4.13 National Outlook on Immigration

Every now and again Australia goes though a crisis of conscience as far as immigration is concerned. It goes through one of those periodic self-examinations that happen to be more frequent in times of economic depression, to determine whether the immigration programme is of benefit to Australia or whether it should be drastically trimmed.

From the economic point of view there is no reason whatsoever why the number of migrants should be reduced. Migrants provide a net positive economic advantage to this country, even in times of relative economic depression. Cutting down the number of migrants will not influence the unemployment rate in the short term and would be disastrous in the long term.

While there is no doubt that immigrants require housing, roads, and other facilities, it by no means follows that a reduction of migrant numbers is going to make a considerable difference to expenditure on urban infrastructure. There is no substitute for good urban long-term planning which seems to have been less than optimal, particularly for the larger cities like Sydney and Melbourne. By contrast, other cities in other States are experiencing a relatively larger influx of migrants with less of a strain on the urban infrastructure. Encouraging migrants to settle in areas other than metropolitan Melbourne and Sydney would of course have a very marked effect in alleviating this problem.

Whether Australian laws, which to a large extent reflect Anglo-Celtic mores are adequate in a multicultural Australia, or whether we require specific legislation remains to be answered. More specifically, sensitisation of our legal system to the needs of the migrant communities is still far from adequate.

In an impassioned speech, given by the then Prime Minister Mr Hawke defended a strong immigration programme, saying: "I have said that ideally Australia might have a population of about 25 million by 2015 or 2010... We believe that with proper planning Australia has the capacity to absorb a growing population.... From the xenophobic days of White Australia, we have created an immigration program that has brought to our shores the cultures, languages and skills of the whole world. We are a diverse and exciting society - a far cry from the essentially mono-cultural post-war Australia that embarked on the great campaign of immigration. I don't believe anyone today would want to sacrifice the enormous lifestyle benefits each of us enjoys from living in such a country in the 1990s. And the most important thing is that for all the diversity of our nation, we are still a united people in a cohesive community.

"I want to see an Australia with a modem growing economy; an Australia that is self-confidently enmeshed in the world economy and the dynamism of our own region; an Australia renowned for the quality of its life, not just the quantity of its economic output-, an Australia speaking in the forums of the world with an independent voice to help shape a better word; an Australia that vibrantly and fully reflects the truth that all people are entitled to equal opportunity irrespective of colour, race or creed." (National Outlook Conference, November 1990)

[From: The Ethnic Voice, Vol 2(11) Dec 1990), p 3]

Source: Maurice N.Cauchi - The Maltese Migrant Experience, Malta 1999

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