My trip to Planet Irf

At his blog Planet Irf, Irfan Yusuf claims that I – along with Michael Duffy, who was interviewing me – am guilty of inconsistency. As readers may have gathered, I do not like inconsistency. Irfan says:

During the interview, Norton and Duffy discussed the relationship between racism and immigration. They both seemed to agree that opposition to immigration during the latter half of the twentieth century in Australia wasn’t necessarily to do with racism but was more an issue of the fear among Australian workers of migrants taking jobs….

Later in the conversation, Norton Duffy state that immigration increased under the Howard government. This, they alleged, meant that the Howard government (and presumably John Howard) were therefore not racist.

So if you support the pursuit of policies that lead to an increase in immigration, you simply cannot be racist. But if you oppose immigration, you aren’t necessarily racist. Go figure.

It seems fairly simple to me: the Howard government and the Australian people are accused of White Australia style racism. But support for an immigration policy that includes record numbers of people with dark skins and exotic beliefs is inconsistent with this interpretation of the last decade. A strong racist would always oppose a policy that let in so many people from cultures they did not like. Because there are few strong racists, migration opinion is driven by other factors.

Support for the migration policy is, however, consistent with lower-level prejudices. Social distance surveys show that letting people into the country is one thing, but letting them into your life another. There can be large attitudinal gaps between migration and marriage. So while I can’t recall what I said to Duffy in that interview, I very much doubt that I claimed that ‘if you support the pursuit of policies that lead to an increase in immigration, you simply cannot be racist.’

After all, I was being interviewed about an article that showed why that was not the case.

Are the politics of climate change easier or harder than the politics of economic reform?

On the Sunday programme yesterday (about 6 minutes in), Laurie Oakes asked Ross Garnaut whether it was politically possible to implement the radical reforms needed to reduce carbon emissions.

In his reply Garnaut drew an analogy with trade liberalisation – a reform in which he played a distinguished part during the Hawke government. Public opinion has been consistently protectionist, Garnaut noted, yet politicians successfully implemented Australia’s transition from a highly protected to a largely open economy. They did so without major electoral consequences.

Garnaut argues that, politically speaking, we are starting well ahead of where we were with trade reform, since large majorities accept the need for change. Garnaut acknowledges the difficulties in moving from this generalised support for action to specific measures, but thinks it can be done.

The two issue starting points are, contrary to what Garnaut suggests, quite similar. The basic goal of the economic reform process – essentially to restore Australia’s economic prosperity – was a point of near-consensus, just as the need to do something about climate change is now. It was the means of getting there that generated controversy. Protection was a means, not an end, and we should not compare opinion on that with views on the goal of slowing or stopping climate change. In each reform case, we have a popular aim, but no easy way of getting there.
Continue reading “Are the politics of climate change easier or harder than the politics of economic reform?”