Australian immigration in the 21st century (Part 2)

This is the second in a two part series about Australian immigration in the 21st century. See Part 1 here

Unlike some European and American cities, Australian migrants have not historically lived in tight clusters. It is true many areas are known for their immigrant flavour but intergenerational locational and social mobility has been strong. Indeed, second generation kids do better at school than the average student. This is also reflected in strong English language skills. However there are signs this is slowly changing as diversity increases from recent levels of high immigration.

The Scanlon Foundation ‘Mapping Social Cohesion’ surveys, Australia’s pre-eminent research into immigration and diversity, aims to show emerging social cohesion trends. Over the last seven years, Australian’s have had a high and stable sense of belonging. This means we are proud of the Australian way of life and culture.

Table 4 Scanlon

(Source: Scanlon Foundation Mapping Social Cohesion surveys)

But there has been a sustained negative trend in the sense of rejection.  There is an increasing pessimism about the future and the experience of discrimination is rising. Author Andrew Markus says this is a real challenge for the future but one that is not uniformly bad news:

“If you look at non-English speaking background migrants, the large majority share the Australian dream – work hard and you get on. This makes Australia very different from a number of countries. When you get many people agreeing that you can work hard but you don’t get on, that’s a bad result for a society.”

What is of concern is the increasing attitudinal difference between new migrants and third generation Australians. In 2012, the survey picked up a heightened disenchantment from third generation Australians on whether the impact of immigration was positive or negative. Markus says increasing cultural diversity is partly driving these social trends:

“We are finding increasing segmentation of major cities; the Census provides evidence of a movement away from areas of immigrant concentration by third generation Australians. If you measure diversity by language use, which encapsulates second generation migrants, you find some areas of Sydney and Melbourne which are 90 per cent non-English speaking background. Each Census shows us more of this.”

It is no coincidence that these local areas – such as the outer west in Sydney and south-east in Melbourne – are also areas of high population growth. As Australia’s population has grown, the rate of diversity has increased from 21 per cent in 1996 to 27 per cent in 2011. The majority of new migrants don’t live in the CBD (except for the unique geography of international students) but in the suburbs.

Laurie Ferguson says this change contributes to a ‘nuanced difference’ of social attitudes to immigration between the inner city and the suburbs because “when your space is affected, you have a different attitude to when its not”. Ferguson, a parliamentarian since 1990 for two electorates in suburban Sydney, is most worried about the perceptions around safety and trust. He says he has a number of associates in the ALP who have moved to suburban Sydney from the inner city and now hold dramatically different views on these issues.

“The question of ‘my space’, ‘my neighbour’ doing certain things that give people the shits, is something which contributes. People raise the issue of not being able to buy pork in their butcher shop any more. I hear this pretty regularly. This isn’t a big issue but a small example of space in people’s lives.”

While some might cringe at these comments, sentiment such as this is critical to understand how social change is difficult. These factors play a strong role in how society understands immigration and diversity. Where we live will have a large and permanent impact on how one understands immigration in Australia. In a period of rising diversity and rising population, disparate social and economic groups of people are likely to think very differently about the impacts of immigration.

This understanding is also reinforced by where you work. Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh:

“If you are a worker in an industry which is seeing a big influx of migrants, we should expect you to have a different attitudes to migration than if you’re a worker in an industry that is seeing no influx.”

This is a difficult message to intuit.

There is an ongoing meme that says when different people come together, see and live amongst difference, bias is erased and compassion bred. Unfortunately the evidence for this appears to be mixed at best. Robert Putnam, the leading sociologist on the link between diversity and community, has found “immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital”. If you feel a migrant is replacing your job, how you feel about Australian society and a ‘fair go’ will inevitably change.

This is prevalent in the short term. Helpfully, and more encouraging, new identities for communities are forged over the long-term which encompass immigrants. Australia has ample evidence of this. “It’s not incomprehensible to me that Anglo-Australian’s in the 1950s got nervous when they saw Greeks and Italians”, says Leigh. Sometimes we forget these important historical lessons. Australia has a history of excellent integration over generations.

This explains, but does not excuse, political rhetoric in search of a short-term gain. Why were Prime Minister Gillard’s comments conflating foreigners and unemployment in 2013 so damaging? Instead of seeking to explain the complex, Gillard tapped into the discontent. A Prime Minister’s role should be to rise above it and help shape the long-term success that we know immigration can become. How we ensure this generation of migrants settle well into Australian society – something far from inevitable – is critical.

