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CFMEU calls for informed discussion about immigration

Chris Sutton, National Secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has called for a serious and informed discussion about immigration in place of the current “one dimensional neo-liberal discussion heavily influenced by economic rationalists and the corporate world. ”

Time for a Genuine Migration Debate

Original article of 11 Jun 08 on CFMEU web site.

It is time for a serious and informed debate on immigration policy.

Big business is successfully applying pressure for substantial increases in immigration (both for temporary and permanent migrants). At the same time, the Rudd Labor Government is about to commit to a temporary unskilled program for Pacific Islanders to work in seasonal agriculture. And business is already calling for it to be extended even before it is announced. Yet all of the focus is solely on economic considerations - particularly the much talked about (but rarely analysed) skills and labour shortages.

The trouble is that we currently have a one dimensional neo-liberal discussion heavily influenced by economic rationalists and the corporate world. But there is much more to this policy area than simply the supply and demand for labour.

Population policy has a direct bearing on many of our key social and environmental issues. The new government is grappling with the problem of climate change, carbon trading schemes and how we best limit CO2 emissions. We also have huge challenges in how we manage our water usage.

At the same time, our cities are bursting at the seams. Urban congestion is a large and growing problem. There is a crisis in housing with the twin problems of fewer dwellings than we need and a major issue with housing affordability across the country.

Social inclusion is also a key consideration. Our multicultural society is still experiencing some xenophobic fraying at the edges - and the lop-sided emphasis on skilled workers (frequently single males) at the expense of a strong family reunion component is not assisting with social outcomes. There are also other issues to consider in the immigration debate but everything is getting lost in the white noise from employer groups.

The CFMEU is not anti immigration and never has been. Australia needs immigration. We favour permanent immigration over temporary work visas because it allows communities to grow with certainty and lessen rates of exploitation that you so often find around contingent workers. But we do believe that it is time for a proper discussion and sound policy outcomes.

The Rudd Labor Government needs to broaden the scope of the discussion to take into account demographic changes, environmental factors, housing and social considerations. Naturally the broader economy must be considered but the Rudd Government should take the steering wheel off the big business lobby and ensure Australia's environment, community and workers' interests are all taken into account.

In short a serious debate about Australia's population policy must be initiated by Rudd Labor now!

John Sutton

Comment: Whilst Chris Sutton's article is a welcome relief from the relentless unanamity in favour of high immigration from most of our political leadership and newsmedia, his assertion near the end of the statement that “Australia needs immigration” needlessly weakens his argument.