The political economy of immigration to Australia

by Jordan Humphreys • Published 20 January 2019

On 7 August 2018 the Australian population reached 25 million. This milestone was 33 years ahead of schedule. The percentage of the population born overseas is now 28.2 (or 6.7 million persons), the largest of any advanced economy.[1] Sixty two percent of growth in the last ten years has been the result of immigration. Immigration has played an essential role in the development of Australian capitalism. From the initial invasion and establishment of a white colonial settler state, to the industrial expansion and mass migration of the post-war years, the movement of both labour and capital to Australia has been vital to its economic development.

However anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-immigration government policy has been a consistent theme throughout Australian history: from the racist attacks on Chinese gold diggers in colonial Victoria and the White Australia policy of the past, to the Cronulla riot and hysteria about the impact of immigration on congestion in cities today. Australia might well be an “immigration nation” but it is also a racist one. Migration and exclusion, multiculturalism and concerns about overpopulation, media beatups about Sudanese gangs and the celebration of diversity sit in an uneasy tension.

With a new wave of calls to cut immigration by right wing populists both in and outside the Liberal party, and significant support for such an agenda amongst sections of the population, this article seeks to place the question of immigration within the broader context of the development of Australian capitalism. In particular it examines the question of immigration from the point of view of the capitalist class itself and the political parties which seek to oversee the Australian state. It then looks at the role that anti-immigration politics plays within the capitalist system. A second article, to be published in a subsequent issue of this journal, will look at the implications of this analysis for debates about immigration from the perspective of the trade unions and left wing parties in Australia and internationally.

Australia’s immigration revolution

Over the last several decades there have been enormous changes to Australia’s immigration program. While post-war immigration focused primarily on supplying labour for the industrial and manufacturing centres of Australian capital, recent migration has become more diversified, with greater numbers of white collar workers and middle class professionals. This has been reinforced by increased numbers of small and large business-owning migrants bringing with them significant capital and assets.

A shift towards more temporary migrants is also an important feature, in particular the significant increase in international student numbers. At the same time, however, migrants have continued to be drawn into permanent working class jobs, in both hyper-exploitative and more typical conditions. There has also been a diversification in the ethnic composition of immigration that continues the shift away from Anglo immigration in the post-war period.

Since the 1990s Australia has undergone what some have called an “immigration revolution”.[2] At the heart of this shift has been a significant expansion in migration levels over an extended period of time. Net migration went from 30,042 in 1992-93[3] to 178,582 in 2015-16.[4] Driving this has been the significant increase in accepted migration program visas which shot up from 80,610 in 2000-01 to a high of 190,000 in 2013-14. While this does not reach the per capita level of migration during the immediate post-war years (in which net migration was over 2 percent compared to 0.9 percent in 2006[5]), in absolute numbers it is unprecedented, particularly as compared to the drop in migration in the wake of the 1981 and 1990 recessions (see Chart 1). However, the significance of the shift in migration over recent years is not confined to its size. Important changes have taken place in ethnic composition, permanency, type of employment and the class position of migrants.

Chart 1: Australian population growth since 1980 (natural increase vs migration)[6]

Ethnic composition

While persons born in the United Kingdom continue to be the largest group of overseas-born Australian residents, since the 1950s there has been a significant shift away from UK and Irish immigration. In the 1960s, 45.3 percent of the immigration intake was from the UK and Ireland; by the 1990s it had fallen to 12.5 percent.[7] At first the shift was towards immigration from continental Europe, in particular Italy, Greece and Germany. However by the turn of the century seven Asian countries and one African country had entered into the top ten source countries, and this has increased further in the twenty-first century. In 2016-17 the top two countries of origin for immigrants[8] were India (38,854 or 21.2 percent) and China (28,293 or 15.4 percent), followed well behind by the UK (17,038 or 9.3 percent).[9] This has had a dramatic impact on the ethnic composition of the population both in size and diversity. In 1947 9.8 percent of the population was born overseas; this increased to just over 20 percent in 1971[10] and reached 28.2 percent (or 6.7 million persons) in 2015. The non-white proportion of the population has also increased, with greater numbers of immigrants coming from India, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, South Africa and Malaysia.

Of course, these changes have not been felt evenly across society. Most notably, the cities have become far more diverse than the country at large.[11] Between 1996 and 2006 the number of local government areas with diverse ethno-linguistically mixed populations increased in Sydney from 39 percent to 52 percent and in Melbourne from 42 percent to 45 percent. However, there is also growing migration to rural areas, driven by labour shortages in agriculture and related industries. This is particularly the case in the NSW agricultural centres of Wingecarribee and Griffith, in tourism hubs such as the Sunshine Coast, Cairns and Surfers Paradise in Queensland, and mining towns like Port Hedland in Western Australia.

Shift from permanent residents to long-term arrivals

Another significant shift has been the ratio between permanent residents and migrants on long term temporary visas.[12] Post-war migration had an overwhelming emphasis on permanent migration with a path to citizenship. Almost all of the 170,000 Europeans who came to Australia in the immediate aftermath of World War II were granted permanent residence within a few years. Even as late as 1983-1992, permanent arrivals still averaged 88 percent of net migration. However by 2002-07 that had significantly shifted, with only 41 percent permanent and the other 59 percent on long term visas. This has continued to increase in recent years. In 2011 there were 1,646,400 temporary visa holders and by 2018 this had increased to over 2,000,000.[13]

Leaving aside New Zealand citizens, the bulk of the increase has been in two categories: long term temporary visas for employees and international student visas. The long-term but temporary visas for skilled employees were previously called the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457), commonly referred to as the 457 visa. The number of 457 visas issued has increased from 25,786 in 1996 to over 120,000 per year at the height of the mining boom, and has now settled in at around 90,000 (see Chart 2).

Chart 2: Visa granted: Permanent, Student and 457 visas[14]

International students have been the other sizable part in the increase in temporary visas. In March 2018 there were 335,031 international student visa holders in Australia. This program has also undergone a significant transformation that goes beyond a simple increase in numbers. The immediate post-war program for international students from Asian countries was organised under the Colombo Plan introduced in 1951. This program provided scholarships for Asian students to come to Australia; around 20,000 were accepted between 1951 and 1980. However its goals were very different from the current international student program.[15] It was designed to train and influence the formation of the political and economic elite of a rising Asia, and to provide Australia with a bridge for economic penetration and political influence in the region. This was part of a broader shift in Australian capitalism towards an engagement with Asia in order to capitalise on economic development and project Australian economic interests in the region. Asian students were not encouraged to remain here after they had finished their studies. Even after 1966, when it became possible for Asian students to settle in Australia, onshore applications were precluded in line with the government’s intention that they return to help better link Australian capitalism to the region.

