Over the fold, a couple more paras on population, which is becoming a very hot issue.
It will be interesting to see how Abbott handles it. As with the parental leave tax, he has run with a populist position, apparently taking no trouble to square it with his business base, which is already causing trouble. Since he was supporting high immigration intakes only a couple of months ago (in the context of an attack on asylum-seekers), it’s hard to see how he can escape charges of opportunism. In fact, it’s hard to think of a major issue (tax, climate change, parental leave, WorkChoices) on which Abbott has not been, in Malcolm Turnbull’s memorable description, a weathervane. I suppose that’s what authenticity means.
It will also be interesting to see how his 9-day, 1000 km cycling/listening tour affects both his substantive position, and his ability to manage the debate. Presumably, touring through rural areas, he’ll find it hard to back away from calls for a cut in immigration, but the Liberals are all over the shop on this.
The government has its own problems. Rudd’s “big Australia” is popular with business and some elite groups, but the case hasn’t been made to the rest of the country and I doubt that it can be. As I say over the page, it would probably be better to make the case for migration at the individual level (why should person X not be allowed to come/stay here) than in terms of aggregates. But if the Libs keep on messing things up, it will be relatively easy for the government to adjust both its rhetoric and his substantive position.
The strongest arguments in favor of high migration are based, not on narrow economic calculations but on a general presumption in favor of freedom. People want to come to Australia because there are jobs for them here, because they would like to join family members or friends, or to escape from repression and poverty.
Refusing to let them in reduces their freedom and the freedom of their Australian relatives, friends and potential employers. Before we take such a decision, we should have good reason to think that the net costs imposed on the community as a whole by increased migration justifies the loss of freedom involved in every individual refusal of admission.
fn1. Personally, it would be good news for me if he can manage it. I’ve been getting into triathlons and similar, nowhere near his Ironman feats, and it would be good to think that this can be done without detracting from the day job.