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.

26 thoughts on “My trip to Planet Irf

  1. The accusation of inconsistency makes no sense.

    Just because racists don’t want immigration, that does not mean that everybody against immigration is a racist!

    That is like saying that because all budgies are birds, therefore all birds must be budgies.

    Norton/Duffy made two perfectly consistent and normal points. Their points were (1) a racist* would not support multi-racial immigration; and (2) a person who opposes immigration is not necessarily a racist.

    (* by racist here I mean “racial bigot” in that they actively hate or think inferior another race… I don’t mean the “soft racism” which I think exists in all people and is benign… like assuming that a chinese looking person is more likely to speak chinese.)


  2. Just because racists don’t want immigration, that does not mean that everybody against immigration is a racist!

    You’ve come home in a very philosophical mood. I agree in principle. But I’m happy to engage in some statistical discrimination – most people who do oppose immigration are racists. I am happy to agree that the Howard government were not racist.


  3. ‘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 ‘figures’ perfectly well. Both of these statements are valid, and neither of them contradicts the other, they are quite compatible.


  4. “I am happy to agree that the Howard government were not racist.”

    Maybe they were; maybe they weren’t. But they were certainly very happy to pander to racists.

    “We decide who comes into this country …”
    [cut to shot of darkies attempting to drown their own children …Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink, Know What I Mean?]


  5. Spiros – that was hardly racist – unfortunately Australia’s refugee policy is bipartisan.


  6. Sinclair, I know that you have first hand observational experience of full on racism, but that doesn’t mean that anything less than flog-the-kaffirs-with-bullwhips, Afrikaaner farmer style, can’t be racist.

    There is no question that the previous government appealed to racists in spades, if you’ll pardon the pun. This continued right up until the election day, with the activities of the Liberal Party operatives in the seat of Lindsay, not to mention to victimisation of the unfortunate Dr Haneef.

    Was (is) John Howard a racist? Well I’m sure he’d be horrified to hear any such suggestion, and no doubt some of his best friends are black/Chinese whatever, and he’d be the first the welcome the Indian family who moved into his street, and so on, but he threw bone after bone to the racists, and he will have to wear the tag of racist-appeaser like a crown of thorns.


  7. I agree that racism doesn’t have to be as extreme as the SA case, but there is no evidence (as opposed to conjecture) that the previous government were any more or less racist than the one before that (too early to tell about the current government). What happened in Lindsay was pure stupidity and there is no evidence it was condoned, let alone supported, by the Howard government. I’m not sure the full facts re Haneef have come to light – so I don’t want to speculate on that.

    The notion of throwing bone after bone to the racists (evidence?) could also be interpreted as engaging with our fellow Australians who view themselves as being disfranchised or disengaged from mainstream views. It is far better to engage these people through the political process than to leave them to their own devices – they are sure to get up to extra-legal mischief.

    Having said that, I do think that some of the attitudes within the Department of Immigration are need of radical change and that the individuals associated with the deportation of Vivian Alvarez should be prosecuted – Parliament has not authorised the deportation of Australian citizens, therefore a crime has been committed.


  8. Ah yes, The Luvvies’ favourite parlour game; Racist Panic. The fact is people like Irfun are public race-baiters, pure and simple. Their public profile is positively correlated with how well they con people that “racism is rife.” It is overwhelmingly Luvvies and other Leftists who play this disgusting game.

    Part of the reason for the huge decline in racist sentiment in Howard’s Australia was the significant reduction in control of the media and bureaucracy by The Luvvies. It was only during the late 1990s that alternatives to the virulent race-baiting of Keating’s Luvvies began to be heard.

    There is still a large pool of Luvvies whose financial prosperity is tied to this type of race-baiting by pimping “Racist Panic.” people like Irfan, Tom Calma, Waleed Ali, and various nutjobs who publish their race-baiting cheerleading around New Matilda, onlineopinion, The Monthly, Quarterly Essay, The Age, and so on.

