Debating the proposition:
Labour History Sunday Seminar, Sydney, September 1999
Mass migration has been good
for Australia and it should continue
Summary of Bob Gould's arguments in support
My ethical standpoint and cultural framework
In my view, the basic ethical outlook of Marxist and Catholic
philosophy about the relationship between the human race and the
material environment are quite similar despite the apparent conflict
between them. Over the course of my own life both
have contributed to the formation of my attitude to the migration
Both ethical systems regard the human species as the highest
development of evolution and start with the notion that the interests
of human beings are the primary point of departure in judging most
ethical questions. Marxists would have it that human consciousness is
the highest product, so far, of material development, and Thomists and
Catholics would have it that the human soul and humanity are the peak
of God's creation.
While both ethical systems would not neglect at all the
of the rest of the material world, the animal world, etc, they would
regard the interests of the human species, viewed as a totality, as the
primary point of departure in developing an ethical framework for
In this, they would both be different, for instance, to the
of Peter Singer, who would rate the interests of the animal world as
being on the same plane as the interests of humanity. The ethical
standpoint of deep ecologists, and people like Tim Flannery, Ted
Trainer and Mark O'Connor would, I believe in practice, give greater
weight to the interests of the natural world than to those of the
humans that use it.
These two moral standpoints, the Marxist one, expressed in the
slogans of socialist internationalism: "the unity of labour is the hope
of the world", and "workers of the world unite", and the similar
Catholic moral view that all humans are brothers and sisters under God,
have been major defining ideological influences, sometimes in conflict,
but surprisingly often reinforcing each other, in the evolution of the
labour movement in Australia.
The eventual, relatively recent, emergence in the labour
the idea of the unity of the human race as the dominant ideology, is
really a kind of flowering of the ethical views of both the above
streams. This flowering of humanism is one of the main reasons why the
labour movement's attitude to migration has so dramatically changed in
the 20th century from entrenched British Australia racism to
support for non-discriminatory migration and multiculturalism.
In Australian cultural terms I am a Marxist atheist of mainly
Catholic cultural background. All the original ancestors of the human
population of Australia, including the indigenous population, are
migrants. The migration history of Australia has been one in which,
from the beginning, indigenous Australians, the Irish Catholics and the
secular working class of British origin, initially convicts, were in
constant conflict with the British ruling class of the new colony.
I'm mainly descended from the Irish, and I identify totally
conflict against the British ruling class in 19th century Australia, in
which my ancestors participated.
From my standpoint, every additional wave of migration has
helped to undermine the cultural and political hegemony
of the British ruling class, and this is unambiguously a good thing. I
celebrate a healthy, plebian, popular Australian nationalism, which is
necessarily, and has been historically, in conflict with the
reactionary British-Astralian nationalism of the Australian ruling
The desperate nostalgia of someone like Miriam Dixson about
passing of what she calls the "Anglo-Celtic core culture" produces in
me a certain bitter amusement. I celebrate the passing of that culture.
It wasn't my culture at all.
The new, diverse and cosmopolitan Australia, in which we all
stake: indigenous Australians, Irish Catholics, the secular working
class and middle class of British origin, and each wave of non-British
migration, including the recent and spectacular Asian wave, has
produced, and is constantly reproducing, a robust modern Australian
culture of great diversity and strength, which I enjoy and celebrate.
Many of the most stimulating features of this modern culture
product of, in particular, the post-war waves of mass migration. My
Irish Catholic forebears, and the secular working class, took the
process of humanising brutal British Imperial Australia a fair distance
in the conflicts of the 19th century and the early 20th century, and
the recent waves of migration have further civilised Australia.
Even the unquestionably important contribution of the
humane strand within the British cultural tradition, as exemplified by
a scholar such as Manning Clark or a writer like Patrick White,
can only really come to full fruition within the framework of a healthy
multicultural Australian polity, cleansed of the bigoted ethnocentrism
of the old British ruling class Australia.
Anyone who has lived, as I have, from 1937 to now, has only to
reflect on and remember the claustrophobic cultural atmosphere of
British-Australia in the 1950s to understand what I mean in this
context. It is hard for any young person now to even imagine the
tension created in a cinema in 1960 if you didn't stand up for God
Save the Queen.
The most conservative forces in society, which hark back
nostalgically to the useful cement provided for the preservation of
class privilege by all the ridiculous and unpleasant cultural
impedimenta of British-Australia, are at the centre of the sporadic
attacks on multiculturalism. Their political motivation in these
attacks is quite clear.
Cultural diversity and multiculturalism, incorporated as they
into a new modern, plebian Australian national identity, are a far more
civilised human environment for us all to live in.
Those who disagree with me on this can try to reverse
developments, but I don't rate their prospects of success very
highly. We have already gone a very long way in this very healthy
I don't intend to spend too much time celebrating the immense
advantages produced by all our past mass migrations. They are obvious,
and they are most strikingly noticeable in the global city of
Australasia, Sydney, where we are holding this conference.
Despite the Sodom and Gomorrah weepings and gnashings of teeth
Sydney that you get from the likes of Miriam Dixson, Robert Birrell and
Katharine Betts, the extraordinary and workable cultural diversity of
Sydney is the small model of what life will be like throughout
Australasia within the next 20 or 30 years.
The constant Jeremiad of the Monash anti-migrationists over
25 years about ethnic ghettoes, particularly in Sydney, is emerging
ever more clearly as time goes on, as merely anti-migration propaganda.
