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AUSTRALIAS "DREAM" IMMIGRATION POLICY EUROPE COPYING
When he addressed an immigration conference here in early May, Dr Alexander Casella of the International Centre of Migration Policy and Development in Vienna pointed out that the rest of the developed world "dreams of" Australias tough system of handling asylum seekers, including its ability to track arrivals. He argued that, with European countries spending $10 billion a year on processing asylum seekers (of whom only 10 % are approved as refugees), there is a need for them to give more emphasis to turning illegal migrants away. His comments received minimal coverage in Australian media.
There are indications, though, that European action a la Australie is underway, particularly in the UK where (horror of horrors) serious consideration has even been given to using the navy to intercept refugee boats. Of course, the preparedness of the Europeans hitherto to accept foreign cultures with open arms (a guilt reaction to World War 11 and to accusations of colonial "exploitation") remains pretty strong. But there is now a growing realisation in many such countries that national cultures and living standards, particularly law-and-order, are under threat from large immigrant populations with significantly different cultures.
The killing of Dutch sociology professor, Pit Fortuyn, who had publicly asserted that the failure of some immigrants to integrate meant "multicultural society doesnt work", may have brought the issue to a head in Europe. It was certainly fascinating to see, following a Ministerial meeting which agreed to create a new multi-national European border control to deal with asylum-seekers, that the Spanish Minister of the Interior told reporters "immigration is the single most important phenomenon that we are going to deal with in the coming years". Almost as fascinating was the medias initial characterisation of Fortuyn as "far right" (when does "far right" become "fascist"?) but its subsequent backtracking after his murder (by an environmentalist) produced an outpouring of national sympathy.
In France the more remarkable development is not the failure of Le Pens National Front to win a seat in the French National Assembly elections but that someone as apparently unpleasant as Le Pen should have had so much impact. He undoubtedly made a major contribution to the virtual wipe-out of the Socialists and the overwhelming victory of Chiracs supporters. It remains to be seen whether (an-almost-as-unpleasant) Chirac will do anything positive.
Meantime, our Coalition Governments leadership on this issue is producing enormous benefits for it and Australia. One can almost hear the profound thanks to the Almighty every time Labor (not to mention the "elite" amongst the churches, judges and media) pursue the child overboard and asylum seeker issues and ignore the praise for (and sense in) our policy. At the very successful Samuel Griffith Society conference on 14-16 June, Minister Ruddock noted that John Salt, Professor of Geography at University College London and a consultant on migration to the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OECD, had complimented Australia for having "probably gone further than any other country in developing a comprehensive management policy which is transparent, which is highly organised, (and) which lays out clearly the rules and regulations under which migration will occur." But only our ABCs Radio National let this slip out (on 6 May): generally our "elite" media has got itself so far out on an (opposition) limb that it cannot stop "supporting" the Government by minimising favourable comments by others!
JUDICIAL INTERVENTION OUT OF CONTROL
Notwithstanding the rather pathetic attempt by Chief Justice Black to justify the Federal Courts continuing judicial intervention in reviewing administrative decisions on refugee claims (which will doubtless be confirmed when the "select" full bench considers the "constitutional" issues), Ruddock again made it clear at the SG conference that the Government regards much of that intervention as, in effect, an invalid exercise of judicial power. In support of Government action to further reduce the grounds on which the courts can set aside such decisions (Labor took similar privative action in the early 1990s), he quoted from an address last year by Chief Justice Gleeson that "subject to any constitutional limitations on their powers, it is for Parliaments to decide what controversies are justiciable". It is to be hoped that the rest of the High Court agrees when the Commonwealth appeals the likely Federal Court decision against it.
Notwithstanding responsible statements by Chief Justice Gleeson, judicial intervention seems virtually out of control. John Macmillan, Professor of Administrative Law at the ANU, told the SG conference that the judiciary effectively ignores the requirement under the Acts Interpretation Act that it should assess the intent of legislation and, in doing so, take account of Ministerial statements and explanatory memoranda accompanying it.
As I have pointed out previously, the judiciarys predilection to put its own interpretation on the workplace relations legislation is justified on its fundamentally flawed acceptance that there is a major imbalance of bargaining power between employers and employees that needs to be "corrected" by judicial intervention. My AIRC "spy" reports that this intervention is getting worse: ex-ACTU-official-Vice-President Ian Ross has boasted publicly that the Commission has worked out how to ensure that it can involve itself in settling (sic) disputes. Yet, against the background of the Commissions poor historical record in reducing disputation, it was a specific intent of the 1996 legislation to limit the Commissions role in disputes.
Judicial lawmaking is also spreading internationally in an alarming fashion. A paper to the SG conference by Stephen Hall (a senior lecturer in law at Sydney Univ) outlined the growing support from "an influential coalition of forces" for the recognition of a new international law that would be above national law (he dubbed it an "imperial law") and that would ensure (sic) the achievement of certain collectivist social, economic and environmental goals. The proponents of this imperial law seek to establish it through treaties and even UN resolutions. Hall makes the important point that the main sufferers under this approach would be the liberal democracies who want to live by their own laws: the others would simply ignore the so-called international law.
This is very relevant to the proposal that Australia should ratify the International Criminal Court treaty. Many are sympathetic to this idea because they see it as a deterrent to the continuing slaughter of humans in various parts of the world. The reality, however, is that it would not act as such a deterrent because, as Hall points out, "what self-respecting suicide bomber or terrorist commander is likely to be deterred by the remote prospect of a jail term?"
HOWARD STILL THE FOREIGN POLICY "DUNCE"?
With the success of Coalition immigration policy, it is becoming harder and harder for the Howard "haters" to sustain their argument that he is a foreign policy dunce and that he has put too much emphasis on Australia-US relations. It is doubtful whether any previous PM has developed a closer relationship with a US President - and at a time when US Australia relations are of increased importance. His successful visit to the US led "The Australian" to describe that country as "our most important ally" and undoubtedly add weight to Howards argument that Labor gave too much attention to Asia. There is a stark contrast between Howards US visit and Creans initial (Whitlam-romantic) foreign policy visit to China with his priority for "a new partnership" with that country.
The main criticism dredged up was that it would have been more plausible for Howard to have made criticisms of Yasser Arafat and the International Criminal Court outside the American context even though the criticisms were justified!
BUSHS "PRE-EMPTIVE" TERRORIST POLICY
President Bushs announcement that the US will defend itself by trying to destroy Saddam first, and the acceptance of that approach as a bipartisan policy in the US, (again) emphasises the seriousness with which the terrorist threat is (rightly) viewed in that country. It is inconceivable that the US would abandon the "old" deterrent approach to defence strategy without good reason. It is encouraging, therefore, that Australian Defence Minister Hill has indicated Australias in principle agreement with this approach.
WORLD POVERTY IS ACTUALLY FALLING AND IN AUSTRALIA TOO
A working paper published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research estimates there were about 400 million less in poverty in 1998 than in 1970 and that income disparities have declined substantially. Research by World Bank economists, David Dollar and Art Kraay, shows that since 1980 globalisation has promoted economic equality and reduced poverty (Alan Wood, The Australian, 7 May).
What bad news for the social analysts! They will have little to do if economic rationalist policies are shown to be working both socially and economically. Indeed, Peter Saunders of the Centre for Independent Studies has thrown a spanner into the Australian social analysts ring with his revelation that the ABS has (at last) acknowledged serious flaws in its income inequality data. The ABS has "discovered" that those on low incomes have been understating their incomes to such an extent that it has been forced to remove the bottom 10 percent from its inequality analyses. This is an astonishing "failure" by an ABS that is showing worrying signs of political correctness. It also adds weight to the long-standing belief that many have had about "poverty" in Australia, viz that it is an artificial construct with little substance in reality.
