Gillard and immigration:

Jenny Haines, Labor for Refugees, writes: Re. “Immigration rhetoric that can’t be sustained” (yesterday, item 3). Julia Gillard as part of her initial policy statement as Prime Minister said that she understood the concerns of the Australian people about the arrival of refugees by boats, and would move to address those concerns, signalling that she intends to adopt and even harder stance than that of Kevin Rudd’s Government. She seemed to particularly target her message to the western suburbs of Sydney.

When I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney in the 1950s through to the 1970s, life was not easy. The post war boom was in progress, but families struggled. In more recent times the western suburbs is now a mix of those struggling, but also the aspirational middle class.

If I could summarise the apparent concerns of people in the west, it would be that they are concerned that those refugees and asylum seekers arriving by boat are queue jumpers, taking advantage of their apparent wealth compared with those still waiting in countries of origin to pay people smugglers to get to Australia on leaky unsafe boats. The taxpayer of Australia then pays for their detention while they are processed.

The big problem with this view is that there is no queue. The Australian Ambassadorial staff in the countries of origin  do not put on their pith helmets and go out to the refugee camps and set up a table and chairs and take names on an orderly list. If you are unlucky enough to be in opposition, or an unwanted activist in one of these countries of origin, you probably leave in the dead of night, to avoid attracting attention to your departure.

You leave behind whatever family you have, and you don’t want to imperil their continued existence after you leave. You may have sold everything you have ever owned to pay travel expenses. Your travel to a second country, and maybe a third. If you get to Indonesia, and your presence as a refugee and asylum seeker comes to the attention of the authorities there, you may be interned. You pray that you are interned in an Indonesian government run facility, as the standard of accommodation and treatment is better than the Australian run and paid for facilities.

In the latter, the guards can threaten you with injury or death, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you are not interned in Indonesia, and can still afford it from what you have sold, earned, or borrowed,  you find a people smuggler who will offer you a place on a boat in exchange for the last of your money.  You then arrive at the dock to find the boat heavily overloaded, but you have paid you money and the people smuggler does not do reimbursements to dissatisfied customers.

If you are fortunate your fishing boat arrives off the north west coast of Australia, where you are met by Australia’s navy, and taken to Christmas Island for mandatory detention while you are processed. Having left your country of origin in the dead of night, you may not have brought with you your birth certificate, passport and all of the documentation required to identify you, so processing can take some time. Then there is the ASIO check to make sure you are not a terrorist. Mind you what self respecting terrorist would travel this way? ASIO processing takes a very long time. Even ASIO says they are understaffed.

Then under the Howard Government system, even if recognised as a refugee under international conventions, you were placed on a temporary protection visa, but allowed out of detention into the community. But the trick of this was that you could not work or receive Medicare health benefits. So to survive, you relied on the goodness of charities, churches and friends. Thank heavens the Rudd Government abolished TPVs, and may they never return. Such bureaucratised cruelty!

Life on the refugee trail is desperate and disorganised. You do what you have can to survive. Refugees who came to Australia before and after World War Two will recognise these circumstances, and no doubt be able to tell similar stories of pushing their way forward to a new life, against all of the forces arrayed against them.

Refugees arriving in Australia by boat constitute 4% of those seeking refuge in this country. The other 96% come by plane. QANTAS –Australia’s own people smuggler? The numbers of refugees arriving in this country are no threat to anyone, particularly people in the western suburbs of Sydney. I recently saw an election leaflet for one of the conservative parties.

It said that the people of the electorate were being deprived of health, education and welfare services because money for these services was being spent on servicing refugee and asylum seekers arriving in this country by boat. Budget stringencies by State and Federal Governments in relation to health, welfare and education services have a multitude of other causes that have nothing to do with refugees and detention centres.

I am a member of Labor for Refugees. Labor for Refugees has become a rank and file organisation within the Labor Party that has improved party policy several times since the dark days of the Tampa Election in 2001, at National and State Conferences of the Party, I wait with interest the next moves by the Gillard Government, but remind the Government and the parliamentary leadership of the party of party policy, plus of course, the real politik that up until Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd, the Labor Party was haemorrhaging to the Left i.e. the Greens, on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers and it is the real politik that matters on election day, not populism.

Dick Smith writes: Bernard Keane is entitled to his opinions on what constitutes a sensible population policy for Australia. He has variously argued that any debate on the matter should be shut down, and that somehow our relations with Asia are damaged by having any population policy at all. Both these peculiar claims have been comprehensively rebutted on Crikey by others.

