One of the curious aspects of an open economy is that economic liberty is synonymous with economic integration. In this respect immigrants have taken to Australia with a will and make up a significant proportion of our productive output. According to the 2003/2004 Tax statistics there were 8.8 million income tax payers. From the graph below it can be inferred there are over 2.6 million immigrants in the Australian labour force;
- Source: BBS News, Factfile Global Migration
Because of our open throttle economy the unemployment rates in 2004 between native born and immigrants differed by only half a percent. Considering Australia has the highest percentage of immigrants as part of the labour force of any OECD nation this is a remarkable achievement. Only the US had better, and some of the differentials were as high as 12%.
Unfortunately, while we are running an open shop economically, lately our politicians have been trying to run a closed shop culturally and nationally. The purpose of liberal democracy is to serve the morality of liberty and the goal of a representative system is to dampen discrimination by a majority against a minority. Not much help when the representatives are the ones stoking that fire.
The global labour market is highly competitive, especially for skilled labor and Australia is just one of many nations competing in that market. The US remains dominant, the EU is increasing in appeal with a n increasingly integrated trade and work-visa system, Canada is another, and for those that have technical and language skills North Asia is highly appealing. As more and more nations adopt open economies, Australia is going to have to compete on more than just economic liberty.
Another issue we face is that the global labour market is appealing to Australians too. Currently there are approximately one million Australians living and working outside of Australia, this is nearly 10% of the current Australian labour force. The Australian Diaspora will probably increase in size, rather than shrink, as globalisation continues and work-visa restrictions between nations drop.
So where can we compete outside of economic liberty? The two most obvious are cultural liberty and political equality.
Multiculturalism is the policy of individuals pursuing their cultural interests. Multiculturalism does not over-ride constitutionalism or common law, nor does it judge cultures on value, elevating one over the other. But here we already have strong competitors; multiculturalism originated in Canada, and the United States focuses so heavily on economic integration that it stays out of the cultural arena leaving itself, by de-facto, as culturally liberal. Competition is good and the great thing about competing over liberty is; rather than a race to the bottom, it becomes a race to the top.
We used-to kind-of have a policy of political equality with subjects of the Queen of England up until the passing of the Australian Act and more recently we put a boot into the head of the New Zealanders. Rather than raise the fences, we should have gone the other way, and increased the voting franchise to include immigrants of any nationality.
Citizenship is based on the just relationship between individual and government. Immigrants pay taxes, follow laws and pursue their interests; as citizens do. An immigrants relationship with the government is exactly the same as the native born and enfranchisement should reflect this. There would be many benefits to the policy of giving immigrants the vote; it would stand out in the global labour market, it would speed the political integration of immigrants, it would reward immigrants for their contributions to Australian prosperity, it would give immigrants voice in representative politics which has a habit of singling out a politically weak minority; and finally it reinforces the just relationship between individual and government in liberal democracy.