Is Peter Dutton for real? If so, it will be the first time a major political party has questioned the mad high immigration policies begun by the Howard Government in the late 1990s.
If he is not for real, his objection made in his Budget response to the “Big Australia” policy of the past quarter century is just a short-term opportunist grab to attack the Government at best, or dog-whistling at worse.
It would be good if he were for real and Australians could have a serious debate about population and immigration policy without name-calling people as racist if they dare point out that high population growth is appallingly destructive of the environment and an economic misery for all but a few economic elites.
Two weeks ago I wrote in this space: “Being shut out of housing and facing shrunken government services can also cause resentment by people already living here of not only of this year’s or next year’s intake, but of immigrants in general. This fear should not be taken lightly.”
Well, Opposition Leader Dutton’s Budget response and, more importantly, a lot of the reaction to his response is proving that point.
Dutton has been accused of dog-whistling by many commentators. Dog-whistling is a message that is pitched so a few dogs will hear while the bulk of humans will not.
The dog whistle part is a racist suggestion that immigrants as outsiders pose a threat to the (white) Australian Way of life. The general message is that high immigration adds to housing and infrastructure woes. The latter is demonstrably true. The former is not.
The trouble is, of course, that Dutton has form on this. Remember he said people people in Melbourne were “scared to go out to restaurants” because of “African gang violence”. He called refugees illiterate and innumerate and said they would be “taking Australian jobs”. He said Malcolm Fraser had made a mistake resettling Lebanese-Muslim refugees. He walked out on the parliamentary apology to the Stolen Generations (regretting it since). And he opposes the Voice.
That form could lead people to conclude that his comments are just dog whistling. Moreover, given it was Coalition Governments that began and continued ramped up immigration, Dutton’s comments could be dismissed as hypocrisy.
But those are ad hominin arguments. The core issue that Dutton raised deserves serious attention. And it is extremely unfortunate that those who applaud high immigration get to control the debate. They are either rich elites or they are in the media and by and large incorrectly equate support for high immigration as a necessary condition of supporting multi-culturalism and the fight against racism.
That is resulting in population growth of two per cent, or a doubling of the population every 35 years. By 2060 it will be 50 million and by the end of the century it will be 100 million. Exponential growth, of its nature, is unsustainable – as we are seeing all over the very finite world.
Dutton is right to ask where they will live and how the infrastructure be provided for them.
But Dutton’s use of the phrase “Big Australia” was a clever calculation. This was the phrase Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used in 2009 when the Government’s Intergenerational Report showed that the population would increase from 22 million in 2010 to 35 million in 2050.
“I actually believe in a ‘Big Australia’,” he said. I make no apology for that. I actually think it’s good news that our population is growing,” he said.
So, Dutton wanted Big Australia and all its obvious attendant evils – dead fish in the Murray-Darling; koalas left without habit; crowded schools and hospitals; congestion – to be blamed on Labor.
But it was Howard who ramped up immigration because his DNA is pro-employer and anti-worker and the best way to curb workers’ bargaining position is to have a ready source of cheap labour.
High immigration is actually a threat to our successful multi-culturalism. Recent migrants are most affected by it. Australia has a moral obligation to them. As the Ten Pound Pom series is about to tell us, Australia has a history of making life here look rosier than it really is for new migrants.
True, you win the lottery of life if you become an Australian citizen, but the way high immigration is impacting living standards for so many, it will soon no longer be the case.
Can we please have the economic and environmental debate and leave Dutton, dog whistling and race out of it?
Speaking of the Budget, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has blotted his copybook on infrastructure. As Infrastructure Minister under Rudd he created Infrastructure Australia to make sure we invested wisely. So why be blackmailed by the AFL to provide a Boondoggle stadium in Tasmania? They cannot even fill the existing AFL ground.
The federal gift of $240 million – just under the Infrastructure Australia threshold for investigation of the economic value – is a disgrace. This waste would have sat well as a Morrison Government misspend. Tasmania is crying out for a major hospital and plenty of other more worthwhile projects.
Let the AFL pay for it. Elite sport is not a community function. It is a business and should be treated as such.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 16 May 2023.
Crispin Hull is a former editor of The Canberra Times and regular columnist.