Since the election of the Rudd government, immigration and citizenship policies have developed into a major political crisis, largely as a result of the government’s own decisions. In its first eighteen months, the Rudd government:
• Announced that illegal immigrants would no longer be kept in detention centres for any significant length of time, but be released into the community.
• Announced that even “overstayers” (the 70,000 people who have broken the terms of their original entry visas), when detected, will no longer be automatically locked up and deported. Instead, they will now be issued with “Temporary Bridging Visas” while Immigration officers “work with them to get them home”.
• Abolished Temporary Protection visas. Any illegal immigrant now given Refugee or Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) status will now be granted permanent residence, including the right (previously denied) to apply to have his family join him, and full access to welfare benefits.
• Increased the Migration Program for 2008–09 by a huge 24.5 per cent.
• Instituted a program for so-called “guest workers” from the Pacific Islands—including Papua New Guinea, now the most corrupt, crime-ridden and disease-ridden country in our neighbourhood—initially on a small-scale “pilot” basis but with further expansion proposed.
• Weakened further the already very weak citizenship test, on the ground that not enough would-be citizens were managing to pass it, even after several attempts—this despite the fact that the pass rate was already extremely high.
During the last few months there have been two further major developments. First, the Student Visa racket (see below) has begun to be exposed for the corruption-ridden ramp that it has rapidly become since the then Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, acted to expand it enormously some years ago. (For her services to Australia in this and so many other regards during her term in the portfolio, Her Excellency is now luxuriating in the comforts associated with her appointment as our Ambassador to Italy.) Second, the consequences of the Rudd government’s actions in removing, or greatly weakening, all the deterrents to illegal immigration that the Howard government had erected, have begun arriving in the form of boatload after boatload of illegals.
These people, who have entered into a criminal conspiracy with the people-smugglers, so far from being entitled to be described as “asylum seekers”, are more accurately described as criminals or, at best, illegals. No amount of “sentimental windbaggery” (as Greg Sheridan recently described it in the Australian) by the morally self-preening can alter that fact.
Before coming to those recent developments, however, let us consider the mixed record of the Howard government on immigration and citizenship matters. Comprising as it did achievements, on the one hand, and failures (both of commission and omission), on the other, my ultimate verdict is that it essentially failed at the fence.
The following survey, written originally as a chapter in The Howard Era—published this month by Quadrant Books—seeks to lay out in detail my reasons for that verdict, and concludes by noting the irony of Howard’s own electoral defeat following Maxine McKew’s comprehensively racist campaign in Bennelong.
Finally, I add a postscript surveying the Australian immigration policy scene today, and the extent to which we are now witnessing the consequences of a government that, like the Blair government in Britain, has lost control of our borders.
Immigration and Citizenship Policies under Howard
Some framework is needed within which to tackle this huge topic. While any such framework can only be subjective, here is mine. On the larger element—immigration policies—after stating my own attitudes so that readers may know where I stand, I:
• List some “defining moments” in John Howard’s attitudes on immigration, examining each in turn;
• Sketch the detailed framework within which Australia’s hugely complex immigration policies are administered; and
• Against that background, seek to assess the (mixed) Howard record.
On the other element—citizenship policies—I again begin by stating my own attitudes, before seeking to assess the (again, mixed) Howard record.
Ever since I first began to think about the topic in the mid-1960s, I have been a strong supporter of a substantial immigration program for Australia. By the mid-1980s this attitude, while unchanged in principle, came to be qualified by growing doubts about the increasingly contrived use of that program to remake Australia in a politically-correct multiculturalist image.
Any country that maintains a substantial immigration program will take in people from widely diverse cultural backgrounds. My concerns about official multiculturalism policies focus not on that fact, but upon the processes whereby those people are initially chosen and subsequently become members of our society. Our earlier postwar policies of “assimilation” of people from predominantly Judaeo-Christian cultural backgrounds did not seek to deny immigrants’ rights to maintain their entirely understandable affection for their native lands, but sought to subsume those affections in a broader acceptance of, and loyalty towards, the culture of the nation that had opened its doors to them and to which they had chosen to come.
Those policies thereby also laid the basis for genuine Australian citizenship, as distinct from the mere “citizenship of convenience” now so prevalent. (The most vivid example of this phenomenon was the sudden rush to claim the advantages of their notional Australian citizenship by some 20,000 former Lebanese who, when Israel attacked the Hezbollah in southern Lebanon in 2006, had been living there comfortably while continuing to receive all the pensions and allowances bestowed upon them by successive foolish Australian governments.)
These growing doubts intensified after the events of 9/11, and their aftermath in Bali, Madrid, London, Jakarta and elsewhere. They were further reinforced by the seemingly inevitable demographic progression in the United Kingdom and, even more so, continental Europe, underlining the growing threat from Islam to all Western democracies.
During the past two or three decades, then, I have arrived at the following position. If Australians wish to see their children and, particularly, their grandchildren enjoy the kind of bounteous inheritance they themselves have enjoyed, our carefree—even careless—attitude towards our immigration program’s composition must change. So must the standards previously applied before immigrants can acquire Australian citizenship.
John Howard’s “Defining Moments”
Having known John Howard now for over thirty years, I suspect that, in the deep recesses of his heart, his own attitudes towards both immigration and Australian citizenship are not notably different from my own. Nevertheless, the fact is that, as Prime Minister from 1996 to 2007, his policies had to take account not only of his own views but also of the broad spectrum of views in his party, in the business community and in the electorate generally.
