Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Migration Policy

Chris Bowen should seriously think about quitting the Gillard Ministry. But not out of political spite or disregard for Julia Gillard.

He needs to go because by staying he is killing off his political career, for no good reason. Even before the weekend Cabinet leaks showed he was rolled by the left and PM Gillard, it was obvious that he has a policy of offshore processing that he knows he can't implement; so why go on? What is the point of being a minister if you are disallowed from implementing the policy you have just confirmed?

The only other option is for Gillard to do the right thing and move him to another less controversial portfolio. She owes him for everything he has had to put up with as Labor's policy has crisscrossed the road like a young footballer on the way home from the local pub having won the grand final.

It is ludicrous for a Government to announce that its policy is offshore processing and then say it can't be implemented. This is as much nonsense as its earlier excuses; like the push factors that were later dropped and pull factors substituted. Then we were told Nauru could not be used because Nauru had not signed up to the UN convention. That was Labor's first reason for not using Nauru. Of course the real reason then was that it could not be admitted for 'political' reasons, namely because it was John Howard's policy.

Labor's latest answer, after Nauru signed the convention, is that it won't work now because the circumstances have changed but again, that is only said as an answer to the fact that Nauru worked under the Coalition.

The issue will not go away. After four years in office, this is Labor's legacy, a policy they say they cannot make happen. Blaming the Opposition will only rile the public more.

And by Christmas there will be a lot more boats. The Gillard non-policy is an invitation to come by boat. Her position is that this is undesirable but her only response is to blame the Opposition. This non-policy is not tenable. Governments are elected to govern. If a government can't govern, then it should resign or call an election.

Many of the new arrivals will need financial support from Australian taxpayers. Many will struggle to find a job and have the dignity of work. Australia's unions will never allow them the opportunity to enter the labour market; too many changes would be needed to give the flexibility needed for these people to get a job. In time, these people will have rights to bring in family members and they are likely to also struggle to find work and will also end up on the unemployment benefit.

When Labor was in office under Hawke and Keating, the immigration program was poorly run and we ended up with a lot of unskilled workers who spent years on unemployment benefits. This was not good for them or the economy. The situation was remedied by the Howard government reforms and opposed by Labor.

A poorly run immigration program undermines community support for more migrants.

Australia has a once in a lifetime chance to make the most of our resource sector but we need qualified people for that purpose. Instead Labor's disastrous handling of the boat people issue has undermined public support for a strong migration program at exactly the wrong time. The repercussions are already tangible. The latest figures show that population growth has slowed to 1.4 per cent and the Age reported (30/9/2011) "KPMG demographer Bernard Salt yesterday attributed the slump in net overseas migration to Julia Gillard's move to distance herself from former prime minister Kevin Rudd's 'big Australia' policy". A policy of encouraging migration to Australia has been bipartisan mainstream policy for many years.

Under PM Gillard that policy position is being weakened boat by boat.

If Labor's stated policy is offshore processing then Gillard needs to pursue that policy. She needs to announce how she intends to implement her policy. The weekend leaks suggest that Bowen acknowledged that reality and wanted to put Tony Abbott's position to the test. Bowen's test must have been to trial Nauru so that if it did not work, his Malaysia solution could be resurrected.

Instead, the PM now says the situation is not her responsibility.

The term "responsibility" is much used by politicians. Both sides attach much credibility to the term, safe in the knowledge that it is "ill-defined" as described in Australia's Commonwealth Parliament by Reid and Forrest. This authoritative work was commissioned for the centenary of Federation. The authors also make the point that "Thus the extent to which the government is held 'responsible' will depend upon the demands of the elected Houses of Parliament and their constituent members; at the same time the actions of both the legislature and executive will be strongly influenced by the challenge of periodic elections and the attitudes of the electors".

The attitude of electors on both the unpopular carbon tax and border protection policy suggests that an election soon would resolve widespread community angst on both policies and allow Australia the chance to avoid the costly and divisive wrangling that seems set to plague Australia for some years ahead. It seems that Chris Bowen's presentation to the Cabinet was realistic and focussed on advancing the Government's policy. He can now do no more, so he should move one way or another. If the PM can't follow his lead, she should call an election or resign.

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