The current international student program is geared towards a very different objective: facilitating the permanent settlement of the best students in areas of high labour demand. In 2006-07 almost 23,000 former students (close to 10 percent of those studying in Australia) were granted permanent residence. This process of educating and then siphoning off the best students into the advanced economies has been criticised in the developing world as an example of “brain drain”. The fact that a significant number of students can gain permanent residence has a series of benefits for Australian capitalism that will be examined in the next section. For now we can just note that it has also been one of the factors in making Australia a more desirable place for international students to study.

Shift in type of employment

Alongside the shift between permanent residents and those on long term visas, there has been a substantial change in the types of employment migrants engage in. Post-war migration was overwhelmingly geared towards the needs of manufacturing. While it was never the case that migrants occupied only the lowest paid and least skilled jobs, it was true that they made up a disproportionate section of the blue collar workforce, both skilled and unskilled. In 1981, while migrants comprised 20 percent of the population, they made up 27 percent of the labour force and 35 percent of the broad occupational category “Craftsmen, Operatives and Labourers”. They were 38 percent of all those engaged in manufacturing and 30 percent of all those in construction.[16]

Over the last decade, facilitated by the influx of migrants from the international student program, there has been a significant diversification in the types of employment pursued by migrants. While skilled blue collar workers still make up an important part of the immigration intake, it has declined as other sections of Australian capitalism have drawn in migrant labour. By 2016-17 the top three major occupation groups for primary visa grants in the Skill stream category were “Professionals” (63.9 percent), “Technicians and Trades Workers” (17.1 percent) and “Managers” (10.4 percent).

This doesn’t mean that low-paid and super-exploited sections of migrant workers have disappeared or even decreased. The well-publicised underpayment of international students by 7-Eleven stores and of temporary migrants by labour hire firms in the horticultural sector reveal how migrants are still an important source of low-paid labour for certain sections of capital. However it is the case that the immigration program has become more diverse which, as we will explore in the next section, fits with the changing needs of Australian capitalism.

Class composition of immigration

Related to the shifts in occupations of migrants are changes in the class background of migrants. This has undergone significant changes throughout Australian history. Prior to the post-war migration program the majority of non-English-speaking migrants were not working class.[17] Just before the post-war migration wave started all migrant groups had a significantly greater proportion of employers within them than the Australian-born population. While only 7 percent of Australian-born were employers, over one third of all Greeks and Poles, 13.3 percent of Germans, 14.6 percent of Italians and 17.5 percent of other Europeans were. This was also reflected in self-employment. More than one third of people born in Italy and Greece, and over one fifth of those born in Germany, Greece, Malta, Poland and elsewhere in Europe, were self-employed compared to just 12.3 percent of Australian-born. While middle class and capitalist class migrants did continue to come to Australia during the post-war period, the massive shift towards working class migration led to a steep decline in their overall representation. As Jock Collins explains:

The mass of post-war NES (non-English speaking) migrants moved into blue-collar working class jobs, so that by 1981 the proportion of all overseas born groups in the workforce that were classified as employers had declined to 5.7 percent. Some migrant groups, which in 1947 had a much higher relative presence as employers than the Australian-born, had by 1981 a much smaller presence. For example, this was the case of Yugoslavs, Maltese and New Zealanders… Over three decades the migrant ruling class had declined as a proportion of the growing migrant communities.[18]

This has shifted yet again in recent decades, primarily as a result of government efforts to court overseas capitalists and encourage them to move to Australia. In 1976 the Fraser government introduced the Business Migration Program and by the end of February 1981, 91 applicants with 184 dependents had been admitted, bringing with them $40 million in capital. This program was then expanded under the Hawke government, which relaxed the conditions of entry, leading to 1,453 visas worth $150 million in capital being granted, half of which were given to people from Asia.

In recent years the intake of wealthy migrants has significantly increased. Visa applications in the Business Innovation and Investment Program, which includes investors with more than $1 million in business assets, jumped by 74 percent in 2016-17, up from 5,781 to 9,051.[19] There has also been an increase in immigration from the middle class; the Business Skills sub-category grants visas to persons who will open up a business and transfer $500,000 in assets to Australia within two years. Other visas are geared towards bringing in skilled managers, executives, high level public servants, and medical, legal and marketing professionals to Australia.

Class differentiation within migrant communities

The effect of a higher number of middle class and capitalist class migrants has been to further entrench class divisions within migrant communities. While there are class divisions within all migrant communities, the extent and nature of this class divide varies due to a range of factors.

One way to look at class divisions within migrant communities is to examine their geographical concentration and dispersion.[20] Some migrant groups have developed very clear geographical divides which mirror different levels of income. The Chinese community in Sydney for instance is split between the ten percent of Chinese migrants who live in the middle class suburbs of mid-north-west Sydney – Ryde, Willoughby, Hornsby, Ku-ring-gai and Baulkham Hills – and the bulk of Chinese-born Australians who live in the inner south-west of Sydney around the poorer areas of Canterbury, Hurstville, Kogarah and Rockdale. Another important geographical location for the Chinese community is Haymarket (Chinatown) in the CBD. This area has undergone a significant transformation from an ethnic ghetto, to a tourism hub, to the centre of interchange between Australian and Chinese capital. One study has found there are

over 160 professional and property service companies aggregated in the core Chinatown precinct, an increase of 22 percent between 2007 and 2012. These services include property conveyancing, migration and education advice, accounting and financial planning. Moreover, nine major banks, including international banks such as the Bank of China and HSBC, have opened branches in Chinatown.[21]

There are similar divisions in the South Korean community between those who live in the inner and outer west of Sydney and those who live in middle class areas such as Ryde, and within the Sri Lankan community between those who live in similar middle class north Sydney suburbs and those who reside in Strathfield, Auburn, Holroyd and Parramatta.

Other migrant communities have less of a geographical differentiation but contain important class distinctions. Indian migrants are concentrated in less affluent suburbs; however there is an important small and large business-owner layer in the community. This layer is represented in organisations such as the Australia India Business Council (AIBC), which promotes both trade between the two countries and Indian investment in businesses owned by Indian-born Australians. Its recent Indian Economic Strategy has received considerable support from the Liberal government, Australian capital and the Indian Modi government. In the lead-up to the 2018 Victoria state election Liberal leader Matthew Guy pledged $5 million to set up an Indian business district in Cranbourne.[22]

The Lebanese community is even more heavily concentrated in a small number of relatively poor areas, with 55 percent of all Lebanese-born Australians living in the Sydney suburbs of Rockdale, Canterbury, Bankstown, Auburn, Parramatta, Holyrood, Fairfield and Liverpool. However here too there is a significant layer of Lebanese small business owners. A 2006 study of Arab entrepreneurs in Australia found growing numbers of successful small and even large Arab business owners in Sydney’s clothing, manufacturing, finance and construction industries. Despite this the study points out thatit is important to stress that Arab life in Sydney and Melbourne is more likely to be that of unemployed, the welfare recipient or the manual worker than it is to be the successful entrepreneur. Lebanese unemployment rates have been between three to five times that of the national average for decades now”. It also draws attention to the fact that small business in particular “becomes such an attractive alternative to Arab and other NESB immigrants…precisely because their mobility within the proletariat is blocked because of direct or indirect racial discrimination in the…labour market”. [23]

The increase in middle class and capitalist migrants as a proportion of total migrants therefore does not mean that migrants as a whole have become some privileged group compared to Australian-born workers. Quite the contrary, many migrants suffer from high levels of unemployment, extremely exploitative working conditions, racist discrimination, state harassment and political vilification. This will remain the case for the foreseeable future, even as high profile scandals involving wealthy foreign investors continue to attract headlines.

