Campaign countdown: Julia now whistling her own tune
Update: Today’s Newspoll results, as reported by The Australian, show Labor’s primary vote has leapt seven percentage points from 35 per cent after three days of Julia Gillard’s leadership.
During question time last week whenever the opposition attacked Kevin Rudd over asylum seekers Labor MPs would blow on invisible dog whistles. In retrospect that just looked like an early practice session for the Government’s new band.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decision to abolish Kevin Rudd’s plan for a big Australia has as much to with concerns with over asylum seekers as it does over population.
Up until this point the Opposition had been cynically and successfully able to merge peoples concerns over asylum seekers and a Big Australia policy. Gillard knows this and yesterday’s announcement was all about whistling a new tune of her own.
By scrapping Kevin Rudd’s plans to grow the Australian population to 36 million by 2050, she allays fears of those in the outer suburbs of our biggest cities who are concerned about unsustainable growth in areas with already crumbling infrastructure.
Gillard also points to the concerns people have that immigrants are taking jobs away from Australians, pointing out to Laurie Oakes on Channel 9 yesterday that we must attract the “right kind” of migrants:
“Australia reached out for the right kind of migrants and I hope people would conclude my parents were the right kind of migrants. So, we’ll still have an approach about getting the migration settings right, about meeting our needs for skilled labour, but I also want to see us do it sustainably and I want to see us emphasise the skills and training of our own people. I don’t want employers telling me that they can’t get the workers they need when in some parts of this country we’ve got youth unemployment in double digits.”
Gillard is attempting to appeal to many of the same people who are also concerned about the arrival of more boats carrying asylum seekers on our shores – people in areas like Penrith who just walloped Labor with a 25% swing against the state government.
While it should be possible to demarcate a debate about a larger Australian population and asylum seekers, in the minds of many the two are hopelessly mixed.
A few weeks back Essential Research’s Peter Lewis wrote a piece for The Punch, pointing out that according to his company’s research just 18 per cent of respondents guessed correctly that asylum seekers make up 1 per cent or less of our annual immigration intake.
Lewis noted: “To put it another way, 10 per cent of Australians thinks there are about 100,000 people breaching our borders and 25 per cent think there had been more than 50,000 boat arrivals in the last year. Nearly a third of people admitted they had no idea at all.”
The Opposition has been able to take advantage of this confusion by mixing fears over asylum seekers with those of a Big Australia. As shadow immigration minister Scott Morrison wrote in The Punch at the time Kevin Rudd announced Tony Burke as the new population minister:
“How can Australians trust Kevin Rudd on future population growth when he can’t even keep his promises to maintain the integrity of our borders. On his watch net overseas migration last year hit 285,000, that’s 105,000 more than the average forecast required for us to hit 36 million by 2050.”
At her first press conference as Prime Minister Julia Gillard well and truly ducked the question of changes to asylum seeker policy, all she did was say she recognised people’s fear and did not rule out hardening up measures.
Yesterday she all but said to Laurie Oakes that she would extend the processing pause placed on Afghans and Tamils:
“To use an old saying, in an area like this tough ain’t enough. It’s about being effective and that’s what I want to ensure – that we are being effective. I’ve got a decision to make quite quickly about what to do about the processing pause we’ve got in place . . . The first pause was for Sri Lankans, that’s coming up in three months. The due date then is the 8th of July, so I’ve got a decision to make about that and I’ll have more to say about these matters before that due date of the 8th of July.”
On the night his leadership was challenged Kevin Rudd vowed that he “will not be lurching to the right on the question of asylum seekers, as some have counselled us to do.” Those same counsellors are now in Julia Gillard’s ear and they’ll be pointing out another boat arrived on the weekend.
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