These so-called ethnic ghettoes are, in fact, constantly changing and
In practice, in Australia, and particularly in Sydney, there
few "unmeltable ethnics", to use Michael Novak's term from the United
States of 30 years ago. While multiculturalists battles to preserve the
useful aspects of discrete ethnic identities, nevertheless the evolving
Australian national identity, which is
quite real, remains the major cultural force into which the other
ethnic identities tend to feed and blend, while the discrete
contribution of the individual ethnic identities is often renewed by
This whole process is accelerated by an increasing amount of
(intermarriage between ethnic groups). The latest wave of mass
migration, the Asian wave, has produced an enormous amount of this kind
The striking feature of modern Australian society is the way
repeated predictions, over many years, of communal strife, by the likes
of Birrell, Geoffrey Blainey and Pauline Hanson, are completely
contradicted by the reality of Australian life. The further you
get into the diversity in the heart of Sydney, for instance, the
smaller the amount of noticeable ethnic conflict, which is far less
overt now than it was in the 1940s or the 1950s.
We are well over the hump, so to speak, in these matters.
Large-scale violent ethnic conflicts are very unlikely in
Australia in the future. Most of us are now too civilised and we – in
this context a comfortable majority of the population – will beat all
xenophobia and racism, even when it is disguised as nostalgia for the
"Anglo-Celtic core culture" back into its cave whenever it shows its
The benefits of past migrations, from the point of view of
migrants themselves and of the other citizens of the developing
Up to the gold rushes of the 1850s, Australia was mainly a series of
colonies of British imperialism. But, paradoxically, many convicts
voluntarily in the colony after their release because in many ways,
even then, it was a better place to live than Britain, Scotland or
The origins of the convicts were relatively diverse. Although
of them were drawn from the English urban underclass around London,
about 20 per cent of them were Irish and almost 50 per cent of the
smaller number of women convicts were Irish Catholics.
Over the whole period of convictism, about 1 per
were black convicts from West Africa and the West Indies, and there
also about 1000 Jewish convicts. The gold rushes brought an
accelleration of mass migration, from Great Britain and Ireland, China
and later in the century, a large forced labour component, the
"Kanakas" from the "South Sea Islands" (mainly the Solomons and New
Hebrides, now Vanuatu).
The gold rushes and the shortage of labour that caused the
migration, both assisted and voluntary, resulted in a high price for
labour in the Australian colonies, making settlement in Australia very
attractive for workers. British working class migrants and Irish
migrants contributed to the development of the country and were
beneficiaries of the high price of labour in the Australian colonies,
as were the Chinese, the Germans and others.
From the point of view of most of the participants in these
migrations, Australia was a much better place economically than where
they came from. Much historical research has been done on letters
back home from Irish migrants in Australia. They were gathered
mainly by the historian Patrick O'Farrell.
The overwhelming majority of these letters speak of the better
standard of living in the new country than in famine-ridden,
Britain-pillaged Ireland. The Irish were particularly motivated by the
possibility of taking up land in Australia.
Even the "South Sea Islanders", who had been "blackbirded" to
Australia, and the Chinese, who had been at the bottom end of the
Australian social ladder, were very reluctant to leave after the
imposition of the White Australia Policy in 1900. There were more
economic opportunities in Australia than in China or the Pacific
The migration to Australia was always much more heterogenous
British Australian mythology allows, and in the early 20th century
particularly there were constant chain migrations from Russia, the
southern Slav lands, Italy, Greece and Malta, despite occasional brutal
outbursts of racism against these migrations. One of the worst examples
of such racism was the forcible deportation of 6000 Germans and
southern Slavs after the First World War.
A large number of Jewish people migrated to Australia just
the Second World War, escaping fascism in Europe. They were very glad
to get here and many prospered in Australia.
Some parts of northern Australia, such as the Cairns area, the
Townsville area, and particularly the Northern Territory, always had a
much more diverse ethnic and cultural mix than many other parts of
Australia, even despite the White Australia Policy.
For much of its history, for instance, the Northern Territory
larger proportion of people of Asian origin, Aboriginal origin and
mixed race origin than whites. A recent very useful article in Labor
by Maria Martinez underlines the complex interplay between the racial
composition of the population in the Northern Territory and attitudes
in the labour movement that helped to undermine the White
Australia Policy, even on a national scale.
After the Second World War another wave of mass migration
including people from the Baltic states, Eastern Europeans, Greeks,
Italians and Dutch. They were very glad to get here, away from
war-devastated Europe, and they participated in building the Snowy
Mountains Scheme and developing modern Australia. In the 1960s and
1970s more people came from Arab countries and Turkey, and they, too,
contributed to the development of Australia and did well here compared
with the then relative poverty of the places they came from.
There are now 300,000 people in Australia of Indochinese
are here because of Australia's involvement in support of the United
States intervention in the civil war in Vietnam. Although most of the
Indochinese came here as refugees, they show no signs of wanting to
leave and they have contributed to the development of modern
Australia. Historically, Australia has been a haven for refugees from
many countries, including now, Bosnian Muslims, Kosovars and East
Timorese. They too have contributed to the development of modern
The latest wave of migration has been very varied, mainly from
and this has pushed the number of people with some Asian background up
to 1.4 million in the past 15 years. This migration has included both
hard-working poorer people, highly trained young people and energetic
business migrants bringing modest packages of capital with them.
This Asian migration is particularly obvious as a major factor
economic development, has served as a buffer against economic
depression, and has particularly contributed to development in Sydney,
Brisbane and Perth, and to reducing unemployment in those cities.
