23 January 2010

Becoming and unbecoming Australians

Recently we had two senior Liberals talk about immigration. Scott Morrison's piece was well-researched, well thought out and a view of the country's future that is both credible and positive. Tony Abbott's piece (here and here) was stupid.

Scott Morrison's gold

... despite the Coalition doubling the country's annual immigration intake when last in government (that's right, doubling it), we managed to halve community concerns about the level of immigration.

This is an opening salvo between the eyes of the lazy portrayal of Howard as a narrow-minded bigot and panderer to Hanson (more on that later). He uses stats lightly but tellingly.

Morrison's use of sources is interesting too: rather than pretending to omniscience like Abbott does, he drops brand-names like Monash and ANU in ways that enhance his position. During the 1980s leading Liberals like Jim Carlton and Ian Macphee could draw on ministerial experience in making a case, but today intellectual crutches are provided by Access Economics and the CIS.

It is not surprising that Markus found a high correlation between lower unemployment and reduced concerns about immigration. When you manage things well, people are more likely to go with you ... I would argue that rising concerns about immigration levels may be more about community disaffection with how things are being managed by our governments.

Some may regard this as self-evident: but they tend to have been the people left dumbfounded by Hanson, unable to anticipate the onslaught or make much of a defence once it was underway. Morrison deserves credit here for making these concerns seem understandable without truckling to them.

There is no doubt that Australia's population growth since World War II has been the driving force behind our expanded capacity as a nation and the prosperity that we now enjoy.

Today, 45 per cent of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was. We are an immigrant nation and there is broad public acceptance, according to Markus, for the view that bringing immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger.

A recent Australian National University study found that net migration of 180,000 a year would add a full 10 percentage points to growth in gross domestic product per capita.

And research by Access Economics shows that every permanent migrant adds $20,000 to the budget bottom line over their first four years. For one year's intake, this presently represents more than $3.6 billion.

Marvellous stuff, solid grounds for optimism. If I were Andrew Norton or Possum Comitatus I'd go looking for those documents and interrogate the stats - and maybe I will, but for now I'll just revel in the idea of a thinking Liberal.

These figures provide a salient reminder to a federal government swimming in debt and deficit ... This is not an argument for a population blank cheque.

When you've done your homework you can be forgiven a partisan dig or two.

Labor's shift away from skilled migration will impose greater costs on our nation.

Yes it will, especially when the "education revolution" is such bullshit at an early stage of its development.

Compare and contrast with his so-called leader:

Tony Abbott's dross

Mr Abbott said Australians were worried about the rise in the number of boat people, the ability of migrants to obey the law and the strain new arrivals put on the nation's resources.

Which Australians, Tony? A majority, or the fringe-dwellers you call your base? If our resources are indeed under strain then obviously you have to blame the previous government for that and other inadequacies.

''The policy of multiculturalism expressed our willingness to let them assimilate in their own way and at their own pace because of our confidence in the gravitational pull of the Australian way of life.''

Migrants would be more popular if minority leaders encouraged them to adopt more mainstream values and abide by the law, he said.

Which is exactly what they tend to do. That happened with the Italians and Greeks in the '50s, the Vietnamese in the '70s, and every other group since. It was churlish not to point this out, not to express confidence that today's migrants can and do contribute as much as they can.

''The inescapable minimum that we insist upon is obedience to the law,'' Mr Abbott said. ''It would help to bolster public support for immigration and acceptance of social diversity if more minority leaders were as ready to show to mainstream Australian values the respect they demand of their own.''

Questioning the loyalty of particular ethnic and religious groups was not new, Mr Abbott said. He blamed the former mufti of Australia Sheikh Taj el-Din al Hilaly's attacks on women and Jews for inciting such doubts in the past.

al-Hilaly was a clown, but he's a poor example there because he did not break any laws as such. Sure, he was a boofhead - but if that was a crime Abbott would be deported to his place of birth, the UK.

"In fact, it's probably essential if the public is to be convinced that Australia's immigration policy is run by the government rather than by people-smugglers," he said.

What a despicable slur that is. Abbott has no excuse for not knowing what a tiny proportion of prospective migrants come by sea, that they are usually the wretched of the earth and have a higher chance of deserving admission than many who arrive by plane.

Here, though, the snivelling gutlessness of his pitch to the bigots becomes apparent:

"The last thing that any Australian should want is to make recent immigrants feel unwelcome in their new country," the Opposition Leader said.

Mr Abbott said people should be especially concerned that ethnic Indians could have become the victims of racially motivated crime: "It would be an affront to our self-perception as a society where people are judged on their merits rather than on their skin colour."

Firstly, very few Indian students arrive here by boat. Secondly, if racism is shown to be an issue Abbott won't do anything constructive about it - he'll just act all shocked, shocked that anyone would dare call him, of all people, a racist (and then, once the media kerfuffle dies down, the racism continues and gets worse).

Mr Abbott said immigration had been a success almost unparalleled in history, but it regularly featured as an issue of concern.

And if you were a leader you would act to alleviate that concern.

The worst thing about trying to rabble-rouse with sneaky, passive wording like this - like so many turds floating in the swimming pool of national discourse - is that the rabble shows no sign at all of rousing for Abbott, much less in the kind of numbers necessary to offset the abandoned moderates.

The election of the Rudd Government removed a sense that there was something untoward about the treatment of refugees and that applications might be treated on merit. That dread feeling of slighting defenceless people for political gain is back, and we are all the poorer for it. Make this dirty man go away, and may we bury the New Guard once and for all.


  1. derrida derider27/1/10 11:59 am

    Wow, he really is trying to be a John Howard, isn't he? But being a much cruder man than Howard, Abbott's dog-whistling is also cruder.

    He's forgotten the that dog whistles should be such that only the dogs hear them - it defeats the purpose if it is heard by others. There goes the ethnic vote, for a start.

  2. Have you ever seen someone blow an ultrasonic dog whistle? They look ridiculous and the dogs aren't necessarily attracted, they just go crazy. Howard could make out that he was just an old-fashioned guy and that dog-whistling was just some sort of sideline - for Abbott, it's core business. He really wants to complete the work of bring Hanson voters into the Liberal fold.