President Donald Trump and his team are working with Republican senators on a bill to halve legal immigration—to 500,000 per annum—into the United States. Across the Atlantic, Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to reduce immigration to less than 100,000 a year. In launching the Tories’ recent election manifesto, May said immigration to the UK needed to be brought down to “sustainable” levels. In 2016, she argued that there was “no case, in the national interest, for immigration of the scale we have experienced over the last decade”.
Immigration has also erupted as a major issue in the lead-up to the September New Zealand election. The country’s main opposition party, Labour, has pledged to slash the migrant intake, which is presently running at record levels. Perhaps more significant is the recent surge in support for the populist New Zealand First, led by the wily Winston Peters. The great survivor of Kiwi politics, known for his colourful utterances, Peters has slammed the National government’s unfocused immigration “merry-go-round” and wants permanent visas restricted to 10,000 per annum. With his party expected to hold the balance of power after the election, Peters may well get his way.
Yet, while other Anglosphere countries look to curb immigration, Australia is moving in the opposite direction, with Canberra firmly planting its foot on the mass immigration accelerator. Over the last twelve years, annual average net immigration has tripled from its long-term historical average to 210,000 people a year. Australia is importing a population equivalent to Hobart every year or an Adelaide every six years, and this turbocharged intake is expected to continue for decades. While the populations of most other developed countries have either stabilised or declined, Australia’s population surged by a staggering 21.5 per cent between 2003 and 2015 on the back of Canberra’s immigration-on-steroids policy. If current trends continue, Australia’s population is projected to nearly double by 2050 to over 40 million.
This immigration-fuelled population explosion will have a host of social, cultural, demographic, economic and environmental consequences. But little effort has been expended by governments to consider what Australia will come to look like. Canberra is rushing headlong towards a big, ultra-diverse Australia at breakneck speed while blindfolded. In the long history of human folly, this must be a stand-out. Nor has the Turnbull government provided an official rationale as to why it is running the largest per capita immigration program in the world. Its immigration policy appears to be simply to bring in as many people as quickly as possible while assiduously burying public discussion on the issue. The government didn’t even mention the 2017-18 permanent intake number in the budget papers. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton made no public statement on the matter. Dutton’s new super ministry, ostensibly to enhance national security, has been pilloried by pundits on both sides of politics as ministerial overreach. Yet, at the same time it has been reported that Dutton is considering outsourcing vast swaths of Australia’s immigration system to the private sector, effectively surrendering control over our borders. Rorters, dodgy middlemen and fifth columnists will be rubbing their hands in anticipation.
This essay appears in a recent edition of Quadrant.
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There has been a steady stream of puff pieces in the mainly Left-leaning media claiming that mass immigration is both necessary and beneficial. The arguments proffered tend to fall apart under scrutiny. Despite the various claims by some business groups and others, Australia does not have a general skills shortage requiring heavy and sustained inflows. Moreover, current immigration policy is, in fact, largely detached from Australia’s labour market requirements. As a recent report by the Australian Population Research Institute found, any relationship that existed between skills recruited under the points-tested visa subclasses and particular shortages in the labour market has eroded under successive governments. This is resulting in large numbers of “skilled” permanent migrants of dubious professional quality and relevance in fields such as IT and accounting, despite these sectors already having a surplus of workers.
In any case, the annual immigration report by the Australian Productivity Commission made it clear that about half of the skilled-migrant stream includes the family members of skilled migrants, and only around 30 per cent of Australia’s total permanent migrant intake is actually “skilled”. Nor can immigration realistically provide a solution to the problem of an ageing population, as is frequently claimed by immigration enthusiasts. Again, the Productivity Commission has stated in numerous reports that immigration is not a feasible countermeasure to an ageing population, since migrants themselves also age. As migrants grow old, even larger inflows will be required to support them, and so on ad infinitum. In other words, using immigration in an attempt to counter population ageing is a Ponzi scheme. At some point Australia’s policy-makers are going to have to bow to the inevitable and deal with the ageing population, as Japan and other smart countries are already doing, rather than trying to delay the day of reckoning through misguided and ultimately counterproductive immigration policies.
As a small but growing number of commentators have rightly argued, large-scale immigration is being used to artificially pump up economic growth figures at the expense of the existing Australian population. While mass immigration may fuel GDP growth, the average Australian is no better off economically, as various studies have confirmed. And when one takes into account the greater congestion, higher housing costs, lower wages, intensified job competition, loss of amenity, and overburdened infrastructure and services linked to the present influx, there is a compelling case that wide-open immigration is degrading the living standards of existing citizens. Those peddling the myth that high immigration is good for us tend to be driven by either vested commercial interests or open-borders ideology. Australia’s GDP per capita growth rates over the last decade or so have been weak compared to a number of developed nations that have little to no immigration. Australia has been experiencing largely prosperity-free growth. As the economist Judith Sloan recently observed:
Successive Australian governments have been keen to boost population growth through excessive immigration intakes and have been able to disguise two recessions by not measuring changes in GDP per capita.
Despite the mounting problems associated with the current policy, the major parties remain silently locked in bipartisan embrace of mass immigration. As Mark Latham has written, both the Liberal-National Coalition and Labor have “caved in to pro-immigration groups, property developers, big retailers and foolhardy Treasury officials who use planeloads of new arrivals to artificially inflate Australia’s GDP numbers”. The influence of this powerful growth lobby over government policy has been chronicled by the sociologist Katharine Betts. Federally, the only person in the major parties to acknowledge publicly that mass immigration is not an unalloyed good has been Tony Abbott. In a recent address to the Institute of Public Affairs, Abbott argued that cuts were needed:
Right now, a big slowdown in immigration would take the downward pressure off wages and the upward pressure off house prices.
