Ideology and Immigration

By Katharine Betts
Volume 1, Number 4 (Summer 1991)
Issue theme: "What makes a nation?"

Late in 1972 in Australia, after twenty-three years in Opposition, a Labor Government1 led by Gough Whitlam came to power. They had been elected on a tide of hope and prosperity, with promises to divide up the spoils of economic growth more liberally, to open the door of opportunity to the oppressed, to invite the underprivileged, the locked-out, to share in the fruits of abundance, to save the environment, the cities, the schools, to rebuild the welfare system, and to renew the Australian sense of national identity. Their success was a sign for many Australians that at last the country's real potential might be fulfilled. The arts would blossom, there would be a renaissance in education and, in both domestic and foreign policy, social justice would be achieved. These hopes were to be short-lived. Late in 1975 the Labor Government was defeated. Some saw this as a result of the Government's own economic and political naivety, others as a result of a right-wing political coup, but one fact cannot now be denied. The long economic boom of the post-war years was played out; the tide of prosperity had ebbed.

1 For those unfamiliar with Australian politics, the Labor Party (Whitlam Government) is roughly equivalent to our own Democrats and liberals; the Liberal Party (Fraser Government) corresponds to our Republicans and conservatives.

The late 1970s and early 1980s witnessed a level of economic distress that the Keynesians had believed to be locked up forever in the muddles and mistakes of the past. The unemployment and inflation of the 1970s confounded this assurance. The boom was gone, and all the stabilizing devices, the deficit spending, and the fine tuning, learnt from the textbooks and the scribes could not bring it back. The wise men who had known the truth quarrelled over the omens and mistook their way and the confidence and the optimism of the early 1970s ran out upon the sands. The lines of the jobless grew, less dramatically and less publicly than in the 1930s, but with similarly corrosive social and psychological effects, and Australian ebullience and assurance contracted and retreated. In 1976 the Fraser Government [Liberal Party] confronted an electorate apparently chastened and prepared, if only just a little, for sacrifice, humility, and some modest tokens of austerity.

At first, expectations of continuing economic growth, security, and broadening affluence were probably only mildly subdued. Why should the future be unlike the past? Unemployment was cyclical and the good times would return. But structural problems in the Australian economy became more evident during the late 1970s and these hopes became more difficult to sustain. Hardship fell unequally and many were able to live as if change were not occurring but even they could worry for their children and their friends. Work was hard to find and new entrants to the labour market often had to be content with marginal jobs, part-time and un-unionized, unless they or their parents could afford more years of education to obtain the higher credentials necessary for access to the dwindling pool of decent jobs. Housing was becoming scarcer and more expensive, and unavailable to most one-income households. Those who could work worked harder to maintain their relative position and those who could not fell back.

In some respects Government policy responded to the new austerity in new ways. Welfare was cut and no Herculean efforts were made to rescue declining manufacturing industries. Solutions did not lie with domestic markets alone and an export-led recovery demanded change. But one policy that had seemed appropriate in the 1960s and that had little obvious relevance to the new circumstances of the 1970s was revived. The Government increased immigration. How was it that such a policy could be pursued successfully at such a time? And why should the Hawke [Labor] Government in the 1980s take up the same policy in equally difficult economic circumstances?

" the mid 1970s and later,

as economic conditions continued

to deteriorate,...the intake was

enlarged almost annually, and by 1981

the net figures stood at 127,000..."

Immigration is nothing new in this country. For two hundred years immigrants have come in waves, in gusts and in trickles (and often again departed). After the last war they came in unprecedented numbers, and from 1947 to 1972 the population grew from seven and a half to thirteen million, well over half of the growth attributable to migrants and their Australian-born children. In contrast to the pre-war years migrants were drawn from increasingly diverse sources; in the past most had been British; now, while the proportion fluctuated, about half were not. The 1950s and the 1960s had been prosperous. Even so, by the late 1960s some writers and intellectuals had begun to question the wisdom of continuing mass migration where cities sprawled beyond the reach of public transport, unsewered and under-serviced, where schools and hospitals were overcrowded and run-down, welfare facilities strained and inadequate, and where non-English speaking migrants, together with the existing Australian poor, were bearing the brunt of these deficiencies.

The Whitlam [Labor] Government steadily reduced the annual immigration figures and after the election in May 1974 it disbanded the Department of Immigration. Passport control, migrant welfare, and migrant education were hived off to Foreign Affairs, Social Security, and Education respectively, and responsibility for migrant recruitment was given to the Department of Labor. And, in the face of rising unemployment, the numbers were cut still further. Few doubted then that this was a wise and humanitarian policy, in the interests of the existing population and of the would-be immigrant. Yet in the mid 1970s and later, as economic conditions continued to deteriorate, the Fraser [Liberal] Government reversed this trend. The intake was enlarged almost annually, and by 1981 the net figures stood at 127,500, as high as they had ever been at any time since the immediate post-war years.

Some of these new immigrants were not deliberately recruited: for example some were tourists who applied successfully for change of status, or New Zealanders, or illegal immigrants. But the change of status was granted, and the migration of New Zealanders was a consequence of a deliberate decision to allow them automatic right of entry. In other cases some groups were accepted reluctantly: for example the Indo-Chinese refugees. But most of the new migrants were actively recruited, and where those who were not actively recruited were accepted this was not because Australia was powerless in the face of demands for entry. The Government chose this course of action in preference to others.

