Leading article Australia

Mr Abbott’s agenda

27 January 2018

9:00 AM

27 January 2018

9:00 AM

The once and possibly future Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, this week started 2018 strongly. Writing for the Australian and speaking to 2GB’s Ray Hadley, Mr Abbott’s full-throated celebration of British settlement bringing the glories of Western civilisation to these shores was refreshing. He called out, rightly, the moaning Minnies of the Left virtue-signalling with their Australia Day ‘change the date’ campaign. In their proclaimed solidarity with their Aboriginal brethren these Uriah Heeps, with their obnoxious Rousseauian concept of Aborigines as noble savages corrupted by the evil British, are smug, self-righteous and paternalistic, if not racist.

But it’s Mr Abbott’s flagging his interest in immigration policy that is particularly welcome. For twenty years under Coalition and Labor governments, including Mr Abbott’s, we have focused almost exclusively on border protection. It’s high time to look beyond people smuggling and asylum seekers to question the size of our overall migrant intake, its ethnic and social mix, where skilled and family migrants settle, and the Australian community’s and economy’s capacity to absorb them. That includes internal migration as well as from overseas.

Sydney’s population grew by an estimated 120,000 people last year, Melbourne’s by 150,000, and Australia’s by 390,000. These numbers highlight big demographic and sustainability challenges. There is intense demand for scarce land and housing; finding jobs for newcomers whether they’ve come from within Australia or overseas; creating infrastructure like schools, hospitals, roads and public transport; and funding welfare and social services. Above all, as last week’s heatwave power failure in Victoria showed, we must ensure adequate power and water supplies to meet Australia’s current and future needs and not simply pander to the latest renewables fads.

We also need to ask whether we have the mix right between economic and family reunion migrants, including whether eligibility criteria for one or both categories are too generous or not generous enough. Are we taking in too many migrants, full stop? Are skills shortage criteria for 457 visas, and whatever replaces them, too lax? Then there are questions of integrating new arrivals. This isn’t about demonising cultures and religions: it’s about how best we welcome newcomers, and what shared Australian community norms those newcomers are or aren’t honouring in return. It is not xenophobic to ask whether we are letting in dangerous fanatics because politicians fear the social media lynch mob if they defend Australia’s prevailing Western, Judeo-Christian community heritage and values that are, in fact, the basis of our multicultural acceptance.

But can we look to our political leaders to even engage in, let alone lead a Big Picture immigration debate? As Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull appears uninterested. Labor leader Bill Shorten courts the luvvie Left. The Greens condemn anyone disagreeing with them as racist, and the likes of One Nation and nationalist groups further to the fringes unrealistically want the drawbridge raised altogether.

If Mr Abbott leads the immigration conversation from where he’s started this week, he does Australia a service: immigration and population policy have been taboo topics for far too long.

If we are to face not only our demographic destiny, but the future of an economy and workforce in which automation and artificial intelligence soon will make millions of existing Australian jobs obsolete, thoughtful political leadership is needed now.

Baby talk

So New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern is expecting her first child. Unsurprisingly, any doubts of her ability to juggle pregnancy and motherhood with competently leading her government are dismissed sweepingly by female columnists and MPs like Kelly O’Dwyer, who was quick to boast she is the first Australian cabinet minister to give birth. Alas, Superwoman O’Dwyer still stuffed up superannuation.

In Ms Ardern’s case, with a rickety coalition and an inexperienced ministry dominated by the self-regarding Winston Peters, it’s legitimate to ask whether her performance will be affected and whether she should have disclosed her impending maternity during the negotiations that saw her become prime minister.

Julia Gillard disgracefully used her sex to deflect all questions of her mediocre incompetence as ‘misogynistic’. If she is to be a trailblazer for young women, Ms Ardern must never use her new motherhood as an excuse if, for any reason, she does not perform as well as Kiwis deserve and hope.

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