Politics Analysis

Shadow Minister Dan Tehan slams Labor's immigration policy

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Shadow Immigration Minister Dan Tehan (Screenshot via YouTube - edited)

Shadow Minister for Immigration Dan Tehan addressed the Coalition's criticisms of Labor's immigration policy, avoiding mention of his own party's incompetence in that area. Dr Abul Rizvi reports.

WITH THE COALITION eager to fight an immigration-based election, it’s worth examining what the Coalition Spokesperson on Immigration is saying (and not saying where it suits his argument).

In a speech to the Law Council in March this year, MP Dan Tehan laid out the Coalition’s criticisms of the Albanese Government’s handling of immigration policy. He focused on border protection and the “big Australia” debate.

Border protection

As is standard practice for the Coalition, Tehan starts by criticising the Rudd Government for allowing a surge in boat arrivals. A fair point. But in doing so, he makes no mention of the Abbott Opposition ganging up with the Greens (at the behest of various asylum advocates) to scuttle Julia Gillard’s Malaysia Agreement. That drove up boat arrivals and ultimately forced the second Rudd Government to re-introduce offshore processing at a cost of billions of dollars, leaving people stuck in limbo for years.

The Malaysia Agreement was the only opportunity Australia has had in the last 20 years to avoid offshore processing. Tony Abbott opposed the Malaysia Agreement because he wanted to stop Labor from stopping the boats. Why the Greens and the asylum advocates opposed it remains a mystery (I suspect they are hugely guilty about it now). While Malaysia may not be paradise and is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention, the Gillard Government had negotiated significant support arrangements for asylum seekers re-settled in Malaysia.

Did the Greens and asylum advocates also want boat arrivals to continue leading to the re-introduction of offshore processing? I guess it gave them something to be indignant about for years to come.

In his Law Council speech, Tehan boasts about “border protection” being in the Coalition’s DNA. He then conveniently forgets to mention the biggest labour trafficking scam abusing the asylum system in Australia’s history that took place while his current leader was Home Affairs Minister. A scam that Peter Dutton and his Secretary, Mike Pezzullo, publicly ignored. If they did privately take any actions, these were largely ineffective. 

When the Albanese Government belatedly announced a $160 million package to start addressing Dutton’s border protection failure, Tehan was deathly silent about the origin of the problem and Dutton’s failure to deal with it. Tehan focused just on the relatively smaller number of asylum seeker applications since the Albanese Government came to office. He complained Labor doesn’t know where the 75,000 unsuccessful asylum seekers are in Australia — as if the Coalition Government did.

When the Albanese Government did announce its response, Dutton went the full Trump with an extraordinary porky, saying the 105,000 asylum seekers currently in Australia arrived under the Albanese Government.

Big Australia

Tehan starts by recalling Kevin Rudd’s 2009 statement about a big Australia.

He then says:

“My grave concern is that this Labor Government is pursuing Rudd’s agenda by stealth and they are using the imprimatur of government paperwork to deliver it. Labor is delivering a big Australia without being upfront with the Australian people. It’s Labor’s big Australia policy with no plan.”

After criticising the Coalition Government for not having a migration plan or strategy, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil has still not released the Albanese Government’s migration strategy. That is after 18 months in government and an unprecedented and unplanned increase in net migration to around 500,000 for the 12 months to September 2023.

Tehan is right to be critical of the Albanese Government’s tardiness in releasing a migration strategy and failure to act when net migration started to surge in late 2022 (although Dutton in 2022 was critical of Labor for not increasing immigration fast enough to address labour shortages).

Tehan expresses concerns about the impact of population growth on rents, infrastructure, congestion and so on. But he makes no mention of the fact that in his “back in black” Budget of 2019, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg forecast Australia’s population by end 2022 would be almost 27 million. That is around 500,000 more than the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates Australia’s population was at end March 2023.

If Labor is currently pursuing a “big Australia” policy, what was Frydenberg up to?

Did the Morrison Government have a housing plan to accommodate the extra 500,000 people in 2023? What would rents in Australia be like in 2023 with an extra 500,000 people? Did the Morrison Government have an infrastructure plan to manage that? Or a plan to address the added pressure on government services given its eagerness to make real cuts to funding for service delivery?

The fact is neither major party in government has been prepared to set a long-term net migration target and implement a framework for managing that.

History shows it's always easier for politicians to criticise when in opposition and to paper over the mistakes made when they were in government.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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