This is intended to be a brief account of the varying views on immigration in the lead-up to the debate. It’s no more than a taster however. When trying to write something brief and simple, it’s almost impossible not to slip into a bit of caricature. So I’ll plead guilty beforehand. However since this is a blog, please feel welcome to jump in and say what’s wrong with it And in any case, all the speakers will get a chance to speak for themselves in just a few days. It looks to be an interesting (and fun) evening.
Kerry (MA organising committee)
Concern about Australia’s high level of immigration is widespread at the moment. And it’s pretty clear that both Labor and Liberal have decided that there are votes in rejecting the idea of a “big Australia”.
Well, there’s always been a degree of opposition which is frankly xenophobic, however what’s a bit different now is that there’s a substantial degree of opposition coming from people who are identified as in some way socially progressive/leftwing in orientation.
This type of opposition to a continuing high rate of immigration is accompanied by an endeavour to make it very clear that the concern is solely with rate of population growth and has nothing in common with the anti-immigrant stance of groups like Australia First.
Chuck Berger (Director of strategic Ideas at the Australian conservation Foundation, and one of the speakers at our August 12 debate) has put it like this:
Some commentators have been quick to detect a murky
agenda of xenophobia hovering behind a green cloak in
the population debate. They are right to be suspicious.
Population control movements have been associated in
the past with anti- migrant agendas and coercive birth
control policies in developed and developing countries.
In light of this dark history, it is critical for those who
advocate population stabilisation to reject any such
association unequivocally. And yet it is possible to argue
for a sustainable population policy that includes some
limits on migration without being anti-migrant.
The Greens Party, the Australian Conservation Foundation and a number of other green/environmental groups argue that although we have an humanitarian obligation to settle a certain number of asylum seekers, the requirement for a “sustainable Australia” means that we will need to make substantial cuts to the rate of “normal migration”.
However, it’s seems undeniable that this type of opposition to high rates of immigration is intertwined with various types of less “high minded” opposition from people and groups who actively resent new arrivals on the grounds that they push up house prices , take jobs, overload the infrastructure, threaten social cohesion and “Australian values” etc etc.
And this intertwining seems pretty much unavoidable. Berger himself has said:
“More people means more roads, more urban sprawl, more dams, more power lines, more energy and water use, more pollution in our air and natural environment and more pressure on our animals, plants, rivers, reefs and bush.
“If we want our kids to enjoy the same quality of life we have enjoyed, we should aim to stabilise our population and overall consumption at sustainable levels.”
There doesn’t seem to be much of a jump from here to to the more narrow minded position of those who resent migrants for “taking what’s ours’, and who simply regard them as “not welcome”.
I think that this is one of the issues that’s bound to come up on August 12 when we will hear Chuck Berger debate with Sinclair Davidson.
Who’s not worried?
Not all environmental/Green organisations agree with the ACF position. A notable exception is Friends of the Earth (FOE), which categorically rejects the idea that it’s justifiable to restrict immigration in the interests of sustainability. Cam Walker, who formulated the FOE position, will be one of the panel members on August the 12, so we will get to hear him argue his case, following the initial debate between Berger and Davidson.
Put briefly, the FOE view is that it’s not correct to argue that there’s an irreconcilable contradiction between continuing to increase our population and creating “a sustainable Australia”. In their position paper, it is argued that we can absorb many more people, provided we make some fundamental changes to our current ways of living.
Probably , the loudest pro-immigration voices at the moment come from a section of the political right.
Right wing opposition to calls for a reduction in immigration involve a fundamental disagreement about the whole notion of sustainability, a rejection of the idea that rapid economic growth is dangerous to the planet and that we have become victims of our own hubris in thinking we can master nature (etc). The argument from the Right is often acccompanied by explicit support for the the idea of “free movement of people”, which is both a libertarian principle and part of the argument for immigration being “an economic good”.
Various right wingers, most notably Chris Berg from the Institute of Public Affairs, have also argued that it’s just not possible to enforce strict limits on immigration in a way which doesn’t have racist elements – any such policy will necessarily be one of excluding poor, non-white people. In addition, Green sympathy for asylum speakers has been seen as rather hypocritical:
“Having a sustainable population implies asylum seekers can come to Australia, but no-one else. You may flee your third world country to Australia if there’s a war on, but not if you’re starving. That, after all, would be bad for the environment.”
At the August 12 debate, Sinclair Davidson (Professor in the School of economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public affairs), will speak to (a version) this position.
The clash of views between Berger and Davidson should have some very interesting aspects, and once the panel discussion begins I think things will become even more interesting (and probably surprising).
The wild card on the panel will be Arthur Dent (previously known as Albert Langer). Dent is, possibly Australia’s most well known leftwing trouble maker ( well known to anyone over a certain age, anyway). He’s also a classic contrarian …. has been known to claim that he could well be from another planet. For more, see “Langer vote” and also The Devil’s Choice .
I’m predicting some degree of alliance between Davidson and Dent on this issue. But such an alliance is sure to be littered with contradictions which should be entertaining, at the very least.
Our other panel member is Jill Quirk from Sustainable Population, Australia who has been deeply concerned about environmental degradation, urban congestion and sprawl. She has a long history of activism in these areas and argues that the limits to Australia’s carrying capacity make it of the utmost urgency that migration to Australia should be no more than is required by our humanitarian obligation to accept refugees. I’m not in a position to attempt an accurate summary of Quirk’s position, but I’m guessing that she will argue similarly to Berger, possibly arguing for an even more drastic reduction in immigration.
Come along next Thursday to hear our speakers and panel members speak for themselves. There will opportunities to speak from the floor, and afterwards it will be possible to stay on and continue the argument over a pub meal.
The aim of of the Monthly Argument is to bring back real political argument!! We’re so tired of “ABC Conversations” and public meetings in which people go along to hear ideas that they already agree with.