As to Howard’s own views, consider the following “defining moments” in their development:
• Arguably the most important such moment, in terms of its lasting influence, came long before Howard’s prime ministership. As Leader of the Opposition in 1988, he somewhat clumsily questioned the growing disproportion of our immigrant stream coming from Asia (particularly China). Responding to a question on ABC radio as to whether the sharply increased rate of Asian immigration was too high, Howard replied:
“I am not in favour of going back to a White Australia policy. I believe that, if it is in the eyes of some in the community … too great, it would be in our immediate term interest and supportive of local cohesion if it were slowed down a little, so that the capacity of the community to absorb [it] was greater.”
No fair-minded person, listening to those words, could possibly accuse Howard of uttering a racist remark. He was clearly raising a legitimate question about the number of immigrants then arriving from Asia, and suggesting that Australia’s capacity to absorb them, and the cohesiveness of our society, would be enhanced if that number were “slowed down a little”.
So much for the facts. Yet following these wholly innocent remarks, the vicious charges of “racism” levelled at Howard outstripped even the 1984 attacks on the then equally innocent Geoffrey Blainey. Charges of this kind from Labor politicians, the usual academics and the Labor-besotted Canberra press gallery could have been rebuffed. What Howard found it impossible to rebuff were the craven people in his own party, led by Fred Chaney, Jim Carlton and others in his shadow cabinet. He was forced to back down publicly in humiliating fashion.
In my considered opinion, this betrayal by his own colleagues haunted Howard for the rest of his time in politics, and invariably influenced his attitudes to immigration questions. In the end, it was also instrumental in 2007 in his loss in Bennelong.
• In 1996 Pauline Hanson was unexpectedly elected in the previously rock-solid Labor seat of Oxley. She had originally gained Liberal Party pre-selection for this “unwinnable” seat, but was disendorsed after publication in the Ipswich Times of her letter, shortly before the election, criticising the discriminatory benefits received by Aborigines. Her name, however, remained on the ballot paper and, presented with this rare opportunity to express their view about (bipartisan) political correctness on the matter, voters gave her a primary vote of 48.6 per cent and a two-party-preferred vote of 54.7 per cent.
Hanson’s maiden speech launched a strong attack on official multiculturalism policies—including, but not confined to, her charge that Australia “is being swamped by Asians”. Her speech created a nation-wide sensation. Despite frantic efforts to paint her as an unregenerate racist (from all the same character assassins of Blainey and Howard), her electoral popularity soared.
• The subsequent formation of the Pauline Hanson One Nation Party swiftly led to its success in the June 1998 Queensland election. Standing for the first time after having been cobbled together only six months earlier, and handicapped by hastily chosen candidates, inadequate financing and a hopeless administrative machine, One Nation nevertheless recorded 22.7 per cent of the formal votes cast. This exceeded the Liberal Party vote (16.1 per cent) and the National Party (15.2 per cent). One Nation won eleven seats in the new parliament, and the Liberals and the Nationals each lost six seats. Although Labor lost no seats, its share of the vote shrank from 42.9 per cent in 1995 to 38.9 per cent.
Remarkably, the election also saw the highest voter turnout (92.9 per cent) for a state election since 1966, and the lowest rate of informal voting (only 1.5 per cent) since 1960. It seems fair to surmise that the advent of Hanson had “energised” many voters who had previously either deliberately voted informal or not at all. These events focused politicians’ minds—not least, John Howard’s—on the growing public revolt against our immigration policies.
• The 1998 federal election saw Hanson herself defeated in her newly redistributed electorate of Blair, and over the next few years her own inadequacies saw her political Roman candle gutter out. Yet canny politicians—including that notably canny one, John Howard—would have understood that, although the “silent majority” had again been silenced, the issues to which Hanson had briefly given voice had not gone away.
• In August 2001 the Norwegian motor vessel Tampa, having rescued 433 people (mostly Afghans) from the sinking boat on which they had been seeking to enter Australia illegally from Indonesia, attempted to land them at Christmas Island. Howard first used military force to repel this invasion, and then a Navy ship to convey the illegals to Nauru. There, following an agreement with that country, they were held while their claims to be genuine refugees were processed. This was the so-called “Pacific solution”.
• Shortly thereafter, during a visit to Washington by Howard, Australians—and the world—received a terrible reminder of the importance of some of the issues Hanson had helped to raise. On September 11, 2001, the attack by al Qaeda Islamists on New York’s Twin Towers and on the Pentagon building (together with a foiled third attack thought to have been aimed at the Capitol building in Washington) focused attention on the question of cultural differences around the world, and in particular those between Islam and the West.
• In his October 2001 election policy speech Howard, to applause across the nation, uttered his famous declaration that “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”. Whatever the follow-up to that declaration, its electrifying effect at the time was undoubted, and it became a rallying point of the successful Coalition campaign.
• The years following 9/11 saw further Islamist outrages around the world, differing from 9/11 only in scale. The Bali nightclub bombing on October 12, 2002, killed eighty-eight Australians and seriously injured many others. The Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta on August 5, 2003, the train bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004, and the attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on September 9, 2004, were succeeded by the London Transport bombings on July 7, 2005 (and subsequent attempted London bombings of July 22, 2005) and the second Bali bombing on October 1, 2005.
• The London attacks, and the riots in the Paris suburbs (and elsewhere in France) during November 2005 marked a significant new development—namely, the involvement of citizens of the nation where the attacks occurred. We now had not only the threat of attacks from Islamists located abroad, but also from Islamists located within our own societies. The French riots, moreover, demonstrated the failure even of policies of “integration” when applied to a distinct cultural group (Muslims) whose leaders were determined not to integrate into the host community. Both developments threw important new light on aspects of the immigration debate.
• On December 11, 2005, there occurred at Cronulla what were then termed “race riots”. A large crowd of Australians, many drunk, confronted and in some cases set upon some Muslim men. The attack followed several years of offensive behaviour by (mainly Lebanese) Muslims towards Australian women on the beach there, and conspicuous failure by New South Wales police to deal with the ensuing complaints. Later that day a convoy of cars carrying young Muslim men from the Lebanese areas of Sydney converged on the Cronulla area, smashing windows, damaging parked cars, and viciously assaulting innocent bystanders, male and female. While a few of the Australian offenders were later prosecuted, the Muslim ones got away effectively scot-free.
Australia’s Immigration Program Framework
Immigration policies cannot be understood without considering the complex administrative framework within which immigration to Australia occurs. Its chief features, as detailed in the Department of Immigration publication Population Flows: Immigration Aspects, 2007–08, are:
• Net Overseas Migration to Australia in 2007–08 numbered 213,461 persons. This was “the difference between those leaving permanently or for at least 12 months … and those arriving permanently or for 12 months”. But these movements are a mere fraction of total movements in and out of Australia.
• Visas issued permitting entry to Australia may be sub-divided into Permanent movement, Long-Term movement and Temporary entry categories. However, over recent years this ostensibly clear analytical framework has become increasingly confused as many people initially entering on Long-Term movement and Temporary entry visas seek, and are granted, Permanent visas “onshore” (that is, after arrival in Australia, and without having to leave before applying, as was previously normally the case).
• Permanent Arrivals—somewhat anachronistically still termed “settlers”—receive visas “offshore” (issued at, or as a result of applications made at, our overseas diplomatic and consular posts) in two separate “streams”, namely Migration Program visas and Humanitarian Program visas.
• In addition, New Zealand citizens (including not only native-born New Zealanders but also those who have acquired citizenship) now have a legal right to enter Australia and to acquire permanent residence on application. (This is a “back door” increasingly open to exploitation.)
• In 2007–08 some 173,290 Permanent Arrivals comprised 158,630 Migration Program visas, 13,010 Humanitarian Program visas and 1650 New Zealanders.
• The Migration Program category is the figure announced in March or April each year for departmental “planning” purposes for the next financial year. It too may be effectively sub-divided into two sub-categories, the Skills stream and the Family stream. The Skills stream proportion of the total has been increasing steadily for some years: in 2007–08 Skills stream visas totalled 108,540 and Family stream visas 49,870.
• Traditionally, the Humanitarian Program has consisted of two sub-categories, visas for both of which were issued offshore: the Refugee category and the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) category.
• According to Population Flows, the Refugee category aims to “assist people who are subject to persecution in their home country and have been identified in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as in need of resettlement” (my italics). The Special Humanitarian Program category “assists people who have suffered substantial discrimination amounting to gross violation of human rights in their home country [and] enables the resettlement of persons in Australia who, while not refugees, are in humanitarian need” (my italics).
• In recent years, however, both Refugee status and SHP status have been accorded to an increasing number of “onshore” applicants: in 2007–08 visas issued onshore amounted to 17 per cent of the total Humanitarian Program.
• In 2007–08 some 10,799 Humanitarian Program visas were issued offshore (6004 Refugee visas and 4795 SHP ones). In addition, 2215 onshore visas were issued (1900 Refugee visas and 315 SHP ones). Of the 1900 Refugee visas issued onshore, 1704 were Permanent Protection visas and 196 were Temporary Protection visas. Thus the total Humanitarian Program in 2007–08 amounted to 13,014 persons.
• While the foregoing describes the official immigration programs, each year a much greater number of people enters Australia on Temporary visas. In 2007–08, for example, Temporary visas (4,197,360) far exceeded Permanent ones (173,290). Increasingly, “temporary” entrants are converting visas onshore to Long-Term or Permanent status.
• Some of these latter are people who deliberately set out to evade Australia’s border protection rules by entering under another guise—usually tourism—with a view to claiming “refugee” or SHP status after arrival. However, many more now do so via programs established by the Department of Immigration itself that are clearly intended to facilitate immigration from onshore applicants. Among several such programs, including so-called State-Specific and Regional Migration visas, the largest opportunities for would-be immigrants to “jump the queue” derive from the Student Visa Program and the Skilled Temporary Residents Program.
• In 2007–08 “a record number of student visas (278,184) were granted to overseas students”, the main sources being India (20 per cent) and the People’s Republic of China (16 per cent). This was a 21.7 per cent increase on 2006–07, just over half of which resulted from a 57.6 per cent jump in the Vocational Education Training component—a clear pointer to what is going on.
• The other main source of onshore grants of permanent residence is the so-called Skilled Temporary Residents Program. (I describe this program as “so-called” because of the accumulating evidence that many of those entering under it are in no sense skilled, but merely supplied by migration agents via one form of corrupt transaction or another.) Those entering Australia under 457-type (Temporary Skilled Migration) visas can seek to stay for up to four years, and applicants are told that at the end of that time their applications for permanent residence are likely to receive favourable consideration. In 2007–08 this and other such programs resulted in 24,960 permanent residence visas.
