In an article for the Sydney Morning Herald Hamilton has written that:
1) There are plans to house an extra 1.1 million people in Sydney which will increase congestion and reduce the quality of life.
2) Australia is a dry continent, with settlement concentrated in a narrow green strip along the coast.
3) There is no economic benefit to high immigration. Although high immigration increases gross domestic product the additional income is spread amongst a greater number of people.
4) John Howard is running immigration at record levels (130,000) and plans to increase numbers even further.
Hamilton proposes a zero net migration policy in which the number of people entering Australia roughly matches the number leaving (about 40,000 a year).
He wants this reduced immigration intake to be made up of asylum seekers rather than business migrants. As he puts it:
The immigration program is a response to pressure from big business ... under the business migration visa scheme, the wealthy can effectively buy Australian citizenship ...
Immigration should be aimed at improving the moral capital of the nation rather than our financial stocks. Instead of fast tracking money-obsessed, self-interested business migrants, or overseas students who slip in the back door through visa scams run by dodgy universities, we should welcome more people who have suffered from oppression and have learned the value of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Why would Hamilton put things like this? Hamilton as a left-liberal doesn't share the right-liberal belief that society is best regulated by a profit-driven, self-interested free market ethos. Hamilton doesn't believe that economic interests should be paramount in shaping a society and he has written at length against the idea that material progress alone creates wellbeing.
So Hamilton is being true to his left-liberalism in believing that migration policy should be determined more by moral considerations, or quality of life concerns, rather than demands by the business lobby for a free movement of labour.
Which leads me to a criticism of Hamilton's argument. According to Hamilton, asylum seekers are to be preferred as migrants because they have learned the value of "human rights, democracy and the rule of law".
I doubt if this is the case. A lot of recent refugees are Sudanese or Somalians. According to a report in the Melbourne Age, the Sudanese have trouble even accepting the reality of Australian authority figures, let alone respecting the rule of law. According to Clifton Maberly, an anthropologist in Toowoomba:
They have trouble seeing Australians as real ... Everyone becomes like an actor to them, or a two-dimensional cartoon figure. So when a white woman teacher stands before a class telling them what they should so, or a policeman pulls them over for driving without a licence, it's difficult for them to take such things seriously.
Just this week there was a warning by police in Melbourne about young African men forming gangs and turning to violence and crime:
A growing gangster mentality among young African men is worrying community leaders ... Young African leader Ahmed Dini said some Somali, Sudanese and Eritrean men ... felt disconnected from mainstream society and were either forming or joining ethnic groups for protection and also for a sense of belonging ... some had trained with heavy-duty military weapons while they were serving in militias overseas. Violence is not something new for these young people," he said ... Mr Dini warned that gang and crime-related problems within the African communities would eventually lead to "race riots" similar to those in France if governments continued to ignore the problem.
So being an asylum seeker doesn't mean having a special respect for the rule of law. Furthermore, it's not clear that asylum seekers aren't pursuing their economic interests, just as business migrants are. For instance, Michael at NZ Conservative has reported that half of Christchurch's Somalian refugees have already moved on to Australia. This can't be to find refuge, but is presumably motivated by the higher average incomes here.
Similarly, I'm informed that the next wave of refugees is likely to be Tamils from Sri Lanka. It's true, of course, that there has been conflict in Sri Lanka between Tamils and the majority Sinhalese. If, though, some Tamils are seeking refuge because of this, why not go the very short distance to Tamil Nadu in India? What can explain the long trip to a very foreign country if not an economic motivation?
So I don't agree with Clive Hamilton that asylum seekers are a morally superior option in filling migration places. However, it is significant that someone from inside the political class is proposing to reduce the level of immigration. This is a welcome development and I hope that Hamilton has some influence in winning over a section of the left to his position.