Mar 13, 2018

Immigration debate shows how we’ve infantilised government

Cutting immigration is a second rate solution to the widespread problem that our governments have lost the capacity to deliver for communities.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Like a form of cosmic background radiation to our public life, there's one issue that is always lurking in contemporary political debates: the seeming inability of governments to get things done. Building a national broadband network. Addressing the disadvantage of Indigenous Australians. Delivering effective climate action. Providing sufficient housing supply. Protecting major river systems. Tasks that have proved beyond governments despite, often, huge amounts of money being thrown at the task.

This is the product of decades of neoliberal policy in action, aimed at curbing the role of government. Much of this has been delivered by taking away the tools of governments to accomplish things. We can't build an NBN, for example, because we privatised the government business we traditionally used to roll out telecommunications infrastructure, and, worse, privatised it as a vertically integrated anti-competitive monster. So to build an NBN we had to build a new government business to do it from the ground up. Or we've allowed powerful interests to dictate policy, as in climate policy (well, we don't have a climate policy currently) or the Murray-Darling.

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41 thoughts on “Immigration debate shows how we’ve infantilised government

  1. paddy

    Speaking of immigration. I stumbled on this wonderful page via twitter this morning.
    Hours of fun, fiddling with the knobs and dials, so you can decide where the eventual population figures should end up. (Highly recommended.)

  2. Teddy

    Suspect BK will cop another bollocking for this post. Crikey readers (at least the ones who comment) seem to line up pretty much with the Oz’s conservative columnists, cranky grumps like Dick Smith (I won’t have enough room to park my helicopter!) and cynical opportunists like Bob Carr (We’re full, so we don’t have to build anything) on the immigration issue.

    In fact consensus seems to have completely crossed the political divide now, with immigration naysayers and doom-mongers coming from the Greens as much as the traditionally anti-immigrant far right. In my neighbourhood – the Greens-voting inner west (where we have two Greens State MPs) all local politicians have long hung up the “We’re Full” placards, many of them unashamably standing under them at anti-development protest meetings. “Go Away – Migrants and newcomers are not wanted here!” is what they are saying.

    Sure, our governments do seem incompetent, but even so, the growing pains of a rising population are nothing compared to the reverse. Those complaining should really get out more. Go to Detroit for example, or any other city experiencing the terrible effects of the anti-growth policies they espouse.

    1. York City

      BK might get a load of bollocking for writing another article with the same old lines, but that’s what you get when you deliver clickbait.
      Growth from unplanned and unlimited immigration is hardly healthy. It’s just a version of a ponzi scheme. When it pops we’ll all get the real bollocking.

      1. Arky

        People have been doing this “oh noes, we have too many people, however will we cope, no more people!” stuff for thousands of years and it has all worked out OK so far.

        The spread of education and modern medicine throughout the world will help naturally check population growth the way it has throughout Western economies.

        1. AR

          Wow, that syllogism is so wrong it’s not even stupid.

          1. Goin' Ford

            How is it Arky’s comment stupid? What part of education and improved medicine reducing the populations of Western societies is wrong for you?

    2. Woopwoop

      Detroit is a straw man. Nobody is advocating reducing the size of our cities, or our population. The argument is about how FAST we should grow.

      1. Mark Hetherington

        There are fundamental limits to earths capacity. I’ve no idea if we are near them, but some claim we are.
        I would say there is definitely a coherent argument for non-growth – or at least planning for it in the long term future.
        I’m aware of at least one absolute physical limit we are on track to hit in 400 years, but that is far longer term than the current debate.

      2. Teddy

        Detroit isn’t a “straw man” Woopwoop. We are constantly being told we have to “re-think our addiction to growth”. You seem to be saying we should go slower, am I right? Then you really do need to look at what happens to communities within capitalist societies when growth slows, stagnates or even declines.
        Then you do need to look at Detroit. In any unequal society, it is the poor who suffer most. But its no coincidence that those who propose economic slow down are sitting pretty themselves – like my neighbours in the wealthy Green voting inner west. Perhaps they imagine that can survive the inevitable recession (if not economic collapse and accompanying political turmoil) with their lifestyle and assets intact. They may be in for a nasty surprise…

        1. Geoff Davies

          Detroit *is* a straw man Teddy. What you’re pointing to is poor economic management, not iron laws of the universe, economic or otherwise. There are prosperous countries with slow population growth.

        2. Woopwoop

          What led to the decline of Detroit wasn’t slowing US immigration.
          What’s the connection between slower growth (and again I say, nobody is talking about decline or even stagnation) and inequality?

    3. Duncan Gilbey

      You present a false dichotomy. The argument is not “maintain current immigration levels” against “becoming Detroit”, but how much immigration is sustainable.
      Australia is on track to double its population in the next 45 – 50 years. Anyone supporting an additional 25 million people in this country must seriously address the following questions:
      1. Where will these additional millions live?
      2. How will they get to work?
      3. Where will the water they use come from?
      4. Where will the electricity they use come from?
      I’m getting pretty fed up with being labelled as conservative/grumpy/racist because people are not cabable of thinking about our population issue beyond mere name calling.

