The new migration
Yesterday, I was at a conference put on by the Foundation for Development Cooperation. I was talking about Tobin taxes and emissions trading, but the really interesting development for me was one that came up after the speech given by Kevin Rudd, and was also mentioned at the Pacific Forum last week.
This was the idea that the only way to resolve the problems of the Pacific is to allow access for citizens of Pacific island states to the Australian and New Zealand labour markets. Howard said something along these lines last week, and Rudd promised a more substantial review, which would of course, involve negotiation with the ACTU.
I’ve long held the view that traditional models of economic development were unlikely to work in the islands. If we disregard the fact that these are sovereign countries, and look at the actual economics, they look a lot like Australian country towns. In the absence of barriers to migration, you’d expect to see young people going to the city to work, though perhaps returning home at some later point. In this context, for “the city” read Australia and New Zealand.
There’s a sense in which this is the Pacific solution, operating in reverse. Having bribed and bullied our neighbours into acting as detention centres for our unwanted visitors, we’re now in a much weaker position to put them outside the fence that says “We will decide who comes here, and under what circumstances”. So perhaps some good will come of the whole sorry process.
An asideAlthough it’s not strictly relevant, I thought I’d observe that the family reunion category of migration, much criticised in commentary on migration policy, now consists primarily of the spouses of Australian citizens (at least, this is what Deirdre Macken said in Saturday’s Fin). Certainly there are quite a few cases of this kind among my immediate acquaintance and extended family, and they give the lie to the “mail-order bride” stereotype that will undoubtedly be invoked. This is worth thinking about, and I will have some more to say about it sometime.