Historic information about immigration policy

What limits, if any, will the 2018-19 Australian budget set for our immigration targets?

Speculation commenced in March (see Greg Sheridan in The Weekend Australian on 29 March, p. 12) that the announcement tonight (8 May) will feature a small reduction. Media coverage in April also suggested that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton may have been ultimately successful in subduing the immigration numbers ever so slightly as a nod to mounting public opinion:

Judith Sloan‘s comment this morning (The Australian, 8 May 2018) conveys a pragmatic reminder:

I will be looking to see whether the government takes the sensible course and reduces the planned number of permanent migrants, presently 190,000 a year. Last year I had to search high and low even to find out what the government’s plans were. They had been intentionally hidden because it was such a big call for the government to sustain such an intake.

We presume that Dutton is hoping to salvage some votes and public credibility to buffer the Turnbull Coalition government’s chances at the next Federal election (2019?), and to build favour in his own electorate of Dickson. It seems, however, that he will probably have been unsuccessful in persuading his cabinet colleagues about the merits of genuinely reducing immigration, relying instead on:

  • a reinterpretation of 190,000 permanent immigrants from a ‘target’ to a ‘cap’, and
  • a continuing sleight-of-hand relating to the temporary workers and students whose visas set them on an easy path to permanent status.

In the current and long-term absence of an argued policy statement to guide Australia’s planning and decision-making about immigration, we are forced to rely on figures released as part of the annual budget. We await tonight’s budget for confirmation of the situation for 2018-19, and plan to post the details as soon as we can.

Debate about Australia’s immigration policy goes back a long way, and overlaps with discussion about population policy. On this page we provide only a selection of information, but each of the documents referenced below provides suggestions for further reading.

In 1994, the Australian Academy of Science devoted its annual symposium to the topic, Population 2040: Australia’s choice. Papers from this symposium are available on the Academy’s website. The Population 2040 Working Party made a Submission to the House of Representatives Standing Committee for Long Term Strategies and also published a Joint Statement. These contributed to the Standing Committee’s final report, Australia’s Population ‘Carrying Capacity’: One nation – two ecologies (1994).

Some other studies include:

These documents reflect the enduring but as yet unsolved problem of Australia’s immigration-induced population growth.

Immigration policy has always been in the news. Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies (1894-1978), spoke frankly about immigration in the 1960s. Professor Geoffrey Blainey’s book, All for Australia (1984), provides a lucid introduction – see our Bookshelf for publication details and other reading. Here is a small sample of press clippings on population growth, 2000-2005. A more recent article is by Judith Sloan, ‘Brexit Remainers could learn from Australia’s immigration policy’The Australian, 28 June 2016 (page 12 in the print edition).

Our spokesman, Denis McCormack, has sought and found many public forums for sharing his concern about the direction in which Australia’s immigration policy is pushing our future. From 1988 to 1998 he was a co-founding member, National Secretary, media spokesman and several times candidate for the federally registered political party, Australians Against Further Immigration, and co-author of its Manifesto. He also worked closely with Graeme Campbell, maverick Western Australian MP for Kalgoorlie, as a researcher/adviser from 1991 to 1998. Denis McCormack and Paul Madigan contested the Victorian seat of Flinders in the 2013 federal election – as Independent candidates – to publicise the REDUCE IMMIGRATION write-on campaign. Both have contested previous elections on similar platforms.

Since the late 1980s, Denis McCormack has actively researched the history of Australia’s immigration policy and practice. His ground-breaking study The Grand Plan – Asianisation of Australia – Race, Place and Power was tabled in the House of Representatives on 28 October 1996. It has been republished online in 2015 as Asianizing Australia -An Elite’s Long-Term Project, with additional information and commentary that sets the paper in an updated context. He is currently compiling some of his experiences with immigration / population policy and the REDUCE IMMIGRATION campaign through an extended audio-visual commentary with the working title, “The Green Jacket Factor”. This compilation has been heralded on YouTube by several trailers and teasers. Of particular relevance to the write-on campaign is The Green Jacket Factor: Happy little vegemites…

Immigration policy is the responsibility of national governments. Many countries (e.g. Britain, the USA, Canada and New Zealand) struggle to set policy that meets both public and political expectations.

