The January 29 by-election in the safe Labor seat of Werriwa, vacated by John Kerin, witnessed the emergence of the latest front group of the xenophobic extreme-right. That Australians Against Further Immigration did relatively well, marshalling just over 7% of the vote, came as a surprise to many.
These ethnically homogeneous — Anglo-Saxon — groups tend to flourish at times of high unemployment and social breakdown. Offering simplistic solutions and massaging genuine insecurities as well as unfounded prejudices, AAFI, which has very few members in Sydney's south-west, found support among alienated elements of the working class where unemployment is highest.
Of the 11.7% swing in primary votes against Labor, the Liberal Party managed to pick up only 3%. The major parties have economic policies the essentials of which are the same. When it comes to investment, to creating jobs, both parties bow to mystical, god-like "market forces" to solve the problem.
AAFI pamphlets handed out at polling booths blame high unemployment and Australia's foreign debt on mass immigration.
But there is no connection between immigration and unemployment. If there were, then Ireland, whose biggest export is its people (50,000 to the US alone each year), might be expected to have no unemployment. In fact, Ireland has an unemployment rate of over 17%. Other countries with traditionally low immigration also suffer high unemployment. This is because unemployment is caused by those same "market forces", the capitalist economic system, that the major parties expect to solve the problem.
Aside from the cultural richness that migrants have brought to this country, Australia's economic expansion would have been impossible without immigration; that is why successive governments since the 1940s have encouraged it.
The most recent census figures show that 78% of the Australian population were born here. Last year immigration was at a long-time low of 63,000. Immigration is not the issue.
In reality, AAFI and other racist groups are not so much opposed to immigration, but to non-Anglo immigration. They use the economic crisis to push their own twisted agenda, which is exposed by their assertion that multiculturalism costs an arm and a leg.
John Pilger, campaigning film maker and journalist, offered a very different perspective on Australia than that of AAFI when speaking to Green Left Weekly last year. He said:
"I've always found the most hopeful vision of Australia is to be discovered at a naturalisation ceremony, on any Friday night, at any Town Hall throughout Australia. There's this rich variety of nationalities lining up all wanting to be Australians. In my lifetime, Australia has changed from a second-hand England and Ireland to the second most multicultural country in the world, and that's all been achieved without any blood on the streets. There have been difficulties, there's been discrimination, but generally speaking, it's happened peacefully. It's an achievement on the part of the Australian people and that's what makes Australia exciting."
That's a vision splendid and one worth fighting to preserve.