One of the worst policies of the Hawke/Keating era in Australia was its migration policy. Bob Hawke was a garrulous cry-baby with his eye keenly on the ethnic vote. Hence he, as with many former governments, promoted ‘family-based’ rather than ‘skilled-migration’ to Australia on the basis of ‘family-reunion’ principles*. If the economy soured a little then the demand for skilled intake would slow but any ‘deficiency’ in migration intake quotas would be filled with family-based migration. The intakes included unskilled Lebanese and others who came in under ‘family’ migration entry and who would vote Labor – as would the ethnic lobbies supporting such migration – so it seemed like a smart political move to Hawke. Of course Australia was left with a underclass of largely uneducated, near-unemployables.
The Lebanese included groups who resented and perhaps hated everything Australia stood for as a nation – they were even the local supporters of terrorist groups such as Hezbollah – but, they boosted the Labor vote and were happy enough to collect their social security checks and complain about white racism. Some of the worst of them eventually committed abominable crimes against young women in south-west Sydney although they were readily forgiven by uncritical supporters of multiculturalism because they had experienced difficult, violent backgrounds.
The amorality of the Hawke government and its henchmen in narrowly pursuing what could be at best a marginal political advantage at the expense of the national interest has always astonished me. The lack of good faith here created Pauline Hanson and her rabble and devalued the genuine contribution migrants can and should make to Australia. The sad story is set out in unexpected detail by Labor supporters Fred Gruen and Michelle Grattan in Managing Government: Labor’s Achievements and Failures.
The question must be raised. Is Kevin Rudd now copying Hawke? We are entering the worst recession in our history so it can be expected that fewer skilled migrants will want to come here. Making a virtue of this necessity Rudd has expanded the family-based immigration program, cut the skilled migration program and maintained support for huge aggregate migration intakes over the coming years**. Why such a huge intake when local labour markets are experiencing severe pressures? Why reduce skilled but increase unskilled family migration when this will impose unemployment and economic disadvantage among the worst-off members of Australian society? Why not allow the natural decline in demand for skilled migrant entry to automatically stabilise local labour markets at a time when excess supplies of unskilled labour can be expected to emerge?
(Let me anticipate here that at least one commenter will push the tired old line that bringing in lots of migrants will boost aggregate demand. This might be true but the overall boost is at the expense of those currently looking for a job. If the new arrivals don’t get jobs then the only boost is via increased unemployment benefits. If demand should be boosted use fiscal policy).
Labor looks like returning to the discredited family-based migration programs of its ancestors. It has as well, opened the door to a illegal immigrants to Australia with a foolish revocation of the successful Howard policy of refusing to resettle illegal queue-jumpers in Australia.
The Labor Party’s move to abolish WorkChoices will inflict higher than necessary unemployment on the Australian community and so too will a strongly expansionary migration program that is increasingly dominated by the unskilled. No part of its policy agenda is worse than Labor’s discredited migration policies.
*A cost-effective way of implementing family reunion would, of course, be to provide those missing the relatives they left behind with one-way economy tickets home.
**169,000 immigrants are expected in Australia in 2009/10. The skilled intake of 108,000 will be down by 6,900. There will, however, be another 3,800 family migrants to a total of 60,300 and another 1,000 refugees. Despite recent cutbacks, migration numbers coming to Australia have remained strong as Australia faces its worst recession in 80 years.