In the new year the issue of “people smuggling” will no doubt continue to fester. So here is my suggested solution. Make illegal immigration legal. Open Australia’s borders. Refugees (both political and economic) could then book a cheap charter flight rather than an expensive and dangerous boat trip.
To ensure that as few as possible of the less skilled end up as long term unemployed, we will need to continue the policy of limiting their initial access to welfare while at the same time creating new jobs by reducing the minimum wage and getting rid of a lot of the red tape restricting the small business sector.
We will also need to provide cheap accommodation. This will require the relaxation of housing regulations to allow for greater crowding and other various rough and ready arrangements. But more importantly, it will require an end to the general strangulation of housing supply which makes Australian cities the most expensive in the world.
The medical system would cope. We build more hospitals and rely to some extent on immigrants with medical training. Urban transport would cope too. We introduce congestion pricing on our main roads, allow bus and taxi services to expand rapidly and fast track necessary freeway construction. And you could say the same about natural attractions and beaches. Where necessary we introduce entry fees to control numbers and do the investment required to increase carrying capacity.
To state the obvious, Australia is far from being crowded. Our population is smaller than that of the Benelux countries which have an area 80 per cent that of Tasmania. Or to do a city comparison, our population is about the same as the Seoul Metropolitan Area.
If we grow by 200,000 per year - the average from 1950 to 2005 - we will reach 30 million by 2050. If we continue at the higher pace of the last five years we will reach 38 million by then. Population levels like these would put us in the same league as Canada, Poland and Argentina which suggests the term "big Australia" is a bit misplaced. Put another way, the entire continent of Australia would go from having the current population of the Seoul region to that of the Tokyo region.
And then there is this nice historical parallel. We presently have the population of England in 1881 and by 2050, at the rate we are going, we will have the population of England in 1921.
A move towards open borders could lead to something more like the growth in the United States. In 1850, they had our current population. Forty years later they had 63 million.
For present residents, high immigration would be a mixed bag. Infrastructure will not always increase as fast as the demand for it, especially if governments display their usual incompetence. Labour market competition in some areas will be more intense. On the other hand a larger economy will ultimately mean a broader range of job options. And we will be living in a bigger society where there is a lot more happening. For immigrants the benefits in most cases will be huge, and likewise for relatives back home who receive remittances.
Conservatives like Andrew Bolt fear our modern society would be undermined by a large influx of culturally backward people. However, this would only be a problem with some of the immigrants. Besides, modernity tends to win out rather than the other way round. It is so “corrupting”. The immigrants and their children take on the new fangled ways and often export them back to their home countries.
Given the local opposition to open borders, I imagine immigration will simply continue along in the sedate fashion that it has in the past as immigration policy balances competing pressures. On the one hand there are employers who want cheap labour, immigrants who want to bring out relatives, humanitarians who want to help the displaced and freedom lovers who believe that people should be able to live wherever they like. On the other hand there are people worried about their jobs and amenities, the "culture warriors" and, of course, the xenophobes and racists.
Having said that, it is still worth putting the open borders position if it helps to make high but still restricted immigration look more moderate and acceptable.
I cannot resist ending this article with a famous sonnet which captures the right spirit. It is on a plaque attached to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour.
The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
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