Immigration Policies, 1996–2007
Two Liberal Party appointees served as Ministers for Immigration for almost eleven years: Philip Ruddock from March 1996 to October 2003, and Senator Amanda Vanstone from October 2003 to January 2007. Vanstone was succeeded by Kevin Andrews, who served until the Howard government’s defeat.
When the first Howard government took office, the Keating government, with unemployment rising, had already reduced 1995–96 planned settler arrivals to 99,000 (from 145,000 in 1988–89). After Hanson’s maiden speech these numbers were cut again, to 88,000 in 1996–97 and 77,000 in 1997–98. But as the Pauline Hanson One Nation Party began to implode in late 1998, the immigration program resumed its seemingly inexorable expansion.
Immigration policies under Howard not only reflected his own views, but also had to take account of views in his party, in the business community and in the electorate generally.
• In the parliamentary Liberal Party such views differed widely. Philip Ruddock had a long record of devotion to multicultural causes—even having crossed the floor during the parliamentary furore arising from Howard’s 1988 remarks referred to earlier. His long-standing allegiance to Amnesty International—one of the more persistent busybodies in such areas as refugee policy—attested to the strength of that attachment. Nevertheless, and whatever battles he may have fought in the cabinet room, Ruddock adhered unswervingly to the government’s policies.
• While superficially the same could be said of his successor, during Vanstone’s period as minister our immigration policies began moving strongly in the “progressive” direction (where “progressive” is defined as conforming to the views of the cultural elites while ignoring the views of the average Australians whose country, after all, it is). This was the period when the morally self-preening views of such members as Petro Georgiou, Judy Moylan, Russell Broadbent, Bruce Baird and others—all denizens of the same “factional” area of the party as Vanstone herself—came to prominence in the media.
• In the business community, views on immigration focus on the narrow self-interest of enlarging the market. National interest issues cut little ice; so the more immigrants the better, and let the consequent social and cultural chips fall where they may.
• One important example of this self-interested approach occurs in the media itself, where—quite apart from the soft-Left attitudes of most journalists and other media personalities—the desire for ever-increasing readership or audience numbers is paramount.
• Another particular manifestation of business self-interest occurs among ethnically-based small businesses. A considerable traffic has long existed involving immigrants entering Australia on (say) tourist visas, or in recent years on Student visas or 457 visas, being employed by such businesses by pre-arrangement at low wage rates. Occasionally the Department of Immigration uncovers one of these rackets, when the immigrants concerned may be subject to deportation. The business proprietors involved, however, invariably plead ignorance and suffer no penalties despite their clear culpability.
• In the electorate more generally, views differ. As a rough rule of thumb, however, the closer people find themselves living to the new arrivals, the more protests there are against their presence. (In Britain, Enoch Powell famously observed that none of his critics lived in Wolverhampton, his working- and middle-class constituency.) Refugee activists such as Julian Burnside QC (or for that matter, Malcolm Turnbull) do not have to send their children to schools overwhelmed by largely non-English-speaking pupils, or to live cheek-by-jowl with them in the suburbs where housing is far too expensive for most new arrivals to afford. Many of those who, in the early Howard years, made up “the Howard battlers” and subsequently (for a time) the Pauline Hanson One Nation Party supporters, came from suburbs where the impact of large numbers of culturally incompatible immigrants was most keenly felt.
The Howard Immigration Record: Achievement and Failure
Surveying the Howard government’s record in this area, some achievements stand out. For every such achievement, however, there is also at least one failure; and over the Vanstone period the ratio of failure to achievement rises sharply. Only during the brief Kevin Andrews ministry were some small steps taken to reclaim a little of this lost ground.
Howard can clearly claim great credit in shutting down the “boat people” smuggling racket. He did so in the teeth of the usual outcry from the bien pensants, with some refugee activists even offering to provide “cover” illegally for any escapees from detention centres. The UNHCR, and the ludicrously-named UN Human Rights Commission, joined in the storm of criticism, invariably magnified in the media (particularly the ABC and SBS). Howard, nevertheless, stood firm. He stepped up Customs and Navy patrolling of our northern approaches (although insufficiently so in the Torres Strait); excised many (although regrettably, not all) of our offshore islands from our Immigration Zone (landing upon which gives even illegal immigrants widespread access to taxpayer-funded Australian legal services); made strong use of offshore processing for those intercepted; placed in detention centres (a Keating government innovation) those not meeting the tests for refugee status; and issued only Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs), rather than permanent residency ones, for those found to be refugees but arriving illegally (among other things, TPV holders had no rights to apply for their families to join them). All this made for a strong phalanx of deterrents to what had threatened to become (as in Europe) a large and growing people-smuggling trade.
More generally, Howard also made some ground in downgrading the multiculturalism ideology. As noted elsewhere, “Howard did not combat this ideology frontally, if only because his own so-called ‘moderates’ would not, then, have allowed him to do so”. Still, by the end of his time in office:
• The Office of Multicultural Affairs, which under the previous government resided as a high-profile entity within the Prime Minister’s own portfolio, had been first absorbed into a portfolio originally named Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, which in turn had become Immigration and Citizenship.