Net immigration (arrivals minus departures) averaged around 86,000 per annum between 1976 and 1982 and Australia's population grew from 14 million to 15.4 million. Immigration accounted for half of this growth both directly by adding 600,000 new people (more than the combined population of Tasmania and the Northern Territory), and indirectly by contributing to natural increase. The net figures dipped in 1983 and 1984 but by 1985 they had again risen to over 100,000. If migration were to continue at this level by the year 2021 it would add an extra 4 to 5 million people (another Sydney and Adelaide), giving Australia a total population of twenty-three to twenty-four million instead of the nineteen million that would be reached without a net effect from immigration.

There were few obvious benefits for the majority of the population; unemployment was high, and there was considerable pressure to restructure the economy away from labour intensive manufacturing for the domestic market to capital intensive export industries. Given this, and given concerns about the diseconomies of growth so clearly indicated in the Whitlam years, and, most especially, given the lack of any widespread popular support for immigration, how was it that the Fraser [Liberal] Government was able to pursue its growth policy?

Perhaps it might seem more logical to begin by asking 'why', but this question has been well answered by Robert Birrell and his various co-writers. He points to a growth lobby centred around interests concerned with the growth of the domestic market in land development, housing, manufacturing and retailing, the interests of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in expanding its activities, the interests of some employers in migrant workers and, more recently, the interests of some migrant communities in pressing for family reunion. There are groups and individuals who have something to gain from population growth and their steady pressure provides an explanation for why immigration has proceeded. But why is it that groups and individuals who may feel that they pay the costs of growth have not organized themselves to try to block the programme? Why has there been no countervailing force? The absence of criticism and of organized opposition is the immediate answer to the question of 'how'; this book is an attempt to give reasons for the absence.

"...for adverse public opinion

on a given question to be an

effective political constraint

someone has to articulate it."

Governing Úlites find it hard to pursue policies that fly in the face of public opinion. But for adverse public opinion on a given question to be an effective political constraint someone has to articulate it. The question has to be placed on the national agenda. This role can fall to the Parliamentary Opposition but when bipartisan positions are adopted, as happened with immigration in 1980, formal political channels are blocked. This does not necessarily stifle adverse opinion but, if it is to be heard and to be effective, it must be promoted by other means. For example, organized protest groups can form, and with competent and articulate leadership they can provide a voice for an electorate disfranchised by bi-partisanship, a voice that politicians will be obliged to heed. Where these groups gain the sympathy of the media, the process will be accelerated. But, if the intelligentsia are not interested and the media unsympathetic, protest groups may not even form or, if they do, they are likely to remain on the fringes. Their activities will be ineffective and they will easily be written off as cranky and irrelevant.

In the past only a small proportion of the population had university degrees and professional occupations, and it was enough for leaders to be intelligent and committed. By contrast contemporary society has been transformed by mass education, and by the growth of higher education for a substantial minority. Most potential leaders have spent a long time in the education system and if a cause cannot attract at least some of the highly educated it will probably be stillborn. Even without an organized following, members of the highly educated middle class are able, by virtue of the positions in the media, the universities, education, welfare, and reform groups, to put political questions on the public agenda if they wish, as was evident in the 1987 debate on the Australia Card.

A number of intellectuals, as a consequence of the kind of work they do, have privileged access to the means of communication. In many cases the opinion that is actually heard is either that of members of the national Úlite or it is the opinion of intellectuals. Intellectuals can form an 'attentive public', actively engaged in political debates and controversies and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the kinds of opinions voiced at seminars and conferences, in media interviews, and in 'letters to the editor' will be taken as the working equivalent of 'public opinion'. But there is no necessary reason why educated and articulate opinion should mirror public opinion in general and by the late 1970s the educated and the less educated were at odds on the question of immigration. The general opinion of people with tertiary qualifications was quite unlike the general opinion of less educated people.

It was not the case that every graduate supported growth and that every early school-leaver opposed it. Surveys and opinion polls show that the trends were there, but that they were not all-embracing. Nevertheless, in the late 1970s and early 1980s Australian intellectuals offered no serious criticism of growth. Most of them, of course, had other things to do, and their work and their personal interests did not bring them into contact with the question. And some sincerely believed that immigration was necessary. But why were there no questions from the rest? Other policies, on unemployment, privatization, deregulation, housing, welfare spending, land rights, private schools, or tertiary fees attracted their full share of attention and debate. Why was immigration shunned?

During the 1970s a particular ideological climate grew up around the topic and attitudes to it came to acquire a special significance in intellectual circles. And for a series of historical reasons, the question moved from being a legitimate topic of discussion and disagreement to become not a topic but a symbol, a marker of intellectual status and identity. If a person's work brought them close to the subject it could be more important to be ideologically correct than to ask difficult questions. The climate was such that these questions might simply not emerge, but if they did it would also become clear that the personal costs of pursuing them might be too high to pay. Potential critics stuck to the kinds of questions about immigration that were approved by their peers or avoided them altogether. Many ideas are difficult to challenge but the taboos surrounding immigration have been especially strong and, as Geoffrey Blainey's experience2 demonstrated in 1984, the sanctions for those who break them can be severe. Ideologically correct attitudes to immigration have offered the warmth of in-group acceptance to supporters and the cold face of exclusion to dissenters.