The striking thing about these migrations is that,
since the Second World War, when our rate of migration has been by far
the highest in the world (except for Israel), it has in fact
been achieved at the same time as a substantial and obvious reduction
in racial and cultural tensions, compared, say, with the 1950s. This is
in fact the opposite of the exaggerated conflict that the chauvinist
opponents of migration constantly predict even now, despite all the
evidence in front of their eyes.
In Australian conditions, the more diverse the migration, and
larger it is, the more it undermines stupid xenophobic practices and
Anyone with an eye to see, walking around this laid-back,
intense Sydney of ours, can't avoid being struck by the way the
cultural diversity that is now dominant in our city works so
effectively. It has been very moving to me in the last couple of weeks
attending demonstrations, which rapidly grew in cynical old Sydney, to
30,000 people, in support of the people of East Timor, to observe the
wonderful cultural diversity of the Australians in those demonstrations.
I grew up in the 1940s and the 1950s and you'd better believe
mass migration has been overwhelmingly beneficial to every aspect of
the real quality of human life in Australia, as I experience it. Food,
culture, politics, the economy, the whole universe of things that
affect the essential features of our life.
"New class" theory
Opponents of migration and other reactionaries have recently
off the quite old theory of the new class to stigmatise supporters of
migration and multiculturalism as members of an egregious elite,
different to the popular Australian "volk" who, it is claimed, are
ativistic and racist to the core.
This desperate rhetoric is inaccurate as a sociological
description of modern Australian society, and rather ineffective as a
call to arms. When examined closely, it is obviously a biased,
primarily ideological construct.
Nearly 20 per cent of the adult population, including school
teachers and nurses, now have degrees, and half of them are women. Do
they all constitute members of a "new class"? The idea is absurd. When
pressed, ideologues such as Betts, Dixson and Bill Hayden redefine
proposition a bit to say that maybe the "new class" consists only of
people in the media and the bureaucracy who favour migration (and
disagree with them), which makes this construction even more absurd
sociologically speaking. It is merely a sort of
bizarre point-scoring aimed at stirring up perceived popular animosity
to people with degrees.
The problem with it as a call to arms is that a majority of
industrial working class without university degrees, at whom it is
presumably directed, are recent non-English-speaking-background (NESB)
migrants themselves, and are therefore very unlikely to respond to this
demagogy. This recent desperate new class rhetoric underlines the
developing social isolation of the people who use it in the newly
evolving Australia that is already around us.
Opinion polls and notions of public opinion
Betts and other conservative populists make big fuss about
old public opinion polls, which they claim show that migration is
unpopular. Occasionally Betts acknowledges that opinion polls results
are influenced powerfully by how the questions are asked, and what
information is given to the people polled about the issues before they
are polled, but she shrugs off this problem and makes much of her
proposition that the elites are ignoring public opinion in their
support of migration.
In the absence of carefully controlled polling, not overloaded
emotive construction, Betts's conclusions from her polls have to be
treated with great reserve for the same reasons that opponents of the
death penalty tend to put aside emotive tabloid polls, which often seem
to favour capital punishment.
We now know a great deal about the phenomenon of push polling,
many of Betts's favoured polls get close this. The deliberately
emotive way many public opinion poll questions are posed is the reason
that most democrats are very suspicious of the right-wing populist
for citizen-initiated referendums.
An interesting new development, probably caused by rapid
demographic changes in Australia's major cities, is that recent opinion
polls, organised though they are in this fairly emotive way, are
beginning to show a fairly substantial swing in favour of migration
(article by Murray Goot in The Bulletin of February 15, 2000).
What spin Betts and company will put on these changing poll results?
In reality, political outcomes in bourgeois democracies such
as Australia are decided by a complex interaction between various
of the popular will, and the special interests of the ruling
class, expressed through their manipulation of the media. What comes
through in the media is much more an expression of the interests of the
tiny elite that owns the media than any independent expression of
by a so-called new class of media workers.
In elections the voting is decided by a multitude of factors,
"public opinion" is actually a product of the push and pull of assorted
interests and pressure groups. It is even possible that, influenced by
right-wing populist hysteria against migration, expressed through the
tabloid media, a majority of electors may wish for a reduction in
migration. When they come to voting, however, many other factors
influence their decision as well.
Many people who favour low migration end up voting for parties
will support high migration and, indeed, the reverse also applies
because of the many factors that affect voting behaviour. That's all
part of the political process.For example, a clear majority of the
population opposes a GST.
Nevertheless, the Tories and the ruling class have managed to push
through a GST because they succeeded in scraping together a slight
majority in an election.
I believe that highish, humane imigration,
non-discrimination in immigration, and reasonable family reunion, are
overwhelmingly morally justified.
I believe that one takes advantage of one's democratic rights
influence the political process in whatever reasonable way is available
to get the outcome you want. Everybody else involved in
politics does the same thing, and why should those who favour high
migration suddenly impose on themselves a self-denying ordinance in
these matters when the reactionary tabloid press puts so much effort
whipping up prejudice against perceived minorities, and migration in
An underlying British-Australia cultural egotism surfaces
in Katharine Betts's book, The Great
Divide: Immigration Politics in Australia (Duffy and Snellgrove,
Sydney, 1999). Her ingenious use of the notion of "markers"
in relation to the so called "new class" is very revealing. In her
view, implacable hostility to racism, and any sympathy with
multiculturalism are evidence either of membership of the "new class",
or "special interests", by reason of NESB background.
She also indicts her so-called new class for an
animosity towards wars and militarism, and associates this
anti-militarism with "new class" attitudes on racism and migration. I
find this construction extremely curious, as I'm told Ms Betts is
herself a Quaker.
I wonder what Ms Betts makes of the almost total
the bulk of the "new class" including myself, into advocates of
immediate military action to protect the people of East Timor against
the vicious Indonesian army.
