The dog whistle that wasn’t

The most interesting finding in the Newspoll reported in today’s Australian was the question on Kevin Andrews’ handling of the Haneef case. At least until he released part of the transcript of Haneef’s discussion with his brother about leaving Australia Andrews was being punished by the media like no other Minister in recent times.

Yet even with the public seemingly willing to believe the worst about the Coalition, Newspoll finds more people in favour of the way Andrews handled the case than against, with 49% approving and 36% disapproving (with a fairly large 15% uncommitted).

I suspect this fits with a pattern of views on migration. The public supports migration when it is seen to be in the interests of Australia. The key change under the Howard government has been that the migration system meets this criterion. Even though migration has increased considerably opposition to it has halved since 1996. Murray Goot and Ian Watson report that between 1996 and 2003 the proportion of people thinking immigrants are good for the economy increased from 49% to 69%, the proportion thinking immigrants take jobs from people born in Australia has dropped from 40% to 25%, and the people thinking immigrants increase crime rates has dropped from 45% to 34%.

Interestingly, the biggest changes took place between 2001 and 2003. Though Howard had early on re-oriented the migration programme away from family reunion towards favouring people who could make an economic contribution, perhaps the dramatic Tampa intervention convinced people that Howard would protect Australia’s interests. This was the point at which the Coalition gained a decisive lead over Labor in the Newspoll on which party would best handle migration, which despite Ruddmania they still held when the question was last asked in June this year.

The most favourable views on migration recorded for a generation, and the most favourable views ever recorded for a substantially non-European intake, coincided with fairly tough views on people who just turn up claiming to be refugees. Similarly, perhaps, the Haneef poll suggests that the public prefers a hardline approach where someone may not be good for Australia’s interests, even if he comes across well on 60 Minutes.

Much of the political class thinks that the government’s approach to Haneef was dog-whistle politics. But the public opinion evidence suggests that far from this approach stirring up latent prejudice it actually soothes it, by convincing people that the migration system is being run in the national interest.

28 thoughts on “The dog whistle that wasn’t

  1. That is some incredibly convoluted logic. People are happy about migration because Kevin Andrews is incompetent? Is there a link I’m missing somewhere?


  2. Not surpirsing at all about the poll. If you only kept touch with what’s going on listening to leftspeak you would think that Andrews was close to being charged for abuse or something.

    The public does have the horse sense to know that national security is possibly the most important of all government functions. That compares with some who think free university education is the most important/vital thing since WW2.

    The public has always had a healthy disconnect with the poltical/chatterbugs. Polls like this just continues to prove it’s alive and healthy. Good thing too.


  3. David – My reading is that people perceived that there was evidence that Haneef had terrorist connections and therefore supported cancelling his visa. I suspect support may have been higher had not the AFP/DPP bungle confused the matter. I doubt it would increase support for migration beyond already high levels, but it is the kind of action that gives the large number of people who have previously held doubts about the migration program that it is on balance good for Australia, because dubious individuals are kept out, or thrown out if they arrive.


  4. Actually, off the topic, but thinking about migration, one of the surprising things about current attitutes is that they have yet to be linked to the so-called housing crisis. I presume this means Labor wants to keep the level high.


  5. Andrew, why does the level of support for migration have any link to the deporting of “dubious” individuals? Is there any evidence (for example) that attitudes to potential terrorists have an effect on your attitude to the local kebab shop? On one hand, you’re criticising the “dog whistle” aspect of the Haneef affair, yet supporting it with the assertion that migration levels and terrorists are somehow linked.


  6. David – Because it is a signal that the government is being careful about who it lets in (or lets stay, in this case). The dog-whistle argument is that by focusing on suspect migrants, it creates prejudice against migrants generally. I’m suggesting that the reverse might be true.


  7. Interesting, Andrew, your thesis makes sense. Perhaps it’s similar to the ease with which Labor commenced reform of IR – people trust Labor with IR like they trust the Coalition on immigration. But I wonder how many people even know that migration has increased since 1996? Very few, I suspect. I also wonder if the fall in the unemployment rate has been a factor in reducing opposition to migration.


  8. Andrew Norton wrote:

    The dog-whistle argument is that by focusing on suspect migrants, it creates prejudice against migrants generally. I’m suggesting that the reverse might be true.

    and also said that the highest levels of support for immigration occurred during the height of internment of refugees.

    Surely this is evidence for a reverse of your assertion. Not only have migration policies changed substantially (away from compassionate reasons and towards economic ones, which is going to inevitably change the mix of race of migrants), they’ve been reinforced with a few public displays of “toughness” which included some of dubious legality.

    The “dog whistle” doesn’t suggest that prejudice is being created, it is merely being pandered to. The government is being seen as tough on the “wrong kind” of migrants, which is classical prejudice, something that any liberal would surely oppose. It’s merely a rump of nasty old conservatism.


