Getting free on immigration

It is not everyday that I read the morning paper and find that the person I am most agreeing with is Chris Berg but this Sunday was such a day. Berg writes today on immigration and points out that the current Government is not too different from the previous one.

John Howard’s line – that his government would choose who came to the country and the circumstances in which they came – has become the ultimate expression of state sovereignty and the supremacy of executive government. His doctrine has been implicitly shared by Australian governments for a century.

Governments have treated immigration as a kind of fruit and veg shop, where they can rifle through the available human produce to pick only the ”best” foreign stock. Fifty years ago, it was white migrants. Now it’s skilled migrants – the unskilled are left for other countries.

Obviously we’re a long way from the liberal ideal of global free movement of people to complement global free trade.

He concludes.

According to some, there are 10,000 refugees massing on foreign shores, just waiting for the right moment to sneak across the ocean. Putting aside the dubious evidence for that figure, yes: 10,000 people would be a lot to squeeze into a living room. But the Australian continent is quite large. The settler arrival figures increased by nearly that amount just this year – from 149,000 in 2007-08 to 158,000 in 2008-09 – and we hardly heard a peep from anybody.

So if 10,000 refugees is the worst-case scenario, it’s not that worst a case. With 15.2 million refugees worldwide, the few thousand who make it to Australia are pretty insignificant. No one has a moral obligation to remain in the country of their birth. And no country has a moral right to deny anyone the chance to improve their living standards, or save their own lives.

Can’t agree more. And let me add that in yesterday’s paper, Petro Georgiou — who bravely fought against Howard on this issue — correctly takes aims at the Rudd Government’s rhetoric failure on these issues.

9 thoughts on “Getting free on immigration”

  1. Current levels of displaced people seeking resettlement are estimated by UNHCR to be of the order of 21 million – not 15.2 million.  Even though this is at a historical low it is still a massive number. 

    Of course governments are concerned about a much higher latent demand than 10,000!  The argument is conditioned on the claim “if 10,000 refugees is the worst-case scenario”. It isn’t and – even if it was – we are a nation state who have the right – as all nations do – to determine who lives here.

    We don’t live in a competitive economy where extra people means Pareto gains as in trade theory. We have a subsidised health care system, unemployment benefits, pension benefits and free education.  This creates the potential for adverse selection in an intake – particularly one which is likely to be poorly educated and unskilled – which is the reason we have quotas and entry criteria such as points tests.

    Its the reason these people target Australia rather than much geographically closer nations to settle in.

    The implied argument that we should not even “pick-and-choose” but take whoever turns up – in effect that Australia should become a common property resource of the international community – is silly.

    I am amazed that you (and Chris Berg) advance a policy that would determine who comprise the people of Australia on such shallow grounds. 


  2. Well put.
    Harry, I think you do have a point on adverse selection, though I’m not sure about the degree to which the selection is actually `adverse’. Presumably, migrants—and especially those wanting to rought it in a boat for a while—have higher risk-tolerances than domestic residents. A trip to Footscray will confirm to you migrants like starting businesses.
    The vast majority of those who actually make it to Australian shores are eventually given asylum. Of the 438 on the Tampa, all but one ended up in Australia or New Zealand (according to Chris Evans on the 730 report the other night).
    So if asylum seekers are prepared to pay tens of thousands of dollars to smugglers to get here, and given the vast majority who get here are given asylum, then wouldn’t it be best for the government to enter the market? If a “processing fee”—probably more than the amount that would be paid to smugglers—was imposed on asylum seekers, numbers would be more easily regulated, and boatpeople wouldn’t be risking their lives on dodgy vessels. Further, if the cost of doing business increased for the smugglers (by sinking their boats, locking them up, etc), they would be unable to undercut the fee set by the government.
    Isn’t that pragmatic?


  3. I was thinking semi-facetiously along the same lines as Jim above. The “queue jumper” theme is a little strange. A virtuous refugee is one that sits passively for help whilst the non-virtuous tries to help themselves?
    Why not prioritise boat people? Then we get the people that have the strongest drive for self betterment, just like the prior waves that dug gold mines and opened green grocers and market gardens and the like.
    And we need not enrich the people smugglers, we could get ASIS to run the rings covertly and bring a revenue source to the government.


  4. On one hand, I admire those people with the will to (illegally) enter the country and believe they have something to contribute. However, I also think that the government has every legal right to determine who enters. As has been stated we have a state -subsidized education and health system that voters buy into via their taxes.

    Maybe we should have a working migrants scheme where the potentially illegal immigrant can pay a deposit to the government and work here for a fixed period. (Beats paying a people smuggler.) If the worker + family want to settle they lose the the deposit upon approval of entry; if they wish to return home they get their deposit plus interest.


  5. While I agree that hysteria over boat people and a conspiracy of silence over those who arrive by air is a disgrace, a writer in a letter to the Fin printed today makes the point that the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is the ancestral home of Tamils, is 45 km by boat from Sri Lanka at the closest point.
    It’s risky to speculate about complex politics from afar, but the letter writer makes the point that if escape from Sinhalese persecution is the issue, Australia is not the most obvious destination to choose. On the other hand, if much better economic opportunity is a powerful motive…


  6. ABCs (Australians by choice) probably contribute more to the country than AAs (accidental Australians) – they have more incentive and more drive for self-improvement.  I can understand a union-driven Labour Party minister for ports (Paul Keating!) objecting to Vietnamese boat people arriving in Darwin 30 or so years ago, keen to work harder than incumbent dock workers (labouring in sticky tropical heat is nicer than being shot at).  But those in favour of a genuinely free and competitive labour market cannot sensibly object.  Think about it from a personal point of view – if you’re forced out of your home at risk of your life, do you wait just outside the reach of the bullets – or seek to do the best you can for yourself under the circumstances?

    Further, if the Government gets too excited about its power to pick and choose who gets here after they’ve been born, the logical extension is that they will decide who gets to breed here too.  “We decide that no pit-bull owners/Muslims/Collingwood supporters/economists should contribute to our gene pool”. 

    Oh, and remember the vast majority of “illegals” are nice (white-skinned!) backpackers and the like who arrive by air and overstay their visas.  These are the ones who are not predominantly refugees; the boat arrivals demonstrably are, wll over 90% end up being found by the legal system to be refugees with a right to be here.  And a good thing too.


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