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Peter Costello has warned Australians to breed more or run the risk of a population transformed by immigration.
Raising the spectre of the social disruption and violence of some European nations with low birth rates and high immigration, the Treasurer yesterday warned that immigrants might not be absorbed successfully if the Australian-born population dwindled.
The comments, in a speech to launch the national census, provoked an outcry from ethnic and Muslim leaders, who condemned the arguments as “culturally paranoid”, “prehistoric” and designed to incite “false panic”.
Mr Costello made a similarly controversial speech to the Sydney Institute in February, where he attacked “mushy, misguided multiculturalism”, and called for radical Muslims to adopt Australian values or go somewhere else.
Yesterday he stepped up his long-running campaign to encourage women to have more children — by linking the issue to immigration levels.
If fertility rates continued to run below replacement level, the composition of the population would change, he said.
“There are some European countries with low birth rates and high immigration which have moved into this situation,” he said.
“It has caused a lot of social division … social disruption and violence.”
While immigration had provided “profound benefits”, he warned that in the past it was easier to keep the balance in population because immigrants were absorbed into a growing population led by fertility.
“Increasing immigration to cover natural population decline will change the composition of our population and raise concerns about social dislocation,” he said.
The president of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, Phong Nguyen, said the comments were “irresponsible” and “out of touch”.
Waleed Aly, of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said the Treasurer appeared to be developing a social theory designed to exclude migrants, and particularly non-Anglo migrants.
“It encourages a cultural paranoia — ‘the migrants are coming’,” he said. “That’s not helpful to migrants and may create a false panic within the broader community.”
Keysar Trad, founder of the Islamic Friendship Association of Australia, likened it to the statements of the Liberal MP Danna Vale, who warned earlier this year that Australia could become a Muslim nation within 50 years because “we are aborting ourselves almost out of existence”.
“These constant implications that people from overseas are somehow inferior do not befit a prime ministerial aspirant,” Mr Trad said.
Mr Costello also rejected the idea of a “guest worker” scheme for Australia, saying our concept of an immigrant society was that all arrivals were offered the opportunity to become “full, first-class citizens”.
And he called on employers to create more flexible work conditions to support more women to have children, including expanding opportunities to work from home. He urged fathers to pull their weight more at home.
(Posted on July 25, 2006)