• The Treasurer, Peter Costello, had famously referred to “mushy multiculturalism”, and called for those newcomers—in particular, Muslim immigrants—who were not prepared to live by Australian legal and social standards to find some other country more suited to their tastes. These comments, delivered to widespread public applause, were arguably among the most popular Costello ever made.
• Kevin Andrews had told his department “to lift the intake of Christian refugees from the Middle East”.
• Responding to the upsurge of violent crime in Melbourne (in particular) from ethnic African gangs—notably Sudanese and Somalis—Andrews instructed his department to reduce the African proportion of the Humanitarian Program. Typically, this was portrayed in the media at the time as a “ban on African refugees”. Those concerned were not refugees, but SHP cases. Moreover, there was no such ban, but only a reduction in the proportion of such people.
These undoubted achievements were, however, offset by many failures:
• While the size of the Humanitarian Program did not vary greatly, the “quality” of those entering Australia under it (whether as Refugees or SHP entrants) steadily deteriorated. By “quality” I mean the cultural compatibility of these migrants with Australian society, their average proficiency (or rather, non-proficiency) in the English language, their previous exposure to community violence and hence their hardened attitudes to violence generally, and their only too often dubious medical records. In one interview on Alan Jones’s Radio 2GB program, Vanstone actually admitted (or rather, boasted) that her department would spend more than $500 million in medical checks on immigrants who had already arrived without proper pre-departure medical screening. (As to the credibility of such screening, see below.)
• An important reason for the poor quality of those entering Australia under the Humanitarian Program lies in the methods for their selection. In effect, responsibility for selecting the Refugee component has been almost entirely delegated to the UNHCR, from whose worldwide camps these individuals are drawn. Not surprisingly, the UNHCR uses this virtual carte blanche to send to Australia as many as possible of the “hard cases” under its charge.
To take an obvious example of another stupidity to which such delegation leads, a large proportion of those to whom Refugee visas are granted cannot speak English (and have made no attempt to learn to do so even while squatting for years in UNHCR camps). Yet of the up to 12 million people under UNHCR care, literally millions would be English-speaking at various levels. If our choice were confined to these latter, not only would Australian taxpayers be saved the great expense now incurred in providing these people with English-language classes post-arrival, but they themselves would also be able to enter the employed workforce (and the community) much more quickly than is currently the case. Similar comments could be made about the current methods of selection, in this case by the Department itself, of SHP visa entrants.
• Under Vanstone also, the Student Visa program was ramped up enormously. From about 120,000 when she became the minister in 2003–04, Student Visas issued offshore had soared to 198,417 in 2007–08. Meanwhile, Student Visas issued onshore also increased, to 79,767 in 2007–08. Yet as noted below, the Student Visa program stands out for its corruption in an immigration program now grown notorious for corruption across its entirety.
• Again, during Vanstone’s ministry a rapid build-up occurred in the so-called Temporary Skilled Migration (457) visas program. While in part this resulted from the burgeoning demand for labour in the Howard government’s fast-growing latter years, it was also due to the down-grading of former checks on the real qualifications of so-called “skilled” applicants, including the provision of on-line application processes that almost beg to be rorted (and whose appeals have not gone unanswered).
• A particularly unpleasant Vanstone legacy was the dumping into assorted country towns of large numbers of Humanitarian Program entrants having little or no cultural compatibility with the existing population. Large groups of Sudanese, Iraqis, Somalis and others found themselves dumped into Toowoomba, Grafton, Shepparton, Ballarat and elsewhere. Local councils who objected (as in Grafton) were silenced by threats of public “shaming” because of their “racist” reactions, on the one hand, and large handouts of public money (bribes for remaining silent) on the other.
One such example, not in a country town but in Adelaide, is provided by the Port Adelaide Enfield municipality. Between 2002–03 and 2006–07 some 1574 Humanitarian Program arrivals were dumped into this local authority area, 364 of whom were Sudanese and 357 from other violence-torn African states. Some of the strongest protests against these new arrivals came from the municipality’s Aboriginal residents. Those with a sense of irony will recall that, when Pauline Hanson complained (accurately) that Aboriginal Australians were receiving benefits not given to their non-Aboriginal fellows, she was vilified as a “racist”. Today, in this Adelaide suburb, it is Aboriginal Australians who are complaining (again, accurately) that these newcomers are receiving benefits—so-called “resettlement services”—not available to them! (Part of the reason for this Aboriginal resentment of the newcomers arises from the fact that the Sudanese and other African gangs effectively created by the Department of Immigration are much more effectively violent than the Aboriginal ones—to whom, therefore, they represent serious competition in the various criminal activities in which the Aboriginal gangs themselves flourished.)
Given Vanstone’s own career as a senator for South Australia, this (and other such examples in that state) was, to say the least, an ungrateful way to requite the privilege extended to her by its electors.
As the foregoing demonstrates, the Howard government’s record on immigration was decidedly mixed. An overall assessment might also note what economists call the “opportunity cost” of the government’s policies—not the things that were done, but the things which the government had the opportunity, but failed, to do.
In the world of Australia’s immigration policies the three most important features today are corruption, corruption and corruption. Let us look finally at what was not done to clean up the steadily—and in recent years, rapidly—degenerating situation in that regard.
In thinking about why things have come to this over the past thirty years, focus first on a few salient facts:
• First and foremost, Australia (with, say, the United States and Canada) has long been one of the highly prized destinations for people wishing to emigrate. The financial and other benefits accruing to anyone who manages to acquire—by hook or by crook—Australian permanent resident status (with the prospect, even richer, of subsequent Australian citizenship) are huge. Given that, the temptations to bribe or otherwise suborn the assorted gatekeepers will always exist.
