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Silly migration policies

Chris Berg has some claims for being less tough on border control in yesterday’s The Age.  These claims are backed up in a post by Joshua Gans

Current levels of displaced people seeking resettlement are estimated by UNHCR to be of the order of 21 million – not 15.2 million as claimed by Berg.  Even though this is at something close to a historical low it is still a massive number. 

 The Berg argument is that only (!) 10,000 refugees are waiting to be admitted to Australia.  Of course Australian governments are concerned about a much higher latent demand than 10,000!  Gans has an ‘out’ – he conditions his views on the claim that ‘10,000 refugees is the worst-case scenario’. But it isn’t a real ‘out’ at all and – even if it was – Australia is a nation state with the right – as all nations do – to determine who lives here.

 I am amazed that Gans and Berg advance a policy that would determine who comprise the people of Australia on the shallow grounds that it provides ‘gains-from-trade’ – because that is what their argument amounts too.   Australia is not a competitive, distortion-free economy where having extra people means Pareto gains in the same way as freeing up of international trade in goods. Australia is a distortion-ridden economy with a subsidized health care system, unemployment benefits, pension benefits and free education.  This creates the potential for adverse selection in an intake – particularly one which is likely to be poorly educated and unskilled. This is the reason we have quotas and entry criteria such as points tests.

Moreover, Australia does not price congestion and pollution adequately so that taking huge numbers of new migrants can be ‘immiserising’ on environmental grounds. With sound environmental policies – a hypothetical – the optimal population increases.  

The distortions in Australian markets provide part of the reason these people target Australia rather than much geographically closer nations to settle in. Why don’t Tamils settle in India or South East Asia? Why is Australia put in the box of being the inevitable ‘solution’ to the consequences of a civil war in Sri Lanka? Is it because we are seen as an affluent, soft touch?

The implied argument of Berg and Gans that Australia should not even ‘pick-and-choose’ but take whoever turns up with a non-selective entry policy – in effect that Australia should become a common property resource of the international community – is offensive and silly.  Put it to a popular vote in Australia and it would be rejected by almost all.  Australians want to retain controls over who comprises the people of Australia.

People with skills are often paid less than their marginal product because of the existence of skill externalities.  In addition bringing in those with skills provides a human capital bonus (‘brain drain’) and has distributional effects that are favorable – mainly impacting on the well-to-do in Australia and providing complementary demands for more unskilled employment – for example migrant doctors employing secretaries and gardeners.

Most Australians would prefer to live in a society which has new members who are primarily skilled and talented.  They certainly don’t want radicalized misfits – whether they are the product of an aggressive alien religion or a traumatic conflict – who despise Australia’s tolerant, democratic society and who ultimately can’t get jobs or fit in.   We have a peaceful, prosperous democratic society and want to keep it.

Generally the refugee-humanitarian program has not been and should not be a major part of the immigration program.  Australia should accept at most 10-12,000 refugee-humanitarian migrants each year given clearly justified needs but not on the basis of queue-jumping.

Proposals for an ‘open door’ immigration policy won’t go anywhere – neither major political party would accept these claims – but the reasons for them being wrong are worth setting out since the last thing we want is a partial retreat on the decisive advance of the Howard years which involved seeking skilled rather than family migrants.  Family reunion has never made much sense for people who choose to leave their families and friends to set up life in a new society.  If they don’t wish to separate from family then they should not of course emigrate – as an act of goodwill Australia should provide those who turn out to regret their emigration decision with a one-way ticket home. The Hawke-Keating Labor Party has shown in the past that it will pursue the ethnic lobby to  gain votes and citizens should be alert to this possibility now.

 Immigration policy needs to be based primarily on Australian self-interest with only a limited refugee-humanitarian component that reflects Australia’s size in the international community. Australia is neither a social experiment for those on neither the left who see it as Australia’s responsibility to right the wrongs of the world nor a right-wing free market fantasy that is inevitably involves ignoring national self interest.

30 comments to Silly migration policies

  • Sinclair Davidson

    Green policies and One Nation policies are the same.

  • hc

    What does that claim have to do with a post rejecting the case for a non-selective immigration policy?

  • Sinclair Davidson

    Harry – what you’re saying is that racism is good for the environment. Now that is simply wrong. You can come up with whatever fancy argument you like; but fundamentally you’ve put out the ‘Australia Full’ sign.

  • hc

    I am not going to even respond to that stupidity.

    Bark! Bark! Is all its worth.

  • Spike


    Harry’s bark is worse than his bite. ….(offensive claim removed). On the other hand, he advocates a sane view on climate-change which would have had Howard and Co howling with rage.