Hidden in Plain Sight, an inquiry by a Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee, found widespread cases of migrant labour exploitation, in particular among international students in 7-Eleven stores, backpackers in the agricultural sector and migrant workers on the harvest trail. It drew attention to the case of Moceica Turaga, who was trafficked to Australia from Fiji in 1988 and noted that “while the story was from a number of years ago, it is ‘similar to what others are still experiencing today’”.[24] This finding is reinforced by the National Temporary Migrant Work Survey conducted by the University of NSW and University of Technology Sydney. The survey found that of the 4,322 temporary migrants interviewed, one in three international students and backpackers are paid about half the legal minimum wage.[25] The construction industry is another area notorious for the exploitation of migrant labourers, with one report finding evidence of “workers being paid less than the minimum wage or not at all; not receiving their due entitlements; being forced to live in substandard conditions with limited autonomy; being expected to work long hours with little option for leave; and/or being exposed to threats of, or actual, physical abuse”.[26]

While such conditions are most prevalent amongst temporary migrants, the situation for permanent settlers and even those who gain citizenship is still worse than those born here. A 2010 survey found that migrants who had obtained citizenship were more likely to be employed (73 percent) than other recent migrants (64 percent) or temporary residents (63 percent), unemployment for them still stood at 7 percent compared to 5 percent for Australian born workers. Further, the unemployment rate for migrants born in mainly English-speaking countries was lower than for migrants born in other countries (5 percent compared with 8 percent).[27] Mass migration, and even significant levels of middle class and capitalist class migration, can coexist alongside an easily exploitable underpaid workforce and a significant layer of oppressed and marginalised migrants. As we will see in the next section, this complex intertwining of race, class and the interests of capital is essential to the migration system.

Immigration then has undergone significant changes over the last several decades. But why have these shifts taken place? In order to explore this question we have to place these developments in the broader context of migration and capitalism in the twenty-first century and look at Australia’s place within those international developments.

Australian immigration and 21st century capitalism

While the size and some features of Australia’s immigration program are unique, it follows the general trends for most of the advanced economies over the last several decades. The primary driving force for accelerated migration to the advanced economies has been the need to sustain growth in the labour force:

[I]n the last three decades of the twentieth century, Western economies became geared to growth in employment. In rough terms up to half of the economic growth in Western countries in these years was associated with the increases in the size of the labour force… In the late 1990s however momentum for growth of employment began to slow down in most Western countries as the Baby Boomer generation was replaced by the succeeding smaller generations born from 1970 onwards.[28]

For a while, falling birth rates could be offset by increased participation of women in the workforce. In Australia women went from making up 36 percent of the total paid workforce in 1978 to 46 percent today.[29] However this eventually ran up against its limitations. In order to increase the participation of women in the workforce, improved access to contraception was necessary, which furthered the decline in birth rates. The only way to avoid this would be to significantly expand the social support for pregnant mothers and early child care, unlikely in the neoliberal age. This is true even for John Howard’s baby bonus scheme, which purported to help families to have and support more children. Given that a one-off payment of $3,000 could hardly cover the exorbitant cost of raising a child to adulthood, the policy was primarily ideological: an attempt to combine and popularise jingoism and family values.

Growth in the labour force had to come from somewhere. However at the same time as demand for labour grew there was a serious increase in the reserve army of labour with the end of the era of relative “full employment”. This contradictory phenomenon was bound up in the development of Western capitalism. Increases in productivity and technology had allowed the capitalists to shed employment in some sectors, and the recessions of the 1970s, 80s and 90s produced a larger layer of unemployed persons. However new sectors emerged or expanded demanding labour. While sections of the unemployed could be redrawn into these industries, this reached its limits as unemployment dropped and those who remained out of work were disproportionately older or not suitable for retraining. In this context it is far better to bring in young and skilled immigrants whose training costs have been borne by their country of origin. It also brought a number of secondary benefits for the capitalists. This general picture then has to be fleshed out by looking at the particulars of the Australian economy and the changing needs of Australian capitalism over the last several decades.

Diversification of immigration

One of the key changes is that migration to Australia is no longer primarily shaped by the needs of manufacturing capital. The post-war immigration program had been largely shaped by the interests of massive industrial capitalists such as the steel giant BHP, Holden and Ford. As Lever-Tracy and Quinlan explain:

It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of immigrant labour to the postwar development of Australian steel. The profound reliance upon foreign-born workers was neither accidental nor simply a concomitant of the government’s immigration program. Rather BHP grasped the opportunity with alacrity and consciously used immigration to fulfil its employment, industrial and production objectives.[30]

BHP used its representation on the Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council (CIPC) to directly influence government policy in its favour:

Within BHP, the managers of individual subsidiaries or workplaces communicated their needs to central management which collated this information. Details on overall requirements, the desired component of skilled and unskilled workers, shortages at particular establishments and progressive needs in the future were then forwarded to the CIPC or to the relevant government bodies direct. Company representatives also visited immigration reception centres such as Bonegilla to recruit workers.[31]

As they point out, “it is no exaggeration to state that the company requests for additional labour were viewed more than favourably”. BHP also used its influence to shape the nature of migration policy, for instance limiting the number of family reunions in order to prioritise single men who were vital for the steelworks of Port Kembla and Newcastle. What underpinned the influence that BHP and the car industry had over government policy was their central role in post-war Australian capitalism.[32]

However the last several decades have seen significant changes in the economy.[33] While that shift is not crudely one from “metal-bashing industries” to the “services economy”, the weight of manufacturing has declined substantially. In the face of high input costs, price volatility and an inability to compete with foreign producers, the Australian steel industry has suffered a substantial decline. The industry’s revenue has fallen by an annual rate of 7.5 percent in the last five years and Australia’s share of world steel production fell from 0.8 percent in 2000 to 0.3 percent in 2014.[34] This led to dramatic job cuts at the Port Kembla, Western Port and Newcastle steelworks. The car industry fared even worse:

Total production of passenger vehicles nearly halved from 407,000 in 2003 to 221,000 in 2012, with the iconic Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore faring particularly badly… Employment by the vehicle producers halved between 2003 and 2012 as the industry’s fortunes switched from racking up an average annual profit of $300-400 million in the late 1990s and early 2000s to recurrent annual losses of $200-700 million in 2005-12.[35]