I reject celebration of the imperialist bloodbath of the First
War. I spent the most useful part of my life campaigning against the
Vietnam War and I take none of that back. Nevertheless, I strongly
favour the recent Australian military intervention in East Timor, much
to the chagrin of the right-wing populist P.P. McGuinness. (McGuinness
and I always seem to be on opposite sides, and this pleases me. On the
odd occasion when I've agreed with McGuinness, I very carefully examine
my reasoning to see where I've gone wrong.)
Curiously, Sydney postmodern theorist Ghassan Hage, who
ostensibly leftist opposition to existing multiculturalism in his
exotic book White Nation, actually shares Betts's methodology,
in that he develops his own version of the inaccurate "new
What an implacably British-Australia chauvinist construction
Katharine Betts's use of new class rhetoric really is. It has no
appeal at all for me, given my largely Irish Catholic background, and
it's not likely to appeal to any social group other than a rapidly
declining Anglo upper-class. The industrial working class is largely of
NESB background. The nudging 20 per cent of the population who now have
degrees, and the 700,000 students are, by definition, infected by this
"rampant cosmopolitanism". The audience for Betts's now slightly
eccentric "new class" theory is really quite small, and declining all
The economic effects of migration
The most coherent, energetic and persistent anti-migrationists
the group around Robert Birrell and Katharine Betts at Monash
University, who tend to make the ideological running for most other
opponents of migration.
The really rabid xenophobes, such as Pauline Hanson, feed off
arguments. The Monash group has two quite contradictory lines in
relation to the economic effects of migration.
One line of argument, which they share with people such as Ted
Trainer, is a general, currently rather popular, polemic against the
whole idea of economic growth. They argue that economic growth, which
migration fuels, is bad for us.
Well, there's a tiny element of truth in this line of
economic growth is bad and should be fought on a case by case basis.
For instance, woodchipping of old growth forests is quite antipathetic
to the interests of the human race and the environment. Much economic
growth, however, while it should be made more civilised and reorganised
in a rational way, is desirable from the point of view of most humans
on the planet, who don't yet have sufficient access to all kinds of
material goods to make their life better.
The arguments of deep ecologists such as Ted Trainer against
economic growth are, in practice, hostile to the aspirations of most
human beings for substantial improvements to their conditions of life.
The use of this kind of argument by comfortable, affluent
anti-migration academics in a rich, first-world country such as
Australia is thoroughly repellant, and I'm fascinated that the Monash
group has used that kind of argument in the six or seven books that
I've collected of their published work, as far back as 1977.
The other main line of argument is more or less the opposite
first one. It is that migration is bad for the economy because it
diverts resources from unstated better uses to the construction of
infrastructure for the migrants, and that much of this labour is used
in a manufacturing economy that is being scaled down anyway because of
globalisation and the destruction of tariff barriers (which the Monash
group explicitly applauds).
They even argue that a bad feature of migration is that some
resources are diverted to infrastructure for the new migrants,
reducing the average productivity of labour. Nevertheless, interests
such as the
housing industry and manufacturing capitalists that want to sell their
goods, are attacked for having a vested interest in migration.
Viewed in any sensible or even-handed way, these economic
migration tend to undermine and contradict each other, but for these
people anything goes in the war against migration. As one line of
economic their argument after another is demolished by changing
circumstances (almost none of their economic predictions in relation to
migration have eventuated) the Birrell group works very hard to come up
with a new economic angle against migration.
There is now a fairly considerable body of concrete analysis
description of the economic effects of migration, the most recent
example of which is the work of Bruce Chapman in Canberra. The general
conclusion of almost all economists, conservative or left-wing, with a
few exceptions, is that migration is either more or less neutral in
relation to economic effects or, in most circumstances, a positive
stimulus to economic development and a positive factor in reducing
Empirically, this would certainly seem to be the case. Cities
Australia such as Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, which are hot-spots for
migration, are also at the lower end of the unemployment statistics.
Cities such as Melbourne, Newcastle, Adelaide and Hobart, which are
stagnant as far as recent migration is concerned, are at the higher end
of the unemployment statistics.
There is another subtle economic point about substantial,
migration. One of the factors that helped Australia get the Olympic
Games was the presence in Australia of substantial migrant communities
from almost everywhere on earth, and the Games will give Australia a
considerable economic boost, both before and after, for obvious reasons.
A similar point applies to trade, particularly with
The presence of energetic trading communities from different countries
contributes to trade with those countries. Again, a number of firms
trading mainly in Asia have chosen to use Sydney as a location for
their call centres and card centres because Sydney has a large
reservoir of skilled labour speaking and writing just about every
language on earth.
The argument about Australia's carrying capacity
The anti-immigrationists make three main appeals. One is to
perceived latent resentment of Anglo-Australians against changes to the
ethnic and cultural mix of Australia. This line of argument is
essentially an appeal to cultural ativism.
It is usually there in the arguments, but it is often veiled a
to avoid offending the more civilised Australians. At the popular
talkback radio hosts, and the One Nation bunch exploit this perceived
ativism mercilessly. At a theoretical level people such as Miriam
Dixson and Paul Sheehan implicitly invoke this perceived feeling while
ostensibly deploring it.
The second line of argument is that migration is economically
for Australia. That argument is unsustainable and I've dealt with it
The third argument is much more powerful and potent these
with many people who are opposed to overt racism, and regard themselves
as civilised. It is expressed in the viewpoint of the organization
called Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Society and in the
political outlook of the conservative electoral formation, the
Australian Democrats, who advocate zero net immigration.
