Abbott's Immigration Policy: Open for Business

By Ware, Helen | Social Alternatives, April 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Abbott's Immigration Policy: Open for Business


Ware, Helen, Social Alternatives


If we want to remain a prosperous, high wage, generous social welfare safety net, first world economy then, in this rapidly converging global economy, we have to be more efficient, more imaginative, more innovative, more technologically sophisticated ... Our greatest natural assets are not below the ground but walking around on top of it and every sinew of national policy must be dedicated to the vision of ensuring that our human capital becomes the smartest and nimblest (Turnbull 2015).

Introduction

Tony Abbott is an immigrant from England. He was born in Lambeth south of the Thames and was not registered as an Australian citizen until 1981 when, aged 23, he wanted to take up a Rhodes scholarship which was exclusively available to Australian citizens. Abbott was Prime Minister just for the two years from September 2013 to September 2015. In so far as he acted on immigration issues during those 24 months, he appeared obsessed by border protection and gave very little attention to regular immigration. This was typified by his immediately changing from the Rudd preferred title of Department of Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship to his own creation of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. His first Immigration Minister was Scott Morrison who stayed for 15 months, being replaced by Peter Dutton, a former policeman, whose background well suited the new paramilitary border protection image.

Most of Abbott's significant statements on immigration and the question of a 'big Australia' were made when he was in opposition, before he became a prime-ministerial captive of three word-slogans. Individually, Abbott was aware of the strains imposed by population growth and of popular resistance to competition from immigrants, but he also accepted the business lobbies' claims of a need for immigrants from particular groups. That this made him appear inconsistent did not seem to worry him. Thus before losing the 2010 election, Abbott declared that population and immigration would be big issues, that capital cities were 'choking' and population growth was putting the environment under pressure. Population, he said was 'growing in an out-of-control and unsustainable way'. Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison backed him up by promising that the Coalition would erect 'guard rails on growth'. They promised that in government the Coalition would turn the Productivity Commission into the Productivity and Sustainability Commission within three months and ask it to 'establish a new benchmark of community attitudes on where to go from here on future population growth' (Grattan and Dowling 2010). Results from public opinion surveys before the successive elections show that in 2010, refugees and asylum seekers ranked seventh with 6% of respondents naming this issue as most important, but by 2013 it ranked second with 13% naming the issue as primary. Thus in 2013 more voters were concerned with asylum seekers than with health and hospitals (10%) or climate change (9%) or education (9%) (Reece 2015: Tables 1 and 2). Unfortunately, the surveys did not ask just why these concerns were so strong so it is not possible to judge the impact of prior political campaigns.

When he eventually came to power, Abbott was able to leave the immigration program largely on autopilot because of the bipartisan support for a constant inflow of new Australians. Broadly speaking, all Australian federal governments, whatever their party affiliations, have been pro-immigration. Occasionally they have opposed particular groups of immigrants: Chinese in the 1900s and 2000s, Jews in the 1930s, Communists after the war, but broadly they have favoured continued growth through importing ever more people.

Certainly there was the post-World War II slogan: 'The Best Immigrant is a Baby'. Also there was Peter Costello, the Treasurer who wanted Australian families to have a child for mum, a child for dad, and a child for the country. …

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