The result was a steep decline in the percentage of migrants working in manufacturing, from 22 percent in 1986 to 13.5 percent in 2011.[36] In their place came a substantial growth in other important sections of Australian capital, which reshaped the migration needs of the economy. The expansion of the financial and insurance sector is an important example; its share of total industry value added doubled from 5 percent in 1975 to 10 percent in 2012. Although only accounting for 3.5 percent of the overall workforce, 8.3 percent of recently arrived permanent migrants work in insurance and financial services.[37]

Other important sectors of the economy on the rise since 1974 have been health care and social assistance, professional, scientific and technical services, and information media and telecommunications. All of these are reflected in the changes in migration. Of 457 visas granted in 2017, 15.6 percent were for “Health Care and Social Assistance” and 14.7 percent in “Professional, Scientific and Technical”.[38] Still, the relative decline in manufacturing has not abolished the need for blue collar migrant labour. The Master Builders Association has consistently argued for high migration levels to sustain the construction industry. In a submission to the Productivity Commission they argued:

Australia’s labour force will stagnate within 25 years. In addition, so-called “baby boomers” are starting to retire and this will exacerbate skill shortages. These phenomena will have a significant impact on the building and construction industry where it is estimated that 80,000 skilled tradespersons will exit the workforce over the next five years due to ageing.

There are currently an insufficient number of new entrants into the industry to make up this shortfall. Skilled migration must be actively considered as part of a range of policy initiatives to ensure the adequate supply of skilled labour…in the medium to long term.[39]

Over the last seven years, between 9 and 13 percent of 457 visas were for temporary workers in the construction industry.[40] Even in blue collar industries which aren’t expanding, migrant labour can fill holes that open up in the labour market. One example is the NSW smash repair industry. A combination of cuts to TAFE funding for apprenticeships and school leavers’ lack of interest in the industry has created a significant labour problem which the industry has tried to fill with 457 visa workers: “Department of Immigration statistics reveal that over the past four years 1,678 workers have entered the collision repair industry… If they have all stayed here…then on average there is a 457 visa worker in every second shop”.[41]

Mining emerged as another important employer of migrants during the mining boom. Although it didn’t employ huge numbers due to the highly mechanised nature of modern mining, the number of 457 visas granted for the mining industry rose from just under 3,000 in 2005-6 to almost 5,000 in 2007-8, before dropping in the wake of the GFC and then climbing again to well over 6,000 in 2011-12. However since the drop in commodity prices and the decline in new mining projects this number has decreased substantially to just over 1,000 in 2014-15.[42]

While the migration system is sensitive to the changing needs of Australian capitalism, things are not always so smooth. In 2017 the Australian Industry Group and Universities Australia raised concerns about changes to the visas for chief executives, ICT professionals, university vice-chancellors and senior academics from a long to a medium term visa. The pressure from these significant sections of capital forced then Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to restore them to long term visas.[43] In contrast the NSW smash repair industry was unable to get spray painters restored, resulting in the termination of visas and reinforcing labour shortages in the industry.[44] Another example of the pressures placed on the government is the different geographical sections of Australian capital. South Australia consistently argues that it is being unfairly denied access to sufficient numbers of overseas migrants needed to fill labour shortages caused by interstate migration.[45]

Ancillary benefits

The endemic shortage of labour in advanced capitalist economies such as Australia has been exacerbated by the ageing of the population. Increased immigration has helped to ease this crisis. As Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe argues:

The median age of Australians is currently 37. Back in 2002, Australia was expected to age quite quickly, with the median age projected to increase significantly to over 45 by 2040. But after a decade of increased immigration of younger people, the latest estimate is that the median age in 2040 will be around only 40 years. This is a big change in a relatively short period of time, and reminds us that demographic trends are not set in stone.[46]

This is a significant achievement for Australian capitalism: ageing populations are associated with falling productivity as well as huge increases in health and welfare spending.[47]

In addition to their youth, international students bring other benefits for the capitalist class. For the universities themselves they are an enormous source of revenue. Higher education is now Australia’s third largest export, worth $28 billion in 2016-17,[48] and in March 2017, Macquarie Research estimated that education exports accounted for 10 percent of GDP growth in 2017.[49] These benefits are not confined to the universities: the services, transport and housing industries all benefit from money spent by international students. Deloitte Access Economics estimated that direct value to GDP from international student living expenses alone in 2014-2015 was more than $5.2 billion. Included in this was $1.8 billion in “ownership of dwellings”, $1.3 billion in retail trade, $331 million in food and $242 million in rail transport.[50]

It is often believed that another benefit of migration for capitalism is downward pressure on workers’ wages. This position is put forward not simply by right wing populists, but also anti-immigration social democrats and even some genuine anti-racists who blame capitalism for setting foreign and Australian-born workers against each other. Usually it is argued that migration negatively impacts wages either because migrants are willing to accept lower wages, creating a hyper-exploited section of the labour force that Australian workers can’t compete with, or because migrant workers fill gaps in the labour market which offsets the tendency for wages to rise as demand for labour increases.

This argument, particularly as it is put forward within the trade union movement, will be examined in a future issue of this journal. However in Australia there is little evidence that migration has undermined wage growth. The stagnation in wages, and the growing inequality between capitalists and workers, is rather the result of broader issues such as the overall state of the economy, the implementation of neoliberal policies and the collapse of trade union struggle.

Dissenting economic opinion

While most sections of Australian capital accept the positive impact that migration has on economic development, there are contrary voices in the ruling class. Auch dissent is not confined to the Pauline Hansons of the world. Former foreign affairs minister Bob Carr, businessman Dick Smith and economist and former Productivity Commissioner Judith Sloan have all called for substantial migration cuts. Many of the arguments they make take up the broader social impact of migration, issues which I will explore in the next section, but they also argue against the economic impact of migration for Australian capitalism.

Judith Sloan argues that while migration increases the raw GDP, it does little to or even negatively affects per capita GDP.[51] This is because the ratio of capital to labour goes down, leading to a dilution of capital. This is reinforced by the uneven impact of migration which she argues primarily benefits the migrants themselves and the business directly employing them, as well as workers who have complementary skills with migrant workers. Other sections of the economy have to deal with the costs of migration, for instance infrastructure and transport, without the same benefits.

The broader thrust of Sloan’s argument is that Australian business has coasted on the benefits of migration, which have given it a false sense of success. This in turn means business is less willing than it should be to do what is necessary to increase productivity, for which Sloan gives the usual neoliberal solutions of tax cuts to big business, industrial relations reforms, deregulation and privatisation. In particular she argues that in a period of recession the weaknesses of productivity will come to the fore, wiping out the gains from migration. Her critics point out that labour productivity has stagnated or slowed down in most advanced capitalist countries, whether or not they have increased or decreased migration. They also make the argument that while migration may have to be adjusted in periods of greater economic instability, cuts to migration during a recession could simply reinforce the recession, raising the 1930s Depression as an example.

