Saturday, July 31, 2010

Scapegoating Migrants

We have massive problems in our cities with failing and inadequate infrastructure.
Our relatively slowly expanding population, which is almost entirely driven by net migration not natural increase, is placing ever increasing demands on our public facilities and services. In response to the perceived panic generated by former Prime Minister Rudd's push for a big Australia, his successor, Julia Gillard, has ditched the concept in favour of a 'sustainable' Australia. She says we are going to have a sensible debate about how many people we want living in our country. Bulldust! The longed for rational discussion on serious issues in the lead up to this federal election has been torpedoed by spin and alarmist sloganism.

Cheryl Kernot put it this way, "everything seems to be coming more and more trivialised than ever and I think that the 30 day election campaign is becoming a waste of time and a waste of money and an expensive game between journalists, the media and two big parties." The ABC's Mark Colvin asked this question at the beginning of a recent interview with former NSW Premier Bob Carr: He said, "Are the main parties having a real debate about sustainable population or are they both more focused on finding ways to garner the anti-immigration vote?" (For the record, Mr Carr supports Julia Gillard on this issue.)

So what do we have? Ms Gillard appoints a sustainability minster, and dribbles on about some pie in the sky plan for an offshore processing centre in East Timor while Mr Abbott and his pals in the Coalition can't stop babbling on about how they are going to stop the boats. (Even though they haven't actually told us how) Both parties are talking about reducing migration targets, they just have different numbers to throw in our faces. Who are they talking to? Who is afraid of Australia being overrun at worst, or overburdened at least, by migrants? There is a very strong connection being made between migration and public infrastructure problems. The argument goes like this: we can't handle any more people in this country because there is already too much congestion on the roads, and overcrowding on public transport. Let me reduce it further: F#!* off we're full! Have you seen that bumper sticker? Makes me sick but that is what the current immigration/sustainable population debate has been reduced to.

Professor Peter McDonald is the director of the Australian Demographic and Social Research Institute at the ANU. He doesn't think migration should be or even can be fixed at any particular number because we are in a global labour market. He says migration is going to be highly volatile and we need a system which is foresighted and flexible. No other country in the world has a target for a population growth rate.

The transport and infrastructure problems we are experiencing are as a result of a failure of government planning but if you listen to the rubbish being spouted in this election campaign, it is blatantly obvious who is copping the blame. Migrants are being scapegoated and it's not right.

Sources: (Peter McDonald) (Cheryl Kernot)

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