Immigration debate for Melbournites

By skepticlawyer

As the election campaign gets into top gear, it’s becoming clear (from afar, at any rate) that immigration has somehow turned into a live issue again. I honestly thought it was pretty much dead and buried after Howard and Rudd’s efforts, but apparently not. You could call it the ultimate policy zombie. If nothing else, a bit of actual information is probably a good thing, as well as an understanding that people’s views on immigration can be hard to pick based on the rest of their politics.

Back in the day, Labor was traditionally the anti-immigration party while the Liberals were more in favour. Billy McMahon — a Liberal PM — got rid of the ‘White Australia Policy’, but the evidence for a broader shift was already underway by his time. Labor’s Gough Whitlam wasn’t a supporter of the White Australia Policy either. That said, he didn’t like anti-communist immigrants, famously describing one group as ‘Vietnamese Balts’. The post war Eastern European immigrants tended to be on the right; so too were many of the Vietnamese, for obvious reasons.

As the wheel turned, however, more people on the right came to oppose immigration, although I suspect that what they most strongly opposed was multiculturalism. There is no doubt that cultural diversity raises transaction costs and undermines social cohesion — this process is well documented — but that said, few people would want to go back to Australian cuisine or fashion before the period of mass immigration. Like all things, it’s a trade-off. These days, opposition to immigration can also come from certain parts (but by no means all) of the environment movement (on sustainability grounds), which can make for very strange bedfellows indeed. Libertarians, by contrast, are most often in favour of high levels of immigration, although they do tend to be realistic about where some of the opposition to it comes from: those in low paid jobs who watch the equilibrium price for their labour drop below the mandated minimum wage and those who resent welfare support being paid to people who have never paid any tax.

All of these concerns are complex and thought-provoking, especially as they take us away from the often stereotyped accusations of racism commonly bandied about when this issue raises its head.

To that end, the good people at The Monthly Argument have organised a debate on immigration with some excellent speakers. The topic is Immigration: Should We Apply the Brakes and features Catallaxy’s Sinclair Davidson, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Chuck Berger and a panel including Jill Quirk from Sustainable Population Australia, Cam Walker from Friends of the Earth and the redoubtable political contrarian Albert Langer (now known as Arthur Dent). A precis of the issues they’ll be discussing is available here.

The debate takes place on Thursday 12th August at 6:30pm in The Function Room, Dan O’Connell Hotel, 225 Canning Street, Carlton. Very cheap food and drink is available. A Google map is here.

The organisers specifically want to get away from ‘the usual suspects’ and would like all sorts of people to turn up, so in this election month, why not head along?


  1. Posted August 9, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    This issue does not seem to provoke the passion in Melbourne it does in Sydney. Which has something to do with Melbourne not having the crime, transport, etc problems of Sydney.

    It is also quite clear that illegal immigration pushes buttons far more than legal immigration does.

  2. Posted August 10, 2010 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Like I said, I would have liked to but this clashes with my work.

    I did my own spot of politicking at the Dan a few weeks previously – you can see it here at about the three minute mark. I’ll try and do a bit more before the election’s over!

  3. davidp
    Posted August 10, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    G’day SL,

    Can you please explain what you mean by “cultural diversity raises transaction costs” and why/how it does – it’s a statement I haven’t met before.

  4. Posted August 10, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    DP: In answer to your question, to share a culture is to share a whole set of assumptions, references, even preferences. This makes communication easier. (Communication, not necessarily agreement.) People from different cultures have a whole lot less in common in terms of communication. This makes transacting across cultures inherently more difficult. Indeed, there are various economic analyses which point out that, if one presumes greater communication difficulties, that is enough on its own to produce many of the results classed as products of “racism”.

    Posted August 11, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I’ve had numerous Arthur Dent moments in the last months meself, as the election has drawn nearer.
    Does this mean I am actually Albert Langer?
    And am just imagining am onboard this volgon feighter?
    Albert Langer?
    Have I the wrong character?
    The Albert Langer I have in mind is older than Fred Nile and Brian Harradine combined, maybe even older than God her/himself?

    Old, when the devil was young…
    As to issue, am broadly a sustainable pop /proponent, eg green and hopefully not too dry.

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