Migration regulation and the freedom of citizens (a review of Immigration and Freedom by Chandran Kukathas)

In Immigration and Freedom, Chandran Kukathas offers a distinctive analysis of the politics of immigration. His interest in migration goes beyond the usual concerns about jobs and culture to its effect on freedom. He argues that the conditions attached to migrant residency reduce freedom for both migrants and non-migrants.

In my country of Australia, migration control sometimes affects citizens as much or more than immigrants. Employers cannot always hire the staff they need and must understand complex distinctions between visas. Real estate agents can only sell some types of property to foreigners. Educational institutions are required to monitor international students and report potential breaches of visas conditions. Political parties must check that their donors are not foreigners. Citizens who fall in love with migrants suffer exorbitant visa fees and intrusive questions about their relationship to get their partner permanent residence (the book has a nice epilogue, ‘Imagine If You Needed a Visa to Fall in Love’).

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Should we be sentencing criminals to transportation?

Yesterday’s Age reported the case of Andrew Moore, who died in England of a heroin overdose. Two days before he died, Moore had been removed from Australia after his visa had been cancelled on character grounds.

The interesting aspect of this case is that, as in a number of similar cases in recent years, Moore was in all but law an Australian. Originally from Scotland, he’d lived here for 32 of his 43 years. But he had never taken out Australian citizenship. People in this situation who are convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment of 12 months or more can have their visas cancelled, and be sent back to the country they originally came from.

Moore’s crime – manslaughter – was a lot more serious than just one involving a year in jail, and he was a junkie and a drunk as well. Unlike other ‘Australians’ sent back to their birth countries, he could at least speak its language. But this practice of throwing people out of the country on what looks like a technicality does seem problematic to me.

It means that imprisoning long-term non-residents can be tantamount to also sentencing them to transportation. Continue reading “Should we be sentencing criminals to transportation?”

The ‘human rights’ of international students

This morning’s Australian reports on this speech by my U of M colleague Simon Marginson calling for extended rights for international students:

International students are temporary migrants. Nations have the option of treating them as quasi-residents, or as outsiders. Everywhere they are treated as outsiders. Nowhere do they enjoy comprehensive human rights in local law. ……..human rights should not be confined to local citizens.

…we should understand student security as an issue of comprehensive human rights…

we suggest that a strong contribution governments can make to student security is to provide affordable student housing, for a mix of local and international students, in areas where students study and work. [I have altered the sequence from the original presentation]

I am a ‘human rights’ sceptic. As a classical liberal, I unsurprisingly believe that many of the interests and freedoms that find their way into lists of ‘human rights’ are indeed important. But I don’t believe these interests and freedoms are best advocated or defended by simply asserting that they are ‘rights’. Continue reading “The ‘human rights’ of international students”

Some implications of a large temporary population

Because the number of people with Australian residence rights crept up with little public awareness or debate, our thinking about what this means for them and for the permanent population is not well developed. Some observations:

1. The distinction between temporary and permament residence is important in eligibility for a wide range of welfare rights. It is part of the dispute about whether international students should receive public transport concessions. I have argued in the past that as temporary residents international students should not be entitled to this taxpayer subsidy – that choosing to study here gives them no claim on public funds.

Commenter caf has suggested that the fact that many international students go on to acquire permanent residence rights complicates this argument. Another complicating factor is the claim that given that temporary residents pay taxes, why should they not all also receive government services? While international students aren’t likely to be paying much tax if they are observing the work conditions of their visas, section 457 visa holders will often be paying significant amounts of tax.

2. Does a large population with residential rights but not voting rights have broader political implications? Continue reading “Some implications of a large temporary population”

Do governments assume citizen rationality and self-control?

The latest Per Capita paper summarises the research on various cognitive biases (loss aversion, endowment effect, etc) and makes suggestions for policymakers about ‘choice architecture’ that helps people make better, less irrational, decisions. For example, default options of sensible choices where people have to opt out to avoid them preserves freedom to choose while encouraging decisions that will benefit most people.

It’s the kind of argument Cass Sunstein has been making for years, and on which he co-wrote with Richard Thaler a widely-cited 2008 book called Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness (which is strangely not cited in Jack Fuller’s Per Capita paper; if Sunstein did not coin ‘choice architecture’ he’s certainly its main populariser).

I don’t doubt that these cognitive biases exist, or that their negative effects can be reduced by ‘choice architecture’. But I do want to take issue with another example of the annoying rhetorical strategy of setting up straw man opponents:
Continue reading “Do governments assume citizen rationality and self-control?”

The ATO and social solidarity

Jessica Gilbey, a 25-year-old PHD student, won’t see a cent of the payments even though she lives on a piecemeal casual income that is often less than $100 a week. Technically, she did not pay any tax in 2007-08 so she will not receive the payment.

“I was completely devastated,” she said. “You feel left out, you feel like you’re not a citizen.”

SMH, 6 April 2009

Ms Gilbey strikes me as a truly pathetic individual if her sense of social solidarity and citizenship comes from whether the tax office sends her a handout, which is a symbol not of social membership but a once-off do something, anything response to a slowing economy.

