Immigration has been one of the keys to Australia’s emergence as one of the world’s most culturally, economically and socially successful nations. In recent times, it has accounted for more than half our population growth, which has driven economic growth and helped make Australia so prosperous. Half of us were born overseas or have at least one parent who was. That diversity has helped forge an economy and society envied throughout the world.
The Age has long supported immigration because it is so evidently beneficial, as pretty much every modern study into the issue has concluded. We have also long championed freedom of speech, so we defend the right of former prime minister Tony Abbott to call for a sharp reduction in immigration, as he did last week while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was in Washington to meet US President Donald Trump, and of One Nation leader Pauline Hanson to urge a zero net intake of people from offshore. But we believe evidence shows them to be wrong.
Other things being equal, immigration increases the rate of economic growth by stimulating demand, consumption and employment. It enriches our society and culture by creating a wonderful mix of tastes, practices and traditions. Immigration buttresses human values, because it engenders, on balance, understanding, empathy and tolerance.
The solution to a lack of infrastructure is to, well, invest in infrastructure – not smash one of the main engines of our marvellous nation with a sledgehammer. Sure, there is a reasonable discussion to be had about immigration levels and population growth, but obviously that is not what the current debate is about. What’s happening is primarily political posturing, not rational analysis.
Yes, traffic congestion is a problem in our expanding cities. Yes, we need to build more homes, and to offer options far beyond high-rise apartments and quarter-acre blocks. Yes, we need more public transport and roads. But these are growing pains, not a compelling argument to slash immigration. The pace of change of technology, the stupendous innovation and creativity of humanity, the ability to solve problems – these are the things that will continue to lift this and other nations.
We can and should have confidence that remains the case, and we should have confidence in ourselves and those who bring so much to this part of the planet. In Europe, the debate has become unhelpfully politicised by the suffering of an unprecedented number of displaced people, as some leaders successfully stir up nationalistic and anti-immigration sentiment. We should avoid such needless, self-defeating tension by taking the politics out of the issue and focusing on the unambiguous evidence.
Almost half a century ago, the Club of Rome, a group of former heads of state, bureaucrats and scientists, alarmed the world with a report called The Limits to Growth, which held that the world was imminently doomed because of population growth.
There’s another level. Protectionist nationalism is ethically dubious; the world’s most pressing issues do not stop at borders. We need to take a much longer, comprehensive view and realise that ‘‘Fortress Australia’’ policies would diminish Australia economically, politically and culturally.