The best-known popular advocates of this point of view are Tim
Flannery, author of The Future Eaters and his disciple Paul
Sheehan, author of Amongst the Barbarians.
Other people who write about these questions and claim some expertise
in the field, are the poet Mark O'Conner, the CSIRO scientist Doug
Cocks, Ted Trainer the deep ecologist, the Birrell supporters and
Their essential argument is that Australia is a supremely
overwhelmingly arid continent, that we are already overpopulated, and
that if our present rate of population growth, the historically general
1.5 per cent to 2 per cent annually that has been the case over most of
our history, continues further, disasters will develop in the
In one article, Flannery advances the argument that we should
the population from 19 million to 12 million. One wonders whether that
includes an offer of voluntary euthanasia on his part! This line of
argument involves a very considerable virtuosity with statistics.
Cocks and Flannery, who attempt occasionally to quantify their
views, toss around various figures for arable land available in
Australia. They appear to concede that most estimates of available
arable land, made by people who know something about the subject, show
that there are still vast areas of unused arable land in Australia.
Nevertheless, they manage, by ingenious manipulation of the
to argue that this is really not significant, because the arable land
is in Northern Australia, the water is in Northern Australia and we
should be ultra-cautious. They continually express animosity to
agriculture, which seems to be the hallmark of quite a few modern
pseudo-geographers and pseudo-anthropologists.
There is a whole school developing of semi-scientific popular
journalism devoted to the argument that agriculture is destroying
humanity. Flannery even argues that it would be a good idea to make a
large part of Australia into an enormous ecological theme park, finding
large mammals from overseas to replace the diptodron in the ecological
niche that it used to occupy about 10,000 years ago. Flannery often
seems to prefer animals to humans. I disagree with this approach.
Past arguments about Australia's population. Tim Flannery's
curious legend about Griffith Taylor
Many of the ecological opponents of migration make a hero of
Griffith Taylor, a past Australian geographer. Tim Flannery paints
Taylor as an opponent of further increase in Australian population, and
as someone who shared Flannery's view that Australia has a very small
population carrying capacity. He repeats this legend about Taylor and
paints him as a kind of martyr to the forces in Australia, "the
boosters", who in the past favoured a large increase in Australian
population, and are said to have forced Taylor's academic exile from
Australia to North America.
A rather vigorous academic argument has developed about the
long-dead Griffith Taylor, with opponents of migration ascribing to him
this martyr status, and academic liberals and leftists responding
indirectly by drawing attention to Taylor's mad, racist views, which he
shared with many other geographers and anthropologists of his time, of
which a representative and interesting sample is found in a letter from
Ian Castles of the Academy of Social Sciences, in the March 2000 Quadrant.
Castles says of Taylor:
The demeaning assumption was alive and well in the 1920s.
Second-year students in Australia's first university department at the
University of Sydney were instructed by its head, Griffith Taylor, to
"insert the measurement of three skulls in a table", using calipers,
and radiometers; and were directed to a paper on the Kamilaroi tribe,
co-authored by Taylor, for a discussion of "the changes in skin-colour
and nasal index which result from hybridisation". In 1924, Taylor
solemnly told the Royal Society of New South Wales of a teacher's
opinion "that blacks at the age of 14 were about as intelligent as
white children at the age of 10". In his Environment and Race,
published by Oxford University Press in 1927, Taylor asserted that the
development of man's reasoning faculties was "correlated with the size
of the brain", and that "we can show a continuous series of
measurements leading from the primitive Negro (69) up through the
Iberian (75) group ... and West Europeans to the Alpine (85) and the
As Ian Castles is quite right to point out about Taylor, he
obviously shared the nutty phrenological racism current among many
academics in his time and place, but this argument about Taylor is
eccentric for another, rather more basic, reason.
I have recently discovered that the Tim Flannery version of
views on migration and the carrying capacity of Australia just isn't
true. I recently bought, in a package of secondhand books, Griffith
Taylor's book in the Oxford Geographies series, the fourth
edition on Australia, published in 1925.
For that time, it's a pretty good potted geography of
What fascinated me most is the fact that Taylor's views on settlement
and population, as expressed in this very basic geography textbook, are
almost the opposite of the views attributed to him by Flannery.
On page 262, Taylor asserts that there are 616,000 square
land suitable for close temperate settlement, 100,000 square miles of
tropical agricultural lands, 1,009,000 square miles of good pastoral
lands and 655,000 square miles of fair pastoral lands.
If anything, this is an overestimate in the opposite
Flannery's views. Taylor was also a strong advocate of a large
expansion of irrigation for agriculture, if his 1925 standard
Australian geography book is any guide. The very last paragraph in the
book, the postscript, commences with the following.
In a paper published in the American Geographical Review,
July 1922, the writer shows that the prospects of the fertile temperate
regions in Australia are very hopeful. Using the present condition of
Europe (with her 400 millions of population) as a criterion, he deduces
that 62 millions of white settlers can establish themselves in eastern
and south-western Australia.
Despite his bizarre anthropological racism, Taylor wasn't a
prophet on some matters. He is well known for his prediction that
Australia would have between 19 million and 20 million population in
the year 2000, which has turned out to be spot on.
It is pretty fascinating the way legends grow. Rather than
fierce opponent of population growth as painted by Flannery, Taylor was
a bit of a "booster" himself in relation to population.
Flannery and company also praise the conservative economist
Davidson, who conducted a constant polemic in the 1950s and 1960s
against northern agricultural development, on dry economic grounds. In
this instance, their account of Davidson's views is probably accurate.
