Poisonous immigration debate treats women like grazing cattle

May 25, 2024
Puzzle concept about countries and politics

What kind of population does Australia need? Jim Chalmers recently informed us that Australian citizens ought to have more babies. Commentators on various blogs and fora have returned to dwelling on Australia’s “carrying capacity” as though this is a farm and we are grazing cattle. Peter Dutton, in his Budget Reply, stated his intent to cut immigration.

All these questions tease at a tricky problem: Western nations are struggling to find people to do the low-paying jobs that the citizenry won’t undertake, at least at such paltry wages.

In Australia, we face skill shortages in critical areas. Without immigrants we cannot fill the roles.

Jobs we refer to as “low-skilled” are crucial for the wellbeing of our nation and their absence has a material impact on citizens’ standard of living – or even lifespan.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the 8th of May that the elderly of West Virginia are learning to their cost what it means when there is nobody available to care for them, dying younger than they might have if their state wasn’t so racist. Virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy means that they have far too few to care for them as they age.

Britain is facing a similar crisis. Bigotry drove much of the Brexit vote that sent so many low-paid workers back to central Europe. The jobs are still being done, but many more of the immigrants filling those roles are coming from the Indian subcontinent. It is ironic that the Brexiteers must now choose to age unsupported in their unchanged diapers or accept help from the Brown people that they voted, so unsuccessfully, to exclude

Peter Dutton appeared to be pandering to the Australian equivalents of those Brexit voters when he claimed last week that Australian immigration must be cut. Apparently now he is in opposition, he cares about Australians’ standard of living, and Dutton blamed the discomforts of inadequate infrastructure investment over decades on the existence of migrants in the country.

Of course, Dutton’s speech included a cut to Australia’s humanitarian visa numbers that he labelled “generous.” Australia’s humanitarian intake is only “generous” in that we have somewhat higher numbers than other countries of people cherry-picked from the hundreds of millions trapped in indefinite “warehousing” in refugee camps around the world. In fact, most countries count their substantially higher humanitarian intakes from people who arrive irregularly, seeking asylum.

The Albanese government had merely returned our stingy intake of refugees closer to what it had been pre-Abbott. We remain one of the international laggards in doing our share in accommodating the displaced, as with so many of our international responsibilities.

The number of displaced around the world is, of course, only set to multiply as Australia helps industrialised nations to continue to depend on our fossil fuel exports. Every 1/10th of a degree of warming means that an additional 140 million people will live enduring “dangerous heat” – or die, or flee.

By the end of the century, 2 billion people are projected to dwell in the unsustainable zones created by 2.7 degrees warming. Almost half of climate scientists recently surveyed believe that our global failure to cooperate means we are more likely to hit 3 degrees.

When even nighttime temperatures remain over human body temperature at 38 degrees or more, our bodies struggle to function. As science writer Gaia Vince explained, “This extreme heat literally cooks your body. We’re made of animal cells. It starts to denature the proteins of our cell membranes. It’s a horrible way to die.”

So it is not only in the context of our failing infrastructure (and prohibitive cost of living) that Treasurer Chalmers’ exhortation to have more babies is foolish. Plagiarising Peter Costello’s “have one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country” is a recipe for additional burden on climate systems that are beginning to fail.

Not only does population in industrialised nations add disproportionately to carbon emissions, but each additional child will create financial stress on families as food shortages and resultant price hikes become the norm rather than the exception.

Right-wing parties in Western nations are becoming ever more nativist. Some of these politicians are blatantly ethnonationalist. Others speak the bigotry in dogwhistle codes. “Sustainability” is one of the codes used by such figures. “Carrying capacity” is another. Both mask the bigotry in this greenwashed cypher. The fortress-mentality policies that result have been labelled “border fascism.”

One of Donald Trump’s primary goals is to deport 11 million non-White people from America. His team has just announced a group of “Gun-owners for Trump” who need their guns because “no American is safe from a [mythical] violent migrant crime-wave” provoking the shooting of non-White people.

Australians have seen the difference in Peter Dutton’s attitude to White au pairs compared to people from non-White backgrounds. His success in targeting First Peoples through the dirty referendum campaign, it appears, has emboldened him to begin once again targeting (non-White) migrants as the supposed cause of our discomforts.

The actual cause has long been the tax-strike being executed by the richest. The neoliberal project driving it has stripped our countries of the resources needed for infrastructure. Indeed the taxed common wealth of the masses is being funnelled into the pockets of the rich through sector subsidies and gifts such as shrugging off the repayment of Jobkeeper by highly profitably corporations.

It is crucial that governments and thought leaders begin the big discussions that scientists and policy researchers are demanding. We need transparency from politicians that claim to act in our interests. They must explain our workforce requirements in realistic terms. They must address the policies that keep “low-skilled” jobs an intolerable prospect.

They must discuss what continuing to foster fossil fuel industry demands means for Australians and for the world. Governments need to inform the public clearly what climate heating will look like here and in the zones that will be decimated by the climate catastrophe.

They must explain the codes the “border fascists” use to distract the electorate from the true culprits for our discomforts, fighting the inherent bigotry.

They must discuss the impact of influence networks which work to promote continued fossil fuel consumption, growing inequality, and ethnonationalist goals.

Allowing the bigotry of the Right to dictate policy, for example by calling on Australians to have more unaffordable children, destroys our chances to discuss the shape of our nation. It is only in having honest discussions that our politicians and journalists can enable the nation to address our needs and responsibilities.

If the Albanese government wants to be re-elected, it must become more honest.

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