I do object, however, to being carelessly labelled as one of the “usual anti-immigration suspects“. Nothing could be further from the truth, and if Bernard had done a modicum of homework he would know it. I have been a life-long supporter of migrant Australians. I consider them much greater adventurers than myself and welcome their contribution to Australian society. Immigration has delivered us many great Australians, including our new Prime Minister. I am sure this will continue.

What I have said is that the current record levels of nett overseas migration, recently running as high as 300,000 per year, are unsustainable in the long term. There are compelling long-term economic, environmental and food security issues that make such a policy unwise.

Along with Labor MP Kelvin Thomson and many others, I believe our migration levels need to be returned to something much closer to their historic average of around 70,000 per year. I advocate a totally non-discriminatory immigration program and an increase in our current paltry humanitarian intake.

Please Bernard, a little more care before slinging such mud.

Chuck Berger, Director of Strategic Ideas, Australian Conservation Foundation, writes: In response to the Prime Minister’s abandonment of rhetoric favouring a “Big Australia”, Bernard Keane writes that the designation of a Minister for Sustainable Population presents us with a false dichotomy between population and the environment.

He further implies that environmentalists who support the shift towards a “sustainable population” are being hoodwinked into complicity with an anti-immigrant agenda, or are ignoring the real planning and regulatory solutions needed for our environmental problems, or both.

But with respect, the false dichotomy is entirely of Keane’s own creation. The term “sustainable population” can be interpreted narrowly, as he does, as just concerning possible limits to the size of the population. Or it can be interpreted broadly, as being about whether the population’s activities, as a whole, operate within ecological boundaries.

The Australian Conservation Foundation, which has long supported the idea of a national population policy, has always insisted that population debates should not be just about migration or the total population size. Instead, we have urged the policy as a way to articulate Australia’s long-term ecological objectives, and to ensure that our economy, lifestyle, and demographic development occur consistent with those objectives. I can’t speak for the Minister, but every indication we’ve had is that he holds a similarly broad view of the ambit of his portfolio.

Asking the question “what would a sustainable population for Australia be?” cannot be answered in the abstract. The question invites us to consider what kind of lifestyle we will be leading, and what impact our economy will have on the environment. Australia does not currently have a sustainable population, because the activities that the 21 million of us currently undertake place a too-heavy burden on the environment. Whether we will have a “sustainable population” in the future will depend on lots of things — government planning and regulation, consumption patterns, technology, cultural and social expectations, and yes, also population numbers.

As for any anti-refugee agenda, ACF has consistently urged an increase in Australia’s intake of refugees and strong support for asylum-seekers, while bringing total net overseas migration back to levels that will ensure population stability over the long term.

Keane also repeats the oft-heard but seldom evidenced claim that slower population growth would threaten Australia’s economic growth. It is of course per capita measures of growth that matter, and on that basis there is no relationship between population growth and economic success. There are high population growth basket cases, and plenty of low growth countries which still somehow manage to thrive, economically and more importantly in terms of actual quality of life.

Harry Cohen writes: I’m surprised and disappointed that you adopt the high immigration policy of the mainstream media. I, like about 70% of the Australian public, do not want a “bigger” country.

For me it has nothing to do with the humanitarian/refugee in take which should be increased. It has to do with what sort of a land we leave for my grandchildren.

The addition of some 300,000 migrants per annum does not improve prosperity for any of us. Look at Norway which is somewhere near the top of the per capita GDP  ladder and has a sustainable non growing population. Growing at the rate you support might sell more papers but does nothing for most of us.

The Gillard coup:

James Burke writes: I’ve been complaining for months about the need for Kevin Rudd to change his ways. Now the ALP has switched leader, but so far I see no evidence that Gillard represents “Change We Can Believe In”. She was part of the Gang of Four. She and Swan were behind the push to ditch the ETS. She has been getting cosy with the NSW Right. She also sucks up to Alan Jones, which just reinforces my distaste for Labor politicians who give that antipodean Limbaugh the time of day.

Many of Rudd’s missteps were encouraged by those who have benefited from his humiliation – the Right factions, Wayne Swan, and Julia Gillard.

Above all, the coup revealed the uselessness of Labor MPs. They were all unhappy, yet incapable of forcing change internally. It wasn’t until the factional gnomes moved that change was achieved, so it took the form of the only change their gnomish brains understand — “rebranding”.

One of these factioneers — the AWU’s errant chipmunk, Paul Howes — is not even a member of Parliament. His contempt for those he dismisses as “Enviro-mentals” does not bode well for the credibility of a Gillard government on the one issue which casts a shadow over everything — climate change.

Don’t expect to hear the “Phoney Tony” line trotted out again, at least by the PM. Gillard inhabits a glass house when it comes to credibility.

Cathy Bannister writes: While it’s true that technically Australians vote for their local members and not the Prime Minister except in his or her electorate, you would be hard pressed to find a voter who doesn’t take into account the leader when choosing which party to support.