2Geoffrey Blainey is a leading Australian historian, and was Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. Well-known as a television personality, he made a speech in 1984 questioning the volume and composition of immigration and arguing for a common core of culture in a populace that was becoming increasingly diverse. He was roundly attacked for his views. See pp. 160-166 in Dr. Betts' book.

This climate of opinion, this set of ideological circumstances, had causes and it has consequences, but before these can be explored the concept of 'ideology' should be defined. If the split between intellectual and majority opinion can be explained in terms of ideology what is the word to mean? Different people use it in different ways. For some an ideology is a world-view, for others it is a set of political doctrines. But for many of the writers who use it 'ideology' refers to false, self-serving ideas. An 'ideology' is a lie, or a half-truth, told to protect the interests of those who tell it. Honest men and women might unintentionally get caught up in an ideology but if the facts of the matter were made clear to them they would disown it. This third definition of 'ideology' is quite common....

"When we think of the population

explosion we are considering

the idea that human civilization,

if not human survival,

is threatened by the growing pressure

of numbers on resources."

In principle any one belief can be considered as an idea and as an ideology almost at the same time but, in practice, in ordinary discourse, beliefs tend to slip from one category to the other. Take the population explosion. When we think of the population explosion we are considering the idea that human civilization, if not human survival, is threatened by the growing pressure of numbers on resources. This is an idea that may be evaluated in its own terms. What is the carrying capacity of this planet? How many people will various rates of growth produce? On the other hand we may look at the effects of a belief in the population explosion. Perhaps it makes believers fatalistic and despairing; why struggle to achieve reforms if these will only be washed away by the human flood? Perhaps it also makes believers blame the world's poor for their poverty. The problem is too big, the perpetrators too many and too obstinate, and there is nothing to be done. So the population exploding may function as an ideology that relieves the rich of any blame for poverty and of any obligation to try to alleviate it and thus can preserve some mental comfort for them.

But when we see the 'population explosion' in this light we are likely to switch from evaluating it as a description of real events in the world, and see it rather as a means of entrenching Western privilege and generating indifference to suffering. So for many humanitarians it can become important not to take the idea seriously, not to look at the intrinsic logic of exponential growth in a finite world, but rather to concentrate on the idea's extrinsic effects. The 'population explosion' becomes not a description of events that may or may not be true but an ideology of the rich and heartless. Yet treating an idea extrinsically, and searching out a range of interest that it may serve, subjects it to no empirical or logical test. We cannot say that an idea is false simply because we have discovered some other ends that it may promote. But discourse often proceeds as if this were the case.

The idea of multiculturalism has its intrinsic merits and its intrinsic problems but when we put these to one side and look at it as an ideology, we see that it may function as a status marker and that it may have more tangible effects as well. It can show that those who approve of it are tolerant, cosmopolitan members of the professional classes, not to be confused with narrow-minded plebeians, but it also has more specific consequences to do with social policy in education, housing, foreign affairs and, of course, immigration. If the tolerant cosmopolitans are employed in one of these areas their commitment to multiculturalism may affect other areas in which they have an interest connected with jobs, promotion, special grants, and bureaucratic rivalries. And, more generally, it can advance interests that the affluent classes have in recreation and personal services (the cheap and exotic restaurants, the delicatessens, the newly affordable domestic help).

"The land developer, the building

contractor, and the supermarket chain,

all have an interest in population

growth and so may the apparent altruist."

There need be nothing explicit and Machiavellian about this. To point to a 'vested interest' that someone's enthusiasms serve may only mean that there was nothing in this person's circumstances to raise questions for them when the idea was in the wind. It cost them nothing and brought them some advantages. This does not mean that they would necessarily and inevitably accept it but, other things being equal, they were more likely to do so than otherwise. People can and do reject ideas that serve their other interests, and they can and do support ideas that fly in the face of those same interests. But an idea that is endorsed by friends and status equals and that is congruent with one's general circumstances is more likely to be accepted than an idea that is not so well spiced with pleasant side effects. The land developer, the building contractor, and the supermarket chain, all have an interest in population growth and so may the apparent altruist. He or she may well benefit from growth in the education system and an increase in welfare clients, and may well enjoy a sense of growing cultural diversity and access to a wider range of foods and cheaper services. This does not have to mean that some apparent altruists are really cynics. Rather it means that for many of them the prospect of immigration offers no immediate threat to their way of life.

It is hard to do one thing by itself. All actions and failures to act have many consequences and one may be aware of some of them and not of others. If some of the unintended effects of the altruists' preferred line of action do in fact work out in their own favor this does not mean that their 'real motives' have been unmasked, but it can help us see that there was little in their personal circumstances to discourage their activities. Ideologies can spread and be adopted in a conscious and intentional way. Liars and hypocrites abound but they are not necessary. Ideological explanations for historical events do not have to depend on conspirators; decent people trying to cope with the complexity of daily life will often do well enough.

Undoubtedly there were and are opportunists turning a dollar and gaining personal and political advantage by supporting immigration, just as there are many sincere advocates who had a serious attitude to the question and little to gain for themselves. But people who had simply caught a particular set of fashionable ideas played a major part in helping the growth lobby in Australia in the late 1970s and early 1980s because their role in preserving silence and promoting orthodoxy was essential.

