The sad passing of Malcolm Fraser has provided an opportunity for much reflection and soul searching in Australian politics this past week.
There is no doubt he was a giant of a man, who over the course of his life had been both celebrated and criticised by almost the entire breadth of the political spectrum.
The Prime Minister summed up the mood in Parliament this week in his condolence motion when he stated “Our challenge is not to say goodbye; it is to be more magnanimous in his death than we were in his life and to acknowledge this giant, who was surely one of us.”
Many tributes and memorial speeches have been written since Fraser’s passing, and most have covered the highlights of his career more eloquently than I could hope to.
What I would like to see become the focus of the discussion going forward, and what I hope to start in this article, is how we might emulate Fraser’s vision for this country in the future.
To put my position most clearly, let me state that on the matters of human rights, multiculturalism, racial equality, racial discrimination, and asylum seekers, I stand with Malcolm Fraser.
I am proud to be part of the modern day broad church they call the Liberal Party – a dichotomy of staunchly conservative economic principles, and for me a strong sense of social justice resulting from my Christian beliefs and upbringing.
That’s certainly not to say that I agree with everything Fraser has ever stated on the above topics, but the beliefs he stood for are ones that I hope will play a more central role in our thinking into the future, for the benefit of both the Liberal Party and Australia.
In 1977, the Fraser Government adopted a formal policy for “a humanitarian commitment to admit refugees for resettlement,” resulting in one of the most generous per capita humanitarian intake programs in the world and nearly 50,000 Vietnamese refugees being welcomed to our shores by 1979.
The economic and cultural benefits of his embrace of immigration, humanitarianism, and multiculturalism are still being seen today, nearly 40 years on. I strongly believe the same benefits would be seen in another 40 years, with a more ambitious policy in this area.
I mention 40 years, as the 2015 Intergenerational Report (IGR) has just recently been released. The IGR is a social compact between the generations. What it aims to do, is raise our minds from the immediate political cycle, and look down the road to see how Treasury projects the country may look in four decades.
It’s interesting to note that in this report, net migration is forecast at 215,000 per annum. As part of that figure, our current Humanitarian Programme covers just 13,750 of those places. The government has recently announced an increase of a further 7,500 places over the next 4 years taking the annual total to 18,750.
That equates to just 0.8 of 1% of the current Australian population. If the programme continues to be capped at that same level, by 2055 it will be just 0.5 of 1%.
According to the UN Human Rights Commission, there were 13 million refugees, and 46.3 million persons of concern globally by mid-2014. Many of these people are fleeing war and conflicts, some of which involve Australian troops. The need for humanitarian assistance has never been stronger.
There have been various attempts to have a discussion on this policy over the years. Fraser himself wrote a submission to the Government in 2012 arguing that the annual humanitarian intake should be increased to 25,000, and that this could be done without the need for legislative change.
Looking into the details of the migration assumptions in the IGR, we see a strong economic case building for increasing migration levels as well.
The report discusses evidence to suggest high levels of net overseas migration might increase productivity and that migrants are typically highly motivated and eager to partake in the Australian workforce.
The report also forecasts that a higher annual level of migration of 250,000, would by 2055 increase participation by 0.6 percentage points, and would result in lower spending on Age and Service pensions of around 0.12 percentage points.
These IGR figures are focused on skilled, targeted migration, however I would argue unskilled migration would be just as valuable to our economy, as it has been for previous generations.
I have seen the eagerness to participate in the communities in my electorate. The appreciation of families who were a few short years ago facing death or torture on a daily basis. The determination and giving nature of refugees who, having only recently settled in Australia themselves, have set up charitable organisations to assist others in our communities in need of assistance.
Of course to ensure our newest Australians have the opportunities to participate and are fully engaged within our community, we should invest in programs that encourage integration and promote English skills.
Looking at this from an economic perspective, by investing in our new citizens early we ensure they can quickly become part of our community and economy. They soon become tax payers and contribute back into the revenue side.
If I refer all the way back to Fraser’s Inaugural Address to the Institute of Multicultural Affairs in 1981, there are points in that speech that ring just as true today. “Multiculturalism is about diversity, not division – it is about inclusion, not isolation.”
In the same speech Fraser also pointed out that “it is perhaps the greatest failure of all to be blinded to real possibilities by myth and prejudices.”
I haven’t just seen the possibilities, but the real results in my electorate of Reid and across Western Sydney. I’d encourage all Australians to open their eyes to these possibilities as well.
The Coalition went to the 2013 election with a commitment to restore Hope, Reward, and Opportunity. I believe that by further increasing our humanitarian intake, we can again demonstrate that our words are matched with deeds.
Originally published in On line Opinion – http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=17229&page=1