Greens' population policy no better than the others

Bookmark and Share Governance & Service Provision | Chris Berg
The Drum Unleashed 27th July, 2010

 

Bob Brown didn't manage to get in the leaders' debate, to the annoyance of his supporters. In a way, that's a shame.

Sure, the Greens treat human society as a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment. But they do try to present clear policy where Labor and the Coalition just waffle.

They're definitely against the internet filter (although admittedly they chose the person responsible for the filter, Clive Hamilton, to run as a candidate). They're definitely for climate change policy (although admittedly they voted with the Coalition against the emissions trading scheme).

A fourth body on the stage could have made the debate a little less of a sixty minute slogan slog.

Nevertheless, on the big issue of the campaign so far - immigration and population growth - Bob Brown offers nothing but equivocation and confused messages.

First: equivocation.

In response to the intergenerational report last year which famously projected Australia would have nearly 15 million more people in 2050, Brown called for ... wait for it ... an inquiry. A review. Another report.

Speaking in March, Brown asked, "How they think we're going to handle 35 million, I don't know, but if they think we can, let's see the plan. It's just really saying let us have the knowledge base that responsible policy making should come out of."

The Greens are obviously learning the politics of policy from the big kids. Kevin Rudd would be proud.

Then confusion. In her Twitter feed on Sunday night, Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens senator from South Australia, tried to claim "Compassion is key to any discussion of population growth".

Certainly, the party's approach to asylum seekers is clear cut.

The Greens want to increase Australia's refugee intake, which is good. Their asylum seekers policy is one carefully refined after years of activism and involvement with refugee protests, and driven by dissatisfaction on the left with the major parties.

Yet the party is as rife with contradiction as any of the majors they despise: the Greens also want to cut back other immigration.

And they're clearer than the ALP or Coalition about who the bad guys are in the population debate - skilled migrants.

Oh well, the Greens were never going to get much of the business vote.

Hanson-Young has argued the skilled migration program could have some "fat" trimmed from it. (Masterchef has made food metaphors cool.)

Indeed, the best comment this week came from a regular Masterchef guest, Neil Perry, responding on Twitter to the opposition's similar promise to cut migration: "great can't get enough people to work now!! Guess I should think about closing restaurants not opening them!"

Perry's comment applies as readily to the Greens' proposed immigration cut as it does to the Coalition's.

Our current immigration program only partly alleviates business needs.

There is a genuine demand in the Australian economy for skilled and semi-skilled workers right now. No amount of high-handed rhetoric about the need to train local workers will change that fact.

And the lucky migrants who get into Australia benefit from our high living standards, stable rule of law, and liberal democracy.

So how is stopping people finding a new life in Australia, as the Greens would like to do, in any way compassionate?

Let's be clear. If you are a refugee fleeing persecution, then a Green government will embrace you. But if you are fleeing something as banal and commonplace as poverty, economic hardship, low wages, a lack of opportunity or jobs, or if you're just looking for a better life for you and your family - then the door to Australia is closed.

The Greens are torn. On the one side, they have supporters who value Australia's role accepting more refugees and providing opportunity for migrants.

But on the other side, they have supporters who see people as the ultimate environmental problem. Each Australian has a relatively high carbon footprint. So, for some environmentalists, the goal should be to make sure there are as few Australians as possible.

That means keeping foreigners out. Poor people are better for the environment. They can't afford gas guzzling cars, or always-on-standby plasma televisions, or gaudy McMansions with heating and cooling systems.

Anyway, that's the theory. Many people holding this view say we should increase foreign aid, but they are convinced the effective path out of poverty - immigration - should be blocked.

Bob Brown has to negotiate the terrain between these two views. It's clearly uncomfortable. (Refugees settling in Australia have growing carbon footprints as well, but that's best not spoken about.)

Brown's hedging means the Greens are no better on population than the Coalition and the ALP. No party wants to embrace the high immigration which has been the fuel of the Australian economy for two centuries.