Hiding racism behind the environment


By Deepa Fernandes

MELBOURNE — Racism, masquerading as environmentalism, is the focus of a party that ran in the Kooyong by-election on November 19. Australians Against Further Immigration (AAFI), with candidate Angela Walker, ran against a Liberal candidate and a Greens candidate, winning 8%.

Behind its "environmental" masquerade, AAFI see its role as "to provide a sound philosophical, environmental, economic and socio-cultural critique of the myriad consequential problems associated with population growth through mass immigration". The basic platform revolves around the assertion that the key to improving environmental, economic and cultural problems lies in a vast reduction in the number of immigrants.

The AAFI very correctly says that Australia's environment is in a critical state. But its "solution" is to scapegoats migrants.

AAFI singles out immigrants from Third World countries and the overpopulated countries of Asia as more damaging to the environment than immigrants from developed countries.

Fossil fuel is a major pollutant, especially in an energy-rich country like Australia. Since Australians consume the same amount of energy as 190 million Russians and 490 million Indians, the AAFI argues that further increasing the population of Australia will blow out energy consumption. Conversely, if immigrants come from First World countries, which are already prolific users of energy, then these migrants are merely moving their use, not increasing it as an immigrant from a Third World country would be doing.

The underlying argument is that to prevent the global environment from worsening, the ratios of rich to poor should remain as they are now. If the AAFI were serious about redressing the damage that fossil fuels cause to the environment, it would look to be curbing the excessive use of this energy in First World countries, rather than scapegoating the Third World migrants.

Further, the fossil fuel argument refers to a global environment, which undermines the argument for reducing immigration just in Australia. What is the point of a pristine Australian environment when the rest of the world is suffering? Immigration involves merely the movement of existing people, not a population increase. Basically, environmental problems are global and require an international solution rather than a national one.

The AAFI also argues that because Australia has an arid inland, its potentially arable land is only 10% of its total area. Cities, it argues, which most immigrants choose to live in, are densely populated enough. As more people arrive, resource use per person is increased and the impact per unit of resource used is greater. But this is very simplistic.

Much of Australia's environmental damage has come directly from within Australian government, from past faulty resource management, not from pressure of numbers. Resource allocation is decided predominantly by corporations or profitable small businesses.

In capitalism the marketplace determines the relative prices of goods and services. Environmental goods such as clean air, pure water or unspoiled ecosystems are either unpriced or underpriced. Therefore, businesses which pollute or make huge profits out of woodchipping or destructive mining pay only token penalties for their actions.

The AAFI not only scapegoats immigrants for Australia's environmental crisis, but also campaigns against immigration for economic and cultural reasons. It is quite obvious that racism is on the agenda here.

AAFI cites the cost of putting people into jobs, the cost of new housing and the cost of social security for immigrants as costs Australia can't afford. The fact that migrants work and produce what they consume — and more — escapes the AAFI.

As for the cultural damage immigrants cause to Australia, this one had me baffled. Edwin Woodger of the Sydney office of AAFI threw light on the reasoning. He said that immigration needed to be reduced because "Australia's culture had been divided and shuffled away in favour of multiculturalism". Need I say more?