      1. bref

        Oh please, we have a vast country.
        1: Just the seat of Kennedy, 4 times the size of England, plenty of water and arable land and a population of less than 200,000 (and falling). Take a 300km coastal strip around Australia, drop 100M people in there and you’d still have a very low population density.
        2: That amount of population is far more self sustaining in a country of our size in both heavy and agricultural industries.
        3: Modern technologies can provide any amount of water we need. Wave, solar and wind can easily power as many desalination plants as we need. Atmospheric water generators can already produce 10,000 litres a day, and large scale (300,000L/day) plants are on the drawing board.
        4: Electricity? Surely you’ve at least been reading the papers. Within a decade nobody will be asking this question.
        I’m getting pretty fed up with middle aged, non imaginative, set in the past people not capable of thinking past their own intractable mindset into what could be a fantastic future.

        1. AR

          Kudos for your realistic optimism and optimistic realism but look around at (y)our compatriots.

          1. bref

            Sad. We used to regard ourselves as a young, can do nation. Now even the young seem to have ‘old’ mindsets.

        2. Woopwoop

          Desal can only be made at the coast.
          Even if there are some underpopulated coastal areas, nobody will move there with no jobs. All over the world, people are moving to big cities.

          1. bref

            And we have these things called pipelines. They and windmill/solar pumps can be installed and paid off over their lifetime of a hundred years or more. Remember? The way we used to fund large projects!

  3. Graeski

    This is the second article I’ve read today on the Australian immigration debate that makes no mention at all of the environmental impact of the population, and treats the question as a purely economic issue. Surely, though, the human carrying capacity of the continent is a critical parameter in the overall discussion? How can it be ignored?

    There’s another discussion that no-one seems to be having, as well. Now that humans have the ability to transform the planet into whatever living environment we want, what kind of planet do we want to live on? That discussion then flows down to the kind of country we want Australia to become; how we fit into the overall global picture; and how immigration fits into both.

  4. leon knight

    Good article BK – that is really the nub of the problem.
    40 years of neoliberalism has brought us to the sorry state where governments just can’t get important things done…the dud of an NBN Turnbull has given us is the classic example.

    1. Woopwoop

      I have the ability to recognise two problems at once!
      Failure to build infrastructure is a problem.
      Too much immigration is a problem.
      They need not be connected.

  5. Nudiefish

    I have yet to make up my mind of the issue. I confess to needing to do a lot more research.

    That said, if Tony Abbott is for something, I am against it by sheer and blind instinct.

  6. klewso

    Privatising blame.
    She’ll be right mate! … Or maybe not!
    Our piecemeal approach to tomorrow (including climate and the environment) has come knocking.
    What I can’t understand is this excuse to grow through immigration (with bugger all planning) in “we need these immigrants to look after us in our (don’t look now) dotage”? So who’s going to ‘look after them’ when it comes their turn?
    The likes of Willox in their advocacy – what will growing the population in a flattened, stagnant economy, do to stagnant wages? Where we refuse to pay teachers and nurses what they deserve – while pissing profits up other walls?
    Are we meant to keep growing, and leave tomorrow to those coming after us ….. put that down…..!
    Our elected representatives can’t do it right now, what’s the point of putting increased strain on a system that is struggling now?

    1. Inscrutable

      Hear! Hear!
      The Scandanavian countries seem to do pretty well without having significant levels of immigration. Immigration for growth doesn’t seem to be the only answer….

    2. klewso

      Imagine what would happen if the companies (Willox lobbies for) actually paid their due tax, rather than spending all that money trying to duck it?

  7. AR

    Thanks Paddy, that is indeed cool.
    Dear, Bernard. How it must hurt to recant afore yonder cocke creweth.
    Two thirds of our rainfall occurs above the Tropic of Capricorn. Two thirds of that is north of Cooktown/Kunnanurra.
    Two thirds of our population lives a couple of thousand kilometres south of virtually half of all the water in Australia.
    Never mind a GST, how about a pristine, potable water tax. You now the stuff most urbanoids use to flush the toilet or grow the driveway.

  8. Burroughs84

    This is just silliness. It’s the same old “baby boomers retiring… need replacement workers” crap that gets spurted out forever. What exactly happens when those replacement workers retire and need to be looked after? As for the “jobs Aussies won’t do” well that’s a bunch of bs too. If the pay was DECENT, FAIR and HUMANE the jobs would get taken up by the EXISTING population.

  9. 3 Policy Options

    There was no reason ever given why we doubled our immigration during the Howard years – none! We are not delivering on infrastucture but this is a symptom not a cause so why would we make it worse with the highest immigration levels in our history. It is purely a numbers issue and no matter what we will not catch up on infrastructure spending no matter how much we go on about commute times in Sydney and Melbourne where 90 percent of immigrants go (though this isn’t a problem in Canberra where BK lives).

  10. AR

    The rancid, anti boatpeople types screaming about being swamped by 50K over 7 years ignore the immigration over that same period, in excess of 1.5M.

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