Reducing immigration is a pure administrative matter for Steven Armstrong, a resident of Macnamara and Sustainable Australia Party’s candidate in the electorate in the 2019 Federal Election.
An immigrant himself, Mr Armstrong was born in England and moved to Australia in 1966. He’s lived in Melbourne most of his life working as an electronic engineer, but also spent ten years in rural South Australia.
“I lived in an arid region and therefore I became aware of the environmental limitations of this country,” he said, “the countryside is a very dry place”.
Since the 1980s, Mr Armstrong has watched Melbourne grow, but much to his surprise Australian Prime Ministers kept pushing for population growth. That was not in accordance with what he had studied about the environmental capacity of the continent.
According to him, public debate and campaigning about Climate Change still fall short of identifying to the real problems the Australian environment is facing.
A Labor Party supporter and self proclaimed left-libertarian, Mr Armstrong became actively involved in politics at the age of 50, but switched to the centrist Sustainable Australia Party in 2012.
“I’ve always voted Labor for the House of Representatives and the Greens or the Democrats for the Senate,” said the candidate. But after joining the ALP and “seeing how the sausages were made” he became disillusioned with large political parties.
He is driven by a desire to give back to a country that has been very good to him and hopefully make it a better place. The issues dearest to him are housing affordability, tax equity and adequate provision of infrastructure of all types.
When asked whether he thinks he has a better chance of affecting change from the outside rather than within the Labor Party, Mr Armstrong answered with a heartfelt “I don’t know.”
Sometimes he does worry he made the wrong decision, but he is not alone. Many other members of the Sustainable Australia Party are in fact mainstream party defectors, such as Kelvin Thompson, former Labor MP who joined the minor party early this year.
“If the Greens were green, I would be in the Greens” Mr Armstrong laughed, “together with many other members of Sustainable Australia.” But the Greens’ utopianism and internal conflicts kept him away from joining a party that has seen a drastic increase in support in his electorate.
“Macnamara has the richest, most highly educated cohort of voters in the country, and with their financial stability they can afford to be fairly ideological,” said the candidate.
On second preferences, Mr Armstrong will encourage a vote for the Animal Justice Party because, like Sustainable Australia, they also believe that human welfare cannot be divorced from environmental considerations.
He thinks that minor parties need to keep unrealistic expectations in check to survive the political climate.
“Our party has enough experienced people involved, to the point that we now have one MP and much sooner than I expected,” he said.
They have several large donors, according to Mr Armstrong, of the calibre of entrepreneur Dick Smith, but the candidate did not want to make any further comments on political donations.
Sustainable Australia has often been a target on Twitter, with people accusing them of racism and populist messaging.
“It’s annoying to be labelled as racist, however we completely reject all of the criticism,” he said, defending the immigration scheme as based on qualifications, not race or ethnicity or religion.
“It targets national economic development and it can be adjusted as the country requires,” he said.
Currently, the immigration rate of Australia is close to 200 thousand people a year and the reason behind this, according to Mr Armstrong and his party, are the vested interests of Liberal and Labor party funders such as property developers or construction unions.
“You can argue that the scheme is discriminatory against the rest of the planet, but that’s the nature of immigrations programs,” Mr Armstrong said, adding that problems arise because the “inner-urban bourgeoisie” has misconceptions about this process, believing that “it is some kind of anti-poverty scheme.”
For him, the current immigration scheme is benefiting a global middle class that has the resources necessary to move to this country, therefore Mr Armstrong firmly believes that the environmental integrity of Australia is more important.
“It’s not an option for poor people, they can’t even come here, the don’t have the airfare!” He exclaimed, and added that even with an intake of 70 to 100 thousand a year, there would be room to increase the humanitarian intake of refugees.
Challenged over the potential manipulation of his message by anti-immigration, right-wing politicians, the candidate affirmed that it is indeed unfortunate that there are people who want to reduce immigration for discriminatory reasons.
“To fully implement their agenda, they should change the scheme to be discriminatory and they are too stupid to even realise that,” he said, “we are blessed with very low-quality right-wing politicians in this country, they are idiots.”
Instead, he said, “Sustainable Australia presents voters with candidates who have been participants in Australian society, they are not career politicians, they are connected to common people in a way that the career politicians of the big parties aren’t.”