Submission on immigration policy
The following is a copy of a submission sent to Peter Eyles, then Secretary to the Committee to Advise on Australia's Immigration Policies, on 26 Oct 1987. It was written under the pen name of Peter Wenger within the context of a newsletter I published during that time.
Australia's current concern (this has been written in 2010) about looming skills shortages shows that not much has been done since. To quote Australian Industry Group's outgoing president Don Matthews, "Too many Australians do not have the language, literacy and numeracy skills of a level sufficient to meet the demands of the modern economy" (Courier Mail, 30 Oct 10, "Come on down").
Submission to the Inquiry into Australia's Immigration Policy
1. Economic and Social Background
In order to properly ascertain the nature and target of any policy that generates a particular influence on a nation it is necessary to identify the overall conditions in which such a policy is expected to function.
In these closing days of the twentieth century there are certain developments which will define our mode of living against parameters which are either entirely unique in our recorded history or manifest in a measure of quality and quantity for which our traditions and cultures had had no opportunity to prepare us.
What follows is a general list of those developments that in the main will alter fundamentally the structure and dynamics of any industrially advanced society. They are interdependent and as such their order of appearance here is arbitrary and does not indicate any special priority or emphasis.
Although to some degree some technological progress has always been evident only now can the subsequent advance of science and the resultant products of its research be delineated in principle. For example, a primitive printing press has no direct logical connection to a modern lay-out facility, yet even the first steps made by gene biology can already point towards pure protein-producing tissue with all its industrial and market-related ramifications. Therefore a certain degree of planning and objective foresight is warranted.
Automation, or more precisely, dedicated systems control, will not only eliminate the more elementary human participation in many processes but because of its resultant efficiency and tailor-made applicability can make small, individualistic, and de-centralised enterprises possible. From this, diversification is a necessary by-product, and therefore a developed nation's manufacturing and processing base will on one hand be less weighted in a single area only and thus as a whole be less prone to collapse, but on the other the frequency of change due to modernisation and differing demand is likely to increase. This would require a degree of versatility on behalf of the workforce, coupled with the ability to constructively absorb and utilise available information in order to stay ahead of such re-orientations.
There is another aspect which, although existent throughout history, is only now growing into world-threatening proportions. Higher density, increased frequency of change in so many fields, greater competition of finite resources and facilities, place a definite demand on the mental faculties of humans. Never before had there been this need to place our very survival in the hands of rationality and objective analysis - as desirable as this would have been on countless occasions in the past. Now however the mechanisms which influence our social harmony, cohesion, and contentedness must be investigated and the findings utilised. Irrational behaviour derived from the tenets of religion and cultural tradition has never had a rightful place in the affairs of thinking humans - today such idiosyncracies are becoming a downright liability with the potential for disastrous results. Education takes time, but the beginnings of the future exist already. Without the intrinsic acceptance by society that reason and logic have to be substituted for emotionalism and ideology any technological advance which emerges from man's imagination may not be user-friendly.
In tandem with the afore-said the social fabric will also undergo fluctuations. Because of higher (and so far, increasing) life expectancy the ratio of the elderly against the rest of the population is moving in the former's favour. This process, as well as the overall population growth may very well stabilise (hopefully under rational circumstances), and coupled with an added need for education and/or retraining the total number of individuals who require various supports from the community will be considerably higher than at the present. To carry this additional burden, and to ensure that a harmonious equilibrium is eventually reached the basic educational standard of the citizenry needs to be adequate and careful planning is in the order.
To sum up: high technology, demand for intellectual resources, and a flexible social fabric will be the hallmark of the future society. Any initiative that seeks to address such conditions must make the necessary allowances.
2. Aim of Policy
Considering the previous chapter the goal of an immigration policy becomes clear:
In case of manpower shortages in industry and commerce a carefully adjusted quota system will seek to ameliorate short-term inadequacies. Such initiatives should not be seen as a substitute for our own education programs, nor can they ever be a part of a long-term solution. No country can afford to base its quality of life on the hope that proper decisions are being made somewhere else. The selection process has to take account of the need for individuals who, through their personal status and capacity, can contribute such qualities to the rest of the community that enhance the overall standard of response to problem situations.
3. Suggested Procedure
Any immigration policy, by its very nature, categorises and defines human beings according to established criteria. These are a reflection of what is perceived to be worthy and desirable in a community.
In a modern society that largely functions through logic-abiding facilities (i.e. data processing, robots, algorithms) the interference by cultural and religious idiosyncracies poses a real danger. Therefore, a society can only then operate successfully if its members acknowledge the value in objectivity, rational assessment, and the suppression of emotionalism.
First and foremost comes the ability to communicate effectively coupled with the capacity for analytical thought. Secondly, but of no lesser importance, is the readiness on behalf of the individual to leave behind the strict adherence to culture, to tradition, and authoritative interpretation of religious doctrines. Naturally, characteristics such as these can only be enhanced by an education which was able to instill and nurture the afore-mentioned qualities.
Should the intake of foreigners be seen as desirable then the screening process ought to ensure that only these persons will be added to the general populace who can demonstrate their potential for positive contribution - not in terms of race and cultural background but measured by their intellectual status and social awareness. It is not beyond our knowledge to design tests which interpret the general personality of someone who seeks to immigrate.
It would be folly to believe that every human being acts on the same level of achievement and awareness. At the same time it is equally ludicrous to suggest that certain personal qualities depend on one's colour, country of origin, or official religion. What has to be understood is the fact that it is the intellectual vigour and sense of social awareness which make progress and harmony possible, now and in the future more than ever before. These are the characteristics which should be discriminated for.
4. Further Outlook and Conclusion
The years to come will prove to be a fundamental change for any society advanced enough to partake of the results of science and technology. Obviously, immigration into this country cannot continue for ever. At present the faculties for an ideal education and retraining comprising all age groups are not even of a standard to address the needs of those already here. As paramount as the raising of our general educational level is, there exist neither the political will nor the concrete resources for a nationwide program to thoroughly prepare Australia for the 21st century. Environmental problems (such as soil erosion, ground water salinity); social difficulties (no rational value system, inadequate and parochial attitudes towards social acceptability of many behaviour forms); and the challenge of transforming the industrial landscape into a cohesive support network which streamlines the country's endeavours; these very basic difficulties do not simply need a highly professional panel of committed individuals - provided such a group could indeed be assembled. Without a responding population, that is without the inherent understanding and knowledge residing in each and every citizen no initiative can be successful.
Within the broad spectrum of Australia's inhabitants there is a great deal of variance in quality and quantity. Even our immediate future will tax our mental capacity to the utmost. From now on, drastic change will no longer occur with a frequency commensurate with the succeeding of each generation, but will demand a rational and well-planned response many times during the active life of a person. The key to successfully meeting the problems that even now are presenting themselves is the intellectual improvement of Australia's population. If there is immigration, for whatever temporary reason, the policy governing its intake must take account of that need.
The forces that will redefine our lives are already in place. We as a nation would do well to acknowledge their presence.