Get ready for a new wave of migration

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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.