Unlike some European cities, race riots are a foreign concept in Australia, with Cronulla the major exception. Riots have come to represent to very worst of European society where migrant communities are increasingly geographically, socially and economically separated from their hosts. This is a mark of societies divided by skin colour and religion, occurring in places as unlikely as prosperous, social-democratic Sweden.

In Australia last year, a brief instance of street violence between indigenous and Pacific Islander communities in Logan, south-east Brisbane grabbed the attention of news headlines, only to be forgotten a week later. Perhaps it was the lack of Molotov cocktails or riot police but this small instance of social division points to a more uncertain future as two decades of economic growth slows and encapsulates Markus’ concerns about segmentation.

At the time, Andrew Laming found himself in the middle of this short national discussion after conflating indigenous disadvantage, migrant dependency and welfare in fewer than 140 characters. Twitter is many things, but the appropriate medium to discuss social divisions in suburban Australia it is not.

Away from the immediacy of those events, Laming says this is a serious issue:

“There is concern about islander migration through New Zealand, increasing social problems. In reality this represents a sub-population completely disengaged from society. No mutual obligation, excluded from welfare. This is a real problem and I think it will be looked at by this government.”

Laming’s concerns about the prevalence of Pacific islander’s entering Australia through our open door migration policy with New Zealand are shared by others in Canberra. Since 2001, New Zealand citizens can only become permanent residents and gain eligibility for welfare and social support through the standard visas. This is despite having the right to live and work in Australian permanently on temporary visas. This disconnet from the government safety net is dangerous. Living and working in Australia but technically set apart from everyone else. For some of these people, English may be a distant language and unemployment means a complete lack of basic income, as they are ineligible for NewStart.

Andrew Markus’ latest work shows these concerns are not baseless. In Logan, the Brisbane suburb where the violence occurred, 15 per cent of the population were born in New Zealand or the Pacific. A full 43.7 per cent of the population are born overseas, compared to 27 per cent of Australia as a whole. Social cohesion in Logan is gravely ill. Compared to the national average, every indicator for the Scanlon index is below average. For social justice and equity, there is a massive disparity of 38 percentage points between the national average of 97 and the Logan figure of 59. The sense of rejection is 16 percentage points lower than the national average. People living in Logan feel excluded, rejected and disenchanted compared to people who live elsewhere.

Markus says this is largely responsible for the lack of identification with Australia many New Zealanders have when living in here:

“The New Zealander’s are a huge issue. This is an issue that the government knows is becoming more concerning but who is working seriously on a fix?”

There are only a limited number of ways to improve this situation. The simple, cheap method would see the government limit the arrival of New Zealand citizens or radically alter the existing agreement between Australia and New Zealand on people movement. This would run counter to Australia’s recent history of immigration, an act of exclusion based largely on ethnicity, given the issue has been defined as one concerning Pacific islanders. The precedent would be extreme, unfortunate and retrograde.

Another option is to fundamentally revisit the need to support of those in the community who require it to participate in Australia, both economically and socially. Extending English classes to those who cannot speak English would be a start. Allowing New Zealand citizens to access university funding akin to Australians would be another welcome policy change. These people are Australian in everything but passport. Having lived here for years, the sense of exclusion they demonstrate is perhaps the most worrying ongoing concern for Australia’s sense of social cohesion.

Regardless of the migration and welfare policies, the figures also show the critical role of socio-economic factors play. With an unemployment rate of 13.2 per cent, Logan ranks in the top three percentile of all postcodes for soci0-economic disadvantage in 2011. These are the reasons why 58 per cent of those living in Logan believe immigration is too high, compared to 42 per cent nationally, despite 16.7 per cent of the Logan population arriving between 2000-11. Creating economic opportunity would see social cohesion improve on the back of higher incomes and reduced disadvantage. Feeding the beast with messages about foreigners should be a long way from the politician’s mind.

Fostering a sense of community for those who feel excluded is critical. Of course, this is only one example of a highly frustrated sub-set of people. There are many other, more positive examples of communities. Markus highlights those who most closely identify with Australia are those of Indian ethnicity. Yet by ignoring that which is difficult, we are risking a permanent division between those who have opportunity in Australia and those who do not.

Laming isn’t content simply to comment on the issue of New Zealand citizens however.  He parlays his concerns about social integration into much broader questions about the labour market and labour mobility and what this means in the 21st century:

“There is a real welfare question around mobility of labour. Certainly workers 16 to 21 should be expected to move for suitable work with appropriate relocation assistance and if they refuse two offers, I don’t see why they should continue receiving Newstart.”

