Yesterday I spoke at a session of the Queensland Multicultural Summit. There were about 250 or so people in attendance. The keynote speaker on the first day was Philippe Legrain, the British author of “Immigrants: Your country needs them.” He has a blog of his own if you want to get a better idea of his views, but in very simple terms, he points the anomaly of a modern world which encourages more and freedom on the movement of goods, the movement of finance, the movement of information and the movement of services, but still tries to put a whole series of complex and often contradictory constraints on the movement of people.
When I first got involved in migration issues about ten years ago, it was mostly around the issue of asylum seekers and mandatory indefinite detention – a grotesque abomination and perversion of some of our basic democratic tenets which unfortunately still exists in our migration law. But the longer I was involved in migration issues, the more I realised how crucial and far reaching immigration matters are, and how little attention is paid to most aspects of the issue.
This election is no different. Apart from the debate between the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader, we’ve had debates between the Minister and their shadow in the area of Treasury, Foreign Affairs, Environment, Health, Education, Childcare – and maybe some others I’ve missed. But as far as I know, there’s been no debate on immigration. Given how sterile most of these ‘debates’ are, it probably no great loss, but it is a shame how little serious debate there is on the nitty gritty of migration matters.
Whilst the government’s policy of deliberately causing harm to asylum seekers for politically motivated purposes has rightly received a lot of attention, this involvs just a tiny percentage of the number of people entering our country each year. During the same period, we’ve also had enormous changes in the nature and size of our migration programs, laws and administration in the past decade. There’s been some focus on the scandals, but with very little focus on many of the fundamentals, despite its basic importance to the future make up of our nation and its economy. The contradictions between big increases in the intake of migrants, the failure to provide adequate settlement support, the politicised use of migration decisions, the further removal of natural justice and fairness from our migration laws and the deliberate public targeting of some migrants groups by government has created a potentially problematic set of circumstances.
As Philippe Legrain says, immigration brings big economic, social and cultural benefits to our country, but by being so half-hearted in highlighting them, politicians put these benefits at risk.