    Having said this, one only has to recall Harry’s willingness to make a pariah of Dr Haneef, which he has shamefully failed to correct, to realise from what fundamental defect of character his comments on immigration are sourced.

    My advice to all those who would try and resurrect the nadir of Australian immigration policy under Howard/Ruddock/Andrews is top let sleeping dogs lie.

  • Uncle Milton

    Harry, how do you know that the Sri Lankans who are the current crop of asylum seekers are radicalised misfits, uneducated, hate our values, etc? They might all be cricket loving astro physicists for all you know.

    The argument against admitting them as refugees, if that is what they are, is that they have jumped the queue. Which is unfair to the refugees who have not, but on the other hand, as Berg says, they have shown commendable entrepreneurial initiative. Not really the types t be reliant on welfare, some might think.

  • hc

    I was thinking particularly of other groups than Sri Lankans. Several have now been convicted of plotting terrorist attacks in Australia. They have high unemployment rates and advocate Sharia Law for Australia. Do they approve of our democratic values, of our religious tolerance and of our fundamentally non-violent political culture? The rastionale by Australia’s chattering lefties isd that because these people have had it tough we have an obligation to accept them. I disagree.

    BTW let me be clear Uncle Milton are you suggesting that people who risk their lives on a long boat trip to Australia should be given automatic entry to Australia because they exhibit entrepreneurial zeal in their brand of queue jumping? That is the implication of acting on the Berg-Gans argument for non-selective intakes.

  • Sinclair Davidson

    (Offensive remark deleted. Take it elsewhere Sinclair – bottom of the barrell stuff that I cannot be bothered responding to).

    Harry – it’s not non-selective; it’s for those who can raise a lot of money under difficult conditions.

  • Skilled and talented in what?

    We’ve taken in radicalised militants at war with England and turned them into Prime Ministers ( and lowlel;y blog commentors in this case)

    We took in the Balts and Greeks and Italians. Most of them were peasants with the skill in wielding a pick or shovel. Something anyone can learn in a week. They and their offspring are some of out best citizens and staunch defenders of Aussie values (whatever they are – perhaps welcoming the oppressed and underdogs?)

    We took in a few Jews and then Viets. Escapees from Hitler were often misfits radicalised form traumatic conflict – jeez turn up at a Commo party meeting years ago and you could have been in a synagogue. Radicalised misfits from the USSR flocked here too – and wrote for Quadrant.

    Misfits with bugger all skills from Vietnam came here on leaky boats run by scum people-smugglers and set up as small capitalists and joined the Liberal Party in droves.And their kids got the top ENTER scores.

    Shit we’ve had more deaths from Croatian and Serb terrorists in Australia than we’ve had from fuckwit Muslim jihadists.

    Most of the jihadists are second generation home grown
    nuts anyway.

  • […] said. Update I: Joshua Gans comments. Update II: Harry Clarke comments.* * This is not an invitation to abuse Harry and any comments I deem to be gratuitously nasty will […]

  • rog

    42 million, not 21 million or whatever.

  • rog

    My mistake, 42 million homeless

  • Spike

    My rationale for taking in refugees is that they are refugees, and Australia has signed up to binding International legal obligations to protect people found to be refugees. It really is very simple. Only people with irrational fear and loathing of the other, characterised by sweeping generalisations and assigning the labels ‘them’ and ‘they’ to people to whom the label ‘refugee’ is properly applied, seem to be calling out for Australia to ignore the legal obligations it has signed up to.

    It was easy to see that the Howard government had a vested interest in this kind of deplorable appeal to the ignorant lowest common denominator, but I really am baffled why an educated person like Harry is propogating such nonsense.

  • hc

    It doesn’t matter how carefully you write things you still encounter deadheads like Spike who can’t or won’t read. If you read what is written you will see that I suggest a limit of 10,000-12,000 in the refugee-humanitarian intake. That’s about what it has been for a long time in Australia. The point of the post was to suggest that we should not just accept anyone who turns up. Its a post opposing ‘open door’ not suggesting an end to the refugee program.

    We are under no legal obligation to accept for settlement in Australia 21 million refugees. Protect yes, accept for settlement no.

    I don’t use the phrases ‘them’ and ‘they’ – I refer to refugees you ignoramus.

  • Nick

    Your comments seem fair enough to me Harry and consistent with what you’ve put forward for years for those who are aware of your work.

    Disappointing that many of the comments here have taken your post out of context.

    This issue isnt about racism or zenophobia, it can and should be a legitimate debate about how we engage with the rest of the world and whats best for Australia and others involved.

