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ABC Radio National's Breakfast program attempts to bury debate on immigration reduction

On Saturday 25 October, Shadow Immigration Minister Sharman Stone called for the Government to immediately reduce immigration back to the levels of 2005-2006 in response to the current global financial crisis. ABC Radio National's Breakfast Show's response consisted of 2 separate segments, the first in which a senior Fairfax journalist editorializes about immigration and then an interview of four people, all in favour of the retention of the current immigration levels including Immigration Minister Chris Evans. As of the following day Sharman Stone, herself, has not been interviewed by the Breakfast Show or any of the ABC Radio current affairs programs.

See also: "Call for a 25% cut in migration" in The Age of 25 Oct 08, "Don't hit immigration panic button" by Gerard Henderson in SMH of 28 Oct 2008, "Australia may cut immigration amid financial crisis: minister" from AFP on 27 Oct 08, "Migrant surge under threat" in Herald Sun of 27 Oct 08, "Record intake good for nation: Evans" in SMH of 27 Oct 08, "Australia in no rush to reduce migrant intake" on ABC NewsRadio of 26 Oct 08, "Opposition flags delay on Pacific harvest labour scheme" on ABC Radio on 22 Oct 08, "Immigration intake 'good for business'" in The Age of 26 Oct 08.

Over the weekend Federal Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone came out strongly to call for a cut in immigration levels by 25%, back to 2005-2006 levels. She was interviewed on ABC Newsradio on Sunday morning after 9AM (26th October 2008).

Mainstream media mumble muffles Stone's proposal

On the morning of Monday 27th October 2008. ABC's Radio National Breakfast program featured two stories in response to Stone's call. The first was on the segment featuring commentary of federal politics with Michelle Grattan
and downloadable MP3

[Michelle Grattan]

During this segment Grattan made several unsubstantiated assertions regarding immigration policy. Grattan is the senior political journalist for The Age.

Grattan obfuscates

The section of interest starts at the 2 minute mark of the MP3. She said the "government would be unwise to jump too quickly", i.e. it should not respond to the opposition's calls. She then goes on to say "our program is very much targeted to skills and these skills are really necessary if the Australian economy is to grow and labor shortages are not to cause a problem, now that's really important, now just as it was in better times. There is always pressure calls to cut back migration but there are a lot of positives in immigration and I think the government should be just wary of anything that's too knee-jerk"

Much Touted 'Targeted program' fails to target

I will not go into details here, but the idea that Australia's skilled immigration program is targeted is not born out by the fact that there is a very broad range of categories that will allow a person to come to Australia. I don't have an antonym to "targeted", but that is a much closer description of Australia's immigration program.

That old 'growth' argument (groan)

Grattan then says that immigration is necessary for growth, but even the Productivity Commission that did a study on this found that immigrants have very marginal benefits on the economy. Whatever specific labor shortages Australia may have had, they are now quickly disappearing and I don't see how Grattan can argue that Australia's immigration program should go full steam ahead during bad economic times just so we will not have mythical labor shortages when things turn around. Lastly she briefly mentions there are "lot of positives in immigration " without bothering to mention any. Another useless argument, in any debate about immigration there can be many arguments that are just as valid against immigration.

Predictable Fairfax media pro-immigration line

Sadly Grattan is an employee of Fairfax. A predominantly print-media company that made most of its money out of classifieds, mainly in real-estate, jobs adverts and car sales. The print classifieds are losing market share to the internet, where dedicated web-companies have come in to all 3 of these categories and are eating into Fairfax's income. The Age which is the broadsheet newspaper of Melbourne has as far as I know always propagated a pro-immigration line so in this case Grattan is simply parroting the company line. Really she should be a commentator of federal political events and not a mouthpiece for a particular point of view.

'Our' ABC also touting growth (again)

A few minutes after Grattan's opinions were given, the Breakfast program ran another pro-immigration segment, headed "Global financial crisis impact on Australian immigration". The audio file is at

ACTU National Secretary defends immigrant worker flood

As is all too common on the ABC these days, it presented only one side of the argument. It started with Sam Wong, a pharmacist and skilled migrant from the 1970's who extolled the virtues of immigration, telling us how they have created more wealth for the Australian economy. Surprisingly, they had the ACTU National Secretary Jeff Lawrence, someone who you would think would want to protect the right of workers, said the government should wait for a serious slowdown before making changes. Not surprisingly, Peter Anderson CEO, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also urged caution. He used a nice weasel word phrase "As we move into more difficult economic times the levels of demand in the labor force will progressively change" - i.e. unemployment is now going to jump significantly.

But he wants labour force to be "properly resourced" - a code word for employers to maintain low wages.

'Targeted' Immigration Program more like Blind Man's Buff

The immigration minister Chris Evans then gets his say. He says the skilled immigration program needs to be "better targeted", focusing on doctors nurses and the mining industry. Despite the collapse in commodity prices he still thinks that the mining industry is an area of serious skills shortage. He then says it "might be the economic boost that these migrants provide be important for maintaining strength in the economy and provide jobs for other Australians".

Peter Anderson - a conservative sermon

At the end Peter Anderson makes the point that "a political stoush over immigration levels is the last thing the economy needs. What we must avoid is creating a political process and a political bidding war around the reduction in skilled migration that would ultimately weaken the Australian economy and make it more difficult to come out these global challenges with our economy in a stronger position."