  9. Rajat – I am sure falling unemployment is also important in the long-term trend (the last time we had high support for migration was in the booming late 1960s), but I’m not sure how well it explains the shift in views between 2001 and 2003, when it was still above 6% for that period, or why it would lead to the Coalition drawing clearly ahead of Labor as the best party to handle (unless there is a clear link with preferred party on the economy, I have not checked that).


  10. David – I’m not sure that the race mix of migrants has changed in the way you think. The table in this article of mine is a little hard to read online, but working from the original spreadsheet it shows that in the last year of Keating there 1.8 migrants from Asia and North Africa for every one from Europe, but 2.4 per European in 2004-05.


  11. That graph is near impossible to read and very simplistic. There is no indication of pressures on those areas for people to leave them. The middle east slowly became more of a basket case over the shown period, and by some accounts the population of places like Iraq has been decimated by people leaving there (1.8 million according to the UN) yet the numbers allowed to arrive here are unaffected. Europe has become a net importer of migrants, so it’s also no surprise to find the corollary that fewer people want to leave there. Asians are relatively uncontroversial and have been for some time (witness J-Ho recanting his 1980’s position on asian migration). So, it’s arguable that the migration mix has not responded to the external pressures you might expect from wider geo-political events aka it’s been shaped to suit prejudice via the mechanism of pre-judging “economic contribution”. That’s racism.


  12. David – I think you have changed the point, since you implied that a change in the ethnic mix that did not occur in the way you suggest. Migration from the world’s leading trouble area – North Africa and the Middle East – is up 70% under Howard.

    But what I think you are getting at it is that you think migration should be for the benefit of migrants, whereas public opinion thinks it should largely be of mutual benefit to migrants and the existing Australian population.


  13. As a “CONSTITUTIONALIST” I seek to avoid putting my personal views before what is constitutionally applicabe. See also my blog
    The Framers of the Constitution specifically inserted Subsection 51(xxvi) as to race to allow the Federal Government to deal with coloured races, they held were inferior races, so that they could not take away the jobs of Australians. To the contrary John Howard and his cohorts are using this constitutional provision for the opposite purposes and have this country flooded with cheap labour.
    With the Tampa and other refugees John Howard declaring “WE DECIDE WHO COMES INTO AUSTRALIA”, only check out now how many of those people (then refused entrée) who have been detained then in those concentration camps called COMMONWEALTH DETENTION CENTRES now are actually lawfully residing in the Commonwealth of Australia, and you may ask if it was not for political purposes, then what was John Howard about?
    People are dumb enough to somehow believe that the misuse and abuse of power somehow makes Australia a safer place. To the contrary if a Government TAKES THE LAW INTO ITS OWN HAND and act unlawfully then others will follow suit from this example.
    The RULE OF LAW is what is constitutionally permissible and not the RULE OF LAW that suits politicians regardless how unconstitutional it might be. As a “CONSTITUTIONALIST” I view that from onset Dr. Haneef was denied the DUE PROCESS OF LAW as intended by the Framers of the Constitution and as such to me it doesn’t matter what he may or may not be accused of.
    To simplify it. If you are driving a vehicle and an unlicensed person causes a accident, then it does not mean that you can sue the unlicensed driver if you are not the owner of the vehicle you were driving and have no authority to act on behalf of the owner, as the Courts would simply throw out your case, not because the other party may not be at fault but the Court must adhere to what is legally permissible. If the same constitutional rule was applied to Dr. Haneef, and indeed had been applied to Vivian Alvarez Solon, Cornelia Rau and others then none of those cases would have generated the public’s interest as the RULE OF LAW, as constitutionally permissible must prevail.
    But people are to dumb to comprehend this and support the unconstitutional conduct of the Federal Government by their ignorance!


  14. To add to the previous post, the same applies to the conduct of the Federal Government regarding Aboriginals. Just check out my blog and those interested in JUSTICE rather then political propagande may just learn something.

    “Naturally, the common people don’t want war, but after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a facist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they’re being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”

    Hermann Goering, Hitlers’ Reich-Marshall, at the Nuremberg trials after WW2.


  15. “My reading is that people perceived that there was evidence that Haneef had terrorist connections and therefore supported cancelling his visa. I suspect support may have been higher had not the AFP/DPP bungle confused the matter.”

    I don’t understand how anyone could have “perceived” that Haneef had terrorist connections in the absence of police bungling and Andrews’ slanderous innuendo.

    The sole evidence against him is a single line from the chat room conversation, taken out of context and (mis?)translated from Urdu. Haneef has called on the full original language transcript to be released, but Andrews has refused.

    What is more likely, that the Australian public developed reasonable suspicions based on a thorough evaluation of the evidence, or that they relied on the Andrews’ evaluation which he supposedly based on secret evidence?


  16. Andrew Norton wrote:

    Migration from the world’s leading trouble area – North Africa and the Middle East – is up 70% under Howard.