  • melaleuca

    Sinclair D says:

    “Harry – it’s not non-selective; it’s for those who can raise a lot of money under difficult conditions.”

    In poor countries that often means criminals and corrupt government officials. Harry Clarke has this about right.

    I’d happily see the “House Full” sign put up because I enjoy the wide open spaces we currently enjoy. I don’t want to live in a sardine can. It is not racist to hold such a view.

  • Spike

    Bit difficult for there to be any form of debate, let alone a legitimate one, where the moderator is so thin-skinned that he deletes any post which contradictss his view.

    Man up Harry.

  • hc

    Its not a debate Spike when you infer someone is a racist. Its offensive and I will delete comments of this type every time they occur. If you don’t like this policy, it is easy, go elsewhere.

  • melaleuca


    My wife is Vietnamese and only got here thanks to family reunion. Three of her siblings were boat people. Nonetheless I now want the “House Full” sign put up. Does this make me racist? Do try to grow up.

  • Nick

    This debate is about refugees. The so called “house full” call is a completely different debate to how many refugees Australia should take.

    Harrys suggesting we shouldnt take more than 10 to 12 k of refugees pa if i read correctly.

    In terms of house full and how many total immigrations we should take, thats a somewhat different debate.

  • […] right-wing case against immigration has to do with rights. Australia supposedly has a right to self-interest and to pick and choose who gets to come here based on self-interest. That self-interest often […]

  • fxh

    Over half the increase in population – in melbourne at least – is people already here sprogging out offspring. The rest is immigrants. Refugees are about 2 /5ths of SFA of our population.

    Harry I’d rather have more control over who breeds here, and who owns a pitbull, than worry about refugees failings.

  • derrida derider

    Harry, you haven’t really responded to Uncle Milton and FXH’s argument that boat people have demonstrated their motivation and enterprise and are therefore differentially likely to make good citizens. As FXH noted this is actually backed up by past Australian experience.

    But then just as with capital punishment and enhanced interrogation techniques the real issue here is not about what type of people they are but rather what type we are.

    Harry even if you thought a harsh policy is a cruel necessity, there is no rational reason to demonise the victims of this policy as you and so many others have. Maybe it’s just your bad conscience at the “necessary” cruelty, but you are definitely in ugly company. Though I can’t help thinking that if the boat people were white Zimbabwean farmers we’d hear a bit more from you about their daring and a lot less about their depravity.

  • hc

    I am not demonising refugees. I am saying we have imported a lot of people in the past that we would now prefer we didn’t have. Those who hate our society and seek to kill its members for example. Who wants them?

    Australia belongs to Australians. We are a sovereign country despite the ‘no borders’ nonsense of the left. We are not a dumping ground for the world’s refugees though we will do our bit – 10,000-12,000 a year is enough. Open borders – the subject of my post – definitely not.

    Encouraging queue jumpers on the grounds that they show entrepreneurial zeal and enterprise would be about the most daft policy I could imagine. I didn’t feel the need to respond to this one at length.

    All I have restated above is what government policy has been for 30 years. Its amazing how any suggestion that we will restrict the intake arouses such angst. I support restrictions – so has every government in Australia since Federation.

  • via collins


    As a Melbournian, I encounter migrants every day – tons of ’em, hundreds some days. You know what they have in common? They’re trying to get by, to get ahead, to live a full and happy life, just like me and my friends. There are a few bad eggs sure, but I’d agree with FXH that these idiot dog owners are a much bigger problem.

    Who decides what an “Australian” is? FXH is again on the money with the pointer that two migrants have a baby here, it’s an Australian. I find the hysteria that ferments/foments around this issue quite regularly now is unecessary, and unbecoming. We live in a massive country, simply massive. I heard some numbskull on ABC talkback today suggesting that Singapore should pull its weight. I was in Singapore last weekend. It’s house full there – there’s no bloody room left!

  • hc

    ‘As a Melbournian, I encounter migrants every day – tons of ‘em, hundreds some days.’

    So do I Via but so what? We are tallking about national immigration policies and whether entry should be free (anyone can come) or restricted (quotas are set and there is selectivity of intakes).

    What in the name of goodness are you on about? Are you really suggestinmg that we should have open borders?

  • […] Harry Clarke » Silly migration policies […]

  • I’m concerned that the Pit bull requires a special sort of operator…these pet dogs, no matter how ‘warm’ still have teeth, are still creatures with out moral concepts and once they DO bite, won’t allow go. As in all animals…some have a tendency to be more suseptable to instinctual behavior and time and time once again, this breed tends to complete just that.

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