Candidates discuss immigration, parliament


By Ben Reid

MELBOURNE — A round-table of non-major party candidates in the federal election was broadcast by independent radio station 3CR on September 11. Charmaine Clark (Greens), Jim Downey (Australian Democrats) and Maurice Sibelle (Democratic Socialists) took part.

Each candidate was strongly critical of both Labor and Coalition policies on native title and Aboriginal rights. Clark said she was standing because "we need an indigenous voice in this election. With so much discussion of indigenous issues and native title, it is important that indigenous people provide that voice."

Some differences emerged over immigration policy. Sibelle put forward strong opposition to One Nation's and the major parties' immigration policies.

"We're in favour of an open-door immigration policy. This would let in migrants and refugees", he said. "We're in favour of encouraging people to come to Australia rather than blaming migrants for unemployment. In fact, migrants create jobs.

"The Democratic Socialists are standing because we need a real opposition to racism and the economic rationalism of the Coalition and Labor parties. These policies have caused enormous turmoil for working people.

"We need socialist policies, like reducing the working week with no loss in pay to create jobs. We need more taxes on big businesses, not a GST. Migrants should not be scapegoated for Australia's social and environmental problems, which are caused by big business' profits-first actions."

Clark and Downey did not argue for a relaxation of restrictions on immigration. Clark said, "the Greens are not in favour of setting any specific number of people allowed into Australia. Rather, we want to address the bias towards business migrants.

"We want preference for refugees and asylum seekers, on humanitarian grounds. Immigration is about providing refuge for people. We are global citizens and must start acting as such."

Downey, reflecting the Australian Democrats' support for zero population growth, said he felt uncomfortable with an open-door policy. "Australia produces food for some 90 million people, counting tourism and exports. This is causing substantial ecological damage. We need to develop a population policy, which Australia currently does not have."

On the danger posed by One Nation, opinions were mixed. Clark, while recognising that Hanson could not be ignored, said, "We're a different mob of people here in Victoria. I don't think Hanson is going to get much of hearing here because the community is more cohesive."

Downey, on the other hand, said he was "anxious" because he felt the opinion polls that show Hanson's support being lower than expected "don't reflect the real level of support" for her.

The candidates agreed that activism was the key to winning progressive social change. People need to join organisations and campaigns.

Sibelle argued that elections should be just one part of a broader campaigning politics. "Ultimately, parliamentary seats and 'balance of power' are not enough. People need to 'vote with their feet' — attend rallies and take part in public political actions. Voting for someone progressive is not enough. The best form of representation is to take action yourself."