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Rudd Labor migration policy

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.

18 comments to Rudd Labor migration policy

  • Uncle Milton

    “The sad story is set out in unexpected detail by Labor supporters Fred Gruen and Michelle Grattan”

    Harry, I don’t know if you knew Fred Gruen, but he always called it as he saw it. To suggest that it is surprising that he told the full story, because it reflected badly on a government he voted for (or more accurately, probably voted for) is a slur on his reputation.

    “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 they boost aggregate demand, then they create new jobs. It is not at the expense of those looking for work. But there is no net effect on unemployment. Perhaps that is what you meant.

  • hc

    Uncle Milton, I was surprised at the directness of the critique. I was also surprised that others close to Labor saw things exactly as I did at that time. Absolutely no slur directed at Fred Gruen – top economist and top person.

    Unskilled migrants tend to displace those most exposed during a recession, unskilled local workers. That new arrivals spend a lot that is not based on social security benefits when they arrive boosts overall demand – an argument sometimes introduced to support high migration during a recession. It is clearly a very poor argument – targeted fiscal actions on public housing provides a much better way of assisting those most hurt by recession.

  • Sinclair Davidson

    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.

    A bit more grumpy than usual Harry?

  • hc

    Sinclair, It is not at all grumpiness. Chain migration is wholly illegitimate. Selecting skilled or desirable migrants to Australia is fine but then adding to these migrants extra migrants who come here solely because they are blood relatives of those initially selected is bad policy. They new applicants should seek entry on the same basis as the original entrant.

    Leaving a foreign country to come to Australia and then saying that you relatives should be entitled to join you is a swindle on the Australian people that has been continuing for the last 30 years. Moreover it is often engineered on a strategic basis – send the most gifted and the rest will get in by means of the family program.

    I think this should be ended completely and those who feel they have made the wrong decision in coming to Australia be given an (economy)one way ticket home.

  • Uncle Milton

    Harry, there’s another way of looking at it. If people want to come and live in Australia, that is a compliment to Australia, its institutions and its people, including you. You should feel flattered.

  • Sinclair Davidson

    Adding to UMs point; some of the people who come to live here may be very valuable and having their rellies come too might be part of the price of their coming. In some cases it may be a cheap policy and in others an expensive policy.

    I’m not familiar with the gory details, but my understanding isn’t that once one family member gets into Australia, the whole tribe can follow. My impression is that a minimum number of family members must be here and they can sponsor relatives. Now the rules might be different for refugees…

    On a point of clarification, my understanding is that many Lebanese came to Australia under the Fraser government. Many of the ‘Lebanese problems’ seem to be Sydney centric – I’m not aware of ethnic tensions like that in Melbourne.

  • Uncle Milton

    Sinclair, I think you are right about the Lebanese. My understanding us that large scale immigration from Lebanon began in the mid 70s after the start of the civil war. So it was the Fraser government that brought them here, though the Labor Party took full advantage in terms of branch stacking I’m Sydney. The Left stacked in the Muslims and the Right stacked I’m the Maronites.

  • hc

    Sinclair, The rules have been tightened but ‘dependent relatives’ (brothers, sisters, aged parents etc) can still come. The difficulty is still that Australia loses discretion in the selection.

    Bob Birrell wrote an excellent study ‘The Chains that Bind’ that covers much of the Hawke era.

    There are strong efficiency and distributional reasons for emphasising the entry of those with skills. We get skill externalities and the negative employment effects on the opportunities of resident Australians fall mainly on those who can best bear it – the well off.

  • derrida derider

    Absolutely no slur directed at Fred Gruen – top economist and top person.

    True. And a Dunera boy. An unwelcome refugee who spoke with an accent. A member of an unpopular ethnic group then widely suspected of criminal activity, and who practiced a non-christian religion.

    Remember that next time you knock refugees and the families they want to reunite with. You know, it is possible to argue that we should lower our migration intake without traducing whole groups of people who have done it very tough and the overwhelming majority of whom just want to find a new home and settle down.

    Also, name a single “uncritical supporter of multiculturalism” who excuses the dreadful actions of Bilal Skaf. You can’t, Harry, because there are none. Why not try arguing against the positions people actually hold rather than inventing ugly smears like this?

  • hc

    DD, They certainly don’t see such events as reasons for not including these people in intakes. Indeed if you suggest there was something wrong with admitting these people you get the ‘done it very tough’ line that you provide along with a personal attack. You precisely replicate the strategy of the ethnic lobby and the multiculturalists. Having ‘done it very tough’ is an excuse for anything.

    Its not people reuniting with families – its a strategy to gain entry to Australia that would not be given directly. Get one in and then chain-migrate the rest. If they wished to be united with their families they would not have emigrated.

    Incidentally , most of these groups were not admitted as refugees. They were given ‘special’ entry as family migrants.