My heroes in this area are the "boosters": people such as Ion
Idriess, J.C. Bradfield, William Hatfield and Jack Timbery, who
advocated various and quite feasible proposals for agricultural
development, particularly in the immediate postwar period. The Snowy
scheme was one product of this kind of outlook.
In the 1970s a vigorous Australian resident opponent of
Malthusianism and supporter of Australian development and high
migration was the late Colin Clark. He had worked as an economist for
the World Food Organisation and been a major English university
economist, and he conducted a considerable argument with Paul Ehrlich
in the 1960s and 1970s. His predictions about world agricultural
production etc have generally been confirmed by subsequent developments.
Ehrlich's more alarmist predictions have repeatedly been
later events. Colin Clark had a very serious debate with Derek
Llewellyn-Jones, in the book Zero
Population Growth published by
Heinemann in 1974. Most of Colin Clark's predictions have turned out
more accurate than those of Llewellyn-Jones.
It is necessary to make some assumptions about likely future
developments concerning food, agriculture and resources. In this
field I have found the very detailed literature of the World watch
Institute of considerable use.
While the Worldwatch Institute is, in the main, overly
it has performed an enormous service over recent years in tracking
world developments in food production, arable land,
fertiliser use and many other important things. A very
useful understanding of what is really happening on a global scale can
be acquired from the very serious crossfire that takes place between
Malthusians such as the Worldwatch Institute and major capitalist
growth advocates such as the Hudson Institute.
The truth about likely future world developments lies
between the opposite projections of these two schools of thought, and
anyone seriously interested in these matters can derive great value
from studying the material produced by these two currents of thought,
and the debates between them.
Nevertheless, there is no serious doubt in my mind that the
Worldwatch Institute alarmism is somewhat closer to the reality than
the Hudson Institute optimism, for the medium-term future. There is
likely to be a global shortage of food and arable land and water for
quite a while, although not as catastrophic as the Worldwatch Institute
Despite the short-term low world prices for commodities,
artificially created by the global financial speculations of finance
capital, over time there is likely to be enormous demand
for food on a world scale, and ultimately prices for it must rise. That
reality underpins my argument.
The second reality is that the global shortage of arable land
water produces a situation in which Australia cannot possibly afford to
indulge the fantasy of Flannery and Paul Sheehan about making our
country a big ecological theme park. We will be under constant pressure
to develop agriculture to produce more food and we will be under
constant pressure for more migration to these shores.
Politically it is much smarter to
these developments by maintaining our historically highish, and now
non-discriminatory migration policy, and we will, for obvious reasons
of survival, have to improve our agricultural practices and remediate
the Australian environment to fulfill our global human responsibilities
in food and population.
Australia's real carrying capacity
Stripped of all the manipulation of figures, the situation is
there is very large unused water capacity in Australia and also a very
large amount of land that could be properly irrigated without
environmental damage, as long as careful, modern and conservative
irrigation methods are practiced.
The late Jack Kelly, an important economist who assisted in
establishment of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, was critical of
initially faultily conceived, northern development schemes. Kelly knew
an enormous amount about practical irrigation, and also about the
economics of irrigation, agriculture and pastoralism.
He made a study of the Kimberleys in north-western Australia
the Northern Territory in the 1960s. He was sceptical about the Ord
River Dam because it was in his view on too large a scale, and in the
In his useful book, Struggle for the North
Book Society, 1966), he located about 50 possible places for smaller
dams that could supply water for assorted agricultural activities,
irrigation agriculture and livestock uses. Jack Kelly had a particular
objection to the way that the big pastoral companies, particularly the
foreign-owned ones, such as Vesteys, had locked up control of the
strategic riverfront grazing lands for extremely nominal rentals, and
the way this monopoly control of the strategically placed holdings held
back useful agricultural development.
He favoured small-scale, local, individually owned pastoral
agricultural developments, and his book is an eloquent plea in favour
of such developments, and a specific blueprint for where they would be
possible. Another major set of proposals for Australian development,
the longstanding Bradfield-Ion Idriess schemes for Queensland rivers,
are from a technical and engineering point of view, quite feasible.
A number of the technical problems inherent in such schemes
solved during the development of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, and these
days most such major infrastructure projects are technically feasible.
Obviously what would be required for any of these important
development projects would be labour and credit and, as many people
know, in conditions of national emergency, credit can be created by
government, as it was during the Second World War, despite the
avaricious way global finance capital attempts to preserve for itself
alone the right to create credit.
There are enormous technical and practical problems in such
agricultural and infrastructure development, but none of them are
insuperable. For instance, the problem of salination is a question of
drainage, and of selecting suitable land for irrigation instead of land
in which there are already large amounts of salt at certain levels.
(Often because this land consists of ancient seabeds.)
One innovative solution to some salination might be
tapping of the ground water below the salt for irrigation, thereby
lowering the water table. The question of markets for the food will be
solved in the medium term by the inevitably increasing shortage of food
on a global scale.
Already, the very important project of the railway through
Victoria, NSW and western Queensland to Darwin, and the other
Adelaide-Darwin project, and a Wyndham-Derby-Darwin rail project, which
could easily be devised, could create a satisfactory transport
framework for food exports to our potential Asian markets.
None of these tasks are technically impossible. The real
finding the proper balance between these necessary projects and the
equally necessary dimension of preserving the natural environment in an
In my view it would be possible to develop a gigantic
program of this sort, at the same time as withdrawing a great deal of
unsuitable land from scrubby pastoralism and marginal agriculture. (The
land withdrawn could be turned into national parks.)