    So far, the dominance of Rudd’s right-wing social views have marginalised The Luvvies – and thus their race-baiting. But this is no time for complacency. These people always have a filing cabinet full of ways to get the taxpayer to indulge their racist obssessions.


  9. “most people who do oppose immigration are racists.”
    Nonsense. Of the four strongest advocates of stopping immigration I have known, two had Chinese wives, one an Iranian wife and one a French wife.

    Opposition to immigration tends to be concentrated in people whose income comes from labour (rather than labour incorporating large amounts of intellectual capital). Since large scale immigration put downward pressure on wages and increases crowding costs, this is hardly irrational of them.

    If people think the costs of immigration are going up–particularly if they think they will have no say on the matter–opposition to immigration increases. And it falls if things are moving the other way. The ‘racist panic’ approach completely fails to deal with the way public opinion shifts on the matter. Not to mention showing fairly typical sneering contempt for fellow Australians (particularly working class Australians).


  10. So Michael, you telling us that you can name the four people opposed to immigration who are not racist. 🙂


  11. “Of the four strongest advocates of stopping immigration I have known, two had Chinese wives, one an Iranian wife and one a French wife”

    aka the “I’m all right Jack” approach to life.


  12. The ‘my best friend is from X, so I am not racist against X’ line is always scorned, but surely it highlight that these things are far more complex than the standard anti-racist perspective allows. I suggests that attitudes are poor predictors of behaviour, for a start.


  13. Well, of the people I know who are strongly opposed to immigration they are effectively a complete sample: so 100% of the people I know who are strongly opposed to immigration are not racist.

    But the entire attempt to cast the debate over immigration into being all about who is racist and who is not is about closing down debate, not having one. It is about using attitudes over immigration as a marker of being a “good person”. Once beliefs become “assets” like that, the debate becomes poisoned, since such people are defending their sense being a person of moral worth. Matt Ridley characterises political correctness as inferring “is” from “ought”: this is classic example.

    Immigration imposes costs, these costs are not evenly distributed. Even if one is in favour of high immigration, to effectively close down discussion of what costs are created and who bears them cannot lead to good public policy. It can, however, lead to entirely understandable resentments which can be taken up in very unfortunate ways.


  14. But the entire attempt to cast the debate over immigration into being all about who is racist and who is not is about closing down debate, not having one.

    Two points: (1) You’re in denial. (2) There is nothing wrong with being a racist – people should be free to believe what they want – and at the same time there is nothing wrong with pointing to beliefs that are usually racist and saying that is a racist belief. As I indicated before, I don’t doubt that some people are opposed to further immigartion and are not racists, but they are likely to be sufficiently rare that statistical discrimination takes care of the problem.

    Immigration imposes costs

    I agree. But immigration is not random. Australia largely choses who comes here and the circumstances under which they come. This is not new – that has always been the policy. See here for an excellent analysis (coincidently co-authored by my good self 🙂 )


  15. Thanks for popping by, Andrew.

    I suggest you listen to the interview. I’m not sure if it is available still on the ABC website.

    The suggestion that governments whose term in office sees a net increase in immigration must necessarily not be racist is absolutely farcical.

    The NSW branch of the Liberal Party is currently dominated by a faction in which racism and sectarian bigotry is a prominent feature. I know that because I know the people involved personally and worked with them for at least a decade.

    Further, I was told by a prominent person in the Federal Campaign in 2001 that the party deliberately ran a hard-edged policy on refugees because it wanted to look like Pauline Hanson and gain her votes. That advice was given to me by someone who is now a Federal MP.

    There are numerous other instances I could mention.

    Toward its end, the Howard government engaged in a gross form of sectarianism. In the end, it was bitten on the backside thanks to the Lindsay pamphlet. I wonder what would have happened if one honest Young Lib had not contacted the ALP and tipped them off about the distribution of the pamphlet.