One of the reasons why statistical growth is not translating into higher living standards is that high immigration means that GDP per head is hardly growing at all.
Newcomers in hard-to-fill, high wage, high skill jobs make very good migrants—and should be encouraged—but they’re not the only ones coming.
A big slowdown in immigration would allow housing starts and infrastructure to catch up with population. It would give harder-to-assimilate recent migrants more time to integrate with the wider Australian community before many more came in.
Abbott’s conversion into a mass-immigration sceptic is welcome, although it is a pity he didn’t have this epiphany while still prime minister. The Liberal leader-in-exile is, of course, correct: curtailing immigration would alleviate pressure on infrastructure, housing affordability and wages. Australia’s clogged cities are struggling to keep up with population growth as migrants continue to flock in. Congestion is a major drag on the country’s economic productivity and is expected to worsen. Governments will need to embark on the biggest infrastructure expenditure in the country’s history to prevent living standards being further eroded by immigration. The costs will fall largely on existing residents. The scale of the challenge is mind-boggling.
In 2013, the Productivity Commission warned that the total estimated private and public investment requirements needed to accommodate a rapidly-expanding population over the fifty-year period to 2060 would be more than five times the cumulative investment made over the last half-century, or at least $38 trillion dollars over the projection period in 2011-12 prices. Sydney and Melbourne, which receive the lion’s share of new migrants, now rank among the least affordable housing markets in the world. Panjandrums and policy-makers expend countless words on Australia’s housing affordability nightmare but seldom mention the prime demand-side driver, immigration.
Bill Shorten’s tacit support for current immigration settings shows that Australia no longer has an authentic labour party. Studies from around the world have shown that mass immigration depresses wages and exacerbates economic inequality, hence US policy analyst Roy Beck’s description of immigration as the “great unequaliser”. It is unfathomable that nobody in the Labor Party, which professes to care about wages and inequality, has realised the contradiction at the heart of its policies. It may be that fostering and expanding the ethnic minority vote via immigration is now more important to Labor than the interests of the Australian working and middle classes.
In regard to migrant integration it is difficult to see how such a vast number of dissimilar newcomers will be able to integrate successfully into the mainstream when mainstream Australia is in demographic and cultural retreat. The 2016 census confirmed what we can see every day on the streets of our cities: immigration is transforming Australia into something very different from the mainly European, Christian society that most of the adult population grew up in. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 28 per cent of the population in 2016 was not born in Australia. Another 21 per cent of the population was born here, but with at least one foreign-born parent. No other Western country has such a high proportion of residents from recent migrant backgrounds. Those with two Australian-born parents are on the verge of becoming a minority.
For the first time ever, the Asian-born population has eclipsed the number of residents born in Europe, reflecting the seismic shift in migrant source countries over recent decades. The Anglo-Celtic and European share of the population is in marked decline. With a sustained high rate of immigration, largely from non-Western sources, the makeup of the population is changing profoundly and, if present trends continue, Australia will become a “majority-minority” country at some point this century. This dramatic shift is already occurring in Sydney and Melbourne, where recently-arrived groups are able to wield disproportionate and growing social and political influence, while the more traditional Australian outer suburban and rural areas are increasingly marginalised. For a country which once prided itself on the “crimson thread of kinship” and fiercely sought to protect its cohesiveness, the transmutation of Australia into a kaleidoscope of diasporic communities—most with shallow roots in this land and little connection to each other—represents a social experiment on a colossal scale.
One would think that this unfolding social and demographic revolution would elicit some sort of serious national discussion. Instead, open discourse on the issue is largely suppressed. Multiculturalists in the media, academia and politics applaud the country’s growing diversity but rarely consider in anything but the most superficial manner the wider, long-term effects on national unity and identity. There is no serious consideration given to whether the old Australian majority may be uncomfortable with the prospect of being supplanted by different peoples and cultures from other parts of the world. To raise such matters publicly is to risk charges of “xenophobia”, or worse, “racism”. As Eric Kaufmann, a political scientist at the University of London, has argued, there is a need for ethno-demographic interests to be aired more openly without accusations of racism. In a recent study for the UK think-tank Policy Exchange, Kaufmann put forward the case that all groups, including the old majority, have legitimate interests that should be taken into account by governments when formulating immigration policy:
The rise of the populist right in the West has been fuelled in large measure by concern over immigration and ethnic change. Now more than ever it is important to draw a distinction between irrational racism and rational group self-interest … Group-based sentiments should be considered rather than vilified.
It is high time Australia had a mature and honest debate about such issues. Geoffrey Blainey once wrote that to shape an immigration policy is to “influence nearly every facet of life, now and for generations to come”. Governments are pushing us down a path that will dramatically affect the quality and way of life of current and future generations, without ever having allowed real public discussion on whether or not Australians want their country transformed beyond recognition. If the only justification the government has for endless sky-high immigration is that it’s “good for the economy”, it is pursuing a policy that is fundamentally flawed. When judged through the prism of the interests of existing citizens, there is no economic case that can justify the transformative changes that current policy is inflicting on Australia.