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John Passant

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August 2010



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Did someone say ‘white Australia’?

Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor, I’ll piss on ’em
That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
And get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard.

References to the Statue of Liberty aside, Lou Reed’s 1989 song “Dirty Boulevard” could just as easily have been written about Australia circa 2010, during an election campaign in which refugees and migrants are once again the scapegoats du jour.

“Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death” might not be the kind of “nuanced” language that you would hear from someone like Julia Gillard, but this is pretty much the subtext of the current battle to see who can be toughest on “border protection”.

Can’t fit on the train in the morning? Never mind the lack of government investment in public transport, it’s probably because of that bloke from Eritrea over there, or those pesky Indian students.

Can’t afford a house? It’s nothing to do with the land-banking by developers, it’s actually because of all those cashed-up migrants and refugees from Afghanistan.

Concerned about the lack of water in the dams? It’s not the vast amounts being used by the mining industry or for export-oriented cash-crops like rice, it’s really all those Lebanese families taking too long in the shower.

Never mind that Department of Immigration figures show that New Zealand and the UK occupy the top two positions on the list of source countries for migrants to Australia. Whenever the population issue is discussed by politicians and the media it is invariably linked solely to immigration from places like Africa and the Middle East.

Thus in the Liberal Party’s “real action” campaign ads, screened in May this year, the notion of “real action on immigration” was illustrated with a map of Australia with red “danger” arrows pointing down across the ocean from Indonesia (just like the infamous “yellow peril” iconography used during the Second World War). Suffice to say there was no equivalent arrow pointing across the Tasman from New Zealand.

According to Julia Gillard however, the shift away from Kevin Rudd’s commitment to a “big Australia” to a focus on “sustainable population” is merely a case of responding to genuine community concerns. And what’s more, it has nothing to do with immigration. Thus in a recent interview Gillard said “I don’t think this is an immigration debate… I think it’s bringing into play issues about water, about soil, about city planning, about infrastructure and services, about getting skilled people where we need them.”

Attention to issues like infrastructure and services would be welcome, but Gillard’s claim that talk of “sustainable population” is intended to bring to mind things like “the quality of our soils” is laughable. If this really was her intention, you would expect that we would have heard a bit more detail about what the Labor Party actually plans to do in these areas. Instead, all we have got is a mantra-like repetition of the term “sustainable population”.

Campaign leaflets distributed in the western Sydney electorate of Macquarie show a picture of a smiling Gillard with a quote reading: “I do not support the idea of a big Australia with arbitrary targets of 40 million people. We need to stop and take a breath. That’s why I’ve appointed a Minister for Sustainable Population to develop policies for a sustainable Australia.”

The question is, what exactly do we need to “stop and take a breath” from? It is unlikely that the citizens of western Sydney would take this to mean, for example, that they need to put the brakes on their own urge to reproduce.

Beneath the subtleties of the wording, and the genuflection towards real issues facing ordinary people in Australia today, it is clear that Gillard’s talk of “sustainable population” is intended to give a wink and a nod to the racists.

And this is something that has been clearly recognised by the Liberals, who in announcing their own proposal to cut Australia’s migrant intake from 300,000 to 170,000 per year have simply joined the dots.

The main difference in the case of the Liberals is that, unencumbered by the need to dress up their policies for consumption by the left-leaning section of the population, they have been much more forthright on what it is all actually about.

So on the one hand, we have an explicit attempt to link population growth to refugees. Says Tony Abbott: “Let’s have an immigration program that people can support…that they don’t think has been subcontracted to people-smugglers.” At the same time, there is a focus on getting the birth rate up: “I would like to see our birth rate improve because even now, despite the uptick in the birth rate over the last few years, it’s still significantly below replacement level.” Did someone say “White Australia”?

The Liberal policy is aptly described by Crikey columnist Bernard Keane as “a blatant appeal to bigotry, an attempt to get the ‘f**k off, we’re full’ types into the Liberal column, to exploit confusion over the lack of infrastructure and poor planning by state governments with the issues of both migration and asylum seekers.”

And what was the Labor Party’s response to all this? Not to denounce the Liberals for mixing up the supposedly pure waters of the “sustainable population” debate with immigration and refugees, but, in essence, to complain that they had copied. As the Minister for Sustainable Population Tony Burke so eagerly pointed out,

the forecast figures [for migration] actually take us lower than what Tony Abbott has claimed today… All that he has done is look at the projection for the following year, claimed that it is his own policy, and thought he could get away with fooling the Australian people.

Unfortunately the Greens are little better. While they have been concerned to distinguish the issue of skilled migration from that of refugees, their intervention into the debate has consisted largely of attempts to claim credit for the Labor Party’s policy, and to denounce both Labor and the Liberals for not proposing deep enough cuts.

Of course there is another group with a major stake in the population “debate”: the Australian ruling class. And interestingly, relative to the terrain set by Labor and the Liberals, groups such as the Business Council of Australia, and their ultra-conservative mouthpieces in newspapers like The Australian, seem like raging radicals.

Thus the BCA’s Chief Executive Katie Lahey complains that it is “disappointing to see our political leaders engage in populist rhetoric” and talks up immigration as “an important and positive aspect of our nation’s history.”

And editor-at-large of The Australian, Paul Kelly, similarly laments that “the Liberal Party now seeks election by outflanking Labor as champions of a smaller-growing Australia. It is a dismal and disreputable stand driven by polling and riddled with contradictions.”

Nevertheless, this doesn’t reflect any sense of humanity or care for the lives of migrants and refugees. The big concern for business is not that migrants should have the opportunity to seek a better life or that Australia should be an open, tolerant and diverse society. Rather, for the mining magnates, developers, bankers and other corporate heavyweights, the main issue is the continued supply of the labour that keeps their profits rolling in.

Australia’s ruling-class is, and has always been, perfectly happy to see migrants demonised and made into the scapegoats for society’s many ills. Thus it is notable that while they have been quick to state their opposition to any plans by government to cut immigration numbers, they have shown no similar inclination to address the hysteria around “boat people” or to defend migrant communities when they have come under attack.

In short, the ruling class want migrants to be able to come here, but they also want to be able to kick them in the teeth when they arrive.

As socialists, we reject the whole logic of the debate in which Australian workers are encouraged to see themselves as fighting against migrants and refugees for the crumbs that fall from the table of our rulers.

The problems in society today have nothing to do with population. Australia is among the least densely populated countries in the world, and with a little investment in sustainability, decent infrastructure and so on it could easily accommodate millions more (as a starting point, we could provide a huge amount of new housing by building on the large inner urban estates in places like Toorak in Melbourne and Sydney’s North Shore).

We must see the talk of “sustainable population” for what it really is: an attempt to use racism to divert people’s attention from the real issues in society.

Capitalism is a system in which the ability of a tiny minority at the top to make obscene amounts of money trumps any concern for human life, never mind the environment, quality infrastructure and so on. If ever there was a problem worth dealing with, this is it.

Unfortunately though, it seems unlikely that this will get much air time in the lead-up to the election. Which is another reason why building a genuine socialist alternative to this madness is so urgent. 

This article, by Simon Olley, first appeared in Socialist Alternative.


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