Fertile Australia

Tuesday 25 July 2006 5:43 AM

That the Federal Treasurer's comments on the relationship between fertility, immigration and "social dislocation" should trigger instinctive disquiet is perhaps not surprising. But his comments in launching the 2006 Census deserve thoughtful reflection, more than knee-jerk accusations of xenophobia.

It's hard to imagine a prime ministerial aspirant of Mr Costello's vintage lining himself up with the Klansmen! His agenda might be better read as cohesion than alienation. We'd like to believe that our national character of generosity and fairness will override suspicion and bigotry always. But with memories still raw of the Cronulla riots, unqualified trust in Aussie decency may not be wise after all.

Throughout history, and still today in many parts of the world, the picture is hard to deny: With the growth of new ethnic communities, with shifts in electoral influence (real or perceived), xenophobic reactions borne of insecurity are rarely far behind. Thoughtful people would wish it were not so. But human beings have never delighted in change, and some fear it more than others.

Costello deserves a hearing. Let's celebrate ethnic diversity. But let's not be blind to hard lessons about human frailty.