Here in Australia, the Liberal-National Coalition did not specify their immigration targets in advance of the 2013 federal election, although Tony Abbott, as Opposition Leader, had made a commitment in 2012 to reduce the refugee intake. That promise built on views within the Coalition such as senior frontbencher Kevin Andrews’ call in late 2009 ‘for a debate on slashing Australia’s immigration from 180,000 people a year to a “starting point” of just 35,000’, and on the Coalition’s election pledge in April 2010.  That pledge was confirmed in their policy statement “Real Action on Sustainable Population Growth” (July 2010), including a promise to:

… reduce Australia’s annual rate of population growth from more than 2 per cent under Labor, to our historical long-run average of 1.4 per cent within our first term.

This will require reducing our annual rate of net overseas migration from 298,924 in 2008/09 to no more than 170,000 per year by the end of our first term.

Abbott had not always favoured population growth, and is on record (The real issue is the changing face of our society, 1990) as disagreeing strongly with multiculturalist policies.

Abbott is, however, a man who has subsequently and publicly changed his view on these issues. In January 2010, he expressed his commitment to a Big Australia (Hudson, 2010) and this was echoed in the Coalition’s pre-election policy statements in 2013:

We will carefully manage the issues of population, citizenship and settlement to foster stronger economic growth and enhance Australia’s social fabric. (p. 42)

We will ensure that our non-discriminatory immigration programme helps those in need and serves our national interest. (p. 42)

We will take immediate action to protect both the integrity of our borders and Australia’s immigration program. We will not allow illegal boat arrivals and people smugglers to either determine Australia’s immigration programme, or undermine the Australian people’s confidence in the programme. (p. 47)

Australia’s immigration system has two main strands: the Migration Programme, and the Humanitarian Programme (which incorporates refugees and asylum seekers). The government publishes various fact sheets about these Programmes.

When the Coalition government came to office in September 2013 (under Abbott for almost two years; now under Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister), the planned intake as defined by the Gillard (Labor) government was 214,000, including 24,000 under the Humanitarian Programme. Early in 2014, the Abbott government cut the Humanitarian intake to 13,750 places – making the total planned intake 203,750. At the time, we congratulated the government on this reduction.

On 13 May 2014, the national budget for 2014-15 was announced. We were disappointed to note that the Coalition government failed to embrace the opportunity to reduce immigration targets and their associated costs. The 2015-16 budget similarly failed to reduce immigration levels, and in September 2015 an additional 12,000 places were allocated for refugees from Syria. The 2016-17 and 2017-18 budgets continued this disappointing saga, as reported in our posts of 3 May 2016 and 17 May 2017.

The demographic information now emerging shows that this high-intake strategy by both Labor and Coalition governments (and the illegal and corrupt spin-offs from this strategy) is indeed changing the face of Australia. (See our select bibliography that demonstrates some of the reasons for reducing immigration.)

The Productivity Commission’s report, Migrant Intake into Australia (released September 2016) encourages the government to consider the consequences of immigration, and recommends (p. 37) that the Australian Government should:

  • develop and articulate a population policy to be published with the intergenerational report
  • specify that the primary objective of immigration and the Government’s population policy is to maximise the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the Australian community (existing Australian citizens and permanent residents) and their future offspring.

In Victoria, the Liberal National Coalition (currently in opposition to the state government) has established a Population Policy Taskforce. On 19 June 2017, it published an interim report on its work: Victoria 2050: Looking Forward – Managing population growth for all Victorians. The title gives it all away – this is not about a policy approach to controlling population but about coping with the unprecedented rate of growth that threatens Victoria. (For what it’s worth, the Taskforce has its own website and planned to deliver a final report with recommended policy platforms by the end of 2017 – but as at 10 April 2018 there’s no sign of that final document.)

No Australian dares to hold their breath while waiting for the national government – or the political parties seeking representation – to change strategy, but writing REDUCE IMMIGRATION on ballot papers at local, state and federal elections and by-elections is a way to alert decision-makers to the urgent need for policy reform.

For additional information:

A guide to party policies relating to immigration was prepared by Sustainable Population Australia in advance of the 2 July 2016 federal election.

In July 2017, The Conversation published a series of articles under the umbrella title, ‘Is Australia full?’ The series commenced on 3 July 2017 with Liz Allen’s article, ‘Australia doesn’t have a population policy – why?’.

The Sydney Morning Herald tags its articles about ‘Immigration’ so that they are listed together on a topic page – see HERE.


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