The agricultural future of Australia lies in developing
carefully designed, ecologically sustainable irrigation agriculture,
rather than speculative pastoralism and marginal agriculture on
semi-arid lands. Looked at in the framework of appropriate, intensive
Australian agricultural development in the future, the proposition that
we could not feed many more people is thoroughly unsound.
A recent issue of The Australian has a fascinating
about local proposals in the Bowen area of north Queensland to develop
infrastructure, dam several rivers and commence a new major irrigation
area, which is strongly supported by the whole local community. Similar
projects are possible in many parts of northern Australia.
The example of Israel/Palestine
Tim Flannery, Doug Cocks and others make great play about the
enormous difference in the agricultural potential between Australia and
Europe, pointing to what they call ENSO or, in other words the variable
Mediteranean nature of the climate, as an enormous obstacle to
This comparison is a bit beside the point. Australia is
different agriculturally to northern Europe because of its
Mediteranean climate. Therefore, it is useful to study and emulate the
highest points of agricultural developments in similar Mediterranean
As an example, the whole area of Israel/Palestine is about 20
cent larger than the Sydney statistical district from Broken Bay to
Loftus and out to Katoomba.
Sixty per cent of Israel/Palestine is desert, but it supports
million Jews and three million Arabs, with a Western diet, on a high
calorific level, and in fact produces about a net 25 per cent
agricultural surplus for export. While it is true that very special
circumstances have applied there over the last 70 years, it is a fact
that while developing agriculture to its maximum, the Israelis have
substantially remediated the land from past environmental degradation
resulting from more than 5000 years of relatively unplanned human
The technical achievements of the Israel/Palestine
set-up are of enormous practical importance in Australia, and include
optimum use of water, very frugal and effective irrigation techniques,
carefully designed arid agriculture, use of saline water in some
Looked at in the framework of the Israel/Palestine experience
comparing it, say, with the Sydney region, the argument over Australian
carrying capacity falls more clearly into place. The intrinsic upper
limits to Australian carrying capacity are still very far off.
The real task is to design optimum development, both to expand
agriculture and to remediate the environment at the same time, and to
do that you need more people and the creation of development credit at
government level to overcome the artificial grip on credit of the
What the argument is about
It is worth noting at this point, even allowing for the
the Australian continent, and taking into account the rainfall and the
amount of well-watered land, that if Australia was to have a similar
level of population development to the United States, the population
would be 50 million.
Using a similar method of calculation, if we were to have a
level of population to Europe, Australia could support 130 million
people. Presently, we only use for agriculture about 11 per cent of the
water that falls on Australia as rain.
Nevertheless, political and social realities underline all
about population. No one like myself, who is in favour of increased
population and the continuance of mass migration, is arguing for
anything more than the average continuance of the basic 1.5-2 per cent
annual net population increase that has been the norm over the past 200
The argument is between the continuation of the normal highish
migration of a relatively new country, or the adoption of net zero
population growth, which is appropriate to overpopulated countries. As
above figures indicate, we are a considerable distance from any
situation where a continuance of the substantial mass migration of the
last 200 years could present any real threat to the interests of the
The footprint of cities
Another argument of the anti-immigrationists is that because
migrants settle in cities, the footprint of cities is the problem.
There is a limited element of truth in this in Australian
conditions. In Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, due to the relatively
unplanned nature of city growth, too much agricultural land has already
been lost to urban development.
Even in these cities, however, this could be overcome for the
by a change to forward planning for city growth. For instance, further
population expansion in Melbourne could be concentrated in the area out
towards and past Tullamarine Airport (obviously away from the flight
paths) where the land is of little agricultural potential.
In Sydney the logical places for further urban development are
sandstone plateaus north of Hornsby and south of Loftus which, in both
instances, happen to be on major rail lines, rather than allowing
further urban sprawl on usable agricultural land in the far western
The Sydney region, Melbourne region and the Brisbane region
thus be developed into mixed urban and agricultural areas, like many
similar areas in Europe and in Israel/Palestine. Australian society and
the environment will degenerate rapidly, whether we have more
or we don't, unless we make major and serious changes to our
agricultural and urban practices.
The real task is the adoption of appropriate technologies,
the highest level of modern agricultural practices in all fields.
For the past 20 or 30 years many thousands of urban
been stirred by a strong desire to go back to rural life, evidenced by
the popularity of magazines such as Earth Garden and Grass
Roots and the many thousands of people who have settled in rural
areas, either individually or as part of collective experiements.
Much of this phenomenon has been marked by enormous human
enthusiasm, sometimes not enlightened by much careful scientific
experiment and enquiry. Nevertheless, the existence of this deep urge
provides a basis for possible future development in agriculture.
What is to prevent us using all the technical
Israeli agricultural practice in Australia? Other potentially useful
techniques are the well-tested, Australian-invented, P.A. Yeomans
keyline water harvesting and irrigation system, permaculture
techniques, and the cultivation of new varieties of food crops, for
which the markets are now emerging.
The possibilities in these areas are very great, and maximum
government research and development funds should be devoted to such
projects. What is so irritating about the Flannery/Cocks/O'Connor view
of agriculture is that it is almost totally static, and focussed on the
Unless we dramatically improve agricultural practices, the
Australian environment will suffer, regardless of the population. With
appropriate agricultural improvements, increased population will
benefit the environment.
Youth unemployment is a chronic problem in all major
cities. Many young people, including many young unemployed, share the
urge to get back to the land that is fairly widespread in the
population. The federal government has exploited this, in a mildly
cynical way, by forcing unemployed youth to engage in work-for-the-dole
schemes, a lot of which involve rubbish collection and land care
activities, which are often rather cosmetic in relation to the real
problems and possibilities of agriculture.