    My preference – admit people into the migration program – outside the refugee/humanitarian program which is separate -on the basis of the skills and capabilities they offer Australia not their family connections with those already in Australia.

    John Howard pursued this skills-emphasis policy and now Kevin Rudd seems to be moving to abandon it.

  • Uncle Milton

    Harry , Bilal Skaf was born in Sydney in 1981. He is as Aussie as you are. Generally, the Lebanese migrants have not been the problem. It has been the next generation that has been the problem. No one could have anticipated this in the 1970s.

  • Ros

    In addition to opening the door to irregular immigrants the government is increasing the pull for these immigrants by changing their welfare access. $77.4 million for a more humane immigration detention regime and scrapping the 45-day rule as it applies to Medicare and work rights. They price the rise in Medicare costs for this change in asylum seeker rights at $5.4 million, the amount set aside over 4 years. Presumably health workers aren’t amongst those being cut from the skilled worker category?

    They have been accused before of doing their sums on the back of an envelope. It is hard not to suspect that once again, in this budget, a hotch potch of ideological and ideologically sound special interest group pleasing decisions have been cobbled together with a post-purchase attempt at coherence, “nation building”.

    It is postulated by some that that very often the process of business decision making involves deciding on answers and then seeking out the evidence to support them. This government seems to be a master at this approach, except that we never get to see the post decision making evidence. Though there was a fun example from Tanner on Sunday, that the NBN would solve the problem of the high cost of pollies travel. Instead of the “evidence based approach” again a new category of demons are identified, eg., self supporting retirees or those approaching retirement. Plus lazy workers seeking to retire at 65. Or anyone who is “rich”, rich being anyone who earns $240,000/$180,000/$100,000/$74,000/$60,000? Very soon there will be virtually no Australian citizens left who aren’t considered to be morally bankrupt. When it is convenient no doubt the families will also become demons.

  • derrida derider

    Harry, its a matter of praising or condemning people for their individual actions, not for their group membership. Conservatives are supposed to be big on individual responsibility.

    I wouldn’t defend everything the Hawke government did in migration policy, but they did admit a lot of refugees – I know, I dealt with many of them. And it is extremely harsh to ensure that people who’ve fled their home country in fear never see their wives, children, etc again.

    As for the reduction in skilled migrants by this government perhaps you haven’t noticed that the much-vaunted “skill shortages” that the previous government used to bruit about have evaporated with the recession. Anyway, most of that policy was more about helping favoured employers avoid providing competitive wages and conditions. It was more abused than the Hawke government’s family migration program. And like the Hawke government program, it was more about politics than policy.

  • hc

    DD, The Muslim immigrants from Lebanon had unemployment rates above 30% for years. An individual cost? The massive crime in south west Sydney. An individual cost?

    The Howard Government admitted more refugees than did Labor. I repeat many during Labor came through the family program. The compassion you discuss could be applied to about 10 million potential migrants each year. We do not admit the whole 10 million but are selective. I agree with being selective.

    The argument for introducing people with skills is that they face better employment prospects than the unskilled. If anything the employment prospects of the unskilled deteriorate in the face of a recession.

    If you are arguing thsat reducing the cost of skilled labour is a consequence of allowing skilled immigrants then, I agree. Opening your borders to imports improves local living standards by supplying cheap goods. Exactly the same with immigration – read any texty on the source of gains from immigration. Wages fall but output rises more giving an efficiency gain to the economy. That’s the case for any migration. With skilled migration you also get skill externalities associated with the fact that the skilled are typically paid less than their marginal product and good distributional effects.

  • derrida derider

    Wages fall but output rises more giving an efficiency gain to the economy

    Well yes, but output by the natives doesn’t necessarily rise (In fact in the short term it should fall due to capital dilution. What happens in the long term depends on your views about scale economies on the one hand and environmental sustainability on the other). And the return to native workers actually falls with those wages. Aggregate GDP isn’t everything – who gets it matters.

    Contrary to myth, the bulk of our “skilled” migrants in the last few years have been cooks, hairdressers, nurses, farm workers and low-level IT support – all notoriously underpaid jobs. Its hard to see how this abuse is less deleterious than that of the family reunion program, which at least let people settle to a stable family life. BTW, that 30% unemployment among Lebanese muslims – source please? Because the labour force survey doesn’t ask about religion.

    Anyway, I reckon the biggest migration rort in recent decades is neither the family reunion program nor the skilled migration program but private “education”. Those English language courses are often very dodgy indeed.

  • hc

    Capital dilution is irrelevant – indeed it is a misconception. Having migrants coming in increases the value of the local capital stock owned by residents. It isn’t ‘diluted’ since it is owned by the original residents. The value of output accruing to the original residents increases since the gains in capital productivity exceed any effect in wages falling.

    To convince yourself output will increase with migration. The migrants will get paid their marginal product but some of the output gains accrue to capital owners – original residents – so the latteer’s share of output increases.

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