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Get ready for a new wave of migration


It would seem a tenuous connection between riots in Greece, shantytowns in America and the changing menu of one of Australia’s best restaurants. But a narrative thread does run from the smoking crater of the Greek economy, through the plastic and packing crate humpies of the new American slums and into the kitchens at Urbane, the exquisite two-hatted fine diner in Brisbane. It’s a story told in the movement of Argentinian super-chef Alejandro Cancino, a veteran of some of the world’s best restaurants, including two-Michelin-starred Mugaritz in Spain and Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons in the UK.

You may not know of, or care about, Cancino, and the prices at Urbane will preclude all but the 1 per cent from dining there regularly, if at all. Which is a pity, because it’s awesome. The Argentinian’s journey to Australia, however, anticipates a coming wave of new migration beating on our shores. The economies of the old world have been reduced to such a wretched state that it’s inevitable people will look to escape.

In places like Greece and Spain, where unemployment is spiking towards Great Depression levels and extremist politics are beginning to appeal to ever more desperate voters, Australia suddenly glitters in way that wasn’t possible when its promise was outshone by the United States. In the case of Greece, there already exists strong ties with an established community here, which is reporting greatly increased interest in escaping the old world for the new. But the globalisation of the last three decades means that everyone can look everywhere for a potential new home, or a safe harbour.

Well maybe not everyone.

It’s unlikely we would accept a mass of poor, unskilled refugees from the unfolding European catastrophe like we did in the 1950s and 60s. We’ll likely cherry pick people like Cancino, and not just in his industry. The modernisation of China and India promises a decades-long boom, even if there are occasional short- and medium-term disruptions. The mining industry already searches overseas for skilled workers it can't find here. The construction industry will follow. The newspaper of the US military, Stars and Stripes, this week ran a long article on the prospects for downsized American warriors to transfer to the ADF. (Even the spending cuts and program deferrals announced in the budget on Tuesday won’t reverse this unusual talent drain, from the US and UK to Australia’s little military-industrial complex.)

It’s not an aspect of the migration debate that gets much debate. Refugees and, to a much lesser extent, the politics of family reunion tend to dominate. But the great irony of what’s about to happen is that this historic acceleration of our migrant program is going to take place under the auspices of a soon-to-be-elected Coalition government that has so much previous form with exploiting our worst fears of the Other. The politics of this will be fascinating, since the Coalition look set to govern for at least three terms. They will shape the demographics of the country for a generation. If it plays out like the last time the Liberals and Nationals held office they will hammer the refugee issue with great sound and fury, while quietly but massively increasing business migration, which in this context will be all about economic refugees.

Tony Abbott has already put in his bid.

111 comments so far

  • I would emigrate in a heartbeat if I could, but this is where I make my living, so I guess I am a victim of my success.

    I really do hate when that happens.

    Date and time
    May 10, 2012, 7:47AM
    • Compare with Katter's call this week for a new kind of baby bonus, specifically to revive a "populate or perish" ethic, albeit just less subtly than the Costello/Howard bonus sustained. The message from the Tories will be slightly conflicted in coming years: we want to preserve whatever it is we call Australian culture, identity or (in the case of the Katters) race; however we're happy to absorb the cultures of other nations' elites, just not the underlying social strata that go with them.

      The alternative no-one seems to be embracing publicly these days is 'Big Australia' openness to immigration and the resulting rapid growth. Paradoxical as this may seem to many, Bob Brown has been the closest in recent years. Does anyone really think maintaining a sort of exclusive enclave is sustainable, or even viable in the short term? You really would have to be a Tory...

      The usefulness of the nation state as the peak form of government failed in the 20th century -- if not the 19th. Since then, supra-national entities, formal or otherwise, are the primary hegemonic influences. Those national identities able to resist this do so only through (a complex set of circumstances, but all ultimately linked to) population size. In that context, making nationality exclusive is a kind of self harm that, on an individual level, would lead to institutionalisation.

      Date and time
      May 10, 2012, 7:54AM
      • "...supra-national entities, formal or otherwise, are the primary hegemonic influences..."

        Now theres a thinky blog topic. Reckon I could get me a whole ten or twelve comments on a 2000 worder about that.

        Date and time
        May 10, 2012, 8:58AM
      • Yairs, when you do that thinky wordy blog JB, count on me to be one of the ten of twelve commenters. It'll probably be something like "Ummmm......I like boobies!"

        Big Willie Style
        Date and time
        May 10, 2012, 9:45AM
      • Allow me to channel Bill Shorten in respobnding to Big Willie Style - "I'm not sure what BWS said, but I agree with it, adn I'm sure he's right"

        Date and time
        May 10, 2012, 1:50PM
      • To help stymie the problem of not being able to effectively mount an argument in the national interest. The laws of the land must first stop enabling varied loyalties such as allowing dual citizenship and strictly enforcing the law no matter what race or religion. What is in the best interest of the nation should be the primary focus. The government should not support any multinational entity that does not support the governments national interests and actively defend against and undermine those multinational entities that seek to undermine good national policy.

        Date and time
        May 10, 2012, 3:00PM
      • You mean multinational corporate fascist entities dontcha?

        the beach
        Date and time
        May 10, 2012, 3:02PM
      • Damian - unfortunately, recent history indicates that the big Australia will only mean bigger cities Brisbane, Perth, Sydney, Melbourne. I live in Tassie which is barely growing (the kids go - the oldies arrive (including me)). We could do with an injection of youth; instead the immigrants go to the big cities.

        Without some serious social engineering, open slather immigration will only result in worse cities than we already have.

        Date and time
        May 10, 2012, 4:51PM
      • Damian, how far have you been past Glebe?

        Farmer Ted
        Rural NSW.
        Date and time
        May 10, 2012, 8:26PM
      • Kepler22b: Yeah, but those cities will grow anyway. The problems that need to be solved for immigration related growth need to be solved anyway. That means getting realistic about high density, recycling water, more distributed, consumer based power generation, traffic levies, etc. So we need to be using any windfall extra tax revenue while the going is good to fund that infrastructure now.

        Farmer Ted: Nice try, but I'm from Queensland. I find it a little sad the way people will try to frame these debates as city versus bush matters. As though the bush has nothing to gain from growth, and as though everyone in the bush shares a pretty miserable world-view, not well defined but put forward as somehow both wise and obvious. I'm not saying you are saying these things, I'm not really sure what you are saying, if anything. But do I think that people who put this stuff forward were not brought up very well, that they lack the manners and hospitality that I knew around the farm when I was a kid. And when people like that claim to speak for the bush -- it's enough to make you very angry when you think it through.

        Date and time
        May 10, 2012, 10:58PM

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