When it comes to the wheel of fortune that is the position of Prime Minister of Australia, there seems to be no end to the number of punters who think that they can cling to it longer and in a better way than their predecessors. The person currently still on top of the wheel is Scott Morrison. Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull a couple of months ago, Turnbull had replaced Tony Abbott, who had defeated Kevin Rudd, who had replaced Julia Gilliard, who had replaced Kevin Rudd…in the house that Jack built. Seriously, our friends across the ditch make politics look like an Italian Opera, or even worse, like Italian politics.
Anyway, Morrison is in trouble because his ruling coalition lost its one-seat majority in a by-election a few weeks ago (Turnbull spat the dummy when he was rolled and vacated his seat even though the next election will be next year). The ruling coalition is split between moderates and conservatives and as long as the leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, keeps his head down and says literally nothing until next year’s election, he will likely be the next Australian Prime Minister.
With that background in mind, it seems as if Morrison is trying to make widespread unease about immigration to the Lucky Country into a wedge issue that can help win the 2019 election. Less cynically, one could say that he is listening to the people’s concerns. In a speech last week, Morrison noted that voters in the biggest Australian cities are worried and:
“They are saying: enough, enough, enough. The roads are clogged, the buses and trains are full. The schools are taking no more enrolments.
“I hear what you are saying. I hear you loud and clear. That’s why we need to improve how we manage population growth in this country.”
So what action will the government take after hearing these concerns? Well, apparently a carefully managed cut of immigration numbers. The individual Australian states will have a more proactive role in determining future capacity which will inevitably lead to reductions of the immigration cap. At the moment, the cap is not being met anyway, so any reduction in it might not see a drop in numbers of migrants right away. In 2017, Australia accepted just over 160,000 permanent residents, about 30,000 below the cap and the lowest level in a decade.
The trouble with any radical reduction in the cap is, according to Morrison, the effect that it will have on Australia’s economic growth. Partly this will be helped by planning migration more closely with the states so that those which are growing get the number of migrants required (although how would that work? Would one be bonded to live in Northern Territory for example? How would you prevent someone moving to Sydney?) But as the population ages, younger migrants are required to fill the void in the working aged population. Without any migration, Australia’s working aged population would be shrinking by 2020.
On the one hand there is concern about the economy; on the other is concern about infrastructure, integration and terrorism and street gangs (especially in Melbourne). Even if the caution is palpable, it looks as if one party at least in Australia is talking about immigration as if there was something meaningful to discuss. Of course, one will see if the governing coalitionis in any position to do anything about it next year. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, we accept anyone, even dodgy fraudulent drug traffickers. For some reason…