That estimable publication, The New Criterion, features in its current (May 2018) edition a piece from Enoch Powell’s biographer, Simon Heffer, on the (in)famous “Rivers of Blood” speech, fifty years on. Yes, it is another “fifty years on” event to go with all the others from that momentous and significant year, 1968.
Enoch Powell had a long and highly distinguished career. It included a professorial appointment in classics at the age of twenty-five at Sydney University – an ironic historic footnote, given that institution’s almost total conversion to oily political correctness – plus many more accomplishments in the military and in politics. Yet, despite his manifest achievements, he is pretty much remembered for one thing only, that speech.
Powell has been variously considered principled, racist, foolhardy, prescient, and a lot more besides for his call to limit immigration his call inspired at the time by what he saw as mounting evidence of rising conflict resulting directly from the importing of other cultures to the UK. Little did Powell realise what would transpire in the early twenty-first century, an era described by Douglas Murray as an age of suicide by European governments seemingly hell bent on inviting immolation at the bloody altar of multiculturalism. What was a mere trickle from Commonwealth countries in the 1960s, leading to real but probably exaggerated racial disquiet, has become a deluge, a veritable invasion, especially of Muslims. They come armed with the mores of their troubled homelands and a culture endorsed in its presumed superiority by holy texts that, just for good measure, treat women and their human rights with a propertarian disregard for the conventions of the society they have entered and changed but never joined.
Back in Australia, in locations such as the increasingly lawless outer Melbourne, we see violence by out-of-control imported African gangs and the insipid responses of major parties and the politically correct Victoria Police, whose brass insist in one breath there is no gang problem and in the next admit there is. Then tghey deny it again. These same police, by the way, have been seemingly more devoted to investigating a senior Catholic cleric before any actual complaints were been lodged, then finding drug addicts, bash artists and main-chancers to validate them. That at least makes a change from shaking down motorists by serving as revenue agents and charging visiting speakers five-figure sums to protect them from rampaging leftist mobs.
This is the same Australia that tut-tutted at John Howard in 1988 when he suggested, very gently, from the Opposition benches, that a slow-down in the rate of then-rising (and now galloping) Asian immigration would be a good idea. Like Powell, and very recently Tony Abbott, Howard was merely listening to what his constituents were saying. And like the other two, Howard did not believe those constituents to be racist.
Each age has its “difficult” immigrants, it seems. What is different now is that, since the exponential rise in global people movements from around 1990 that was fuelled by globalisation policies seeking to impose a truly borderless world, we have now almost unrecognisable, discombobulated places whose lonng-term inhabitants’ heads are spinning. We have tribal enclaves where interactions with native inhabitants are minimal and non-collaborative. Try getting a beer these days in Lakemba now that the last pub has closed its doors. Understandably, we see an exodus of former residents who don’t know what has happened to their communities or why. We have increasing violence, emergent gang culture, lawlessness and an arrogance on the part of the newcomers, which is understandable. When the official doctrine of the state holds that all cultures are equal and, sillier even than that, how the ills of the world are a legacy of racist white colonialism, why make an effort to assimilate? Indeed, stick your daughter in a burka and do so with pride. Western feminists won’t utter a peep of protest and, if there is criticism, dash off a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.
So what is the response to all this, and what should tolerant, liberal people who live in a country built on immigration regard as an appropriate annual number and trajectory? In one sense, there is simply too much in play in the current debates over the appropriate level of immigration, with things getting badly mixed up as a result. Here think of jumbled conversations and mistaken analyses of cause and effect. Finally, there is the question of whether limiting the rate of increase of immigration now would have an impact on the problems we already have, problems that are possibly the result, at least in part, of our previous high immigration policies.
Some preliminary points are needed.
One, there is not much in principle wrong with the notion of a “big Australia”. Many of the objections completely miss the point, especially those of Bob Carr and Paul Ehrlich-types who think all populations should be cut.