My own opinion about immigration and population growth is not relevant to an explanation of how it has been achieved, but it is only fair that I should state it. I believe that population growth is not in the interests of people who are already settled in Australia and who intend to stay. Some people might agree with this but argue that we should nevertheless proceed with growth policies in the interests of those who are not yet here but would like to come. This may be a defensible position but, if we are to act on it, it should be stated explicitly and subjected to genuine political debate. Those who must bear the costs of growth and pay the price of policies oriented to the interests of others should give their informed consent.


Intellectuals have privileged access to the means of communication. At times, as researchers, commentators on public affairs, activists, or reformers, they themselves are in the media spotlight and play a part in shaping the news. On a more continuing basis many of them are heavily involved in transmitting information and cultural values to the rest of the population. As teachers, journalists, artists and writers, they run, or make a major contribution to, education, theatre, serious journalism and publishing, and they play some part in the mass media as well. Their work includes creating and defining culture, and the interpretation and transmission of existing beliefs and values. Work of this nature is a source of power, though a source that is usually diffuse and taken for granted. But intellectuals can influence political processes in more direct ways. In some circumstances, their access to the means of communication allows them to affect the agenda of public debate and it is always possible that, by chance or by choice, they may articulate popular concerns that are being suppressed by the power Úlite. Or they may not articulate them, thereby deliberately or unintentionally helping to maintain the status quo. In 1979 the chairman of the Australian Immigration Reform Association, Ken Rivett, put it like this:

A government, especially if helped by a responsible opposition, can run somewhat against the tide of majority opinion without suffering for it electorally. This applies especially to the admission of refugees or other migrants with a good case for being here, since the fact of their settling without dire forebodings coming true tends to influence opinion. So do favourable news about, and encounters with, the refugees themselves. Nonetheless public opinion sets limits to what policy can be.

Adverse opinion may set limits but with the help of a 'responsible opposition' and 'favourable news' these limits can be extended.

"Democracies are based on the

idea of majority rule

but in practice politicians

and other political leaders

are often able to fly in the face

of the wishes of the majority.

However if they are to do this

they need help."

Democracies are based on the idea of majority rule but in practice politicians and other leaders are often able to fly in the face of the wishes of the majority. However if they are to do this they need help, not only from the Parliamentary Opposition and other powerful groups, but also from the intelligentsia. If policy is to flout public opinion, that opinion must be excluded from the arena of legitimate debate and this gives the intelligentsia a kind of power. They cannot bend either the masses or the captains of industry to their will, but if they articulate public discontents in circumstances where the Úlite are carefully ignoring them, they can act as the catalyst that brings unpopular Government policies to a halt. If on the other hand they keep the silence they will provide the powerful with a considerable political opportunity. The question then is, when are intellectuals likely to articulate majority opinion and when are they unlikely to do so?

If the beliefs and opinions of intellectuals on social and political questions were formed solely on the intrinsic merits of particular cases there could be no general answer to this question. But if they have common interests as members of a social category, and if these interests affect their beliefs, there should be some trace of a consistent pattern. The concept of the 'vested interest' does not explain why any one individual adopts a particular position (nor does discovering a vested interest in itself prove that position to be mistaken). But we would, for example, expect that people employed in certain areas such as the union movement would be more likely to be left wing-if this did not conflict with other interests and goals that were important to them-just as we would expect others such as stock brokers to be more likely to be right wing-if this did not conflict with other valued ends. If a general answer exists to the question 'when are intellectuals likely to articulate majority opinion', it will be partial and incomplete. But a search for such an answer must begin with an analysis of their position in society and the kinds of goals and interests that are likely to be associated with it.

Advanced industrial societies, both capitalist and socialist, are heavily dependent on trained workers. In the West educational institutions have expanded rapidly over the last hundred years, and a considerable number of the people now gain a livelihood not from manual labour, nor yet from rent or profits, but from intellectual skills authenticated by credentials. For at least some social theorists the growth in the numbers of the professionally credentialed and their relatively privileged social position have raised doubts about conventional ways of understanding class and social inequality. Are the highly educated, despite their advantages, still working class? Or are some of them to be understood, as Lenin once argued, as the vanguard party of the working class, in it but not of it and marked out by their greater understanding of social forces? Or are they, as the American sociologist Alvin Gouldner claims, a rising 'new class' of owners of 'cultural capital', challenging the old class of the propertied, the old bourgeoisie, for social dominance? Or is it more useful simply to see them as part of the bourgeoisie, the credentialed and propertied merging to form a single group with similar origins and similar interests? Or is the idea of class now irrelevant and are the credentialed merely a stratum of people who have some experiences in common, for example a prolonged education, but little in the way of common material interests?

Writers who have attempted to describe the social position of intellectuals have not found their way to a consensus, but there is agreement on one aspect of the intellectuals' situation and that is their tendency to be employed in disproportionate numbers in the public sector. The growing role of the state in social and economic life has offered opportunities for professionally qualified people to find employment in administration, research, planning, education, social welfare and the arts. This is in addition to the more traditional fields of medicine, law, applied science, accounting, public works and defence. The State has now become a key employer for many intellectuals, particularly those trained in the humanities and social sciences. The latter groups matter politically, not just because of their general and often routine work in passing on cultural values, but because critics, journalists, reformers and activists are often recruited from their ranks. Arts and social science graduates have no monopoly over the spirit of reform, but they are more likely to be in a position to articulate, crystallize and legitimate disaffected elements in public opinion than, for instance, engineers, medicos, accountants or computer analysts.

"Local resistance to immigration

is often seen as racist

but it can also appear as a selfish

reluctance to share, a reluctance

to forfeit grossly indulgent levels

of material comfort."

Graduates in the arts and the social sciences may find it harder to market their skills than people whose background is in more specifically vocational disciplines, but their political influence can be greater. This is especially true of the few who make successful careers in journalism, television, and the universities. But it also applies to many who work as organizers, researchers and project officers within a range of welfare and reform associations (including, of course, the growing number of organizations concerned with migrant welfare and multi-culturalism)....

Intellectuals have often found little to admire in the owners of the means of production and their products, but they have not confined their scorn to this quarter. The workers who have adapted to capitalism and its goods have also come in for criticism with their plaster gnomes, plastic flowers and china ducks, and now their video recorders, cars, caravans and motor boats, their mass produced goods and chattels, their attitudes and the cultural desert in which they live. All such features of their lives are attacked and ridiculed. Gouldner has concentrated on analyzing a rise to power of a new class at the expense of the old and has little to say about the attitudes of intellectuals to subordinate groups. But Martin writes about this at length, and it becomes a central theme when we consider the role of the intellectuals in the immigration debate in Australia. Local resistance to immigration is often seen as racist but it can also appear as a selfish reluctance to share, a reluctance to forfeit grossly indulgent levels of material comfort. The crassness of old Australians with their economistic values must be confronted with old-world and alien values that are not only different but, by implication, less crass and less materialistic.



Surveys and public opinion polls show that many highly educated Australians tend to favour generous multiculturalism and a generous response to refugees, that they are unwilling to say that immigration figures are too high, that they support non-racist selection policies, and that they appear to be blasÚ about a supposed defence threat3 to their country. Not all tertiary or university educated people endorse these positions but their attitudes tend to be unlike that of the majority and quite unlike that of the primary educated.

3National defense has long been a prime public policy topic in Australia. During World War II the country numbered 7 million and invasion by the Japanese was widely feared. Casting an eye to the teeming populations to their north, the question has been: How could we defend ourselves? Population growth was seen as one answer and gave rise to the catch phrase 'Populate or Perish.' Chapter 6 of Dr. Betts' book is given over to this topic.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s intellectuals had raised a number of questions about immigration. It is curious that the considerable growth in the migrant intake between 1976 and 1983 met with little or no opposition from independent intellectual critics. The attitudes recorded in surveys and opinion polls offer some clues to the puzzle but, while tables of data can demonstrate trends, they do not reveal the powerful emotions behind some of those trends or the historical context in which they developed. It was not simply that a growing shift in intellectual opinion turned potential critics of immigration away from the topic and towards other pursuits. The particular attitudes behind this shift in opinion carried some heavy symbolic freight.

"With the general anxiety about

unemployment, if even a fraction of

[the intelligentsia] had chosen

to mobilize against the new

immigration programme [it]

would surely have been abandoned."

The radical protest movements of the 1960s, the anti-war movement, women's liberation, the environmental protection movement, gay rights, resident action, abortion law reform, all these were essentially the concerns and activities of members of the educated middle classes, students and recent graduates as well as established professional people. They were not all-powerful in achieving their aims but they constituted a political force that could not be lightly dismissed. With the general anxiety about unemployment, if even a fraction of them had chosen to mobilize against the new immigration programme of the late 1970s the programme would surely have been abandoned, especially as there were doubts about it within the Fraser Government itself.

Opposition could have drawn on a number of established and respectable causes: resources and the environment; the overcrowding of cities; housing and homelessness; the deteriorating conditions of the poor, the unemployed, the welfare recipients; the implications of immigration for restructuring of the economy and later, for the balance of payments; and the folly of the defence argument. But though Labor politicians in the Federal Parliament did raise some of these questions before they were silenced by bipartisanship, the intelligentsia in the universities, in welfare lobbies, reform groups, and in the media, held their peace. They were not particularly pro-growth, but they were affected by a powerful ideological climate that made them unlikely to challenge it. And the effect of this climate increased during the 1970s, though its broader origins lie further back in time.

In the decades following World War II some of the ideas and attitudes current among Australian intellectuals changed. Given the times and the recruitment of a new generation of graduates and professional people this was inevitable. By the mid 1970s, in some circles, and especially among people trained in the humanities and social sciences, a particular set of beliefs had developed concerning race, racism, materialism and the nature of the Australian non-intellectual. Many of these beliefs were true and useful but they also served this new generation as markers of cultural identity, as status symbols....

Conflict between intellectuals and non-intellectuals may well be endemic in societies that allocate resources at least in part on the basis of acquired skills and higher education. Conflict may also be an unavoidable consequence of the commitment of intellectuals to reason, criticism, and the questioning of accepted truths, however partially this commitment is applied. Economic tensions, fuelled by resentment at the destruction of traditional values by cold science and hard logic, may explain the origins of conflict, but particular historical circumstances will affect the form that this conflict takes.

As their numbers grew during the post-war decades many professional and semi-professional people were looking for some way of distinguishing their new position and social identity from the lower middle class values of their personal backgrounds. Broadly speaking, there were two pre-existing possibilities: the anglophile norms of established wealth and the locally developed practices of the Australian working people....

The recently successful, first generation professionals, concentrated in the major cities, could not hope to emulate the life styles based on country residences and Oxbridge manners. Many of this new and growing group of people began to find a solution to their status problems by developing a third possibility based on their perceptions not of British but of European culture. They became enthusiastic about foreign films and foreign literature, foreign fashion, and especially enthusiastic about travel-not necessarily to England but possibly to France, or to Italy or Greece. And those who were confined to their native continent could console themselves with exotic food, continental delicatessens and restaurants, and with developing a cultivated taste in wine.

"...the many contributions on these

themes hardly constituted a debate

for, at least until 1984,

few legitimate voices asked questions

about the worth of these values:

[questions of racial discrimination

in selection policies,

of international justice,

the value of cultural diversity]."

In the 1960s films like 'Zorba the Greek' helped to establish the idea of the 'marvellous ethnic', a race of people who really knew how to live a full life untrammelled by narrow Anglo-Saxon inhi-bitions, and in the 1950s that engaging fraud, They're a Weird Mob, by 'Nino Culotta' (really John O'Grady, but not unmasked for some time), had suggested that foreign warmth and generosity might already be here, waiting undiscovered amongst us. Traditional southern European society is in fact tightly bound by values of honour, female chastity, and family authority, but cultural tourists will always find the foreigner they imagine, and the idea of the 'marvellous ethnic' agreed with the liberal values of internationalism and tolerance. This added to the idea's attractions; multiculturalism and cos-mopolitanism also set up clear criteria for establishing social prestige, criteria which were unlike those of the old anglophile establishment, and which sharply distinguished these new participants in the culture of careful and critical discourse from the 'Australian-oriented lower order'....

Though the question of immigrants' contribution to population growth was seldom raised in intellectual circles between 1976 and 1983, other aspects of immigration have been much discussed both during that period, and over the last two decades. Questions of racial discrimination in selection policies, of international justice, and of the value of cultural diversity provoked a stream of seminars, conferences, books and articles. But the many contributions on these themes hardly constituted a debate for, at least until 1984, few legitimate voices asked questions about the worth of these values. It could be taken for granted that internationalism and cultural diversity were self-evidently correct. The words promoting them were not, however, spoken in a social vacuum. There were two partners to the exchange but only one had a speaking role. The parochials and their presumed desires, attitudes and preferences were a constant theme but they themselves were not asked to reply....

The attitude of many intellectuals toward Australia's defence can be best described as one of elegant pessimism. The belief in the absurdity of erecting military barriers against the invader does not lie in a perception that these barriers are unnecessary but in a belief that they would be useless. Australia should uphold the central values of racial and international equality because this is morally correct and because, as an especially vulnerable nation, she will only be permitted to exist as long as her values and practices do not offend the international community.

In 1975 the French demographer, Alfred Sauvy, stated the second of these principles quite clearly. Starting from the two premises (both doubtful) that an active zero population growth movement exists in Australia and that Australia has been particularly niggardly in accepting refugees he writes:

with 7.6 million square kilometers at her disposal-of which the whole eastern portion could be cultivated, if need be, at the cost of a little effort-the country is situated, almost teasingly, opposite the immense mass of Asia with its large and growing population.

For the moment, no tension can be discerned...[but one] must expect that some day or other, China will denounce this rich country to the United Nations for monopolizing the soil and will demand, sharply, that the land be allocated to the starving...

In Sauvy's opinion Australia's only hope of retaining national sovereignty lies in embarking on a large, well-publicized, policy of opening up her boundless resources and sharing them with her Asia neighbours. This is not simply the view of a caustic, ill-informed foreigner. A number of local intellectuals who are troubled by the question of Australia's wealth and Asia's poverty have reached similar conclusions. In 1979 David Scott, then Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Chairman of Community Aid Abroad, acknowledged the switch from the old connection between defence and population to the new connection, and articulated this new connection in moderate terms.

The 'populate or perish' notion that fuelled the post-war immigration drive does not carry much weight today but, as is now often pointed out, in the eyes of our neighbours, we need to be making good use of our spaces and/or resources. More people may be needed to legitimise our occupation of a sizeable and well-resourced landmass. Failure to be seen to be responsible can be used to exert political pressure to influence Australian policies or regional attitudes toward Australia.....

In 1978 George Zubrzycki, Foundation Professor of Sociology at the School of General Studies, Australian National University, and Chairman of the Australian Ethnic Affairs Council, articulated Sauvy's position much more strongly. He argued that immigration was necessary for domestic, economic reasons but then went on to say that:

there are two other issues that clearly and fundamentally transcend our domestic situation.

First, is the incongruity between Asian overpopulation and Australian underpopulation which creates by far the greatest issue facing us today-an issue far more serious than say the future of our manufacturing industry. The challenge of survival in a continent which is incredibly rich and yet indefensible. Second is the moral problem. The earth in all its fullness exists for the use of all human beings regardless of race or colour or creed. How long can we continue to claim sovereignty over a continent the size of Australia and deny access to those who are prepared to work hard to develop it?

But he then makes a point that is unusual in the contemporary literature advocating continuing immigration.

All this clearly implies profound economic sacrifice. Yes, sacrifice to our living standards. If hundreds of millions in the poor world cannot have two meals a day or even one whole meal a day then we may have to forgo our fantastic consumption of luxuries. If we want to populate Australia for the sake of strengthening our defence potential and for the sake of producing more wheat, more rice, more of everything else for those who experience hunger in the neighbouring countries of Asia, then we must pay a price, a price for our survival.

The two beliefs that lie behind the restatement of the link between population and defence, that the country has vast resources and that it is in danger from the north, are the same beliefs as those that lay behind the position of the Sydney Morning Herald in 1895. It is the prescription for action that is different. Australia should not try to keep the aliens at bay with military force, she should invite them in. She should do this because virtue may disarm hostility and because, prudence aside, it is unjust that so few should claim exclusive possession of so much.

The exodus of refugees from Indo-China, beginning as a trickle immediately after the fall of Saigon in 1975 and growing to a flood by late 1977, probably helped to crystallize the new version of the threat from the north and its implications for defence. In 1979 Zubrzycki wrote:

A civilian invasion of Australia has already begun. This is what the peaceful incoming of the Vietnamese 'boat people' really is..

Not even the blindest ostrich with his head most deeply dug into the sand can miss its significance. We are geographically placed in the most critical area of the world's population growth-East Asia...

Australia's attitude to the boat people is a test of our sincerity about our attitude to Asia and the defence of our country. If we do not grasp the challenge of developing this vast continent we shall find it increasingly difficult to justify our possession of it.

The Vietnam War polarized Australian society and sharpened the rift between many intellectuals, particularly those on the left, and their fellow citizens. And by the 1970s some of the student protesters of the 1960s had gone on to become the new generation of academics and social critics. The war had been waged in an Asian country. The new generation of intellectuals had resisted it, argued and fought against it, with all the passion of those who are caught up in opposing the most wretched of human evils, and in this struggle they grasped at the idea of racism-the extreme antithesis of cosmopolitanism. Racism offered an explanation for the Australian mentality and it also offered a distinguishing mark, separating those who had insight and could understand from those who were locked into the small dark space of their own selfish and fear-filled ignorance.

"Taking a correct position on these

questions can be more a matter

of symbolic or expressive politics

than a matter of achieving

practical goals."

The historian, Humphrey McQueen, a student in the 1960s and an academic in the 1970s, has developed the argument that 'racism is the most important single component of Australian nationalism', and that this is induced by a siege mentality and the 'threat from the north'. Denis Altman, also a member of this generation, writes that 'the first point about our traditional Weltanschauung is that it is racist'. Ideas of this kind reinforced the division between cosmopolitans and parochials and helped predispose cosmopolitans to accept and support immigration. If the parochial is distinguished by fear and insularity, the tacit conclusion might be that immigration and forced confrontation with diversity will provide a cure; or, even if a cure does not eventuate, that the confrontation will at least provide a continuing rallying point where intellectuals can demonstrate their moral and cultural superiority. But this conclusion does not involve rational analysis and debate, and the threat perception that makes the parochial dangerous and absurd is not refuted. Asian immigration can be seen as an especially potent way of challenging all that is narrow, insular, chauvinistic and selfish in the local culture. True, this strategy may not protect an 'indefensible' nation from aggression, but this may not be the aim. Taking a correct position on these questions can be more a matter of symbolic or expressive politics than a matter of achieving practical goals.

Many statements of humanitarian obligation to accept immigrants are put forward in a coercive context as the other side of the defence coin and, though disinterested advocates of immigration do not often argue that humanitarianism has economic benefits, special pleaders for extended family reunion (and sometimes refugees) do make this claim. Altruism pays. But for some advocates humanitarianism is an end in itself. In 1979, for example, Ken Rivett presented a case for accepting immigrants, particularly refugees, that was not linked to any military or economic goals but rested solely on the increase in welfare that immigration might offer the immigrant.

very few economists would say there is clear evidence that [immigration] raises (or, up to a certain rate of inflow, lowers) income per head in the host country. There is no strong economic case for it on selfish grounds; such a case must be based on the gain to migrants from poor countries who move to where they can earn much more in an environment where there is more capital, and often more natural resources to work with, per head.

Rivett went on to claim that as international aid is calculated as a proportion of gross domestic product per capita, the total sum of foreign aid that Australia could give would be larger with a larger population. (This of course assumes that population growth is not accompanied by a fall in per capita GDP.) The straightforward appeal to humanitarianism may be more common than the argument that links humanitarian ideals to the threat of coercion, but it generally rests on the idea of Australian wealth and the opportunity this provides to do good at little cost.

"Intellectuals are surest of their ground

when humanitarianism and

racial tolerance are the

points at issue."