It’s not only figures associated with the right that make these arguments. Sydney Morning Herald economics editor Ross Gittins describes migration as a “cheap and nasty way to grow the economy” that “comes at the expense of productivity-enhancing (capital-deepening) business investment and public infrastructure”. To back this up he draws on the works of Bob Birrell, an academic who provided much of the economic backing to anti-immigrant arguments in the 1980s and 90s.[52] Some politicians have begun to take up these themes, particularly in NSW, where the leaders of both major parties have declared their desire to cut migration in the lead-up to the 2019 state election.[53]

Whatever the debate within the establishment, migration has brought enormous economic benefits for Australian capitalism, which explains why it has been consistently high for so long. As Lever-Tracy and Quinlan point out, “[i]t would seem foolish to suggest that employers who vigorously pursued immigration were doing so contrary to their own interests”.[54] Further, there is no evidence to suggest that immigration is counterposed to investment. Indeed, the proposition that bosses and politicians would have invested more given lower overall rates of economic and population growth is ludicrous.

If there is no economic argument against migration, how do we understand the current prominence of calls for it to be cut, and why the Liberals have made moves in that direction? The answer lies in the world of politics.

The politics of immigration and anti-immigration

Despite the name, capitalism is a system administered by governments and political parties, not by bosses. So migration policies are not just a technical economic question but a political one, which today centre on the key issues of race and national security. This is because capitalism is not just a narrowly economic system but a social and political one. Its existence depends not simply on the accumulation of capital but also on a range of broader mechanisms and structures for social control and legitimacy. And while migration plays an important role in economic development, the bases for racist and anti-immigrant ideas are constantly reproduced under the capitalist system.

This happens on multiple levels, some conscious, others organically produced by the system itself. On a global scale capitalism is caught between what the Bolshevik theorist Nikolai Bukharin called the “internationalisation” and “nationalisation” of capital, that is the interpenetration of economic development across nations as well as its concentration within particular nation states.[55] The competition between nation states, and the nationalism and racism which springs from it, necessarily entails suspicion and prejudice towards “outsiders”.

On a more conscious level, the need to cohere the population behind the ruling class and paper over class divisions drives the development of nationalist ideology. Because racism and nationalism are socially constructed they need to be constantly reinforced, less they be dissipated by the common experience of workers from all backgrounds. Intervention is also necessary because the targets of racism change over time to suit the evolving interests of the capitalist class. Nations which were once threats become trading partners, the demand for migrant labour waxes and wanes, the political expediency of suppressing certain sections of the population wears out and new internal enemies are needed. This is particularly the case when the capitalist class is finding it difficult to legitimise its rule. After all, it is hard to convince the population to accept some agenda of the capitalist class simply because of the profits it might help generate. An argument must be made as to why it is in the “national interest”, and that argument has to connect with contemporary realities in some way.

While the ruling class actively encourages bigoted ideas, racism and nationalism also take on a life of their own once they have struck root. Take the example of anti-refugee racism, which has played a useful role for the ruling class in reinforcing racism against a section of the population that is socially and economically marginal. These anti-refugee views can spill over into opposition to legal migration: garden variety racists can be more interested in opposing Islam than in making the subtle distinction between desperate people who arrive by boat and skilled immigrants brought over to work for ANZ. Many a politician has seized on racist scaremongering to cohering electoral support and offering a critique of the “system” that does not challenge it in any way.

From White Australia to multiculturalism[56]

When the White Australia policy was brought forward as one of the founding political documents of the newly federated Australian parliament, it was endorsed across the political spectrum. Similarly when that system had to be modified to allow in greater numbers of non-English migrants and then abolished entirely, both the Liberals and Labor moved towards those conclusions at roughly the same time. After the removal of the last aspects of White Australia under the Whitlam government the two major parties then fought to take credit.[57]

Then, despite resistance in both parties, multiculturalism was developed as a bipartisan policy following rebellions by migrants and Aboriginal groups in the 1970s. This new approach, developed initially by a layer of Labor-oriented Melbourne intellectuals and public servants, argued that space should be given for a celebration of the diversity of migrant groups rather than their total assimilation into Australian culture.[58] This was to be rooted in a network of government-patronised ethnic community leaders and organisations, which would act as a moderating influence within migrant communities.

This process began under the Whitlam government, despite significant resistance from Immigration officials, with the official ending of the White Australia policy in 1973 and was most vigorously pursued by immigration minister Al Grassby. Grassby argued against the “assimilationist” model of the past, declaring in 1973 that “the increasing diversity of Australian society has gradually eroded and finally rendered untenable any prospects there might have been twenty years ago of fully assimilating newcomers to the ‘Australian way of life’, to use a phrase common at the time”. Yet the Whitlam government was stronger on the rhetoric of multiculturalism than its practical application, substantially cutting migration from 156,000 in 1971 to 54,000 in 1975, partly in reaction to the OPEC oil crisis and subsequent recession. Most of the central pillars of multicultural policy were in fact introduced under Liberal MP Michael Mackellar through the newly formed Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.

The Galbally Report of 1978 commissioned under the Fraser government provided the basis for migrant services until the backlash of the mid-1980s. Fraser also set up the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) and the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs. This was built on by the Hawke and then the Keating ALP governments, which attempted to create a relatively more socially inclusive form of neoliberalism. This further entrenched multiculturalism within the ALP, sections of the intelligentsia and government departments, with the support of significant sections of big business.

This shift towards multiculturalism was driven by several factors: the appeal of a growing electorate of migrant minorities, the reality that an alternative to assimilation was necessary, and a factor often overlooked, a response to anti-racist social movements and the increasing involvement of migrants in industrial action. Multiculturalism, of course, is not the same thing as anti-racism. Throughout the Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and then Keating governments migrant communities continued to suffer from racial scapegoating and economic oppression, and refugees faced increasingly restrictive government policies.[59]

Immigration was still primarily shaped by the economic needs of capitalism, though there were debates about what those needs were. As the recession of the mid-1970s ended, the Fraser government began to undo the steep cuts introduced by Whitlam, with migration reaching a high point of 118,000 in 1981. The ethnic composition of this migration continued the trend away from the British migrants of the past, with over 200,000 Asian migrants arriving between 1975 and 1982 – of whom 56,000 were Vietnamese refugees.