Two, there is no “magic” number of immigrants. All numbers are relative to some other variable, such as available work, skills shortages and needs, general prevailing economic conditions, current birth and death rates, and so on. The current “right” number of immigrants is only right in relation to these other things.
Three, the impact of immigration on our economy is positive, but only marginally so. The problems are non-economic. Yes, there is still “they took our jobs” thinking among existing residents. But in a world of increasingly rapid changing skills and skills-matching-needs (due to globalisation, technology, outsourcing, offshoring, hyper-mobility, ease of moving, disruption and so on), this argument has lost a lot of force.
Four, neither is there a magic number for an Australian population of the “right” size. We are the world’s fourteenth-biggest economy and could easily do with more growth. Yes, we are limited by governments that either can’t or won’t build the infrastructure we need in the places we need it, and who prefer vanity projects of little economic or social consequence. There is indeed a correlation between the adequacy of infrastructure, the perception of the adequacy of infrastructure by residents, and fear of further pressure on infrastructure by future population increases. And yes, it is important that we maintain support for our immigration policies.
But, and it is a big but. Cutting immigration numbers in the future will not solve existing infrastructure problems. At whatever level of immigration we have, we will be required to build adequate housing and transport systems. Much better to fix the systemic problems we have now – vertical fiscal imbalance, debauched federalism, out-of-control spending on things like transfer payments, the ABC, subsidised child care, useless education pipedreams, unaffordable NDISs, trams in George Street, regional vanity projects (and so on), that stop governments focusing on better infrastructure, one of their core tasks.
Five, law and order problems are law and order problems, not size-of-immigration-intake problems. Kick out the troublemakers? Too easy. Limiting in-migration now is too late, and will not solve the problems. Get genuine police forces, not touchy feely community strokers. Limiting future immigration intakes, absent fixing the other problems we have right here right now, simply will not help.
Six, if we bleat endlessly about multiculturalism, we should insist that new arrivals should try it sometime! It goes both ways, folks.
Seven, who comes is way more important than how many, the migrant mix being important beyond other things, such as the size of the intake. Bring in people who can speak the language or are eager to learn it, are ready to work or invest, who don’t come from troubled places where local mayhem has driven their decision to leave. Immigrants used to be regarded as the ultimate entrepreneurs. Now many seem to be the ultimate welfare scroungers at best and troublemakers at worst. Spend 30 minutes in your local Centrelink and observe the ethnic mix of what, in this era of euphemism, are known as “clients” rather than mendicants. On this view, we could keep the current rate but radically change the mix.
We should not mix up immigration issues with other matters that look like they are related but are not. We should do law and order properly. We should ditch multiculti fantasies and rediscover the real assimilation that was expected during the great post-war migration boom. We should ditch all welfare for immigrants. We should build proper infrastructure for a growing population. We should not ditch our long-term goal of growing bigger, but we should just do it smarter, for example by subsidising natural increase. The much-sniggered-at baby bonus was a cracker policy that actually worked. We should ensure visa scams are upended (we all know what they are and who is involved). We should attempt more seriously to stop foreign nationals buying up the country, its real estate and its infrastructure. We should all speak English routinely in the public square.
We do need to make Australia great again. We need to make it Australia again, actually., and we can do that while continuing to grow.
By all means let us have our immigration numbers debate. But do it with Howard and Enoch Powell in mind, and the actual problems they saw and commented on. And let us do it with our eyes open by aligning the many problems we have as a nation with the best policy and cultural solutions available for these problems. We should not burden immigration policy with the task of solving things for which it is not equipped.
What the Rivers of Blood speech did some half a century ago was to alert us to immigration follies and to what should be the proper limits of an out-of-control concept Powell did not at that time know about: globalism. Powell’s speech still deserves our attention, indeed commands it. But let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Population growth is good, indeed essential, and immigration will play its proper part in that and we need to get it right. But it is about way more than mere numbers.