So in this last sentence Peter Anderson sounds very much like Michelle Grattan. Readers of The Age may think that it is has a progressive and occasionally left-of-centre viewpoint but in serious matters such as the immigration program, they are completely aligned with the right-wing business groups.

Why does the ABC depart from usual process on population growth?

Normally when the ABC has such segments, they say they sort out the politician who represents the opposite viewpoint, stating that such-an-such was unavailable for comment for this report. In this case they didn't even bother seeking an alternative. Except for the ABC NewsRadio interview on Sunday morning (26th Oct 2008), I cannot find any mention on the ABC web-site of opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone's call except for this very brief item. "Australia in no rush to reduce migrant intake":

Let's see if the ABC can correct this situation and examine viewpoints that support Sharman Stone.

See also: "Call for a 25% cut in migration" in The Age of 25 Oct 08, "Don't hit immigration panic button" by Gerard Henderson in SMH of 28 Oct 2008, "Australia may cut immigration amid financial crisis: minister" from AFP on 27 Oct 08, "Migrant surge under threat" in Herald Sun of 27 Oct 08, "Record intake good for nation: Evans" in SMH of 27 Oct 08, "Australia in no rush to reduce migrant intake" on ABC NewsRadio of 26 Oct 08, "Opposition flags delay on Pacific harvest labour scheme" on ABC Radio on 22 Oct 08, "Immigration intake 'good for business'" in The Age of 26 Oct 08.


in The Age
Immigration intake 'good for business'

in The Sydney Morning Herald
Record intake good for nation: Evans
THE Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, defended the Government's record high immigration intake yesterday, saying migrants often have better job outcomes than Australians, buy property and have a positive impact on the economy.
This is the standard argument, that because migrants consumer resources locally it benefits the economy. The Productivity Commission's report showed just how marginal it is,
see the key points for yourself at:
Migration and Population -Key points
# Some of the economy-wide consequences lower per capita income, such as capital dilution and a decline in the terms of trade.
# The overall economic effect of migration appears to be positive but small, consistent with previous Australian and overseas studies.

It should be clear that "lower per capita income, such as capital dilution and a decline in the terms of trade" are not a benefit to Australia!
An economic downturn is defined by lower GDP, migration lowers per capita income and with commodity prices collapsing I don't think we need further pressure on our terms of trade.

"What we know is most migrants have better job outcomes than Australians locally. We know that they consume, they buy property and they're a net positive to the budget," he told Channel Nine. "It's easy to call for a slowdown in migration [but] there are actually very strong positive economic impacts that come from migration, particularly if you are bringing in skills that allow you to build the economy. And a lot of the skills that are coming in at the moment are in the mining sector, which has allowed us to increase our exports."

Immigration Ministter Chris Evans has a very blinkered view of accounting, migrants might contribute to property taxes, but they need health care, they need to send their kids to school, they drive on roads, they use public transport, they consume water, electricity etc. Do they pay directly or indirectly to the improvement or maintenance of essential infrastructure needed to support themselves?
With the mining boom coming to a rapid stop because of collapsing commodity prices, I don't think we need more people to expand export capacity if foreigners no longer have such an appetite for natural resources.

Both these Fairfax articles are pretty straight news reporting, basically quoting the immigration minister, but no attempt has been made to quote people with opposing views. The original report on the 26th Oct 2008:
Call for a 25% cut in migration (The Age)
quoted both from the original federal opposition spokeswoman call and some response from the minister Chris Evans. So you would think follow up reports should continue to showing both sides.

The audio of ABC Newsradio of Sharman Stone interview that was on Newsradio on Sunday 26th October 2008 is now available
downloadable MP3 @
length = 6 minutes 34 seconds

I am puzzled that so many people I know, who should know better, have a high regard for Michelle Grattan.

On this occasion, at least she has discussed the issue at hand, even if only to parrot the establishment position on immigraton.

However, quite often she fails even to do that. Her coverage of the debate of the legislation to fully privatise Telstra back in September 2005 was abysmal. As to even discuss the issue at hand would almost certainly have entailed making her audience aware of the stupidity of privatisation, she did not. Instead she focused exclusively on statements of the obvious about the wheeling and dealing to get the necessary majority of the Senators on side with the Government in order to ram through the legislation. I listened to fantastic debates in both houses of Parliament, but never a word of these would ever reported by Grattan on radio the next day. 'Democracy' and 'accountability' were two words which seem to be entirely missing from her vocabulary. The Government cut Senate discussion time and Senate committee hearing times in order to ram through its legislation with the minimum of scrutiny, without any critical comment coming from Grattan, that I can recall.

At one stage during the 2004 election campaign Grattan did a very good impression of a mindless bimbo. Both Labor and the Coalition were attempting to outbid each other in offering tax cuts. To this her response was words to the effect of, "Each side want to give me so much money! I just don't know who to vote for!"

Evidently she expected us to believe that politicians were intending to generously shower us with gifts that were theirs to give and not taken from our pockets in the first place. Of course, it would never have occurred to her to remind her audience that tax cuts necessarily mean that less money will be available for Government programs, particularly for the urgently needed repair of our damaged environment. Of course, this is the impression that run-of-the-mill hack political journalists routinely also try to give, but I would have thought we were entitled to better from one supposedly so much more sophisticated and experienced.

The sooner the ABC dispenses with Michelle Grattan's services the better for its audience.