    How many? did it go from 10 to 17?

    public opinion thinks [migration] should largely be of mutual benefit to migrants and the existing Australian population.

    Well, there you go. In pop culture terms, an classical liberal is apparently a reactionary conservative who selectively uses statistics instead of history to justify prejudice. Nice.


  17. Interesting thesis Andrew. I think there is probably something to it, although I suspect that Rajat’s point about lower unemployment is probably a larger factor in the long-term trend.

    However, surely the soothing effect does not create long term support for immigration. Instead it means that people think immigration is ok as long as the government keeps picking on individuals or small groups to show it is being tough. If they get a convenient guilty party to throw out of the country this may not be a problem, but if they don’t catch anyone doing the wrong thing they have to put the boot into some innocent individual in order to keep the effect.

    The alternative way to create support for immigration is education about its merits – something much more likely to stand the test of time.


  18. Bruce, I, too, thought that the “case” against Haneef was weak at best when he was first charged. But the charges were dropped. His visa has been cancelled by the Minister on the basis of evidence provided by the AFP that has only partly been made public, on the advice of the AFP itself. Further, as we have been subsequently reminded, the Minister cancels visas on a regular basis. In short, cancelling Haneef’s visa is not the same as prosecuting him for an offence and does not demand the same standard of proof.


  19. Bruce – I thought Paul Kelly had the best analysis I had seen of this issue.

    David – 7606 to 12961. If you read my posts, rather skimming for the keywords that set off your automatic responses, you would realise that many of them (including this one) are analysis rather than advocacy.

    Like most classical liberals, I find migration a tough issue. People like Johan Norberg call for a free flow of people as well as ideas and goods. But others argue that in a welfare state migrants acquire rights to the income of people who are here already, leading to the higher taxation that I oppose. Migrants with few skills are likely to become welfare-reliant. So on balance I favour a migration programme with rules favouring those with a low likelihood of welfare reliance.


  20. FS – The Department does commission research on the costs and benefits of migration, eg this recent report. But you could argue that we’ve had 60 years of ‘education’ with little real change in basic public opinion, which thinks migrants should fit in. The public has radically revised its views on *who* will fit in, but not on the underlying conditions of entry.

    That people like David Rubie abuse anyone who disagrees with them as prejudiced or racist doesn’t help of course.


  21. From the online etymology dictionary Prejudice aka to pre-judge

    Compare that with the change to the immigration policy you agree with: “economic contribution” – something you can’t judge *after* someone has migrated here, only before.

    It’s the very definition of prejudice. How are we to know how someone is going to contribute to society before they do it? After all, someone like Haneef is a doctor – surely a great candidate for permanent migration here, let alone a working visa. Instead of getting huffy about being called prejudiced, I suggest you embrace it to avoid the cognitive dissonance.


  22. David, why come here if you don’t agree with the theories put forward on this site? You aren’t going to convert us, or the large proportion of people who read Andrew’s blog for the ideas he espouses, so why post here? Go to Larvatus Prodeo, I think you’ll find they’re more to your liking. It’d obvious you either don’t understand the point Andrew is making, or don’t want to understand.

    Your analysis of the application of the term ‘to prejudge’ is also flawed, as predjudice is to judge someone before you have gotten to know them, they do not need to have arrived already before you can learn all the facts relevant to whether they have skills to contribute to our economy. Therefore such a policy is not prejudiced. Their location at the time of having their skill set judged is irrelevant.

    You don’t even understand your own analogy, as they judged Haneefs skill set before he came, because he was possessed of a medical degree before he came, and we are short of doctors. He did not need to come here and contribute before they judged him on his skill set. If we are short of engineers, they let people with engineering qualifications in.


  23. Andrew – Paul Kelly acknowledges that the discretion of the executive is so wide that “guilt or guilty knowledge [is] not essential”, but then seems to shrug his shoulders at the implications of this.
    I am not against a system that demands high standards of behavior for non-citizens, but I cannot understand the value of a system that has no clear, consistent standards and which does not allow the person being punished to see the evidence against them or to dispute the charges.


  24. Stephen LLoyd wrote:

    David, why come here if you don’t agree with the theories put forward on this site?



  25. I’ve thought of just ignoring David R and advising others to do the same, but he is such a standard issue leftie – only the propensity to hyperbole is missing – that I decided he serves a useful purpose in offering the views that many other people would hold and which other commenters would inevitably encounter elsewhere in the blogosphere and the ‘real world’.


  26. (Note to self: More hyperbole, get promotion from leftie to leftist.)

    Did we shoot and drown more Iraqi’s than migrated here? Just askin’.


  27. 26David Rubie
    August 9th, 2007 13:33
    (Note to self: More hyperbole, get promotion from leftie to leftist.)

    “Did we shoot and drown more Iraqi’s than migrated here? Just askin’”

    Good on you David but why bother with closed minds
    Cheers Ivan Munro


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