• Reinforcing these ever-present risks has been a significant change, over the past twenty years or so, in staffing our overseas posts. Whereas previously the immigration officers in these posts were all Australians (most of them native-born), nowadays a high proportion of such staff is locally engaged. It does not require much imagination to see how this is bound to enhance the incidence of bribe-offering to, and bribe-taking by, such personnel. True, there are monetary savings involved, because locally engaged staff are much cheaper than Australians; but given the importance of their activities, this has clearly been a case of “penny wise but pound foolish”.
This fact was recognised by Kevin Andrews, who in August 2007 wrote to Howard proposing that “certain high risk and sensitive immigration posts be staffed exclusively by Australian departmental officers”. In support of this proposal (a copy of which is in my possession) Andrews cited “fraud in the processing of immigration applications” (with associated security risks), “the payment of bribes as a pre-condition for the successful processing of applications”, and “systematic and coordinated discrimination against particular persons based on race and religion at certain sensitive posts”, chiefly “posts in the Middle East and Central Asia”. With the 2007 election approaching, no decision was taken.
• A third factor, which has also gradually developed in importance over the past thirty years, relates to staffing of the Department of Immigration itself—namely, the rising proportion of its staff who themselves have ties to particular ethnic communities. Of course, these staff must be Australian citizens; but that formal requirement means little or nothing these days in terms of binding loyalties to Australia. For some years one of the department’s Deputy Secretaries was actually a member of a faith which requires its adherents to give their first loyalties not to their state of citizenship but to their co-religionists. Such a development takes on even greater significance given the rising proportion of visas being granted onshore—that is, from applications from people already in Australia under one pretext or another, who then apply to remain here and whose papers may well then be sympathetically processed by an official, known to the applicant, of the same ethnicity.
All three of the above factors give rise to risks of corruption in the processing of immigration applications. This can occur at numerous points in the processing chain:
• An applicant at (say) our embassy in Cairo may pay the locally engaged immigration officer to give priority to his application over that of another applicant, even though the latter is actually better qualified. If the immigration officer and the former applicant are both Muslims, while the latter applicant is a Christian, no actual bribe may be necessary. (In January 2006 I attended, by invitation, a meeting of Middle Eastern Christians now resident in western Sydney, all of whom related experiences of such anti-Christian discrimination by locally engaged Muslim immigration officers in our Middle Eastern posts.)
• Bribes do not only take monetary form. It is notorious, in particular, that female applicants—either voluntarily or under pressure—may not infrequently provide sexual services to male immigration officers in return for favourable consideration. This particular form of corruption is also widespread in the very organisation (the UNHCR) to which, as noted earlier, we entrust selection of most of those to whom we provide Refugee visas.
• All would-be immigrants are supposed to be subject to checks regarding possible past criminal records, and to pre-departure medical checks to ensure that, after entering Australia, they do not become either a danger to Australian residents or a financial burden to the country’s health services. As to criminal records, in many countries from which our immigrants are now drawn the local police (upon whom we must rely for this information) are themselves thoroughly corrupt. A would-be immigrant with a criminal record may readily bribe the local police chief to conceal that fact from the Australian authorities (with risks extending, as Kevin Andrews noted in his letter quoted above, beyond the criminal domain into that of national security).
• As to medical checks, these were once mainly conducted by Australian medical officers. Nowadays our posts rely on local medicos, who may agree (if the bribe is large enough) to give the would-be immigrant a clean bill of health irrespective of the facts. Even in an Australian media notably reluctant to publish stories about new immigrants found to be carrying death-dealing medical conditions (HIV-Aids, new and more deadly strains of tuberculosis, water-borne diseases prevalent in many African countries, malaria and so on), such cases continue to surface publicly. These diseases must have been contracted prior to departure for Australia, clearly pointing to corruption in the pre-departure processing chain.
• Much the same flaws exist in the admission procedures for 457-type Visa applicants, many of whom are selected by immigration agencies (almost invariably of the same ethnicity as the applicant). Certificates as to the level of skills possessed by the applicants, qualifying them for entry, are readily forged in return for the appropriate bribe. On the same corrupt basis, an applicant may be falsely certified as having the required proficiency in English.
• A high proportion (probably at least half) of Student Visa applicants either has no real intention of studying at all, or chooses study courses (usually in vocational training areas) in which they can readily qualify. Their chief reason for being here is to undertake employment while notching up the residential qualifications which will ultimately help to qualify them for permanent residence. (Note, for example, the high proportion of Melbourne and Sydney taxis being driven by people claiming to be studying here.) Much of the recent uproar about so-called “racist” attacks on Indian students involved attacks on people who were not students at all by any meaningful standards. While that does not render such attacks any less shameful, it does alter the essence of the debate. For example, the Australian has since reported that “Australia’s lust for high-dollar Indian students has led to a thriving black market in sham marriages, forged English language exams and bogus courses”, whereby “thousands of Indians each year are being enrolled in dodgy courses at inflated prices”. A study by Dr Bob Birrell of Monash University found, for example, that “more than a third of overseas students studying in Australia [in 2006] were completing their degrees with English so poor they should not have been admitted in the first place”. This situation, which has undoubtedly grown much worse in the following three years, casts a damning light not only on the corruption of the Department of Immigration’s English-language testing procedures, but also on the corruption of our educational institutions which allows them to award degrees and diplomas to students whose English is so rudimentary that, clearly, they are incapable of legitimately sitting the exams.
