It has come to this for the Australian government: With no leadership, no mettle and no political capital to spend, difficult decisions are outsourced, and responsibility for decisions that might offend is spread far and wide.
It started with the Reserve Bank formally being given control of interest rates.
There was a step towards it with Infrastructure Australia, but the politicians refused to give away the key to the pork barrel. There’s a good argument it should be taken from them.
The money wasted on the marriage equality plebiscite was all to avoid politicians wearing the decisions themselves – effectively outsourcing their consciences.
The possibility of moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem has disappeared into an opaque “review” to distance it from the prime minister, who floated it in a fit of desperate by-election opportunism, shooting himself in the foot in the process.
And now the politically difficult question of immigration policy is being proffered to a vague idea of states deciding what’s best for the nation.
To be clear, Scott Morrison’s announcement that he will make Peter Dutton’s unofficial immigration cutback official is more cheap pre-election politics and another abrogation of leadership. And it’s an acknowledgment of how shaky Mr Morrison’s hold is on the Liberal leadership.
As Samantha Maiden reports: “Mr Morrison’s speech also confirmed that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had triumphed in an internal battle over cutting immigration that flared when Malcolm Turnbull was still prime minister.
“In April, it was reported that Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton had proposed cutting migration by 20,000 but that Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison had ‘knocked the idea on the head’.
“At the time, the stoush was seen as the first sign of Mr Dutton pushing his leadership ambitions, particularly after he held a press conference declining to deny he was pushing for the change.”
In April, Treasurer Morrison had advice from his department about the nation’s best interests. Now it’s Prime Minister Morrison surrendering to the populist hard-right – perhaps easier for him than Mr Turnbull, as he starts from a conservative viewpoint himself.
The immigration surrender shows Mr Morrison abandoning government for the greater good, instead “listening”, as he likes to say, to the squeaky wheels of the conservative base as he tries to save the deck chairs of his sinking party.
The irony of Mr Morrison’s announcement is that it was made in the Bradfield Oration.
John Bradfield was a visionary engineer who planned for a bigger and better Sydney, decades ahead of his time. The small minds and limited ambitions of those who have followed betrayed Mr Bradfield’s vision.
The lack of planning for growth in Sydney and Melbourne is hardly a sound basis for setting national population goals, but that’s what Mr Morrison has bowed down to. There is no policy basis for his announcement, just the bellowing of his “base”.
And yet to come – outsourced, no doubt, to some multi-government committee – is just how he intends to cut our permanent migration cap of 190,000 and about 20,000 humanitarian visas amid the lack of clarity about what makes up our population/immigration figures.
The key surge in population numbers comes from one of our best export industries: International students. Temporary workers are another cohort but, if the program is run properly, the temporary skills workers are supposed to be in jobs that allow other jobs to grow.
And there are the working-holiday backpackers, again contributing to our economy and, like the students, hopefully creating ambassadors for Australia for life.
Those three categories contribute to “population” while they are here, but they are not part of our immigration program.
Of the 190,000 possible permanent visas each year, some 60,000 are family visas, overwhelmingly spouses who are already suffering a two-year delay in expensive processing.
The vast majority of the remainder are young, skilled people who help lower our average age and contribute more in taxes than they take. They and their children outperform the locals – they improve our herd and create opportunities for others.
As I’ve written elsewhere before, you have to be good to migrate, to leave your family and friends and contacts and local knowledge behind and start again in a foreign country. You have to be brave or desperate and both are great motivators.
Let’s not fool ourselves. It hasn’t been the drive of local skippys that has made and keeps Australia great, it has been the enthusiasm of waves of migrants over a couple of centuries responding to the world’s greatest economic driver – the desire of parents to give their children a better chance in life than they’ve had.
But Scott Morrison isn’t interested in that. He’s listened to beleaguered Liberal state leaders in Victoria and NSW instead. He continues to court the ratbag One Hanson vote. Stand by for more Muslim bashing at every opportunity.
Political leadership itself has been outsourced to the lowest common denominator.