Once the economy began to recover from yet another recession in the early 1980s, these migration levels were largely continued under Hawke and Keating, However, public debate over migration policy and in particular Asian migration emerged in 1984, which Labor responded to by slashing settlement programs in the 1986 budget. Overall though both the ALP government and the Liberal opposition embraced the arguments made by business leaders from the “growth lobby” that large scale migration would propel economic development. From the mid-1980s onwards migration was again on the rise, despite an unemployment figure of over 7 percent. Migration was, however, restructured to better serve business interests. The proportion of family reunions was reduced in favour of skilled migrants, with a fivefold increase in the number of skilled and business migrants between 1984-5 and 1988-9.[60]

The Liberals, the middle class and immigration[61]

The turn towards multiculturalism and large scale immigration under Fraser was never universally accepted on the right, with Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland National Party government leading the resistance. Many conservatives harboured doubts about multiculturalism, seeing it as an unnecessary capitulation to what today would be referred to as “cultural marxists”. The level of potential opposition to migration would only become clear with the emergence of John Howard as Liberal leader. Understanding that economic liberalism was not enough to cohere a stable electoral base, Howard sought to deploy a more overt and bolder racism, or as one journalist aptly put it, give “free market economics [its] moral dimension”.[62] Building on the political interventions of Geoffrey Blainey against Asian migration, and Hugh Morgan against Aboriginal rights, Howard decried the rise of “political correctness”, the “black armband” version of history and the failures of multiculturalism.

This strategy was contentious within both the Liberal party and the capitalist class. Even those who agreed with Howard’s criticisms of “political correctness” baulked at his calls to cut migration. Similarly, his anti-Asian rhetoric clashed with the reality of Asia as a vital trading partner. Key Liberal parliamentary, extra-parliamentary and business leaders engineered Andrew Peacock’s successful leadership challenge in May 1989. Yet when John Hewson lost the “unloseable” 1993 election on a traditionally neoliberal platform, Howard made his return.

The victory of Howard’s racist agenda in the 1996 election was facilitated by his toning down of the aspects of anti-migrant politics most resisted by the capitalist class, as well as the exhaustion of the ALP’s base after years of neoliberal policies undermining working class living standards. Immediately, however, Howard made clear his intentions. He introduced a savage cut to the migrant intake; made migrants wait two years before qualifying for welfare; expressed his sympathy with Pauline Hanson and took his crusade against “political correctness” to the centre of Australian political life. After the initial – highly visible – cut to migration, Howard increased it every year from 1999 onwards. This fitted with an economy emerging from recession, particularly as it was drastically reoriented towards skilled workers: 69 percent in 2005-06 were admitted on strictly economic (as opposed to family reunion or humanitarian) grounds in 2005-6, compared to 29 percent in 1995-96.

Instead, Howard narrowed his focus to the issue of asylum seekers, building on the Keating government’s anti-refugee policies. The demonisation of refugees and further attacks on their rights allowed him to continue whipping his reactionary social base into a frenzy – without compromising the migration so necessary for the expanding economy. In response to the success of this strategy and the economic expansion, the capitalist class fell in and supported it. The success of Howard’s two decades as prime minister is often explained by his support from “Aussie battlers”. This is an ambiguous term used to refer to both socially conservative working class voters and self-employed contractors or small business owners – social layers which are in fact very different. Undoubtedly though Howard’s success was in mobilising and galvanising the racist middle class and more backward workers, including some who had voted Labor in the past. This was done not primarily through racism but by virtue of the conditions of an unprecedented economic boom, which facilitated large government handouts to broad sections of middle Australia. But the political effect of his rhetoric cannot be downplayed. By popularising a right wing critique of the social gains of the 1970s, Howard not only related to an existing racist base, he built and expanded it, shaping politics for years to come.

However as Tom Bramble and Rick Kuhn point out, “[w]hile economic growth did provide a basis for Coalition support, the situation was rather more complex than conventional wisdom suggests. In particular, it ignored the important role played by Labor’s own strategies in its successive defeats”.[63]

The limits to this project and its relationship to the working class were revealed in the second half of Howard’s prime ministership. From 2004 onwards it became harder for Howard to use scapegoating against refugees and Muslims. Partly this was due to the pressure of the campaign to free the refugees which, combined with the scandals around the locking up of Australian citizen Cornelia Rau in a detention centre, discredited anti-refugee propaganda. Even some Liberals began to speak out against the detention system. When Howard attempted to excise Australia from its own migration zone in 2006, the bill had to be withdrawn in the face of a backbench revolt. The key issue was the government’s attempts at industrial relations reform, which sparked a significant union backlash and brought the issue of neoliberalism and workers’ rights back into the centre of political debate. Howard desperately tried ramping up Islamophobia with new citizenship rules, but failed to get enough traction to change the focus of the election.

Howard was defeated but he had left a dangerous legacy. A whole generation of Liberal MPs and party members had been formed and trained in Howard’s style of politics. The economic expansion under Howard had given him a significant stabilising base that allowed him to pursue what could be initially unpopular or marginal issues and shape the political landscape in his right wing image. The return of more openly racist politics, after its retreat in the aftermath of the 1970s, would lay the basis for other right wing politicians and parties. The space for a more vicious racist and openly anti-migrant politics had emerged.

The ALP and migration[64]

The ALP’s response was to mimic Howard’s policies as closely as possible. Even before their 1996 election loss they had begun to implement policies that Howard would later take up with gusto. In 1992, Labor and the ACTU proposed cuts to migration despite resistance by the Business Council of Australia. Keating introduced a six-month ban on migrants gaining access to social welfare, later expanded on by Howard. On the refugee issue it was the Labor Left immigration minister Gerry Hand who created the legal framework for indefinite detention. The ALP supported the majority of Howard’s anti-refugee policies and worked in lock step with the government on anti-terrorism laws designed to demonise Arabs and Muslims. Like the Liberals they combined this with support for a continued increase in migration based on Australia’s economic needs. There was no resistance to Howard’s “culture wars”.

The typical explanation for Labor’s embrace of racist positions is that it is an organic expression of the natural hostility of its working class base to foreign competition. Marxist historian Phil Griffiths has done much to debunk this mythology in regard to the origins of the White Australia policy. Through a detailed look at the class dynamics of colonial Australia he has demonstrated how White Australia was primarily a ruling class project, one which the emerging ALP supported as a part of its incorporation into the Australian state and its acceptance of capitalist property relations.[65]

The fundamentals of this explanation also apply today. It is Labor’s acceptance of the capitalist system, and therefore the capitalist nation state, that lies at the heart of its embrace of nationalist politics. As pointed out earlier, capitalism is not simply a system of exploiting workers but depends on broader social structures and political ideologies in order to survive. Seeking to manage this system – specially in times of economic difficulty – makes it hard for the ALP to stand against racism. Even when Labor leaders do make the case for migration, they rely on the talking points of pro-migration business leaders, rather than arguments for solidarity and internationalism.

