Some on the left are claiming that it is merely a cynical election ploy. Although it's possible that the Government has publicised its policy to win votes, the policy has been in place for some time and is in line with the longstanding right-liberal attitude to migration.
In short, Australian right-liberals believe in high levels of immigration plus assimilation (often phrased now as "integration"). They want migrants to assimilate into the mainstream tradition, and so tend to take a positive view of the existing Anglo culture.
Left-liberals also believe in high levels of immigration but are more likely to support multiculturalism. Left-liberals often take a dim view of the existing Anglo culture as racist and oppressive; they tend therefore to value the immigrant cultures against the mainstream.
Given the right-liberal preference for high immigration plus assimilation, the Government policy is no surprise. There is evidence that African refugees aren't integrating well, so the Government has shifted places to Iraqis and Burmese without reducing overall numbers.
A recent column by Alan Wood is typical of right-liberal thinking on this issue. As you would expect, he argues for assimilation and against multiculturalism. He reminds us that the multiculturalists have denigrated the mainstream population:
In the Labor years it was the role of cosmopolitan elites to keep ordinary, red-necked Australians and their inherent racism on the straight and narrow. It was an era of stifling political correctness, where critics were howled down with cries of racist by the cosmopolitan internationalist elites of the progressive Left.
He quotes historian John Hirst, who wrote of mainstream Australian society in these years that:
Its right to primacy was denied; indeed, it became the most suspect of all ethnic groups given its atrocious past.
Wood complains that this multiculturalist disparagement of the mainstream led to a loss of public support for high immigration.
Wood then turns to research on immigration by Professor Putnam which shows:
that over several decades immigration and ethnic diversity lead to mistrust, challenge social solidarity, break down community and are poison to social capital.
Wood takes this as evidence not that immigration should be limited, but as:
a powerful argument against multicultural practices that encourage ethnic separatism and discourage assimilation
So debate on immigration in Australia is restricted to the leftist preference for high immigration plus multiculturalism and the right-wing alternative of high immigration plus assimilation.
I doubt if either side is prepared for the real consequences of high immigration. In Britain the left has been unable to sustain the multicultural ideal after a series of race riots and terror attacks. The Labor Party leadership, and the official race relation organisations, have had to advocate compulsory forms of assimilation.
Similarly, the right is likely to find that once immigrant numbers reach a certain level assimilation won't happen on the terms they expect. A looming example of this is the possibility of Prime Minister Howard losing his own seat in the forthcoming election, despite giving so much to the East Asian immigrants in his electorate.