A much more useful kind of scheme would be for the government
sponsor the development of kibbutz-style farming experiments on usable
agricultural land on the fringes of major cities, which are in fact
locations quite close to big concentrations of youth unemployment.
Such experiments, if backed by government support and funding,
be combined with well-organised agricultural education for unemployed
youth. Such activities would beat the hell out of some present cosmetic
In the area of the new technologies that could contribute in
agriculture, industry and other areas, to a more civilised
energy-efficient Australia, once again an Earthscan Worldwatch book is
of great assistance. This book is Factor 4 by Weizacker, Lovins
This book describes a fascinating variety of technologies that
been used successfully in different places, all of which could be
adapted for Australian use. There is no lack of possible technologies
to remediate both Australian agriculture, Australian industry and the
A civilised migration policy for Australia for the 21st
The population policy I advocate is on the following lines:
(a) No discrimination in immigration on grounds of race,
religion, nationality or political belief.
(b) A highish numerical objective at the top end of numerical
objectives since the Second World War.
(c) The maintenance of a humane mix of high-income business
migrants, skilled migrants and poorer migrants looking for a better
life. To achieve the third end, and for basic reasons of humanity,
extensive family reunion.
(d) Periodic amnesties for illegal migrants.
(e) The extension of the completely free movement that now
applies to New Zealand, to the rest of the Pacific islands, to New
Guinea (the whole island) and to Timor. The small populations of the
Pacific have been the victims of Australian imperialist activities in
the Pacific and as a proper moral compensation they should be allowed
free access to Australia.
(f) A very proactive attitude to refugees. The current crises
in Timor and Fiji and the crisis in Kosovo underline the importance of
allowing refugee migration on the widest possible scale when crises
arise. Much of the immigration history of Australia since the Second
World War and, indeed, since the Irish Famine in the 1850s, has been
based on providing safe haven for refugees. This is appropriate for a
new country such as Australia, and people who come to Australia in
these circumstances usually make a considerable effort to make a life
This migration program should be backed up by a considerable
commitment to appropriate national infrastructure and agricultural
development etc, at the same time as a vast public program to remediate
the Australian environment.
I believe that is the kind of policy on which both the
movement, and possibly Australian society as a whole, will settle, and
quite soon. The reason that this will be so is the effect of the
already established cultural diversity and ethnic mix in the new
Australia, and the obvious political implications of our location in
The current crisis in relations with Indonesia, produced by
necessity of defending the right of national self-determination of the
East Timorese people, heavily underlines the need for nailing down such
a general policy on migration.
Only the kind of multicultural, diverse Australia that I've
can have a reasonable prospect of further development, or even
survival, in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century. Such an
Australia will have a bright future as a civilised example to the rest
of the world about how to handle the migration and population question
in a relatively young nation in a difficult world.
Sydney University Law School graduations as a snapshot of a
Several close personal friends of mine have recently
law from the tough Sydney University evening course – one of the few
significant evening course left at Sydney University in these
relatively affluent times. It used to be called the Barristers
Admission Board Course and is notoriously the hardest way to do law.
My personal friends are a group of four Anglo women in their
30s and early and middle 40s and I have attended two of their
graduations. They have been, from my point of view, absolutely
Notoriously, many people drop out of this difficult course,
nevertheless, the two graduations I attended, six months apart,
averaged 140 graduates each, adding to the very large number of law
graduates crowding the marketplace.
The first interesting sociological feature was that about
the graduates were women. The second fascinating feature was the ethnic
and cultural mix of the graduates. Going by names, an average 40 per
cent were of some non-British migrant background: Italian, Greek,
Chinese, Indian, Arabic and many others, and another 15 per cent had
recognisably Irish names, suggesting that at least 15 per cent, and
probably more were of Irish Catholic cultural background.
Judging by appearance, an even larger percentage than the 40
cent had non-English-speaking backgrounds, as some people with Anglo
names were of Chinese or Indian appearance. At one of the graduations I
noticed two good-looking young men, possibly brothers, with wonderfully
exotic Indian subcontinent-sounding names, such as Fawez Nazmi Cameron
and Duncan Ismael Cameron.
Events of this sort are very emotional and moving for the
and their families. The majestic, gracious and pleasant old Great Hall
of Sydney University, built by the racist British ruling class of the
colony in the 19th century, with its impressive portraits of past
vice-chancellors, on these occasions was crowded with the families of
the graduates, in their infinite, moving and boistrous variety.
One had only to look around to see our new Sydney and our
Australia as it really is. What is striking at these events is the
matter-of-fact, routine cosmopolitanism of Sydney life. Obviously, many
of these graduates of the evening course work in law, accountancy,
unions, real estate, the public service, and even nursing and teaching.
The striking thing is the genuine mix of the new and the
Anglo middle classes and commercial classes are still fairly strongly
represented. For instance there are quite a few older Anglo men who
obviously work as paralegals and have finally got their law degree, and
there are also obviously confident young women of the Anglo North Shore
Nevertheless, the extraordinary ethnic and cultural
diversity of the
families and the graduates underlines the irreversible cosmopolitanism
of our new Sydney and new Australia. At these graduations it is
possible to see the future and, in terms of ethnic and cultural
diversity, the future really works. It's also worth commenting that in
terms of the eccentric new class theory, all these graduates, by
definition, immediately enter the so-called new class, which underlines
the speed with which that class is broadening and expanding, to the
point that the new class theory becomes ridiculous.
(Main text delivered at a seminar in September 1999, with
some later additions and amendments.)
September 22, 1999