• For 457-type Visas, the source of corrupt practices is often to be found in the “Australian” immigration agencies. In the same way, for Student Visas much of the corruption is located in the educational institutions involved—universities, TAFEs, English-language teaching colleges and vocational education bodies. The situation was described recently in the Herald Sun as “a $14 billion industry riven with corruption”, in which, among many other corrupt practices, “a flourishing market has developed around the International English Language Test System, with students paying anything up to $20,000 for a good result”. In his fascinating booklet The Howard Legacy: Displacement of Traditional Australia from the Professional and Managerial Classes, Dr Peter Wilkinson notes that “the cram shops (e.g., Central Queensland University) have courses tailored to meeting DIAC [Department of Immigration and Citizenship] requirements for those wishing to obtain permanent residency”. Occasionally some scandal arises (such as the recent attacks on Indian students), forcing these institutions to promise to “tighten their safeguards”; but after the hue and cry has died down they return to their former practices—namely, to increase the numbers of their “clients”.
Some years ago I wrote (Quadrant, September 2006) that “there should be an immediate major reform and reshaping of the Department of Immigration”, and that this should “formally recognise that this department is now as integral to our national security as the Defence Department, ASIO and the armed forces, and begin to staff it accordingly, including with respect to security checks”. No such action was taken by the Howard government. It is not only its sins of commission, but also its sins of omission, that bear on that government’s record.
The fundamental point to understand about Australian citizenship is that it constitutes a very valuable property right. It gives access to employment in the Commonwealth and state public services, the armed forces and so on; provides legal entitlements to a massive array of social security and health benefits; and importantly, prevents the deportation of any immigrant who, having become a citizen, is subsequently found to have committed serious crimes. (For an example of this latter, see Paul Sheehan’s gripping account—Girls Like You—of one of the several horrific gang rape cases in Sydney in recent years involving young Lebanese and Pakistani Muslim men.)
Yet until very recently those seeking naturalisation were required only to have spent two years residing in Australia, and to swear (or affirm) an oath having no legal consequences and which, it is fair to say, most of those taking it regarded as just another formality. There was no requirement to speak our language, no requirement to know anything about our Constitution, our democratic form of government or our British-derived rule of law. In short, there was nothing whatsoever—apart from minimal residency—required of those upon whom the gift of citizenship was being bestowed by self-important local, state or federal politicians in meaningless ceremonies throughout Australia.
People value what they pay (or work) for; and since these newly-minted citizens merely had to turn up on the day, it would be hardly surprising if they valued the privilege of Australia’s citizenship accordingly.
Against that background, it can only be said that in this area the Howard government’s record was far from glorious.
In September 2006, Andrew Robb, then Parliament-ary Secretary to Vanstone, issued a discussion paper, Australian Citizenship: Much More than a Ceremony, which finally took up some of these questions. In particular, it suggested “consideration of the merits of introducing a formal citizenship test”. Writing about it at the time, I said that “this paper, while not wholly worthless, largely succeeds in missing most of the basic issues involved”. I added, however, that “at long last, it has put the Australian citizenship topic on the public agenda”, and “for that, at least, we should all be grateful”.
In 2007 the Australian Citizenship Act was amended so as to increase the residency requirement from the ridiculously low level of two years permanent residence to the still ridiculously low level of four years “lawful residence”. (The latter is itself a term of art: only one of the four years to be spent in Australia to qualify for citizenship needs to be as a permanent resident.) Subsequently, a new (but essentially weak) citizenship test was introduced, incorporating a defined (but very low) level of English-language proficiency, which would have to be passed before an immigrant could apply for naturalisation. These were all advances, but essentially timid ones. Yet notwithstanding their timidity, even these proposals sparked the usual storm of protest from the usual quarters. They also sparked a rush to acquire the prize of citizenship before even these low hurdles would need to be jumped.
The more serious condemnation of the Howard government’s performance in this area lies in its failure to recognise, let alone accept, that the reasons that render a thoroughgoing citizenship test necessary in today’s world are the same reasons that should render such a test necessary before immigrants from all over the world can qualify for permanent entry in the first place.
There are many such reasons, the most important being the need to preserve cultural compatibility. Within that general need, moreover, there has now arisen a particular need of the utmost importance. In that article mentioned earlier I said that “we are now at war with international Islamist terrorism, and therefore our Muslim community, collectively considered, now regrettably constitutes a potential threat that renders a citizenship test not only appropriate but essential”. Given the policy void still existing in this regard, that seems a fitting note on which to draw to a conclusion.
The only honest overall assessment of the Howard government’s record in regard to immigration and citizenship policy is that, while a mixed one, it essentially failed at the fence.
Ironically, it was that failure—the failure to take the debate on these matters openly and frankly to the people—that in the end was instrumental in Howard’s loss of his own seat in Bennelong. I have it on what I regard as unimpeachable authority that, in the lead-up to the 2007 election, Howard was urged to give more prominence to these issues in the Liberal Party’s election policy campaign, but refused to do so.