When people selected Labor, they effectively were voting for the whole package of Labor under Kevin Rudd, and to suggest otherwise is pretty ridiculous. It’s taken a few days for it to sink in after the shock, but I’m realising what all this reminds me of is 1975 sans the Libs.

Redheads:

William Kersey writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Just because a government advertisement (indirectly) encourages picking on, and laughing at, people who are different, doesn’t mean you should legitimize and encourage the practice yourself. And the Advertising Standards Bureau ruling that the advertisement doesn’t contradict the Code does not mean the advertisement is good or worthy of praise.

The bully mentality justifying such behaviour seems to be that if people with red hair don’t like being referred to as “gingers”, “rangas”, “bloodnuts” etc. then who cares? We can get a laugh out of putting them down, well, because, they’re not like us. And if their feelings are hurt, then so what?

Making fun of people because they are different is wrong, however good-natured it is intended, and should be actively discouraged. Your request for suggestions does the opposite.

If you can defend this behavior, what other groups do you think it acceptable to make fun of on the basis of their physical characteristics?

The Victorian government has stooped pretty low with this advertisement, please think twice about joining them.

Andrew Dempster writes: As a redhead, I’ve had enough of people feeling it’s OK to disparage “us”. It’s racist for a start — you have to be white to be redhead. And if it’s wrong to mock people for the colour of their skin, how come it’s OK to mock people for the colour of their hair? Tell me — where is the difference?

MediaWatch:

Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes writes: Re. “Media briefs: s-xism and Gillard … the ABC draws Rage … and suffers technical difficulties …” (yesterday, item 18). In defence of the hard-pressed technicians at MediaHub, I seems that my Tweet on Monday night about the accidental insertion of the live QandA studio into Media Watch’s transmission unfairly blamed them.

It seems (though post-mortems are still in progress) that the Q&A team requested a line to MediaHub so they could transmit their promo after Media Watch finished, and an operator in Sydney Master Control accidentally switched them onto the same line from Ultimo to MediaHub in Ingleburn as was already being used to transmit the Media Watch signal from Ultimo’s tape replay. Or something like that.

Anyway it, like many other stuff-ups on air, was due to the ‘teething problems’ being experienced since MediaHub came online, but was not the fault of anyone at MediaHub itself, on this occasion. We think.

RSPT:

Mitchell Holmes writes: Re. “Dear Julia, back down on RSPT. Or else. Love, the mining industry” (yesterday, item 1). There is one point about the proposed RSPT that I cannot agree with the mining industry, so called retrospectivity. Normally retrospectivity in law making is to be avoided. Mining projects however often run for decades.

With such a long time line, there are going to be numerous changes which affect the profitability or viability of a mining project. At the very least, over recent years taxes such as company tax and payroll tax have been gradually reducing.

Should these changes not apply to existing projects because of retrospectivity? Not at all. Long term projects encounter risks over the long term and these are planned for.

The RSPT is simply one of the risks that can come into existence in the course of a long term project.

Tiger:

James Kelly writes: Re. “Pay to line up at Tiger, but bogs still free — for now” (yesterday, item 20). I for one will never fly Tiger again following the shambles myself and five friends experienced Saturday, 26 June.

We were to fly out that morning on a 7.15am flight. Get to the airport well before (80 minutes) and there it was. A big dirty cancelled sign. No worries, when was the next flight?

No staff member in the terminal. Walk back out of security to find a group of (agitated) passengers querying a staff member who replied “tomorrow morning” and “no guarantee” of a seat while she thrusted refund forms at passengers who were to sprint to Virgin and Jetstar and pay minimum $300 a seat to get out of Melbourne before 12pm.

I work in public transport, and know perfectly well you get what you pay for (it was a $60 fare) and cancellations do happen. But isn’t it basic service delivery to at least tell people what is happening? I actually felt sorry for the staff at Virgin and Jetstar who not only had a crush of more than 100 people asking for seats out of town that morning, but also had to deal with the angry musings of angry (ex) Tiger passengers who accused the two airlines of jacking the prices the minute they learned of the Tiger cancellation.

Either way for the sake of saving $50 on airfare I will not be flying with Tiger again. Lesson learned.

Peter Fray

Save 50% on a year of Crikey and The Atlantic.

The US election is in a little over a month. It seems that there’s a ridiculous twist in the story, almost every day.

Luckily for new Crikey subscribers, we’ve teamed up with one of America’s best publications, The Atlantic for the election race. Subscribe now to make sense of it all, and you’ll get a year of Crikey (usually $199) and a year’s digital subscription to The Atlantic (usually $70AUD), BOTH for just $129.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW