Australia's New Population Report Its Background

By Katharine Betts
Volume 3, Number 3 (Spring 1993)
Issue theme: "A land of opportunity: crime and immigration"

Immigration is the issue that will not go away in Australian politics. It cuts across left and right, and it may even help to cut down political leaders. But for most of the post-war period bipartisanship has kept immigration off the party-political agenda and protected a large program, and its supporters, from an increasingly alienated electorate. From mid-1990, this protection began to fray. Critics of immigration and multiculturalism gained a more open hearing and the political forces seem to be realigning. Early in 1992, the leader of the Opposition, John Hewson, promised a smaller program if he should be elected and, in May, 1992, the Labor Government reduced the planned intake from 110,000 to 80,000. (The Labor Government has been in power since 1982. It was led by Bob Hawke until December, 1991. The current Prime Minister is Paul Keating, who faces an election in early 1993.)

Both Hewson and Keating claim that their reductions are only to hold for the duration of the recession; in the long run, high immigration is good for Australia. But, in terms of practical politics, it seems that a new bipartisan support for a smaller intake, however temporary, is forming.

In February, 1992, the Government released a report on immigration, the Withers Report. This was the result of an inquiry which reflected some of the recent changes in the climate of acceptable opinion and some of the tensions and inconsistencies which accompany these changes. The report, Population Issues and Australia's Future, was prepared by the Population Issues Committee, a six-member sub-committee of the National Population Council. Both of these bodies were chaired by Glen Withers, a Melbourne professor of economics. (The National Population Council was a body appointed to advise the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs; it was formed in 1984 and dissolved in mid-1992.)

The Withers Report revisits the question of the economic effects of immigration. This question is central to the current debate in Australia. Answers to it are, at present, most often sought within econo-metric models. But the report also has a special focus on the environmental consequences of immigration and population growth, a topic long absent from official inquiries.

The Withers Report comes as the latest in a procession of Government inquiries into population and migration the Borrie Reports of 1975 and 1978; the Green Paper of 1977; the Committee of Review on Migrant Assessment chaired by Charles Price in 1982; and the FitzGerald Report of 1988. Why was this new report commissioned? This is something of a puzzle. To understand why this is so, we need to go back to the immediate predecessor of the Withers Report, the FitzGerald Report.

The FitzGerald Report owed its origins to ethnic leaders' dissatisfaction with trends in immigration policy in 1986 and 1987, trends which represented a slight shift in emphasis from family reunion to skilled migration. They had hoped that a new immigration inquiry, sponsored by a Government sympathetic to organized ethnic interests, would reinforce support for family reunion and multi-culturalism. In fact, the FitzGerald Report criticized the influence of ethnic leaders and the effects of extended family reunion and also recommended that multicultural policies be replaced by an ethos of commitment to Australia. Neither the ethnic activists nor the Government had reckoned on the indepen-dence of the committee of inquiry. Two members in particular had a decided influence Helen Hughes, a forceful personality who combined enthusiasm for free market economics with skepticism about the role of special interests, and the chairman, Stephen FitzGerald. FitzGerald had been Australia's first ambassador to China and was a respected Sinologist. He supported high migration, but his strong sense of Australian nationalism affected his opinion on the form that it should take. Together with its emphasis on commitment to Australia, the FitzGerald Report argued for larger numbers, close ties with Asia and a clear emphasis on skilled migrants with reduced privileges for relatives. (The report also said that more research was needed and that a well-funded research bureau should be established.) Ethnic leaders were dismayed and the Federal Opposition, at that time led by John Howard, saw the report's criticisms as a splendid opportunity to attack the Government.

'Just as the FitzGerald Report

owed its existence to pressure

group politics, so may the Withers

Report have done. This time, however,

the impetus seems to have come not

from the ethnic lobby, but from

the conservation movement.'

After many months of delay and debate, the Hawke Government accepted the larger numbers and the continuing Asian focus, balked at the shift from family reunion to skilled migration, and clung to multiculturalism. Howard also welcomed the increased numbers, but he endorsed the criticism of family reunion and the emphasis on skilled migration, and approved of the rejection of multiculturalism. A public perception formed that he also wished to slow the rate of Asian immigration (a policy that would have been counter to FitzGerald's emphasis on non-discrimination in selection). Howard's criticism of family reunion and multi-culturalism produced a storm of protest from ethnic organizations and other community groups, while the hinted possibility of racial discrimination lost him support in the serious media. Not long after, he also lost the leadership of his party, a sequence of events which can be interpreted as cause and effect.

While the Government had hedged on many of FitzGerald's recommendations, it moved swiftly to implement his ideas on research. The Bureau of Immigration Research was established in Melbourne in 1989 with a staff of 50 and an annual budget of $1.5 million for commissioned research. The Bureau also took over responsibility for the Immigration Department's annual publication, Population Trends and Prospects. Given all the academic firepower concentrated within the new Bureau, why was a further report, outside of its immediate jurisdiction, considered necessary? The puzzle is accentuated by the fact that Hawke announced the new inquiry at the Bureau's first National Outlook Conference in November, 1990, a three-day event attended by more than 600 delegates, and graced by 94 papers, almost all of which supported high migration.

Just as the FitzGerald Report owed its existence to pressure group politics, so may the Withers Report have done. This time, however, the impetus seems to have come not from the ethnic lobby, but from the conservation movement. But another question lurks behind this answer to the puzzle of origins. Did the conservationists who lobbied for this report really want a basis for action, or were they engaged in a political maneuver to contain tensions within their own ranks and to defer, or avoid, action?

There is a plethora of environmental groups in Australia but the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), a national body with its headquarters in Melbourne, is the largest and most influential. It had pursued a firm policy of challenging population growth in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This strategy weakened in 1984 and 1985 with the rise of a new faction within the ACF's governing Council. This faction was made up of people committed to internationalism and the struggle against racism, commitments which led the new councilors to feel uncomfortable with any policy that involved restric-ting immigration. In 1985, a new ACF population policy was formulated and it gave a higher priority to humanitarianism in immigration policy than to the problem of ecological sustainability. People with influence within the Foundation were adopting positions on questions of anti-racism and inter-nationalism that were inconsistent with working for reform of a large and ungainly immigration program driven by special interests.

The shift in feeling within the Council was strengthened by the appointment of a new executive director, Phillip Toyne, in 1986, and the election of a new president, Peter Garrett, in 1989. Garrett has a high profile as a rock singer; this has helped the ACF broaden its appeal among the young and a range of social groups that they might not otherwise reach. Garrett is also an intelligent and committed environmentalist, albeit an environmentalist uncomfortable with any view that sees population as part of the environmental problem. Phillip Toyne was a barrister who came to the ACF from the Northern Territory, where he had worked as an advocate for Aboriginal interests. He shared his Council's antipathy to immigration reform, arguing that cuts in the program were unnecessary, and that the ACF could be seen as being racist if it were to ask for them. The Government appointed him to the National Population Council and he became a close associate of Bob Hawke, a politician who cultivated support among a mixed group of environmentalists, ethnic leaders, and other community activists (as well as millionaires and trade unionists). But Toyne's strategy of ignoring the problem of population growth eventually led to growing tensions within his organization.

Conservationists who were concerned about population growth had not been eliminated from the ACF, merely out-voted. In mid-1989, the ACF abandoned its amended population policy, the void being filled by a newspaper article written by Toyne himself. Toyne and Mark O'Connor from Australians for an Ecologically Sustainable Population debated the question on national television. Was this decision a 'victory for the moderates,' or was it 'cowardly'? Population reformers continued to exert pressure on the reigning faction and, by 1990, the organization was clearly divided on immigration. Many councilors and members were afraid of being seen to be giving comfort to isolationists, or of compromising humanitarian goals, and they resisted the reformers. Tempers ran high and claims were made that the organization had been infiltrated by racists. But the question of a sustainable population for Australia continued to be debated. Was the ACF serious about population and ecological sustainability, or was it only concerned with remote wilderness areas?

By September, 1990, two months before the inquiry was officially set up, Toyne was fielding questions about the ACF's population policy by saying that any new policy should wait upon the Withers Report. Hawke's desire to appease the 'green vote' and Toyne's need to find a way of coping with the tensions within the ACF point to an explanation for the problem of origins. In April, 1992, Toyne told me that he had wanted an 'intellectually robust context' to allow the ACF to develop a new population policy in 'credible circumstances' and that he was convinced that his lobbying played an important part in establishing the inquiry. (He himself was a member of the commit-tee.) Other factors were at work too. There was pressure from other government departments to establish immigration policy within a broader framework and to review its impact within the context of research on ecologically sustainable development, research that was already going on in a number of areas. But these pressures could have been accommodated within the research structure provided by the Bureau.

'The origins of the Withers Report

reflect continuing political tension

over migration within Australia.'

The origins of the Withers Report reflect continuing political tension over migration within Australia. The composition of the committee reflected them too. Though Toyne was a member, pressure of other business prevented him from playing a very active part. Robert Birrell, a strong critic of immigration on environmental and economic grounds, was included and he did make a substantial contribution. But Withers brought to the role of chair a strong conviction that, provided the program brought in a fair number of skilled people, substantial immigration was economically beneficial or at worst 'benign.' This conviction rested on econometric studies.

Does his report add to the political uncertainty? Or can it offer useful guidance to politicians and policy elites struggling to negotiate the tensions of immigration politics? So far they do not appear to be putting it to the test. The May, 1992, decision on a smaller intake was not based on the report and it may be that the Government is simply setting it to one side. Moreover, there is no Department of Urban Affairs to follow through on its urban policies. If Hawke commissioned it, not because his Government needed the results but because he wished to satisfy the ACF, this silence is understandable, especially with change of leadership from Hawke to Keating late in December, 1991. Nevertheless, if a disinterested group of politicians were to turn to this document for advice, would they find it helpful?

Some Recommendations of the Withers Report

Whatever its intrinsic merits or failings, the FitzGerald report had a consistent argument. The Withers' team was not as well-funded as FitzGerald's and its members had less time to devote to their task. Maybe this is why the report is more obviously the work of a committee, patchy and inconsistent, but very good in parts. Unlike the FitzGerald Report with its focus on economics and culture, this one takes the question of the broader impact of population growth seriously.

The joint authors set their analysis in the framework of four national goals economic progress, ecological integrity, social justice, and a responsible international involvement. While it may lack internal consistency, the report does have a clear intellectual framework. And it takes a long and sober look at the question of the environmental impact of immigration-fueled growth and its effects on Australian cities. (FitzGerald had dismissed the natural environment in a mere 205 words, while the consultants commissioned to look at the economic effects of growth had declared that it was beyond their capacity to include the impact on the cities.)

' immigration is the only

demographic variable that may, in

the authors' opinion, be directly

altered, lower population growth

would mean lower immigration.'

The new report makes two recommendations that catch the reader's attention. The first is clearly stated Australia should have a population policy (which encompasses immigration). The second needs to be coaxed out of the text. For environmental and urban reasons, this new inclusive population policy should, or perhaps should not, aim for a lower rate of growth. But, as immigration is the only demographic variable that may, in the authors' opinion, be directly altered, lower population growth would mean lower immigration. The text suggests that the program could be halved from its 1991/92 level of 110,000 to a core of 55,000 (consisting of immediate family, refugees, and some skilled and business migrants for whom there is a demonstrated need). Such a program would lead to a population growing to 22 million in 2030 and then stabilizing. While governments might wish to add to this core for various reasons, the report says that 'Ecological integrity would be best served by no additional numbers.' But the force of this suggestion is immediately negated by the claim that a program of between 80,000 and 160,000 (gross) optimizes economic goals (pp. 109-110). And the final recommendations state, somewhat equivocally, that the Committee concludes that a population policy developed along the lines that it has indicated would 'understand that national ecological integrity and equity in funding of urban growth may be advanced by lower population growth' (p. 123).

The Environment

Chapter four of the report argues strongly that immigration-fueled population growth threatens the country's ecological integrity and compounds urban problems, and chapter five raises a number of concerns about the effects of this growth on questions of social justice. The report acknowledges that, though the size of the domestic population has had an immediate impact on forestry, fisheries, and tourism, it has not been the cause of Australia's major environmental problem the degradation of agricultural land. This is largely the result of the practices of the few. And, given the significance of exports in agriculture (and mining), the rural environment will be only indirectly affected by future domestic population growth. But the indirect link is real because growth can add to the pressure to increase primary production, in order to export more commodities and thus offset increasing imports.

The authors also concede that market pricing can play a part in mitigating the effects of population pressure on scarce resources. But their chief area of concern lies with those aspects of environmental quality which are beyond the reach of market forces the problems of stemming the loss of bio-diversity, of controlling pollution, and of managing the disposal of wastes.

They also point to the dramatic implications of a larger population for the emission of carbon dioxide. Under the Toronto agreement, Australia is to reduce her total carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent between the base year of 1988 and 2005. With projected natural increase, but zero net migration, this would mean a per capita reduction of 29.6 per cent; if migration were to run at net 100,000 per annum during this thirteen-year period, per capita reductions would have to be 35.7 per cent. The political challenge of reducing per capita consump-tion of fossil fuels rises disproportionately with population growth. If the intake were 200,000 per annum, for example, per capita reductions would have to be 42 per cent.

The text also draws attention to worrying trends in urban pollution (both of air and water), the increasing cost of housing, growing problems with disposal of wastes, and the loss of recreation areas within reach of city dwellers. And the authors mention, but do not pursue, the problem of the loss of prime agricultural land to urban growth. In almost all of these areas difficulties are already pressing and market forces offer no guidance to direct the common good.

Despite this, the Withers Report is positive about the economic effects of population growth, accepting the controversial proposition that the economic effects of population growth are at worst neutral and at best benign, depending on the skill level of the migrants. It is on these grounds that it endorses the higher intake figures (80,000 to 160,000 rather than 55,000), saying that in 'economic terms the target rate of immigration can be set by other criteria anywhere within such a range without making much difference to average material living standards' (p. 110). This higher intake would produce indefinite growth at rates of between 1.1 and 1.6 per cent per annum, leaving unassailed Austra-lia's pre-eminence as the country with the highest rate of population increase in the developed world.

The Economy

The report's economic optimism seems to rest on the notion that material living standards exist in some abstract sphere unconnected with natural resources and urban stress. Australian research on the economic effects of population growth is indeed usually of this type, restricted to the aspects of our material well-being captured in the national accounts, the economist's bread and butter. The limitations of an approach where clean air and water are only valuable when we have to pay for them, and a sustainable biosphere counts for nothing, are now well known. This report agrees that such an approach is limited, but does not qualify its conclusions accordingly.

Most of the studies used to prop up claims for the beneficial economic effects of growth not only ignore the problems of pollution, species loss, and urban stress, they are generally deficient in data of any kind. Rather they are based on computer models of the economy, heavily dependent on theory, with their results largely determined by the assumptions they begin with; they also find only very modest positive effects. Birrell has pointed out elsewhere that the ORANI model, a favorite with Australian econometricians, is based on premises that ensure that immigration will produce positive outcomes. It is also a model that has failed many times in its economic predictions.

'This concern that the economic gains

induced by population growth are not

being used to pay for the appropriate

infrastructure is a strong theme

in the report.'

In essence, dependence on computer models boils down to a faith in theory, or worse still, dogma. It has disquieting implications for the economy as a whole and for the labor market in particular. The Withers Report asserts that there 'is an abundance of evidence that migrants create as many jobs as they take when unemployment is at more normal post-war levels' (p. 23). Unfortunately, it does not provide any references for this abundance of evidence. Elsewhere it claims that migrants 'tend to create at least as many jobs as they take because of the demand effects they generate...' and states that the 'Committee considers that migration normally pays its way in terms of provision of public revenues.' But though the committee believes that population growth has historically 'expanded economic output in similar proportion and has thereby provided the broad capacity to fund infrastructure and investment in this area as in others,' its members are concerned that 'an insufficient share of population-driven output growth has been devoted to infrastructure require-ments in Australia.' This concern that the economic gains induced by population growth are now being used to pay for the appropriate infrastructure is a strong theme in the report. But no evidence is supplied for the claim that the extra people do indeed induce the extra funds. Perhaps the ORANI scenarios are now so well-established among the economic priesthood that they need not mention them.

The Labor Force

The claim that 'migrants create as many jobs as they take' has been made so often in Australia that it has become a political slogan separating the economically literate who can appreciate the benefits of growth from the suspicious troglodytes who cannot. At a conference in Sydney in April, 1992, Michael Stutchbury, economics editor for the influential Financial Review, said that 'most of the reputable studies show that immigration has no effect on unemployment.' These studies are based on econometric models which assume that labor markets correct themselves; jobs, in theory, are created through lower wages. Is this a desirable outcome, and does it in fact happen? Stutchbury responded to this question by saying that he was 'not an econometrician,' but that he had a 'gut feeling' that the outcome was positive. If the economics editor of Australia's leading financial newspaper lacks the expertise to analyze the findings of the econometricians, it is possible that important principles of public policy are being formed by a small group of theorists and programmers operating without critical peer appraisal.

'... disputes about whether the migrant

intake is more or less highly skilled

than the existing population rest

on the question of whether clerks

should count as skilled workers...'

One curious aspect of the conventional wisdom on job creation by migrants is that the market, blind to so many aspects of human society, appears to be able to distinguish between legal and illegal migrants. The Minister for Immigration is convinced that illegal migrants do take more jobs than they make. In December, 1991, he told the public that a tough line on illegals was justified because they 'are clearly taking jobs away from Australians' and that it was important to rectify this situation, especially during the present difficult economic conditions.

The Withers Report does, however, acknow-ledge that the conventional wisdom may be inadequate during a deep recession, saying that the labor market impact of migrants in these circumstances 'is a matter for urgent research.' Fortunately by April, 1992, Withers and a colleague, David Pope, had run some more assumptions through their model and established that all was well.

The Report also claims that the skill level of the intake has long been higher than for the total labor force. Here it draws on Withers' own work (p. 33 - unfortunately his reference is omitted from the bibliography). Research for the FitzGerald inquiry by Graeme Hugo, former president of the Australian Population Association, clearly showed that this was a contentious point. In essence, disputes about whether the migrant intake is more or less highly skilled than the existing population rest on the question of whether clerks should count as skilled workers or not. If they are included as 'skilled', the gross intake has a higher skill profile than the existing population; if not, it has a lower one. (Hugo also showed that skilled and professional migrants are much less likely to stay in the country, so that regardless of how we make the distinction between skilled and unskilled, the net intake is less skilled than the gross.)

The ability of the clerks and other people with some training to speak English is also unclear from the Withers Report. Fifty pages after the claims on the skill level of the intake, it describes the growth in the proportion of migrants with poor English ability during the 1980s (p. 83). It seems probable from this that a number of people who are counted as 'skilled' would not be able to use their talents. Doubtless, different people wrote these two sections; it is a pity that they did not have more time to talk to each other. But the earlier material in the text does acknowledge that migrants' experience of formal training overseas is not well-reflected in their earnings in Australia and concludes that this 'means both a lesser contribution to overall economic growth for Australia and high personal costs for those individuals' (pp. 34-35). This conclusion casts serious doubt on the economic benefits claimed for a migration program emphasizing skilled entrants. If the migrants cannot attract a salary commensurate with their presumed level of skill, then these skills are not being utilized by the economy.

The report offers the higher set of intake figures on the grounds that such an intake maximizes the economic benefits, or at least has a neutral impact (pp. 19, 110). The authors have not explained how it is that empirical research supports these claims and, in any case, a close reading of the text suggests that they (or some of them) do not believe the claims themselves. Nor does this economic optimism mesh with the report's analysis of the effects of growth on natural capital and urban infrastructure. An approach based on the need for an industry policy might have filled the gap between the economic and environ-mental sections of the report. Indeed, the authors implicitly acknowledge this, saying 'if the benefits of skilled migration are to be maximized, the skills brought to Australia must address labor market needs' (p. 36).

Framework for a Population Policy?

Any work on a major question of public policy written under pressure will contain some errors and confusions. But the major problem in this report lies with the contradictions produced by two divergent approaches the one clearly oriented towards the broad perspective of the interaction between human activity and the natural and built environments, the other narrowly focused on the economists' theoretical models. In a sense, we have two texts here, not one. But the structure provided by the initial statement of national goals, and by some of the policy recommen-dations, should help the authors of the inevitable next report to produce a more coherent account.

The document's most striking recommendation is that Australaia should have an explicit population policy. To help implement this, the Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs should be replaced by a Department of Population and Local Government, and the Bureau of Immigration Research by a Bureau of Population Research. A Population Office would be set up in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and a Commonwealth-State Ministerial Council for Population and Urban Affairs should also be established (pp. 109-110, 124).

Is saying 'population' where one used to say 'immigration' any more than a cosmetic change? Yes, if only because it makes it clear that policy makers should be talking about the nation and putting immigration into a national context, rather than responding to special interests, and because it focuses public attention on the interaction between demography and the whole range of social and economic policies. As Berelson pointed out nearly twenty years ago, all countries have population policies, in that they have a range of social and economic policies that affect demographic variables, including the variable of immigration. The difference is that some 'population policies' are explicit and coordinated, and others implicit and ad hoc. So far in Australia we have had the latter kind.

'One could contrast the tight focus on

economic policies among Canberra's

politicians and bureaucrats ...

with the amateurish and ill-informed

approach so often taken with

population and migration.'

The report emphasizes the lack of coordination on population policy between the federal and state governments and between different federal government departments (pp. 115, 22, 73, 108, 118). One could contrast the tight focus on economic policies among Canberra's politicians and bureaucrats, and the detailed attention that these policies receive from media critics, with the amateurish and ill-informed approach so often taken with population and migration. For example, the Director of the Ethnic Affairs Commission of Victoria, Franco Schiavone, declared that the Withers Report demonstrates 'a clear bias.' This is because the projections it uses show that the population will increase to 19 million in 2031 with zero net migration, and to 25 million if present rates continue. In Schiavone's opinion, the 'first figure seems debatable, the second excessive.' Population projections are arithmetical calculations based on a set of demographic assumptions. The arithmetic may be wrong, or, what is far more likely, the assumptions may prove to be mistaken. But Schiavone's reaction shows that he does not know how population projections are derived and consequently does not know how to begin to appraise ones that he instinctively dislikes.

If a leading public servant demonstrated that he did not understand the consumer price index, he would lose credibility. But demography is a side issue, not part of the main game. Members of the press write about immigration in terms of human interest, migrant welfare and racism, while lobbyists talk of family reunion, multiculturalism and the housing industry. In any event, the policy elite is only half interested. A recent study of a section of the Australian power elite, Michael Pusey's Economic Rationalism in Canberra, has provoked an excited reaction in the serious media and among political scientists. But Pusey saw no need to include members of the Immigration Department in his study of key 'economic rationalists' affecting national policy. This is not Pusey's bias. Most political analysts would agree that Immigration was not a key department. The only group of officials likely to be knowledgeable about demography do not belong to the group that counts. An explicit population policy could help pull demography into the center of policy formation.

'Most political analysts would agree

that Immigration was not a key

[government] department. The only

group of officials likely to be

knowledgeable about demography do

not belong to the group that counts.'

It would also bring Australian families into clearer focus. Though the report recommends that all Australians should have access to contraception and as much choice as possible in family planning, it renounces any desire to manipulate births (or deaths) (pp. 91-92). Rather, it recommends that population agencies monitor other policies for their effects on family well-being. Women's concerns are taken seriously here; they are part of the mainstream, not an add-on option for fringe groups (pp. 84-86). A population policy set within clearly defined goals could have much to recommend it to the majority of Australians, and to the politicians who need clear guidelines based on national welfare to support them in their daily confrontation with lobbyists and special interests.

Impact of the Withers Report

A population policy should also help conservationists troubled by an apparent conflict between human and ecological interests. The Report makes it clear that immigration is not a fair and effective means of distributing international aid rather than supporting immigration as any 'solution' to global problems, it emphasizes the need to increase foreign aid, especially for family planning services and for help with environmental problems (pp. 94-101). The Australian Conservation Founda-tion has now written a new draft population policy drawing on this, and on the material on the environmental consequences of population growth in Australia, recommending that the intake should be set at 60,000 per year, leading to a stable population of 22.2 million in the year 2031.

Has Phillip Toyne's goal of finding a way out of the morass that conflict over immigration was creating for the ACF been achieved? The answer to this question is still unclear. There are reports that the draft ACF population policy has been weakened and that the next annual general meeting will see more debate, and possibly more conflict, between immigration reformers and others within the organization.

The response of the Government is also uncertain. Though the Report was published in February, 1992, by October there had still been no official response to it. But in November, at the Bureau's second Immigration National Outlook Conference, the Minister for Immigration, Gerry Hand, assured an audience of some 500 people that the Report had not been forgotten and that its authors would soon see some significant Government initiatives based on it. These same authors would have been more reassured by this were it not for the fact that some of them already held leaked copies of an internal Departmental Minute. This document rejected many of the Report's recommendations, including the crucial recommendation that Australia adopt a population policy. Was the Minister being less than frank? His speech was funny, intelligent and at one point passionate. He said that he knew that he sometimes made mistakes, and people were very right to point these mistakes out to him. But, he said, he never prevaricated and those who questioned his integrity would feel his anger. Rather than drawing a veil over reality, was he signalling his intention to override the decisions of his staff to reject the key recommendations of the report?

The big questions that immigration politics pose for the Australian people and the future of their nation continue to demand serious attention. The program has been cut, but the cuts are temporary and pressures to bring more people into the country are strong. The smaller questions of how particular groups, factions and politicians are responding to aspects of the larger picture will all play their part in shaping the final outcome. �


List of reports referred to in the text

The first three (Borrie, the Green Paper, and Price) are out of print. Copies may be borrowed through inter-library loan.

W.D. Borrie, First Report of the National Population Inquiry, (two volumes), The Government Printer, Canberra, 1975 (Supplementary Report, 1978)

Australian Population and Immigration Council, Immigration Policies and Australia's Population (a Green Paper), Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1977

Committee of Review on Migrant Assessment Statement of Findings (chair C. Price), Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1982

Copies of the FitzGerald Report and the Withers Report can be ordered, though there are not many of the FitzGerald Report left. The Australian Government Publishing Service sales department suggests that requests be faxed to them and they will fax back a quote, which includes postage (surface or air mail). Prices here are in Australian dollars and do not include postage and packing.

Australian Government Publishing Service

Sales Department

GPO Box 84


Australian Capital Territory


FAX 616-295-4888

Committee to Advise on Australia's Immigration Policies (chair Stephen FitzGerald), Immigration A Commitment to Australia, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1988.

There is a main report and a volume of consultants' reports. (There are only a few copies left of each.) The consultants' reports are interesting, but one gets the drift of the report without them.

FitzGerald - main report, catalogue no. 8804221, $9.95

FitzGerald - consultants' reports, catalogue no. 8805273, $44.95

Population Issues Committee (chair Glen Withers), National Population Council, Population Issues and Australia's Future Environment, Economy and Society, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1992

As with FitzGerald, there is a main report, the document reviewed in this article, and a volume of consultants' reports which serve to support the main text.

Withers - main report, catalogue no. 9121275, $11.95

Withers - consultants' reports, catalogue no. 9215988, $39.95

About the author

Katharine Betts is a senior lecturer in sociology at the Swinburne University of Technology

in Australia.