
Common sense tells you that anyone who has the courage to flee a repressive and corrupt regime and journey in a leaky boat to Australia would be very likely to embrace our country and work as hard as possible to fit in by becoming industrious and productive. And, by and large, those few that do make it here do exactly like that.
The specious arguments about stopping the boats and preventing drownings at sea just don’t stack up. Neither does the rhetoric about ‘evil’ people smugglers.
Most of the ‘evil’ smugglers are simply poor Indonesian fishermen taking the opportunity to make a few bucks by ferrying people to our shores. The ‘evil’ people are the public officials who turn a blind eye and the criminals who organise the trips.
It is a highly disorganised trade. A bit of pressure on Indonesia by an immigration minister with a focus on effective policing, some on-shore processing in Indonesia and a mutually agreed boat turn back arrangement would fix the problem in a much more efficient and humane way.
Australia is not doing itself a favour by its xenophobic attitude. If it embraced asylum seekers and migrants it might discover how useful they could be.
And Papua New Guinea, dragged into the equation by its greedy prime minister, has also acted against its own interests.
Many of the asylum seekers are educated people. They could be a real asset in a country where competent, professional expertise is in short supply.
If Papua New Guinea had managed to get its act together and had processed the asylum seekers quickly and provided them with safe and secure resettlement it would now be reaping the benefits.
The few bad apples could have easily been weeded out. Why would a terrorist want to live in Papua New Guinea anyway?
The country has enough of its own ‘terrorists’ in the Haus Tambaran.
Phil writes that, "The specious arguments about stopping the boats and preventing drownings at sea just don’t stack up. Neither does the rhetoric about ‘evil’ people smugglers."
I fully agree. There is an old moral saying, "The end does not justify the means". In other words, wanting to achieve something good does not justify the use of evil means to achieve that goal.
Posted by: Garry Roche | 10 May 2016 at 04:15 PM
Like Phil, I have read George Megalogenis' excellent book on the impact of immigration upon Australia and, broadly speaking, endorse his argument that immigration has had a positive social and economic impact.
Right now, Australia is maintaining levels of immigration that are close to the historic high levels of the immediate post war period. At least half of the immigrant intake comes from non-English speaking backgrounds, especially China and the Indian sub-continent.
There is, in practice, a hardly noticed social revolution going on, with the racial composition of the country in transition from its historic white Anglo-Celtic origins towards a strikingly multi-cultural society.
Walid Aly's win (to my great personal satisfaction) in last night's Logie Awards is powerful testament to just how much the country has changed since the infamous White Australia policy was ditched in the mid 1960's.
The current policy in relation to asylum seekers and illegal immigrants (both being present) is about neither race nor immigration per se: fundamentally, it is about how the immigration process is managed and controlled.
The methods chosen to stem the flow of people coming via dangerous boat journey's controlled by a criminal conspiracy are highly contentious and have raised legitimate moral questions.
Many people who reluctantly support the current policy (as I do) are not at all happy about having to implement such a draconian approach.
The problem is that no-one has been able to propose an alternative policy position that will not essentially open the flood gates once more.
The Greens want to increase the annual intake of asylum seekers to 50,000 per annum. This is a big number given that existing net immigration flows are around 180,000 per year.
On the face of it, this is a morally admirable policy. However, the Greens are marvellously silent on what the socio-economic costs of this open hearted approach will be, nor do they seem to have a coherent plan to manage the reception, processing and resettlement of asylum seekers. The view from the high moral ground seems to be that such details can be worked out on the fly so to speak.
Also, when asked what will happen if the flow exceeds 50,000 per annum, they are silent. The position seems to be to open the door and hope for the best. That it not an intelligent or sustainable public policy position.
Personally, I am happy to support a much greater inflow of refugees (as distinct from economic migrants) but want to see a great deal more of the detail of just how this process is to be managed without creating yet another debacle of the type that saw 1200 people die trying to get here.
Unless and until I see that, I will, like many Australians, remain a reluctant supporter of a policy that I don't like much.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 10 May 2016 at 12:12 PM
Phil - another more sinister issue is the backroom influence contracting companies like Transfield/Broadspectrum and Wilson have on government policy through the influence of ex-pollie lobbyists, donations to political parties and alleged downright bribery.
And of course they hide their profits from the not-so-prying eye of the ATO through overseas shell companies and tax havens.
This is explored here, but you won't find this covered much in the main-stream media.
Posted by: Peter Kranz | 10 May 2016 at 08:29 AM