Whilst politics has always been an adversarial arena, the last decade has seen parliamentary debate sink to such a low level that they have become an impediment to rational thinking and progress. As they battle each other for the funniest zinger or most cutting accusation, the country lumbers on with no direction.
The reality show that is Canberra has dealt itself out of any relevance in addressing the issues facing our country. They are more interested in keeping their job than actually doing it. Looking for someone to blame is more important than looking for a solution.
As they tear each other apart, let’s ignore them for a moment and talk about immigration.
Immigration is a topic about which people often hold very strong views which can lead to passionate disagreement.
Some opponents to immigration offer reasonable arguments, concerned about unemployment, housing, inadequate infrastructure, dwindling resources, population growth and the strain it places on the natural environment.
Others fear people who are different. They are suspicious of people who speak another language, who look different, who wear different clothing, who pray differently. They think, because ethnic groups often gravitate together, that they are taking over areas and pushing out ‘locals’. They will never ‘assimilate’. They are frightened that Australian ‘values’ are under assault and that minorities will impose their ‘way of life’ on us all.
If we are going to stop the race to the bottom between Hanson, Bernardi, and the right of the Coalition, we need to address the genuine concerns and the unnecessary fears that opportunistic politicians are exploiting.
Many of the concerns of the first group could be addressed if we put our minds to it.
We don’t have a housing shortage in Australia. Our problem is the concentration of people in urban areas exacerbated by policies favouring investors. One of the reasons people concentrate in the cities is for the employment, another is for access to facilities and opportunities.
If we could encourage people to settle in regional areas, this would relieve the burden on the cities and revitalise our country towns which would improve the services they could provide.
Barnaby Joyce’s solution to this is to forcibly relocate people, moving existing jobs to his electorate. He also wants to build an inland freight rail. And some dams.
A far better plan would be to build the high speed rail passenger network linking Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane via 12 regional centres.
It would give regional areas the population to maintain schools and hospitals and small businesses thus providing employment and services in the town. It would open up affordable housing. It would allow fast access to the cities when required. It would free up existing rail lines for freight, reduce the number of cars competing with trucks on interstate highways and the number of passenger flights clogging up our airports. It would reduce congestion in the cities and demand on stretched resources. It would reduce pollution from cars and planes. Migrants could be encouraged to settle in country areas who would welcome them and help them become part of a smaller community where people know each other. Tourists could get off the crowded beaten track on the coast.
Populations tend to plateau naturally as people become better educated and more prosperous. In Australia, our fertility rate (average number of children born to each woman) is below replacement level at 1.9. We are having less children and breeding later, which slows growth.
Aside from immigration, a contributing factor to population growth is our increasing longevity. This certainly should influence our planning for the future but old people don’t keep having kids so the effect is not exponential.
It should also be noted that skilled migration saves us the cost of educating the worker and provides a significant return to the economy. It should be used discerningly to fill temporary shortages whilst we train our citizens to fill identified areas of need.
The concerns of the second group of opponents to immigration I find harder to accept.
In my opinion, the more diverse, tolerant, inclusive and accepting our society is, the safer we are. People come here knowing what the country is like – why would they try to change it into the country they have left? We are all different. We all have something to offer if accepted and encouraged to do so. We don’t have to look alike or have the same beliefs or eat the same foods.
Problems arise when people feel alienated or isolated – all people, not just migrants. It’s no fun when people keep putting you down, not because you have done anything wrong, for just being who you are.
If migrants are having trouble adjusting to life in Australia, we should help them. We should not demand they give up their identity and their heritage. We should help them learn English and educate them about cultural differences they may encounter. There are some cultural practices that are completely unacceptable in Australia and against our laws. We should have in place a process that deals with new arrivals to explain any differences in the law between their country of origin and Australia that may cause problems eg child marriage and female genital mutilation which are common in some countries (this is more cultural than religious).
I cannot hate someone because they are different to me. Differences teach us things, bring us new ideas, help us to evolve, combining the best of our experience and thoughts to improve and grow.
Australia is a wonderful country and we should not let our politicians, or a few extremists, try to scare us into thinking otherwise.
PS And for pity’s sake, just bring the poor souls from Manus and Nauru here. We have a “ring of steel” protecting the seas to our north so an influx of new boats is unlikely and we would save a fortune and go part way towards restoring our international reputation.