Paul Sheehan in fine form

Paul Sheehan has a piece in today’s SMH entitled And the challenge of migration?

Sheehan’s final sentence pretty accurately sums up his thesis:

Labor learned the hard way that to compromise border security is to invite political disaster. This is why the Rudd Government is still talking tough on border security, and has a major immigration policy but dare not speak its name.

The bit about the Rudd Government having “a major immigration policy” strikes me as beaten-up. There is lots of smoke and mirrors with some carefully defined terms (net immigration, for example, gets a guernsey at one point). Then comes the Sheehan’s killer riposte (apparently) to something Rudd said in a policy speech before the last election. It’s best to take all of this in context:

Under the Rudd Government, Australia’s net immigration intake is now larger than Britain’s, even though it has almost three times the population of Australia. To put all this in perspective, the immigration program in the Rudd Government’s first year is 150 per cent bigger than it was in the Howard government’s first year. The immigration intake is running almost 60 per cent higher than it was three years ago.

On November 14 last year, when Kevin Rudd launched Labor’s election campaign, he mentioned at length the challenges of climate change and water shortages: “It is irresponsible for any national government of Australia to stand idly by while our major cities are threatened by the insecurity of water supply.” While presenting a commendable shift away from John Howard’s inertia on these issues, his policy is breathtakingly inconsistent. Not only did Rudd commit to a policy of building high-energy desalination plants for Australia’s main cities, he has also committed Australia to record levels of immigration.

Talk about shifting sands. To quote Rudd in this same keynote speech: “Mr Howard lacked the decency to even mention Work Choices at all during his 4400-word policy speech on Monday. Work Choices has become the industrial relations law that now dare not speak its name.”

Rudd did not have the decency to mention immigration once in his 4300-word campaign launch. It is the most glaring inconsistency of his Government.

Sheehan apparently has in mind a fundamental inconsistency on quasi-Malthusian lines between high immigration and concern about shortages of water.

Now, I’m not happy about desalination plants, but I don’t blame immigration for them. Sheehan’s proposition is surely one which requires reasoned support.

Policy speeches are not places where one expects “inconsistencies” to be addressed unless those inconsistencies form part of a point of difference with any opposing party. As far as I can make out, most of the policy positions underlying the present government’s predicted immigration rates are pretty much inherited positions from the previous government and weren’t really a matter of electoral controversy on either side. Sheehan does not trouble to consider this.

But I’m more interested in some of the other points which Sheehan’s argument take him to on the way. Starting with this doozy:

The hysterics in the refugee and mandatory detention debates have always thrown around words like “shame” and “gulags” and engaged in moral relativism, comparing Howard to Saddam Hussein, while refusing to recognise that there are real consequences of failures of immigration policy. Thousands of Australian have paid a heavy price for the failed refugee-vetting processes in the 1970s and 1980s, when many people who should never have been allowed into the country were approved. We are still paying the price.

That’s a sweeping claim. I am surpised that anyone making it should be describing others as “hysterics.”

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