Tony Abbott’s Call To Slash Immigration Is Hypocritical Bullshit

Blaming migrants for the housing crisis? Nah mate.

tony abbott

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So, the government has decided that the best way to win the next election is to blame everything on immigrants. It’s not the first time they’ve tried this, and it’s hypocritical bullshit. Earlier this year, Osman Faruqi explained why.

Tony Abbott is back on his bullshit, and it’s even more pathetically hypocritical and self-serving than ever.

The former Prime Minister has taken advantage of Malcolm Turnbull’s jaunt to the US this week to remind everyone of his continued existence. Last night he delivered a speech calling for a dramatic reduction in Australia’s immigration intake.

He wants to lower net overseas migration numbers from 180,000 to 110,000 a year in order to improve “stagnant wages, unaffordable housing and clogged infrastructure”. Abbott believes that immigration should be slashed “at least until infrastructure, housing stock and integration has better caught up”.

Abbott’s comments echo those made by immigration minister Peter Dutton last week, who said some Australian cities were “overcrowded”. Dutton wants immigration cut “where we believe it’s in our national interest”. Like Abbott, he reckons cutting immigration would lessen the burden on public infrastructure like roads and hospitals.

Tony Abbott And Peter Dutton Are Garbage Men

We’ll get into the details of what impact an immigration cut would actually have on housing and the economy later, but first let’s deal with this idea that Abbott and Dutton are somehow sincerely interested in bettering the lives of Australians by lowering house prices, lifting wages and improving public services.

In his speech Abbott said: “…Net overseas migration has again edged up. And wage growth is still low, housing is still out of reach for young Australians, congestion is getting worse, and gang violence in Melbourne shows no sign of abating – so we need a rather bigger reduction now than we were able to deliver [in the Howard era].”

Let’s start with wage growth. Wages are growing at their lowest level since the recession of the early 1990s, and the rate of growth is slowing every year. Even the Reserve Bank is stressing about how low it is, and has noted that it’s much less than predictions — which will impact other key economic projections like tax revenue estimates and the federal budget.

So why’s it so low? A study released last month demonstrated a link between low wages growth and a huge decline in industrial activity and union strength.

“The evidence is overwhelming that losing the effective ability to take collective action has been one of the key factors explaining the decline in wage growth which has now reached a record post-war low,” said the study’s author, economist Jim Stanford.

The Guardian’s Greg Jericho has made a similar point, arguing: “The disconnect between the current low level of wages growth… has come about through decades of industrial relations policy, where the right to strike has been severely restrained and the unions are seen as having too much control.”

This is where Abbott’s hypocrisy starts to become blatantly clear. Abbott’s government was proudly anti-union and anti-worker. He launched a royal commission into unions, tried to make it harder for union officials to enter worksites, and proposed the introduction of the Registration Organisations Commission (which Malcolm Turnbull eventually established), which increased the regulatory burden on unions.

His government also advocated for cuts to penalty rates, a move that would reduce wages, and last year he criticised Turnbull for not campaigning harder on a penalty rate cut.

There’s no evidence from Abbott’s time as Prime Minister that he was even vaguely interested in promoting wages growth. On the contrary, he introduced and advocated policies that have actually led the current wages crisis. To turn around and blame immigrants for a problem he helped create is just… garbage.

Tony Abbott, The Hero Of Young Australians? Get Fucked, Mate

Abbott also wants to cut immigration because he thinks it will help improve housing affordability, saying in his speech that housing is still “out of reach” for young Australians.

No shit, mate.

But yet again, it’s partly his fault. Housing is a complex policy area with all levels of government playing a role. The federal government has historically funded the construction of affordable housing or subsidised housing costs, and its tax policies like negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions also have an impact on house prices.

So what did Abbott do in these areas when he was PM?

In 2013 he abolished the National Housing Supply Council, a federal government body which was responsible for developing policies to bridge the gap between housing supply and demand. In 2014 his commission of audit recommended the federal government abolish public housing subsidies.

He failed to wind back negative gearing tax concessions for property investors, and argued against Turnbull’s proposed changes in 2016. In 2015 he actually said he wanted house prices to keep increasing.

Abbott did nothing to improve housing affordability for young Australians. But he did try to massively increase the cost of living for young people by at tempting to deregulate university fees, a proposal that would have seen some degrees cost $100,000.

Abbot And Dutton Are Blaming Migrants For Their Own Failures

Both Abbott and Dutton have also pointed to our clogged roads and hospitals as apparent evidence that migration is too high. It’s a pretty classic conservative strategy: you go out of your way to defund public services, wait for people to get angry about declining quality, and blame it all on migrants.

It’s a two-for-one, you get to cut public services and argue for a reduction in migration at the same time — a One Nation wet dream.

Let’s not forget the fact that Tony Abbott cut $80 billion from public services in his first budget. $80 billion. That’s money that could have gone to schools and hospitals to help relieve the pressures Abbott and Dutton are now apparently so worried about.

In his speech Abbott says his proposed immigration cut doesn’t need to be permanent. He just wants to reduce numbers until “infrastructure has caught up”. But infrastructure doesn’t just “catch up” magically. Governments need to actually invest in it. And if governments keep cutting funding, like the Coalition has been for the past five years, it will never catch up.

But it’s much easier to blame migrants, hey?

Their Ideas Won’t Even Work

Even if you ignore Abbott’s gross hypocrisy, there’s not even much evidence to suggest his policies would help with wages growth or house prices.

An OECD survey of studies on the economic impacts of migration found they had a minimal impact on housing prices. Economists and demographers have today slammed the former PM, arguing that migration helps grow the economy.

“Migrants aren’t costing Australia more than they are contributing in terms of economics and culture,” ANU demographer Liz Allen told The Australian Financial Review.

Even treasurer Scott Morrison has slammed Abbott, saying this morning: “I was the immigration minister for Tony Abbott and the permanent immigration intake we have today is exactly the same as it was when he was Prime Minister”.

Abbott has also failed to point out that the biggest contributor to Australia’s net migration figures are international students. One-fifth of migrants to Australia are vocational or higher education students. Education is one of Australia’s biggest exports, and a crackdown of the level suggested by Abbott would decimate the sector and slash billions from the economy.

The arguments put forward by Abbott and Dutton just don’t stack up. But more importantly, they’re a massive distraction from the bigger issue: the abject failure of recent governments to invest in infrastructure and prioritise important issues like wages growth and housing affordability.

Oh, and let’s not forget the irony of Abbott, himself an immigrant, attempting to prevent others from contributing to and benefiting from Australia. He got his, and now his message to other migrants is a giant middle finger. Classy.

Osman Faruqi is Junkee’s News & Politics Editor. Follow him @Oz_f