    One interesting point you also made in your interview that in the years immediately following WWII, around 60% of Australians were opposed to Jewish migration. And to think that some imbecilic Coalition MP’s claimed that Australia had a ‘Judeo-Christian heritage’ that goes back 2 centuries!

    When we regard people not as individuals but as 1-dimensional creatures with only 1 layer of identity, and when we ascribe to that layer negative characteristics because of events that individual had nothing to do with, we are not just being bigotted. We are also being illiberal.


  16. “Nonsense. Of the four strongest advocates of stopping immigration I have known, two had Chinese wives, one an Iranian wife and one a French wife.”

    OK, so you’re saying that people of French, Chinese and Iranian heritage cannot be racist?

    I agree with you that opposition to immigration is not per se indicative of racism. My point is that just because you implement policies that increase immigration isn’t of itself enough to suggest that you cannot be racist.

    Most of those who bore the brunt of racism from Howard government ministers were people who lived in Australia and were born here. Some migrated here during the Howard government.

    When Kevin Andrews made imbecilic remarks about African migrants, he was talking about people already here. These were clearly racist remarks whose insensitivity was magnified by the fact that they were made in response to the death of a Sudanese migrant. Sudanese or Africans were not perpetrators – they were victims. And yet Andrews cast all manner of negative attributes to them.

    And what did Howard do? How did he respond? How did Costello respond?

    The hilarious thing about these remarks is that Andrews claimed that no migrant group had placed as much pressure on our migration program as Africans. Almost exactly 12 months earlier, Howard made virtually the same remark about what he referred to as a singular Muslim wave of migration.

    Singular Muslim wave? When? Which Muslims was Howard talking about? Which Africans was Andrews talking about?

    To his credit, Tony Abbott refused to jump on the racial and sectarian bandwagon. Then again, Abbott is a REAL conservative and a REAL Liberal, not a neo (or rather, pseudo) conservative and a pseudo-liberal. Abbott knows that the sort of nonsensical prejudice his colleagues engaged in is the sort of rubbish Catholics have had to put up with (until recently) for well over a century.


  17. Irfan – I could not see the interview on the Counterpoint website; it was a couple of years ago so it has probably been taken down. So I don’t know exactly what I said.

    But except perhaps for how we define ‘racism’ I am not sure that your analysis and my analysis are very far apart. By ‘racism’ I tend to mean beliefs in the intrinsic desirability/undesirability of certain ethnic groups. This is now I think fairly unusual in the population as a whole, and has not influenced policy for many years.

    Far more common are ethnic stereotypes, some of which are potentially harmful prejudices. These are usually cultural rather than racial, but race can sometimes serve as a proxy for working out who has the cultural characteristic in question. Because these are just mental rules of thumb there is no inconsistency between believing one thing about the group and another about a particular individual.

    If I did say that immigration policy and reaction to it was inconsistent with the racism hypothesis of the left, then I meant it in the first sense.

    Since I was being interviewed about an article that has I think the most comprehensive Australian summary of survey evidence of self-reported prejudice I’m hardly unaware that this exists.


  18. Sinclair,
    Since the cross-country evidence is that Australians are notably un-racist and attitudes to levels of migration have jumped around a lot, it is those who insist on tagging opposition to migration as racist who are in denial.

    Indeed, given that under the Howard Government we had a high immigration policy, the least Eurocentric migration policy in our history and falling levels of opposition to migration, accusations of racist motivations become positively metaphysical. (As in Irfan’s comments.)

    Your analysis of the migration mix make no mention of the fact that the costs of migration are very unevenly distributed among the resident Australian population. Indeed, it is clearly one of the functions of the “racist’ accusation to avoid considering the same. (The other is to deny the general voters any say in migration policy apart from agreeing with their “betters”.)