Meanwhile, in Bennelong, the Labor candidate, ex-ABC journalist Maxine McKew, and her unscrupulous Left faction mentor, Senator John Faulkner, were mounting probably the most racist campaign in Australia’s modern electoral history. According to Margot Saville’s subsequent book, The Battle for Bennelong, Labor headquarters sent into action “a crack team” of “Chinese- and Korean-speaking twenty-somethings” to liaise with the Asian communities. “Thousands of how-to-vote guides in Chinese and Korean were printed and delivered, as were testimonials from prominent members of the Asian community.” Prominently featured in most of this electoral material were various distortions of Howard’s allegedly “racist” 1988 remarks.
Anyone surveying the Australian immigration policy scene today must be seized with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Not only has the Student Visa racket emerged into the plain light of day, with its chains of corruption from beginning to end, but the threat to our borders from the illegals has re-erupted.
The Student Visa program, as noted earlier, stands out for its corrupt practices in an immigration program now grown notorious for corruption across its entirety (including not least its Refugee and Special Humanitarian Visa components). So long as we blindly continue to fail to acknowledge that Australian citizenship (the real goal of almost all involved, both genuine students and bogus “students” alike) is a highly valuable property right—for which people from countries such as China and India will pay whatever bribes are necessary—it will remain so.
As to the re-emergence of the people-smugglers and their human cargoes, put aside, first, the lying (regrettably, there is no longer any other word for it) assertions by the Rudd government that the recent upsurge of illegals arriving on our shores owes its origins solely to “push” factors—in particular, the conflict in Afghanistan and the defeat of the Tamil Tiger insurgents in Sri Lanka. No more people are squatting in UNHCR camps around the world today than there were when the Howard government shut down the earlier people-smugglers’ trade in boat people.
At any given time, people-smugglers and their criminal clients have a choice of destinations—continental Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States (usually via Mexico), Canada, Australia and so on. The choice they make will be a function of the relative expense (that is, the fee charged by the smuggler), the relative value to the client if successful (very high in the case of Australia), and the relative likelihood of such success. Under the Howard regime, that last factor had become so small, and subject to such relative hardship even if successful, that the choice was strongly weighted in favour of attempting to go somewhere other than Australia.
The tearing down by the Rudd government of the barriers erected by its predecessor has changed all that, and no amount of lying denials of that fact will alter it.
At the time of writing, a new element has entered the equation. Having boasted of abolishing “the Pacific solution”, the Rudd government has now been forced to go, cap (plus millions of dollars) in hand to the government of Indonesia. On bended knees, it has been begging that country to “warehouse” two boatloads of illegals—most of them, seemingly, from Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, the criminals involved have resorted—with the eager co-operation of the Australian media—to one threat after another: first, to blow up, or set fire to, one of the boats in question; second, to embark on several hunger strikes—rapidly abandoned when that tactic failed to work; third, refusal to disembark from either vessel without various “guarantees”; and so on.
Not only is this whole bizarre incident leading to Australia being seen as a laughing stock around the world—with both the illegals and the Indonesian authorities playing our government for suckers—but also, even if eventually resolved (temporarily) in our favour, there can be no lasting assurance in such arrangements. To quote again from that above-mentioned Quadrant article three years ago, “we would be wise to avoid becoming too reliant on Indonesia’s goodwill and co-operation. As the record has consistently shown, those attitudes can change overnight.”
Meanwhile, the so-called processing facilities at Christmas Island have become rapidly over-crowded. (I say “so-called” because there is no way that people who arrive there without identity papers can be properly processed as to their criminal—or even terrorist—records, or general character. Nor, as a matter of fact, can they be properly checked for various transmissible diseases, given the facilities available on the island.) The government has been frantically trying to minimise this problem, principally by “clearing” the criminals involved and granting them Permanent Residence visas. So frantic has this process been that even the illegals—one or more of whom is known to have deliberately set fire to the boat off Darwin on which, as a result, five people perished—were also recently granted permanent residence and released into the West Australian community.
If the government’s performance on all this has been abysmal, the Opposition’s has been little better. Not until a former Minister for Immigration, Philip Ruddock, spoke to the Australian (and then gave a succession of excellent, hard-hitting interviews to both radio and television), had we heard so much as a cheep out of the Opposition. Its formal spokeswoman on immigration matters, Sharman Stone (no relation, I am glad to say) had effectively said nothing. The best that the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, could do was call for an inquiry! Why he would need an inquiry into these matters when he has within his own party room two of the most knowledgeable people in Australia—Philip Ruddock and Kevin Andrews, both of whom he has small-mindedly relegated to his backbench—beggars imagination.
In a larger sense, of course, we do need an inquiry, and a thoroughgoing one at that, into the whole corrupt immigration scene—one leading to an immediate major reform and reshaping of the Department of Immigration. The Howard government failed to take up that suggestion, and the present government will certainly not do so.
The bottom line is this. It is the first duty of any government to protect its citizens, including their protection against invasion by undesirables and incompatibles who seek to penetrate the nation’s borders by entering into criminal conspiracies with people-smugglers. The Rudd government’s palpable failure in this respect means that we have lost control of our borders. Just as the British government under Tony Blair (whom Kevin Rudd more and more closely resembles) lost control of immigration into Britain—with results that are now producing a sharp rise in the fortunes of Britain’s only truly fascist political party, the British National Party—so we are losing control of immigration into Australia. Though the consequences may be literally incalculable, one thing is certain: Australia will be a lesser country—and progressively so—as a consequence.
John Stone has adapted this article from a chapter he contributed to the book The Howard Era, which is published by Quadrant Books this month.