The adaption by the ALP to the racism of the conservative right has an impact upon its working class voters. Outside of concerted resistance to racism from below, the promotion of racism by both major parties entrenches it deeply in society. The ALP thus ends up helping to create a racist electorate – i.e. creates the reality that it then uses to explain the impossibility of taking a principled stand. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way, as Bramble and Kuhn argue in Labor’s Conflict:

Did the ALP have any alternative if it wished to avoid electoral annihilation? Years of racist propaganda about asylum seekers, sponsored by both Labor and the Coalition, had had their effect. Surveys…at the time of the Tampa incident demonstrated that a large majority of the public supported a hard line stance against asylum seekers. Yet, contrary to some despairing liberal commentary…the public was not inherently racist… Had the Party defended the rights of asylum seekers in the late 1990s and 2000s, it is possible that Labor could have swung the public debate. Attempting to neutralise refugees as an election issue by surrendering to the government only shifted political debate…to the right. [66]

There are however tensions within this adaption to racism. Like the Liberals, the ALP is under the influence of the capitalist class itself, particularly in regard to the question of migration. In some ways the ALP can be better positioned to defend migration, as it doesn’t rely on votes from the most reactionary sections of the middle class. The other factor is Labor’s working class base, which is relatively diverse. This was facilitated by Whitlam’s ending of the White Australia policy and then reinforced by Howard’s brazen attacks on Asians in the late 1980s. Liberal party local councillor Tanveer Ahmed captures the feelings of many migrant families at the time:

While growing up I was always taught that the Labor Party, particularly the stalwarts and hall-of-famers such as Hawke and Keating, whose immigration program was centred on family reunion, were the true party of non-white immigrants. It was further entrenched by the fact that we were living in outer metropolitan suburbs. Our neighbours were either factory workers or tradesmen, or other newly arrived immigrants. They all voted for the Labor Party. That’s just what you did, as well as support the local football team.

The message that filtered through my South Asian community was that the Liberal Party was very much the party of the establishment, of white imperialism, racism and the British Empire. There would be rumours during election time that the Liberal Party was eager to bring back the White Australia policy, especially around the time the historian Geoffrey Blainey questioned the levels of Asian immigration in 1984.[67]

However as Ahmed’s account alludes to, migrant support for Labor was deeply intertwined with their class position. In 1994 Nicholas Economou carried out an extensive review of migrant voting patterns, arguing that strong Labor support among migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds mostly reflects their disproportionate location in working class jobs and neighbourhoods. This point has been reaffirmed in a different way by more recent studies. As the proportion of middle class and capitalist class migrants has increased, this has reshaped migrant voting patterns. A 2015 study found that the “‘ethnic vote’ has almost disappeared now that migrants tend to vote in a similar way to the rest of the population according to traditional class cleavages”. [68] While ethnic support for Labor continued to be higher than for the Liberals this is mostly due to the fact that migrants are more likely to live in safe Labor seats. The study also found that out of the 70 federal electorates in which over one third of inhabitants were born overseas, only 35 are held by the ALP, 17 of which are marginally held.

There is one final subject of debate around the ALP and its working class base worth touching on.[69] In the aftermath of Howard’s 1996 victory it become popular to assert that the drop in blue collar support for Labor was due to its embrace of multiculturalism, or what Katherine Betts calls “alien cultural ideas”. This focused on Pauline Hanson’s victory in the traditionally Labor-held electorate of Oxley. This was then taken up by the ALP right to justify an adaption to the Liberal’s racism and general social conservatism. As Andrew Scott pointed out, this mixes up two different issues, the “fact that the ALP lost ‘traditional’ blue collar support more broadly” and the particular situations in the two seats lost to independent racists. “The bulk of Labor’s traditional blue-collar base is made up both of people born in Australia and immigrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds who were alienated not over racial issues but by economic restructuring which dislocated them from jobs and brought great uncertainty into their lives.” In fact, there were large anti-Labor swings in some of the most multicultural and blue collar electorates in 1996. Only a more leftist program and fresh leadership could have avoided these grievances – something Labor sorely lacked.

Returned to government again from 2007, the ALP largely continued where Howard left off. On the one hand they continued the policy of demonising refugees, and on the other they oversaw high levels of immigration. Even Rudd’s embrace of “big Australia” was less significant in hindsight than the media commentators made out at the time. In response to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the Rudd government cut back skilled migrant spots from 133,500 to 108,100.[70] Once fear of the GFC had passed, the intake returned to record levels, as did the shift away from family visas to skilled visas, reaching a record 70 percent of the intake. Much like the Liberals the ALP had to balance support for mass immigration alongside the possibilities of a racist backlash, but this was made easier by the relatively high level of agreement between the major parties on immigration levels.

Socialists and immigration

Almost all discussion of immigration is premised on the assumption that it should be organised according to the needs and interests of capital. So the ALP-aligned Australia Institute argues for migration on the basis that it helps economic expansion, while anti-migrant advocates raise the negative consequences for the economy, particularly in periods of recession. Even many on the left who oppose migration cuts and restrictive policies accept this framework. This is often obfuscated with reference to migration being tailored to the needs of the “national interest”. But whose interests are we talking about? There is no universal “national interest”, rather there are the competing interests of different class forces.

Support for migration controls is always self-defeating for the workers’ movement and the left, both because immigration is not the cause of our problems and because it inevitably involves counterposing the interests of workers from one country to those of workers from another. If the capitalists resist calls to cut immigration then the left ends up positioning itself to the right of the ruling class. If sections of the capitalists or the right support such a call the left and the workers’ movement fall into a class collaborationist campaign that strengthens the hold of bourgeois ideology.

The starting point for the socialist left instead should be that we oppose the control the capitalists have over the economy, and reject the proposition that the movement of people must be subordinated to the interests of capital. We need to make clear that the reason for low wages growth, unemployment, high rents and terrible infrastructure is that the economy is structured to increase profits rather than meet the needs of the whole population. Defending the rights of migrants can’t be left to the Business Council or centrist pundits. The left should oppose cuts to migration and restrictive schemes not just because they are racist but also because they are not in the interests of the working class. And in the long run we need to demand a world in which economic development is democratically controlled by the majority, and therefore one in which the free movement of peoples can become a reality rather than a cruel trap.

In the short term, we are faced with quite a dangerous situation in regard to migration policy. The crisis in the Liberal party, driven by the conflict between its wet and dry wings but rooted in the broader delegitimisation of neoliberal politics, is opening up space for hard right forces inside and outside the party. Scott Morrison has made clear his intention to cut migration in the next budget, and in NSW it has already become a important talking point for both major parties.

The situation is quite different from the Howard years when the tensions between the party’s factions could be stabilised around economic growth and handouts to its middle class base. The political situation is less stable after several decades of continued neoliberalism, a weaker economy, and the rise of far right movements and leaders across Europe and the US, who offer a model to be adapted to Australian conditions. The granting of marriage equality and the “success” of anti-refugee policies in effectively stopping new boat arrivals pushes right wing forces toward taking on the question of migration, which fits with the obsession of the far right internationally. It also has the advantage – unlike coal-loving and homophobia – of being relatively popular. The 2018 Lowy Institute poll recorded for the first time majority support (54 percent) for the statement that the “total number of migrants coming to Australia each year is too high”, and a substantial minority (41 percent) say “if Australia is too open to people from all over the world we risk losing our identity as a nation”. [71]

By no means is a lurch to the right inevitable. For one thing, the question is still a fraught one for the Liberals, as for now the capitalist class support continued high levels of migration. Some deal might be struck whereby the Liberals get to introduce racist restrictions such as harder English language tests or cuts to family visas while maintaining the overall level of migration. Yet given the seemingly inexorable rise of the right within the party, it’s quite possible that the next Liberal leader will lead a Trump-style opposition to Labor. In this situation, the issue could escalate, which is clearly one of the reasons the Business Council doesn’t want the debate to open up at all.

