Flat White

What the world can learn from Australia’s immigration policy

16 August 2019

10:00 AM

16 August 2019

10:00 AM

It’s often said that it does not matter if you are a slow learner, so long as you are able to eventually learn it properly. The problem is, in the world of politics, when the livelihood of nations is on the line, there is clearly an upper limit on how long the people will tolerate failed experiments.

If there is one consistent point one could make in criticism of Western governments in past years, it is that a soft approach to immigration, which promises to control the process retroactively after letting people in, has been a failed experiment. Australia has learned this lesson—something our past prime ministers have been more than happy to remind the world. Yet, in the United States, the Democratic Party is refusing to pick it up.

Presidential candidate Beto O’Rouke played the Orange Hitler card in response to the President’s recent visit to El Paso (following the tragic mass shooting there). The openly socialist Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly likened the Trump administration’s use of detention centres for unlawful immigrants to Nazi concentration camps.

This rhetoric rightfully invited the rebuttal that the previous Democratic administration of Barrack Obama detained unlawful migrants regularly. The response from Democrats has been to turn their backs on Obama. Insomuch as this is a more honest reflection of the party’s shift in attitude to the Left, one might call it progress of a kind.

It may seem as though the Democrats have lost their tether to reality when they adopt such extreme, alienating rhetoric. But, if their concern is their own political survival, they are right to fear conceding ground to Trump on the immigration debate.

Despite theories about fascist conspiracies, Trump has been entirely open with his motivation for supporting a hard-line on immigration policy: He has seen that a focus on deterrence, as seen in Australia’s own immigration policy, can have massive results. The President has even specifically cited Australia’s approach as an inspiration.

Even a cursory glance at the figures reveals that, even with its warts and challenges, Australia’s hard-line approach has successfully cut the unregulated immigration that was of most concern to the government. A thriving industry based around smuggling immigrants through the border has been left in tatters.

The results achieved by stopping the boats has left our own Left in the Labor Party paralysed in response, unable to adopt the more radically Left immigration policies its base demands in the face of the Coalition’s success. This has opened its primary vote to an assault from the more extreme Greens in the past decade.

This is the source of real fear for the Democrats: They are not concerned that Trump’s approach to immigration will be needlessly cruel and fail to stop migration. Instead, their worst nightmare is that by adopting a severe approach to migrants Trump may actually succeed.

If his focus on deterrence were to get the results he hopes for, Trump would leave the Democratic approach to immigration in political tatters. Their only options would be a shift towards the Left of their party by supporting open borders—electoral suicide—or, to match Trump by moving towards the Centre and alienate their base just the same as the Labor Party has in Australia.

Some Democrats have already made up their mind and have started the march to the Left. This is an obviously doomed strategy if they plan to retake the White House in the near future. However, even an approach of moderation has its risks. Were the Democrats to alienate their base by taking a more populist immigration policy and subsequently face a political challenge from a third party, the results could be disastrous. Unlike the system in Australia, the U.S. lacks preferential voting, allowing third parties to play spoiler to an even more pronounced degree.

The Democrats face a forked road, and both paths seem to lead to inevitable defeat. This is due to a contradiction that the Left faces on the issue of immigration across the globe: Harsh border policies and mass detention do not pass the gut check. No one wants to support these policies just because they feel right. Yet, despite this unease, they work in the end; their success is undeniable, and this leaves their opponents without any ammunition to put up a fight.

Elijah Barton is an economist and business consultant. He blogs at The Psychopop Manifesto.

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