'Immigration debate is just left wing racism', according to the headline of Joe Hildebrand's latest article at news.com.au http://www.news.com.au/national/politics/immigration-debate-is-just-leftwing-racism/news-story/ee5a958fe3447e9cc247f59fdae8d344. He then goes on to assert that questioning our rate of immigration is an ideology confined only to the far right and the far left. Really? I would like to take this opportunity to re-assure readers that it is in fact a concern for Australians from all political backgrounds and walks of life and we ignore this at our peril.
This is why it was actually the duty of every media outlet from the Herald Sun to the 'quintessential progressive media double act of Fairfax and the ABC' to bring this conversation into the public realm. Bearing in mind that our cities will need to have a further 1.5 trillion dollars of infrastructure investment by 2045 just to keep up, this sudden interest from the ABC was, in fairness, a bit late in coming. Even Tony Jones acknowledged the sheer amount of concern that there is on this issue during a Q&A special on whether or not we are ready for a Big Australia.
So comparing all lefties who question our current rate of immigration with the kind of mindset that sparked the Cronulla riots is very problematic. The truth is that unless you are an advocate of open borders, there comes a point whereby everyone has a limit to what they think our annual rate of migration should be. In other words, according to Hildebrand, there comes a point whereby everyone becomes a racist.
Then there are those who do want to see a policy of open borders but that would do absolutely nothing to resolve the very issues that are pushing people to leave their homeland in the first place. In other words it does nothing to help the vast majority of people who, for one reason or another, would be left behind.
This is why a proactive measure such as foreign aid as opposed to a reactive measure such as unlimited migration can help communities on the ground to better manage their environment while providing increased access to education and family planning. That, in combination with much improved urban and regional planning at home, is the ONLY way that we can collectively reduce habitat loss and stabilise populations across the world.
So although Hildebrand is correct in saying that 'cutting the immigration rate to Australia does little to reduce the global population' it is nevertheless a massive oversimplification of a much more complex issue. When you consider that the world's population is growing by 80 million a year, immigration really is the least effective way of dealing with global population pressures.
Of course this is not to say that we shouldn't have immigration. Australia has a proud history of people moving to our shores from overseas and it really is something that we should be proud of. The good news is that we can continue to have a sizeable rate of migration because as Joe sort of points out, if we had no migration at all, our population would eventually start to decrease.
So at the very least we can have an annual migration intake of around 70,000 a year (which happened to be our long term average before John Howard came to power) and this would allow our population to start to level off over time. This means that we can continue to not only maintain our current rate of refugee intake but also be in a position to increase it if we ever decide to go down that path.
It would also buy us the time to play catch-up in terms of getting decent public transport infrastructure in place and crucially it would buy us the time to achieve the slower rate of development that comes with an increased focus on urban regeneration as opposed to mostly relying upon land releases on the urban fringes of our cities.
We are more than capable of innovating new ways to grow the economy without relying on population growth and it is simply untrue to assume that reducing migration will leave us with a skills shortage. As recently as March 18, Caroline Winter reported on the ABC that 'there are calls from the multicultural community for an internship program to be adopted to help skilled migrants get local experience, and a chance at work in their chosen field'. So it is clear that many migrants are not simply walking straight into jobs.
Make no mistake, the main reason why we have a high rate of immigration is not because we have a massive skills shortage, it is not because we are rescuing people from poverty, and it is not because we have an ageing population (we can easily innovate our way through that). It is because it boosts GDP and in the words of Joe Hockey, it is a lazy way of doing it. So it really is crucial that we keep this conversation going and resist the urge to label those who disagree with us with sweeping statements. Instead we all need to work collectively to find solutions that benefit Australia and the world as a whole.
The author, Mark Allen, is an environmental activist who has worked as a town planner. He is a member of Sustainable Population Australia.