Politics Opinion

The 'radical centre' needs to reclaim the debate around immigration

By | | comments |
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil (image by Dan Jensen)

Migration has benefits, but it is politically, socially and economically concerning on a mass scale, writes Kieran Simpson.

IN SEPTEMBER 2022, Dr Shireen Morris Director of the Radical Center Reform Lab spoke at the John Button Oration at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

I first met Dr Morris when she ran in the 2019 Federal Election for the seat of Deakin. It is to our detriment that we didn’t get a person of Dr Morris’ calibre into our Parliament. 

In her speech, Dr Morris talks about the failure in the policy area of full employment. Full employment is for the benefit of all and used to be a bipartisan policy. By increasing employment, we can reduce the welfare bill and increase tax receipts.

Professor Ross Garnaut also pointed out at the 2022 Jobs and Skills Summit, that full employment gives workers more bargaining power, lifts wages and incentivises employers to keep their staff trained. This results in a socially mobile, educated, flexible workforce. The opposite results in the gig economy.

It’s a well-known fact that the official unemployment figures hide underemployment and barriers to workplace participation. That means those who are receiving welfare support aren’t counted in the unemployment statistics. It’s crazy that if you work one hour a week you’re considered “employed”.

Too many Australians are being left behind.

The real kick in the guts is that this outcome is by design. Government consensus and Reserve Bank of Australia policy have for too long believed that we must keep a segment of society poor and unemployed to reduce inflation. Which we’re seeing in action today.

We’ve been sold a dishonest, contradicting lemon. On the one hand we have the simpletons mantra of "jobs, jobs and jobs". But on the other hand, we have a policy direction that mandates Australians be sacrificed to the inflation dragon. Dr Morris rightly points out this is abhorrent and unnecessary, but we can’t solve these problems with the same ideas and thinking. As the popular quote says: that is insanity.

We need to confront the economic orthodoxy that has only failed us with new ideas. In line with Hegel’s dialectic, it’s time for the neoliberal thesis on full employment to be discarded and a new way forward. 

There is one vital area of the contemporary discussion around employment that the radical centre, and especially those on the left, need to engage with; and that is the debate on our rapid population growth via mass immigration. It is a difficult topic to discuss, after all, migrants have too often been demonised and scapegoated. They are also exploited and victimised.

As Ross Garnaut points out, there is a real booster where genuinely skilled migrants add to productivity and improve our country.

We also need to increase our refugee intake.

However, too many people focus on the “immigration” part and miss the “mass” part. If you drink a slab or two of beer in one night you may not feel so good the next day. But consumed over the course of a month, you’ll be fine. It’s the rate of immigration, and whether our country is benefitting, that needs to enter the public discourse.

But the population debate is being deliberately suppressed by the vested interests who privatise the gains, but socialise the costs. There was no mention of immigration during the recent Election. Why?

If the Prime Minister were to come out and say, "I’m going to increase my migration program to 190,000 per annum as assumed in my budget papers", he’s gone, 100 per cent. He’ll never say it — and neither will the Opposition.

The issue of population has been weaponised against us. Big business claim “skill shortages”, while engineers drive Ubers. We’re sold the scare campaign of the dangers of an ageing population, even though the “solution” is a classic Ponzi scheme (migrants age too, after all).

After over a decade of the RBA incorrectly predicting wages would improve, it finally did. When the borders closed during the pandemic and unemployment fell to a record low. A smaller labour pool is good for workers.

This was implicit during Tony Burke’s speech at the National Press Club in November 2022:

"Any macroeconomist will tell you the hydraulic pressure is there, but wages aren’t moving up in the way that they should. Why? Because as that hydraulic pressure comes through, there’s leaks in the pipes."

Mass immigration is designed to suppress wages and crush the unions. Fixing the pipes doesn’t help when the pressure is gone.

Many other externalities of mass immigration also need talking about. From crush loading of medical and other services to the housing crisis. From climate change to environmental collapse, how does adding hundreds of thousands of people in a year help any of those issues? Unemployment is being engineered to rise. Housing affordability is shredded. We just can’t build fast enough.

Independent media seems to be the only place where the link between these issues and mass immigration gets an airing.

We need to engage, not cede ground. But the left is too divided. To paraphrase ​​Charles Baudelaire, the economic right's greatest trick was to stop the left from caring about economics.

In his book J is for Junk Economics, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics Michael Hudson wrote:

The financial strategy in this class war is to popularize “identity politics” prompting voters to think of themselves as women, ethnic or racial minorities, or sexual categories (LBGTQ) instead of economic categories such as wage earners, debtors and/or renters. True identity politics should begin with economic class consciousness, solidarity and mutual aid.

This is not to say any of those issues aren’t important. They are, and they are worth fighting for. But if we want to have the social programs we want like Medicare, the NDIS, support for women fleeing domestic violence and helping our Indigenous people, then we need to make the economy serve the people. This is the same idea that Martin Luther King and others in the civil rights movement realised as well.

The top priority for the radical centre needs to be reclaiming the debate on immigration if we’re to achieve our social goals. One quick way is to support the raising of the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold (TSMIT) to 10 per cent above the median wage as per the ACTU’s suggestion. Let the market tip in favour of workers for a change.

For those of us who want to see positive change and full employment, we need to promote the population issue and synthesise the best arguments from science into public policy. As Treasurer Jim Chalmers pointed out in his essay in The Monthly, economic and environmental instability will lead to social unrest and a weakening of democracy.

It will also see the further rise of populists who will manipulate that fear and anger while being in the pocket of big business and doing nothing to fix the issues that affect everyday people.

Kieran Simpson is a software engineer in Melbourne, Australia. You can follow him on Twitter @kierans777.

Recent articles by Kieran Simpson
The 'radical centre' needs to reclaim the debate around immigration

Migration has benefits, but it is politically, socially and economically concerning ...  
Jobs Summit should not be a rubber stamp for neoliberalism

The Jobs and Skills Summit will give the opportunity to confront the failures of ...  
Labor needs to make tough decisions now

The Labor Government faces issues that it must confront quickly or risk one term ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate