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. Julia Taylor

    1. We do have planning departments? What on earth have they been doing?
    2. I am tired of the baby boomer blame game. Superannuation savings for all started somewhere in the 70’s. Those retiring will contribute to their retirement. What happened to all that money?
    3. We are a wealthy nation. We should have affordable housing for all, not just those who want to live in inner Sydney and Melbourne.

  2. Embo

    Bloody hell Bernard! Now I’m disagreeing with you and agreeing with Tony Abbot. I’d like to hear a bit more about why you promote a Big Australia? Particularly when We are growing flat out while the rivers are running dry?
    In reply to your postulated health care disaster in the bush (Where I live).
    “Now that we’re not growing so fast in the cities we might start to see a few doctors looking this way for a change.”

  3. Geoff Davies

    What if a sensible analysis concluded immigration is actually very expensive? Cost per new person: $500,000. Potential savings from a cut of 80,000 per year: $40 billion. https://betternature.wordpress.com/economies-general/cost-of-population-growth/

    Mainstream economic analyses are nonsense. We do not need population growth to maintain the economy, we need sensible economic management with the government playing an important supporting role (agree neoliberalism is the major culprit there). If the population ages, there are fewer young requiring support and education, balancing more old requiring support. If no-one wants to do the shit jobs, you’re not paying enough.

    As some point out – we increased the immigration rate a little while back, so we can reduce it, where’s the mystery? Yes, do it carefully, but do it. And then there’s the issue of the overstressed Oz environment

    Apparently people are totally disempowered, they regard the increase as inevitable. What bollocks.

  4. Mark Hetherington

    “you’ll have to wear the consequences of people in cities with ‘Fuck Off We’re Full’ bumper stickers.”
    Those bumper stickers are not restricted to cities by any means. Might be sported by people too short sighted to notice the rural health service problem is exacerbated by less health professionals being in the country.

  5. ozibody

    Whilst all of the above ( including Bernard’s article ) makes for interesting reading for me, I sometimes wonder whether I may have been living in ‘ once upon a time land ‘… y’know , Once Upon a Time there was a Public Service ( some of my friends worked there ) where all sorts of ‘stuff ‘ got done for Australia ! … out sourcing / privatization yet to be invented ! In fact the P.S. may have even had a hand in the Snowy River Scheme , & establishing the Motor Car Industry, to name just a couple. I can recall a time when the press of the day mounted a long and vigorous campaign , denigrating the P.S and advocating that ‘stuff ‘ would be more efficiently achieved by ‘ Business ‘.
    Funny thing about that; today I look around and see Business everywhere …. right under my feet and in my FACE ! … not to mention my pocket !
    Now I totally understand that business plays a vital role in our society (no argument ), & it’s naturally competitive, however, when business IS our society, I feel stifled by all the competition, knees, elbows, downright cheating, and (my) face in the dirt … in Today Land ! where business is also the REFEREE ! …..
    Please ! I’m just an average Aussie citizen ( & Voter ) …. please show me the door to ‘ Once Upon a Time ” land soon…… A S A P … before the next Federal election , please !

    1. cyberfysh

      Absolutely agree, Ozibody! Privatisation means that government has lost control of pricing for utilities, and they pay megabucks for “consultants” after “saving” all that money by slashing the Public Service … not to mention the loss of training through apprenticeships that were offered by Deapartments of Works, Railways, etc.

    2. cyberfysh

      Absolutely agree, Ozibody! Privatisation means that government has lost control of pricing for utilities, and they pay megabucks for “consultants” after “saving” all that money by slashing the Public Service … not to mention the loss of training through apprenticeships that were offered by Departments of Works, Railways, etc.

  6. JMNO

    We don’t have to have very high levels of immigration to meet our overseas skills needs. Before Howard, the man who is seemingly responsible for all the economic distortions that are making essential services like education and health more expensive and inequitable, there was a lower level of permanent migration, levels decided by the government of the day, not the market. There were a set number of places for independent skilled migrants and a demand-driven number of places for those sponsored by employers. So employers could bring in the staff they needed on a permanent basis if they demonstrated a need. More usually they brought workers in on a temporary basis first and then applied to keep them permanently later.

    Which leads me to the time before 457 visa (which was also introduced under Howard with the aim of driving down wages) when there were perfectly good temporary entry programs for skilled workers. If an employer running a legit business demonstrated a need for skilled workers from overseas, then they could sponsor them to come to Australia. Usually the workers were given a maximum stay of 4 years (2×2) and then expected to leave, the rationale being that if the employer needed them permanently then s/he would have sponsored them for permanent residence during this time. This system worked very well and stopped the sort of rorts that happen with the 457 and with independent skilled migration where many entrants are not as skilled as they claim to be.

