Immigration and Big Australia

A bit of interesting commentary today on the population debate. First, on The Drum, Chris Berg who points out the struggles the Greens are having on their immigration policy:

Let’s be clear. If you are a refugee fleeing persecution, then a Green government will embrace you. But if you are fleeing something as banal and commonplace as poverty, economic hardship, low wages, a lack of opportunity or jobs, or if you’re just looking for a better life for you and your family – then the door to Australia is closed.

Actually, the contradiction arises because the Greens are moving away from their core issue. They should be arguing the population position solely on environmental grounds which generally means being neutral on movements of people and dead against ‘natural’ expansions in the population. That means having a Small World population policy and not having any specific views on the size of Australia.

John Quiggin then reacts to Chris Berg essentially agreeing with his point including pointing out that natural increases are surely more of the culprit than immigration if your problem is stress on infrastructure. You know, I’d like to see some evidence on that point  (we have a century of data on the subject) but such congestion is at least theoretically possible.

But here’s the thing, John can’t resist labeling Berg as a “Big Australia advocate.” You know Berg may be a rabid right wing libertarian but that’s no reason to resort to abject labeling. As a matter of fact, there is nothing in Berg’s argument in favour of freedom of location choice that is advocating Big Australia. What it is advocating is a Frictionless Equilibrium Australia (FEA) with the size determined by the aggregate of the myriad of migration and emigration decisions of people rather than some centralized targeting. This labeling also invites the notion that those who are ‘FEA-Resistant’ or FEAR (for short) are ‘Small Western Sydney’ advocates. Is it really true that people are against migration to Western Sydney and want a quota?

3 thoughts on “Immigration and Big Australia”

  1. Is it true that arguing the population position solely on environmental grounds “generally means being neutral on movements of people”? Don’t rich people have a much bigger environmental impact? If so, wouldn’t anthing that boosts a persons wealth (like immigration) be discouraged by a fundamentalist environmentalist?


  2. Joshua, consider the hoops that foreign students were prepared to put themselves through to gain residency and work rights in Australia.
    I don’t think there’s much doubt that there is considerable unmet demand for residency and work rights in Australia, and if Berg’s views became policy our net immigration numbers would be much higher than they are presently and would remain so for at least the next few decades.
    As such, while Berg comes to the issue with a distinct philosophical take, the net effect of his policies is a very Big Australia.   As noted by Paul Norton on an entertaining LP thread, on this issue, you end up with people coming to the same effective position for entirely different reasons, and people with quite similar philosophies coming to very different conclusions.
    On your argument that the Greens shouldn’t care about immigration, you are making the assumption that it makes no net  difference to the environment whether a person lives in Australia or elsewhere.  There are at least two grounds to question this assumption.  The first is that Australians lead a lifestyle that has a higher impact on the environment than others.  The second is the view that the Australian environment is either a) particularly valuable and/or b) particularly sensitive, and as such even if consumption patterns are similar, the impact of somebody moving to Australia is greater than if they were living elsewhere.


  3. Berg concludes “No party wants to embrace the high immigration which has been the fuel of the Australian economy for two centuries.”
    That sounds like “Big Australia” advocacy to me.
    The strict FEA position would say that we should disregard any externalities (positive or negative) from migration. Berg may in fact hold that position, but he doesn’t say so – he asserts (incorrectly in my view and that of the PC, but more research is always good) that the externalities are positive. Since it seems unlikely that we will return to subsidising immigration, that means FEA and Big Australia positions coincide.


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