We can be confident that the ALP won’t be leading a principled fight against such a campaign. Perhaps the combination of ruling class opposition to migration cuts and outrage among sections of ALP supporters would force them to oppose large cuts. However their history would suggest otherwise, and in NSW the ALP called for cuts even before the Liberals did. Against this, socialists have to put forward an argument that explains the link between anti-migrant racism and decades of underinvestment in social services and public infrastructure, and the need for a unified movement that challenges both.


Ahmed, Tanveer 2013, “How Conservatives Can Win the Ethnic Vote”, Quadrant Online,

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Burg, Laurie and Bassina Farbenblum 2017, Wave Theft in Australia: Findings of the National Temporary Migrant Work Survey,

Coderre-Proulx, Mylène, Bonnie Campbell and Issiaka Mande 2016, International Migrant Workers in the Mining Sector, International Labour Organisation.

Collins, Jock 1988, Migrant Hands in a Distant Land: Australia’s post-war immigration, Pluto Press.

Collins, J. 2006, “Arab Entrepreneurs in Australia” in Arab-Australians Today: Citizenship and Belonging, Melbourne University Press, pp92-127.

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[1] ABS 2018.

[2] Markus et al 2009.

[3] ABS 2005.

[4] ABS 2017.

[5] Markus et al 2009, p8.

[6] Data drawn from Phillips et al 2018 and ABS 2018.

[7] Markus et al 2009, p5.

[8] Excluding New Zealand citizens as they were not counted as part of the migration program.

[9] Department of Immigration and Border Protection 2017, p4.

[10] Markus et al 2009, p6 and ABS 2018.

[11] The following geographical analysis is from Markus et al 2009, pp72-77.

[12] The following general arguments are drawn from Markus et al 2009, pp54-67.

[13] The statistics on temporary visa holders, 457 visas and international student visas are all from Department of Home Affairs 2018.

[14] Data drawn from Phillips et al 2018 and ABS 2018.

[15] Markus et al 2009, p11.

[16] Lever-Tracey and Quinlan 1988, p1.

[17] The following data is from Collins 1988, pp88-97.

[18] Collins 1988, p88.

[19] Eryk Bagshaw, “Immigration: Millionaire migrants pouring into Australia”, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 July 2018.

[20] The following information is drawn from a study summarised in Markus et al 2009, pp68-87.

[21] Wong et al 2016.

[22] Prachi Panchal 2018, “Guy announces ‘five million funding’ for Cranbourne Indian district”, Indian Sun, 16 August, 2018.

[23] Collins 2006, p101.

[24] Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade 2017.

[25] Burg and Farbenblum 2017.

[26] Hedwards et al 2017, p1.

[27] ABS 2010.

[28] Markus et al 2009, p22.

[29] Fieldes 2013.

[30] Lever-Tracy and Quinlan 1988, p189.

[31] ibid., p190.

[32] For the central role that manufacturing capital came to play in post-war capitalism see Connell and Irving 1980, pp292-297.

[33] Changes in the Australian economy during the neoliberal period are outlined in Bramble 2014.

[34] Arrium 2016, p2.

[35] Bramble 2014.

[36] The following statistics about migrant workers in certain industries are from Department of Home Affairs 2017.

[37] Ian Verrender, “Immigrants advance Australian economy, but what happens if we ‘close the door?’”, ABC News, 24 April 2017.

[38] Department of Immigration and Border Protection 2017.

[39] Master Builders Australia 2005.

[40] Hedwards et al 2017, p1.

[41] McDonnell 2017.

[42] Coderre-Proulx et al 2016, p21.

[43] Anna Patty, “Chief executives returned to four-year temporary visa list”, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 July 2017.

[44] Anna Patty, “Spray painters face deportation but panel beaters get to stay”, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 July 2017.

[45] Anthony Penney, “Business SA: Migrants a must for growth in South Australia”, The Advertiser, 21 November 2017.

[46] Lowe 2018.

[47] Productivity Commission 2005.

[48] Tim Dodd, “Education exports are worth $28 billion a year, nearly 20pc more than we thought”, Australian Financial Review, 8 October 2017.

[49] Robert Bolton, “International students inject big money into transport, building and services”, Australian Financial Review, 1 June 2018.

[50] Deloitte Access Economics 2015.

[51] Withers et al 2018.

[52] Ross Gittins, “Immigration the cheap and nasty way to grow the economy”, Sydney Morning Herald, 18 March 2018. For a critique of Birrell see Lever-Tracey and Quinlan 1988, pp44-53.

[53] Michael McGowan and Nick Evershed, “Gladys Berejikilian calls for immigration cut – but it could cost NSW”, Guardian (Australia), 10 October 2018.

[54] Lever-Tracy and Quinlan 1988, p53.

[55] Bukharin 2017.

[56] The following section draws from Markus et al 2009, pp88 -105, Jupp 2002, pp37-56, and O’Lincoln 2012, pp172-177.

[57] Tavan 2005.

[58] Lopez 2013.

[59] Bramble and Kuhn 2011, pp115-117, O’Lincoln 2012, pp173-177.

[60] Markus 2001, p33.

[61] The following section draws heavily on Markus 2001 and Kuhn 2009.

[62] Quoted in Markus 2001, p 5.

[63] Bramble and Kuhn 2011, p128.

[64] For the ALP in this period I have drawn on Bramble and Kuhn 2011 and Kuhn 2009.

[65] Griffiths 2006.

[66] Bramble and Kuhn 2011, pp135-6.

[67] Ahmed 2013.

[68] Pietsch 2017.

[69] The following is drawn from Scott 2000.

[70] Markus et al 2009, p1.

[71] Harris and Oliver 2018.

Overpopulation or overblown lies?

Allyson Hose exposes the racist core of arguments which blame “overpopulation” for environmental crisis and exposes the population panic as based on lies. She shows that the world could support many more billions of people and lays the blame for environmental degradation on the relentless drive for profit at the heart of capitalism.

How we stopped Pauline Hanson last time

Tess Lee Ack analyses the phenomenon of Pauline Hanson in the 1990s: her support base, how media promotion boosted her profile, and how she was stopped the last time around.

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Tess Lee Ack takes on the common assumption that racism among workers drives government policies and shows who actually promotes it.