    So the idea that an employer couldn’t bring in nurses or IT workers if they needed them and there weren’t enough/any available locally just didn’t happen. And I assume that if there are any competent workers left in Immigration who haven’t been driven out by the current regime, they will be making sensible decisions about granting visas to workers whose skills Australia needs. The trouble is with the constant changes in the ‘leadership team’ below Pezullo, there probably isn’t anyone left with enough knowledge about how skilled entry could work properly to devise a sensible policy.

    As for nurses – there are at least two hospitals not a million miles from where Bernard lives which have both got rid of their senior, experienced nursing staff through an absolutely shabby and sham underperformance rort (nurses who have been outstanding performers for 20 years suddenly are found to be incompetent) and replaced by nurses on 457 visas who cost less and who can be made to work unreasonable shift arrangements which cost less, suit management but don’t give the staff a proper personal life. Local nurses are not going to go for those sort of unreasonable working conditions and nor should they.

    And Bernard is just being a drama queen in his last paragraphs. You can have a smaller migration program – around 90,000 a year seems absorbable – and still get in the skills we need, either on a temporary or a permanent basis.

  7. CML

    With the best will in the world, and a heap of planning gurus, NO government can provide for these ridiculous levels of immigrants and maintain the standards of everyday life that most Australians expect. And the current population are the ones paying for this nonsense.
    There is just not enough money in this country to deal with 400,000 arrivals/year…the figure mentioned on Q&A last night. This is the TOTAL number of regular immigrants, refugees, skilled labour, 457 visas, business migration and students…and no doubt others.
    Now before you all think some of these people are ‘temporary’, we even had a panel member who came as a temporary skilled immigrant, now permanent. This is what has got to stop…ANY AND ALL ‘temporary arrivals’ should be just that. Otherwise it is just back-door immigration and we end up with double the number we are supposed to have. So…NO permanent stay for 457 visa holders, skilled migrants, ALL students and any other hangers-on.
    I just do not believe it is beyond this country to educate and provide a skilled workforce from our EXISTING population, who miss out on opportunities when we import these skills.

    1. AR

      That ship sailed in the mid 80s with PJK & his merry band of cut-rates at the helm.
      Now he’s claiming to be Fletcher not Bligh.

  8. bref

    Thanks BK for once again calling out the incompetents. Thanks Q&A for an insight into the supposedly sensible solution to the huge problem of cost of living and housing; cut immigration!
    There was a time when Australia was a young, go ahead nation. Where we could build a Sydney Harbour Bridge or a Snowy Mountain Scheme. Where we could put power and phone cables to all but the most remote homes. When we had plenty of housing and social housing so those who were less well off could also live with integrity. Now we can’t even build a NBN, have a affordable power supply and home prices have gone through the roof and of course no social housing to speak of.
    Judging from the Q&A panel (and mirrored in the actions of our politicians over the last few decades) we we have insipid, unimaginative grey haired old guys who look for scapegoats for why things are not working, in this case immigrants.
    Lest face it, home prices are high because we are hundreds of thousands of homes short of market demand, due totally to a lack of fed and state housing strategy. Why aren’t all shires around the country on notice to release land and develop social housing. The shire where I live wear it as a badge of honour that it hasn’t rezoned land of any substance since 1988, an ordinary home here costs well over a million. We live on a huge continent with bags of suitable land and plenty of water if you plan it right.
    The Tim, Dick and Bobs in our nation seem to be unaware of the march of technology. From high tech food production in desert areas using reusable energy, glass houses and atmospheric water generators to mass production of fresh water using solar or wave power desalination plants, just to name a couple of pertinent areas. Their solution seems to be the “we’re full, stop immigration” solution. Pathetic.

  9. gumshoe

    “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.”
    And the suburban metro rail and highway networks, Bernard. Don’t forget them. Is anyone else’s as bad as Melbourne’s? Thanks to Kennett, we have rid ourselves of those slothful public servants (who made the railways and road administrations so expensive to run), and replaced them with dissipative and extravagant contracts (‘managed’ by slothful bureaucrats) that cost the community three-fold more. Good on us!

  10. Peter Marlton

    Can Bernard explain to me why we need to import medical professionals? Why do we need to take the best and brightest out of third world countries when they desperately need these people in their own countries? How ‘sick’ are we as a society that we can’t train our own.

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