For Altman the underlying problem for political activists is to reorient the values of a 'small, rich and underpopulated country', because if Australians are 'to begin to contribute to any genuine global reallocation of resources there is a need for a radical reappraisal of our domestic politics'. The moral case for a 'global reallocation of resources' is self-evident. It is also a fundamental goal of 'libertarian socialism': personal freedom, a steady state economy, and international egalitarianism. And if we turn from libertarian socialism to Christian humanism the message is similar. In 1982 Sir Frank Little, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, argued that:

This is a country of great emptiness. We should promote the opening of our shores to people in need, particularly refugees. Australians are only stewards of this vast tract of land, not the ultimate owners.

For others obligation may flow from the presumption of our wealth and the fact of others' need.

we need to be thinking now about ways in which we will be able to honour the obligations we are likely to be incurring in the coming decades as ecological pressures reach even more frightening proportions in the countries of South-East Asia. (H.Feith)

And in January 1982 the 'Saturday Reflection', published as part of an Age editorial, said:

Lessons from the past and the dictates of reason suggest we shall be held responsible before the bar of history, if not before the throne of judgement, for the use we make of this immense piece of real estate our forefathers bequeathed to us.

Responsibility for sharing what one possesses with others who have not is written in the nature of things.

Our Government cannot afford to ignore these things when considering our national statistics, the rights of minorities among us, and especially when reviewing its immigration policy.

Intellectuals are surest of their ground when humanitarianism and racial tolerance are the points at issue. They feel that the case is obviously right. Nonetheless, it is here that they also feel the most conscious of parochial resistance and this can inject a note of passion and even open hostility into the debate. When the culture is seen as materialistic and racist how could this be otherwise? And the impression of the 1960s that the majority of Australians were selfish and ethnocentric in their attitude toward the foreigner overseas was only confirmed by the growing perception of their attitudes toward the 'foreigner' at home.

The 'problem migrant' had been discovered by some Australian-born intellectuals in the late 1960s. In the early 1970s this discovery was publicized and became linked with the Government's development of multiculturalism. This further helped to define the split between intellectuals and parochials in terms of attitudes to ethnic difference and cultural pluralism. By the late 1970s migrant communities themselves had begun to draw on some of the imagery and to convert it into the hard currency of specific policies. In the 1960s migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds were not much discussed and were not seen as people with special problems. To the extent that non-English-speaking immigrants were considered as a distinct social category, they were more often perceived as right wing anti-communists rather than as social victims. Most often, however, they were simply not considered at all. As late as 1973 McQueen lamented that because of Australia's 'rigidly Anglo-Saxon immigration' there was no ethnic minority in the country from which a social critique could develop, and Donald Horne writes that few of the commentators who took part in the ferment of policy and ideas immediately preceding the election of the Whitlam Government had any notion of Australia as a society characterized by ethnic pluralism. 'The preconditions for an ethnic consciousness movement were there but not the reality.'

During the 1970s and early 1980s the perception of immigrants as people condemned to poverty and truncated opportunities developed and blossomed. Unscrupulous employers were given the most blame in this analysis but it was always easy to add the rider that these problems and disabilities were accentuated by widespread prejudice against the immigrant's cultural difference. The Australian-born were believed to assign a low social status to people of ethnic origin which led to problems of low self-esteem among migrants and their children, and thus to personal, familial and economic difficulties. Multiculturalism with its emphasis on the positive value of ethnicity was devised as a counter to these difficulties. The immigrant's feelings of self-worth were to be nurtured and the Australian-born were to realize the wrong that they had done and to see that they should correct it.

Advocates of cultural pluralism and migrant welfare were initially able to separate policies of this kind from immigration policy itself. There was no necessary link between a respect for people who were different and a high migrant intake. In 1970 it had been possible to criticize the continuing intake of migrants while nonetheless acknowledging and appreciating the contribution of non-British migrants to Australian culture. The Whitlam Government had no difficulty in combining a commitment to a number of international ideals, to the abolition of selection policies based on race, and the development of multiculturalism with a decision to restrict and cut back the overall intake. But by the beginning of the 1980s the situation had changed, and to support migrant welfare was to support immigration; people who questioned immigration by implication questioned the value of existing migrants. Their questions insulted migrants, devalued their suffering, and demonstrated the questioner's lack of tolerance and humanitarianism. Intellectuals who criticized immigration risked exile from their class and alignment with the parochial. Given some of the opinions about parochials this was a considerable risk....

Perhaps some intellectuals, in certain moods and in certain situations, have 'always hated Australia'. But in the 1970s and 1980s there were more of them than there had been fifty years before and those who most desired to express antipathy towards their compatriots had acquired a new way of expressing their feelings through their attitudes to migrants and immigration. ?

Paperback copies of Ideology and Immigration: Australia 1976 to 1987 by Dr. Katharine Betts can be purchased at $20 per copy, postpaid. Write to: the Federation for American Immigration Reform, Attention: Betty Ruth Dungan, 1666 Connecticut Ave, NW, Washington DC 20036; or call (202) 328-7004.

About the author

Dr. Betts is a lecturer in sociology at Swinburne Institute of Technology, Australia.

Australians went through an immigration debate that is astonishingly parallel to ours, which preceded

ours by several years. The author analyzes in particular the role of intellectuals and the "growth lobby"

showing how "ideologically correct" ideas on immigration developed. In this regard, her analysis is

considerably advanced over that seen in the US, where the role of "political correctness" is just now

being recognized for the power it has in shaping the immigration debate. This essay is composed of

portions of Dr. Betts' book and is reprinted with permission.