Wednesday, November 5, 2014
This comes on top of our decision to slash the planned increase in official overseas aid. Sorry, but we just can't afford to be so generous. Others may look on Australia as among the richest countries in the world, but they don't understand we have our own problems.
We're running a budget deficit, and will be for many years yet. Borrowing money to cover gifts to poor foreigners hardly makes sense. And don't try telling me there are other, less-deserving people whose assistance could be cut.
As Joe Hockey has explained, our top income-earners are already being taxed too heavily to cover our bloated and unsustainable government spending, so this budget was designed to spare the lifters and require the leaners to bear a fairer share of the burden. And how could we make our own pensioners and sick people tighten their belts while we're being so generous to foreigners?
Hugh Mackay, the social commentator, tells us we've reversed the original meaning of the saying that charity begins at home. It used to mean don't demand charity of others until your own giving is up to scratch, but now it means we shouldn't be helping outsiders while any of our own remain in need.
But nowhere is our lack of charity more evident than in our hard hearts towards boatpeople. How dare they turn up on our doorstep uninvited, expecting us to put them up?
In the past, when asylum seekers were found to be genuine refugees, with a "well-founded fear of persecution" should they return to their own country, they were allowed to stay and included in our annual quota for "humanitarian" immigration.
For years we've discharged our obligation to help with the world's asylum problem by accepting just under 14,000 refugees a year for settlement in Australia. If that sounds like a lot, it represents 0.06 per cent of our population of 23.7 million. It's little more than 7 per cent of our total permanent settler intake of 190,000 a year.
For some reason - troubled conscience, perhaps - the Gillard government upped the humanitarian intake to 20,000 a year in 2012-13, but fortunately the Abbott government has returned it to fewer than 14,000.
Much more affordable. Our loathing of boatpeople is so intense that we tend to think of them as nothing more than a drain on the public purse. And for the first few years that's true.
But in a speech Professor Graeme Hugo, a demographer from the University of Adelaide, delivered to the annual conference of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law in Sydney on Monday, he argued that humanitarian settlers eventually make a significant economic contribution.
Consistent with our more self-interested approach to immigration, these days we favour those who possess the skills - including language skills - of which we're most in need. Compared with these people, refugees are unpromising material for building the economy.
Some may have mental health issues arising from their treatment in their home countries, their experiences in transit or the kindly reception they receive from us. Many have low levels of literacy and limited skills and qualifications; few have great proficiency in English.
Those who do have qualifications will have lost their documentation, or won't have them recognised. They know little about our labour market, they often lack family networks in Australia, their family is split up and they bring no savings with them.
So, yes, in their early years many refugees aren't in the labour force and, among those who are, unemployment is high - higher than for other immigrants. Many of the younger ones you may expect to be working are still in the education system, catching up.
And yet their participation in the labour force rises with the length of time they've been here, converging towards the participation rate of the Australia-born, Hugo says. And their second generation end up having higher participation levels than Australia-born. They're also more highly qualified than Australia-born.
The humanitarian intake has other attractions. Refugees tend to be younger than other migrant groups, with a higher proportion of children, meaning they make a greater contribution to slowing the ageing of the population.
Their fertility is slightly higher. Predictably, their rate of returning home is very low compared with other migrants, and the proportion willing to settle in regional areas - almost 18 per cent - is high and rising.
Personal experience and common sense suggests all migrants who uproot themselves to move to Australia have a fair bit of get-up-and-go, with a determination to make the most of the new opportunities for themselves and, particularly, their kids. Hugo says people who move tend to be among the risk-takers.
Migrants tend to be more entrepreneurial - more likely to start their own businesses - and there's increasing evidence humanitarian settlers contain a disproportionate share of entrepreneurs.
On the BRW Rich List in 2000, five of the eight billionaires came from a refugee background. I wonder how generously they gave to charity.