And what is ‘technically’ paying no tax? I think what they mean is that ‘technically’ she did pay some small sums in 2007-08, but the ATO has already given it back to her, meaning that her net tax payment was zero.

I’ve heard quite a few complaints along these lines, none of which I have any sympathy for. It’s just an example of how the welfare state brings out the worst in people, encouraging them to whinge about not getting handouts instead of working.

Jessica Gilbey says she was misquoted.

A proxy debate on the citizenship test

Last week the Senate referred the legislation for the citizenship test to an inquiry, with submissions to be received by 31 July. This legislation has had the soft left excited for months, and this inquiry will set off another round of criticism. Though welcoming an opportunity for people to have their say, Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett issued a media release saying:

“I am concerned that the government is planning to spend over $100 million on a citizenship test that runs the risk of reducing an important unifying concept to little more than a game of Trivial Pursuit.

“Citizenship is a common bond that the government has seen fit to turn into a wedge to foster community division.

This debate has become heated partly because it combines (or appears to combine) two things which excite the left: race/ethnicity and John Howard. An article by Katharine Betts and Bob Birrell in the most recent issue of People and Place quotes many remarks along the lines of those in Senator Bartlett’s media release, some going so far as to suggest a citizenship test takes a step back in the direction of the White Australia Policy.

Sometimes a way of securing a more rational discussion of an issue is to put it to one side and discuss a proxy issue – one which raises similar considerations but lacks the same emotive political context. As it happens, we have a possible proxy issue in Australia’s recent past, the teaching of civics in schools.
Continue reading “A proxy debate on the citizenship test”

The 1967 Constitutional referendum

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the biggest ever yes vote in an Australian Constitutional referendum. But what exactly were people voting for? One interesting argument of two recent books, a revised edition of The 1967 Referendum: Race, Power and the Australian Constitution by Bain Attwood and Andrew Markus, and Divided Nation? Indigenous Affairs and the Imagined Public by Murray Goot and Tim Rowse, is that confusion was as common then as it is now.

In the 1960s, many people argued that Constitutional change was necessary to give Aboriginal Australians citizenship, and that’s the interpretation still being put on it today. On ABC TV’s Insiders this morning we were told:

As hard as it is to believe in retrospect, just four decades ago, Aborigines were not counted as citizens.

Hard to believe, indeed, as all Aborigines had been citizens since 1948, and many (the ‘half-castes’) much earlier. Yet the citizenship claim was also made in the opening few minutes of tonight’s SBS documentary Vote Yes for Aborigines (though contradicted later in the programme). The common belief that Aborigines were given the vote in the referendum isn’t right either, and even the idea that they weren’t counted in the census isn’t strictly correct – the Bureau of Statistics did count them, but the number was ignored for certain purposes.
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Are Australian values based on the ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’?

Irfan Yusuf points out that it isn’t just the whole idea of a citizenship test that is going to be controversial, it is also the questions and answers – in particular the answers.

Take question 15:

Australia’s values are based on the …

a. Teachings of the Koran

b. The Judaeo-Christian tradition

c. Catholicism

d. Secularism

Apparently ‘b’ is the correct answer if you want to pass the citizenship test. As Irfan says, the ‘Judaeo’ bit is stretching it. Judaism’s direct effect on Australian values is negligible. Only the long-ago influence of Judaism on Christianity (in the particular the Old Testament) can make any intellectual sense of this term; in reality Christianity has been the dominant faith in Australia and in Europe, from which most Australians came.

Ironically, in light of the choice against the Koran this question forces, the term ‘Judaeo-Christian’ was a 20th century effort to be more inclusive towards non-Christian religion rather than a serious description of religious or ‘values’ history.

But which Australian values are based on the ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’? Not obviously those on offer in question 14:

Continue reading “Are Australian values based on the ‘Judaeo-Christian tradition’?”

What is the likely effect of the citizenship test on public opinion?

The Australian political class is convinced that Australians are racists and John Howard uses that racism to political advantage. With the citizenship test announced yesterday, Malcolm Fraser pondered:

Why have a new citizenship test for migrants and a flurry of talk about values reared their heads at this point? Is it about creating fear in the minds of many Australians? Is this the politics of race? Is the government using code to say that Moslems are different and that they don???t fit in?

Richard Farmer referred to the ‘transparent nature of Howard’s appeal to prejudice’. Peter van Vliet of the Ethnic Affairs Council warned that:

Now, as the 2007 election approaches we have a new race card, this time focusing on the enemy within.

But perhaps this has things the wrong way around. Howard does know that the Australian community is uneasy about some migrant groups. Already back in the 1980s, Muslims did worst in a social distance survey. The long list of PR disasters since isn’t going to have improved Islam’s image. But Howard is also a strong believer in social cohesion and that most Australians are not racists. As my article in the previous link shows, while many Australians will admit to ‘prejudices’, public opinion research also suggests that most Australians are not closed to any particular group, provided that they try to ‘fit in’. On this logic, greater confidence that people are meeting ‘fitting in’ criteria could increase acceptance of migrant groups, and a citizenship test is one way to demonstrate that migrants have made a reasonable attempt to fit in.
Continue reading “What is the likely effect of the citizenship test on public opinion?”