COVER STORY: Terrorism and our population policy
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, November 16, 2002
Following the Bali bombing, the Federal Government has apparently discovered that there might be al Qaeda cells operating within Australia, opening up the real possibility that acts of terrorism could occur on Australian soil. Clearly the source of such organisation is Islamic fundamentalism based in Indonesia.
If Indonesia is to successfully track down those responsible for the Bali bombing, it will require the co-operation of Australia. If Australia is to track down terrorists or sympathisers of the Indonesia-based terrorist movement, Jemaah Islamiyah, or its spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, it will require the co-operation of Indonesia.
On both matters, Australia needs the full co-operation of Jakarta, and nothing should be done to prevent that from happening.
Shift in focus
One side effect of the upsurge of terrorism is that it puts great pressure on Australia in an unexpected area: that of immigration.
With the increased prosperity of Western Europe over the past twenty years, there has been a major shift in the sources of migrants into Australia, towards Asia and the Middle East, including Turkey, Iraq and Iran, of people of the Islamic faith.
In light of the uncertain international environment, it is surely time for the Government to review both the sources of Australia's migration program, and whether sufficient is being done to encourage Australians to have children.
As to the former, there is a strong case for shifting immigration resources from the Middle East towards countries of eastern Europe and Latin America, where there exists a stronger cultural affinity with Australia than exists for most countries in the Middle East.
In relation to natural population increase, the Federal Government is already under pressure on family policy as a result of the ACTU and Sex Discrimination Commissioner's efforts to entrench 14 weeks paid maternity leave - a policy which the Prime Minister clearly recognises will disadvantage homemakers, and increase the number of women returning to the paid workforce after having children.
If we want mothers to remain at home with young children, something more than the trifling incentives currently available must be made available to young families.
This was brought home forcefully in a recent report commissioned by AMP, and conducted by the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling. It found that the cost of two children in a family averages around $310 a week, over $16,000 a year, and for the period up to adulthood, around $450,000.
Little wonder, then, that people are not having children, the birth rate has fallen below replacement levels, and we are dependent on immigration.
Despite Australia's growing population, over the past ten years the number of marriages has fallen from 113,900 to 103,100, while the number of divorces rose from 41,400 to 55,300, the highest level since the introduction of the Family Law Act in 1976.
The decline in marriage and rising divorce rates coincide with the increase in cohabitation outside marriage, rapidly increasing age of marriage, and figures showing that 29 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women will never marry.
The falling level of commitment to marriage has also been accompanied by a decline in the birthrate, with long-term adverse implications on Australia's population, its economy, and ultimately, its capacity to sustain its own future.
If Australia is to survive as a free and independent nation, it will have to adopt pro-family policies which enable families to raise children.
One of Australia's leading sociologists, Moira Eastman, recently wrote, "Paid maternity leave followed by a rapid return to full-time work does not meet the needs of most Australian mothers and what most Australians feel is right for children (and mothers)." (The Age, July 12, 2002)
Interestingly, a 1997 survey by the Australian Institute of Family Studies - hardly a supporter of stay-at-home mothers - found that 83 per cent of women and 84 per cent of men believed that mothers should not work full-time, even when their youngest child is at school.
The argument most commonly raised against a maternity benefit paid to all mothers is that it is financially unsustainable.
Yet almost every other country - we are told - has been able to pay maternity leave, in most cases for about four months, but in the case of Sweden, for a period of fifteen months! It is clearly a matter of priorities.
One way of funding a universal maternity benefit would be to consolidate existing family payments into it, and adding the substantial government-funded child care subsidy which should be paid to parents, rather than child care centres.
Additional funding could be obtained by setting aside the existing taxation on superannuation funds for maternity benefits, rather than adding it to consolidated revenue.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council