Where are Australia’s anti-migrant politicians?

You might’ve read the title and laughed. I’m aware the Australian government, with bipartisan support, offloads asylum seekers to third countries which happen to be poor and currently unable to process said asylum seekers.

However I’m talking about non-asylum migrants, which make up the vast majority of Australia’s immigrants. Since the demise of Pauline Hanson, we have yet to see federal politicians take a hardline stance against immigrants as a distinct group of people. This is all the more surprising given most politicians can’t stop talking about cost of living pressures. Just as Shane Warne did not inspire a new generation of Australian spinners, the acolytes of Pauline Hanson failed to materialise.

In Europe, an anti-migrant position is the dominant position. Establishment Tories, such as David Cameron, have been scared stiff by the far-right on immigration. Social democrats and Labourites have fared equally poorly on the same topic. At the coming European Parliamentary elections this May, it is widely expected nationalist, anti-migrant parties will claim a significant share of the vote, perhaps even leapfrogging the traditional political parties of Europe. France, the U.K., Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria… the list goes on.

In the U.S., there is a career to be made on opposing ‘illegals’. Yet scratch beneath the surface and the nature of entry is a poor disguise for a serious distaste for migrants. Tea Party rhetoric on borders, enforcement and the road to citizenship has made immigration reform impossible in the United States. States like Arizona and Georgia pass ever stricter laws appealing to those amongst the public most wary of immigrants. This lowest common denominator approach to social policy appears to be a highly successful political tactic in certain states. I’ll keep an open mind as the sheer diversity of opinion on migration policy in the U.S. is substantial but until someone like Jeb Bush can make it past Iowa, we can err to firmly believe that a strong anti-migrant position shapes the highest office in the land.

Even New Zealand has Winston Peters of New Zealand First, whose policy advisor I heard recently explain a policy designed explicitly to limit the entry of Chinese family visa holders.

In comparison, Australia lacks this type of political representation. The odious Cory Bernadi will fight his cultural war but rarely expresses explicit anti-immigrant sentiment in the form of radically scaling back the number of migrants. His crusade does not extend to immigration as a whole, just a very particular sub-set of migrants to Australia. Perhaps only Kelvin Thomson, an ALP backbencher from suburban Melbourne, can lay claim to being truly anti-migrant, in the form of advocating a radically reduced number of immigrants.

Some may point to Julia Gillard’s comments last year conflating foreigners, work and queues. While I found these comments rather disgusting, they did not reflect a sustained political strategy or policy reform to exploit anti-migrant sentiment. The comments were made once and not again. The specifics were excluded from future talking points and failed to gain any traction. The rhetoric was shallow and baseless.

So what gives? Was it simply politicians refraining from anti-migrant sentiment as they know its bad policy? Looking at other examples of poor policy, this is a hard argument to make. Perhaps nearly single one of Australia’s 226 federally elected representatives, baring Thomson, believe immigrants are a net positive to Australia. This again is hard to fathom. I’d like to think it’s not in “our nature” but I don’t believe this is an appropriate manner to evaluate questions of such importance.

I don’t know the answer to this question but I feel as if its extremely important for the coming decades. If anyone has seen research on this specific topic, I’m all ears. Feel free to post any opinions of your own in the comments also.

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