He goes so far as to caveat support for further increases in skilled immigration on this type of welfare reform. This would be a radical rethinking of immigration and welfare, policy areas not typically fused together.

On the surface, these policy discussions may appear a long way from arguing about the amount of people who should come to Australia. Yet as the labour market drives immigration, population considerations weave in and out of various domestic policy agendas. Laming’s ideas are well outside the mainstream yet over time these thoughts may come to play a more dominant role.

While I disagree with Laming’s policy solutions, there is an undeniable link between labour mobility and immigration. Jeff Borland, an economist at Melbourne University, has explored the decline of people movement between states. In the decade to 2013, inter-state migration dropped by the equivalent of 130,000 people.

Immigration is one of the reasons for this decrease. Borland finds a closer match between the number of migrants arriving in a state and job creation. This reflects the demand-driven nature of immigration in the 21st century yet few would have expected effects as substantial as reducing inter-state migration.

Labour mobility is critical in a workforce that ebbs and flows amongst its constituent parts. Retail might be slack in Brisbane but booming in Perth. As manufacturing declines, an increasing share of job opportunities might be found in more dense urban areas. Mobility of a workforce allows these opportunities to be explored, softening an otherwise hard landing for those without work.

Unnoticed, away from the front pages, these are the policy impacts stemming from the immigration policy revolution outlined in Part 1. Our space is the common denominator to this social context. Ethnic segmentation, divergent social attitudes and labour mobility are all being directly or indirectly influenced by Australia’s new immigration framework. Yet, on these topics of policy importance, the silence from government, the bureaucracy and those who benefit from immigration is deafening. Just as we are largely unaware about how immigration policy has transformed, we are yet to explore how these policy changes are shaping critical social constructs.

This clash between the economic fundamentals of immigration and the social impact on how people live and work is real. It is also unrelenting. The next question is how to mitigate the worst impacts and harness the most positive aspects of immigration and population. As Australia has shown successfully, and as Europe has failed at historically, the role for government is central in this task.

(See Part One here)

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3 thoughts on “Australian immigration in the 21st century (Part 2)

  1. A thought provoking article Henry. However, I disagree with some of the conclusions you have drawn concerning the Pacific Islander ‘problem’.

    In particular, you state that: “The simple, cheap method would see the government limit the arrival of New Zealand citizens or radically alter the existing agreement between Australia and New Zealand on people movement.

    The problem with that conclusion is it ignores any prospect of economic retaliation from New Zealand – particularly given that it would seem to fundamentally undermine the bilateral Closer Economic Relations Agreement (CER), which is underpinned by the notion of a common labour market (regardless of skin colourI might add).

    If Australia were to curtail or scrap the free movement of labour agreement that underpins the CER on perceived racist grounds then it would seem inevitable that other aspects of CER would also start to unravel.

    For example, the dominance of New Zealand’s finance sector by Australian owned companies would likely come under intense political scrutiny if Australian policy were to unequivocally proscribe that New Zealanders were no longer considered equals in the relationship,

    I understand that Australian companies, including the finance sector, extract billions in profit out of the Australian economy as a result of preferential treatment under the CER agreement.

    You appear to have entirely neglected this fact in your article.

    Also, your article appears to be fundamentally economically flawed as it appears to assume that, overall, uncontrolled migration from New Zealand is an economic negative for Australia.

    Is there any actual proof of this?

    • Thanks for your comment David.

      I agree with your points on the CER. In the article, I did not advocate that particular solution which you refer to. If it were to occur, I believe it would be “extreme, unfortunate and retrograde.”

      The consequences you outline would be severe and troubling.

      I don’t believe I neglected these facts either. The article was primarily about Australian immigration and its social impacts and already ran to ~2200 words. There simply wasn’t the space to address the intricacies of the New Zealand-Australian CER agreement.

      I do not believe either, as you suggest, the economic effects of New Zealand immigration to Australia is negative. I’m a strong believer in more immigration to Australia, and have no qualms as to where people come from. Perhaps my discussion focused too much on Logan, a lower socio-economic area of Brisbane, however on the whole, I believe the Australia-New Zealand CER is excellent public policy, including the agreement of people movement.

      I acknowledge perhaps sometimes my wording might have been imprecise. I’m a strong supporter of expanding the rights and welfare eligibility of New Zealanders living in Australia, as well as opening up different pathways to permanent residency, outside of the standard visa channels given the atypical nature of the relationship.

  2. Pingback: Australian immigration in the 21st century (Part 1) | Value for Money

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