Recent calls from entrepreneur Dick Smith to slash Australia’s immigration intake have been met with cries of outrage from the nation’s elites, with a predictable chorus of accusations labelling the businessman ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’.
Regrettably, public debate in Australia has now descended to the point where attempting to establish a reasonable discourse concerning the lack of foresight attached to our nation’s current immigration policies, cannot be done without having to first fend off juvenile accusations of the dreaded R word.
Realistically, this particular debate is now well overdue in Australia, and in order to ensure that all perspectives are given fair coverage, the question of immigration must be discussed with a reasonable level of maturity and levelheadedness.
Both of Australia’s two major political parties have previously defended and maintained mass immigration policies. The Liberal Party will often emphasise ‘economic growth’ as a justification for mass immigration, whilst the Labor Party usually relies on shallow appeals to emotion or empty platitudes about Australia’s history as an ‘immigrant nation’. What Australia really needs though, is a more nuanced discussion concerning the demographic pressures created by such a careless approach towards immigration.
Current estimates place Australia’s annual immigration intake at approximately 800,000 per year. Temporary residents living here on student, working holiday, and temporary work visas, account for around three-quarters of this figure — meaning that the remaining 200,000 or so have been granted permanent residency. Given that Australia currently has an overall population of approximately 24 million people, such an excessive intake is dangerously unsustainable, particularly when taken into account alongside the more than 300,000 babies born each year in this country.
Conducting a comparison between Australia and the United States as a demonstration of our lacklustre immigration policy is telling. The US has a total population of 323 million people, with around one million new immigrants arriving there each year — approximately 0.3 per cent of the overall population. Australia’s annual intake on the other hand, with all forms of immigration included, is more than 3.3 per cent of our overall population.
Australia is also significantly different from our US counterparts in terms of how our respective populations are dispersed. Australia has the vast majority of our population concentrated in four major cities — Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney, which collectively account for more than 13 million people. Job and educational opportunities outside of these major urban centres are often scarce, with many people moving to these cities from other parts of Australia each year.
The US, on the other hand, has a population which is far more evenly dispersed throughout the entire country. Its four biggest cities — Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, account for just over five per cent of its overall population. There are numerous small regional towns throughout the US, many of which are home to hundreds of thousands of people, and boast job and educational opportunities that are unimaginable in the context of regional Australia. Developing our nation’s regions is, however, something that won’t happen overnight.
In the meantime, housing affordability, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne, is increasingly becoming an unachievable goal for many young Australians. Raising a family in a four-bedroom house with a big backyard that is within 10 kilometres of the CBD, may ultimately end up becoming a thing of the past for many middle-class Australians, as unit living and the crime ridden outer suburbs increasingly become far more tenable options for many first home buyers. Similarly, the infrastructure and services in these cities are almost at breaking point, with the pressures exerted by mass immigration making it difficult for both state and local governments to keep up.
Having actually engaged with the facts surrounding the issue, it is then perfectly understandable why Dick Smith has adopted his anti-immigration stance. Before even beginning to consider aspects of the debate such as English language proficiency, religious differences, and the importance of maintaining a culturally homogenous society, we must first establish a dialogue which acknowledges honestly and truthfully, the fact that Australia has not been designed appropriately to accommodate such a massive influx of people.
Doing so shouldn’t be met with infantile accusations of xenophobia and racism, but rather an honest and measured debate in which the legitimate grievances associated with mass immigration are adequately addressed. Doing so will allow these fears to be met with reasonable public policy recommendations, in order to provide effective solutions which will ensure that Australia maintains the living standards that make it the envy of so many other nations throughout the world.
The future of all Australians — both those born here, as well as overseas, depends on it.
Tom Pirrone is the Associate Editor of The Unshackled, where this piece also appears