My own analyses of household expenditure have suggested for some considerable time that the ABS has a similar understatement situation in regard to expenditures amongst lower income groups in that statistical series. But the ABS brushed off my criticisms - as did Treasurer Costello when I drew it to his attention and suggested that it was providing an important foundation for those advocating more social welfare benefits because it (falsely) enhanced the case for them. Now he is faced with an increasing social welfare problem that Labor wants to dodge too.
THE INTERGENERATIONAL REPORT A POLICY CHALLENGE
Talk of social security brings one to the excellent Inter-Generational report (IGR) Treasury put together and had published as an official paper in the 2002-03 Budget. My article in the AFR (attached) suggests that it could (should) be used by the Coalition as a basis for promoting smaller government and reversing (or at least halting) the upward trend in taxation to GDP under the Howard Government. Who would have thought that possible when voting for Howard in 1996?
The IGR points to the increasingly large social welfare and health benefits being paid to higher income groups and the increasing proportion of the working age population receiving such benefits despite rising living standards. A progressive reduction in benefits to such groups is an obviously equitable way of preventing the large increase in taxation that the IGR identifies as likely to occur if existing policies simply continue unchanged.
ABORIGINAL SEPARATISM - NEW ABS REPORT REVEALS PROBLEMS
A special ABS report has revealed an extraordinarily large number of remote Aboriginal communities (over 1200) in which 108,000 people reside - an average of only 90 per community. There are (naturally) much higher costs of providing services on such a small scale. The report also shows that, while these communities have public facilities not dissimilar in extent to those elsewhere, these facilities are very poorly maintained by residents. This is mainly due to the endemic violence within and the lack of meaningful employment opportunities. In short, policies that have encouraged separate Aboriginal communities have not worked from either a social or economic policy perspective.
The tragedy, as Peter Howson has pointed out in the attached articles, is that existing well-intentioned Government policies of providing more and more public facilities to these communities is only exacerbating their already desperate situation by encouraging their residents to remain isolated from society. All governments need to provide incentives for those residents to move into the rest of society ie to integrate.
Interestingly, Minister Ruddock has told the National Indigenous Times that there will be an inquiry into the role of ATSIC. That body has clearly had adverse effects for Aborigines themselves.
ARE AUSTRALIAN COMPANIES BECOMING BRANCH OFFICES?
Australians frequently express concern that our companies will become branch offices of overseas giants. But we should recognise that the reverse is happening. For example, although the head offices of Amcor and CSL remain in Australia, their Australian operations are now effectively branch offices for the overseas investments that have become the largest part of their total operations (CSL has even sold blood plasma to the Swiss Red Cross). Moreover, as leading director, Stan Wallis, has pointed out, local companies that expand overseas generally perform better than their stay-at-home counterparts; and overseas investment here has "good as well as bad effects".
PRIVATISATION WORKS PRODUCTIVITY COMMISSION REPORT
A recent excellent report by the Productivity Commission was titled "Trends in Infrastructure Pricing 1990-91 to 2000-01" but should, perhaps, have been called "Privatisation Works" because it shows the benefits from increased exposure to competition from privatisation/corporatisation of government trading enterprises from the 1980s. Prices have fallen in some industries ("markedly" in electricity) and, where they have risen (such as in urban transport), they needed to do so to obtain better returns on investment and to relieve taxpayers of the heavy burden of subsidies. Moreover, (in a typical PC understatement) "price reductions and other improvements have not been achieved at the expense of service quality" and (even) profitability and returns on assets "generally improved". The indirect impact on households of price changes (ie the extent to which price changes experienced by businesses have been passed-on) will be examined in a further PC report "but is likely to have benefited customers indirectly". Does anyone really want to go back to the "good old days" of the SECV and Vic Rail?
SOME TIT BITS