    It was a staple of working class politics in all the settler countries in the C19th and most of the C20th to control migration policy: particularly to keep the “tropical” stream of labour movement out of “temperate” countries. This was rational of them. Indeed, opposition to migration would display much the same patterns even if racism (in the sense of the belief that there exist inferior or otherwise degraded forms of humans categorised by race) had never developed


  19. I understand the costs are unevenly distributed – that point was made in Wolfgang’s qudrant piece – but the overall cost is low and it is low too on those it impacts most on. I also agree that Australians are ‘un-racist’ etc. but I do not agree that cost considerations or ‘culture’ considerations substitute for racism. I have heard that before. Every intelligent Apartheid supporter maintained that racial segregation was good because it preserved everyones culture. The best Australian coverage I have read is Windschuttle’s The White Australia Policy. He too runs the preserving culture argument as an explanation for the WAP. It makes no sense – his facts support people using those arguments to support and promote racism.

    I also agree with the principle that it is possible to not be racists and oppose further immigration – but practical reality is something different. I also have no problem with people advocating less immigration – political parties such as One Nation and the Greens should pursue their own self-interest and agendas, but we should believe them when they tell us that they are noble in doing so.


  20. I think, Andrew, the figures you quoted of some 60% of Australians opposing Jewish immigration should put to bed any mistaken notion some alleged conservatives peddle that Australia has a ‘Judeo-Christian” heritage.


  21. Irfan – I presume it is a reference to the Old Testament, with the Jewish influence via that rather than 18th, 19th or 20th century Jews or Judaism directly shaping Australia’s ‘heritage’.

    I’d be interested to know when the term started being used in Australia; I suspect it is relatively recent ‘inclusiveness’ by conservatives who want to emphasise a religious history without appearing rude to their Jewish friends.

    But religious history is not my strong point.


  22. Sinclair
    I wasn’t citing a “preserve culture” argument. Large-scale migration puts downward pressure on wages, creates crowding costs and, if significantly culturally different, undermines solidarity politics. These are costs disproportionately born by the resident working class. So working class politics will tend to be anti-immigration in general. They are likely to be particularly anti-very culturally different immigration and racism or quasi-racism is an easy rhetoric to reach for. But that is hardly the only, or even dominant factor: the costs are real and significant for the resident working class.

    The only time large scale migration does not put downward pressure on wages is if the newcomers raise the level of capital in society far more than they add to the labour force. Which can even be worse for the pre-existing populations–cases of such positive income effects are British settlement in the Antipodes, European settlement in North America, Jewish settlement in Palestine.

    It is not useful analysis to see “racism” as some endemic, pre-existing deep causal factor. Racism developed and it developed for reasons which are analysable. Once it developed, it has developed some life of its own but, with some exceptions, only got underway as a mass phenomena in the Western world in the C19th. It is precisely because it is a fairly specific social phenomena, it has also proved amenable to significant levels of fading away.


  23. Michael – That is an interesting theoretical argument and is plausible too. The issue of import is whether immigration actually has those effect in practice. I put it to you that, in Australia, it does not. You would need to find research that shows real wages falling as a direct consequence of immigration. The crowding cost argument is simply nonsense. More people working expands the extent of the market and, on balance, creates a net benefit. In addition, people have been moving to cities for centuries because of the well-known benefits of agglomeration. I have shown that the migrants to Australia are not very culturally different from existing Australians.

    I agree that it is not useful to see “racism as some endemic, pre-existing deep causal factor.” I also agree with Andrew that Australians are not racists in general.

    There is no coherent argument against immigration to Australia. There are good theoretical arguments to be sure, but none stands up to serious analysis. Even the latest effort “immigration is bad for the environment” is just nonsense.


  24. “I’d be interested to know when the term started being used in Australia; I suspect it is relatively recent ‘inclusiveness’ by conservatives who want to emphasise a religious history without appearing rude to their Jewish friends.”

    I think if you ask Jewish historians, they will tell you it is more about conservative Christians of European heritage feeling rather guilty about the Holocaust. You are right in terms of it being a phrase which has only recently entered the common man’s vocab.


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