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)

Interview Outtakes (IV): Andrew Markus, Peter Lewis and Andrew Leigh on asylum policy

In February, I interviewed a range of politicians and other figures mostly about immigration, population and social cohesion (see Part 1 here).

However, in many of the discussions, the topic turned to asylum seekers. I don’t plan to write about asylum policy in this particular series of articles, but I think whenever you get considered comment on contentious policy, it is better to make such contributions public than kept hidden.

Below are some comments from Andrew Markus (Professor, social research Monash), Peter Lewis (Executive Director at Essential Media) and Andrew Leigh (Shadow Assistant Treasurer). Tomorrow I’ll post Tim Watts and Sam Dastyari.

Andrew Markus:

“There is a notion that the public is easily swayed by whatever gets reported. Asylum seeker advocates tend to run the line that the media misreports and demonises asylum seekers, people don’t understand what is going on and if they did then there would be a more sensible and compassionate response to the asylum seeker crisis.”

(Me: Do you believe that?)

“No, I don’t believe that, because I think that on issues like asylum and border protection it’s values that drive attitudes rather than facts, people seek out the facts which are consistent with their outlook. A good example is a program like ‘Go Back to Where you Came From’ on SBS which challenged stereotypes. It was a brilliant program, but I do not see any evidence that it had a sustained impact on public opinion.”

Peter Lewis:

“I don’t think this is a moral issue anymore. Boats sinking and people drowning muddied the moral high ground. I think this is a complex policy, where the need for deterrence of people smugglers is a legitimate objective. My view has changed on this over the last 18 months.”

“What sickens me is the politics around the policy – Morrison and generals, a constructed moral panic feeding a public whose engagement with the issue has been manipulated in order to avoid tough conversations on population growth. That is what I find immoral, not the policy.”

Andrew Leigh:

The asylum seeker debate has been ugly, but there is something to the notion we ought to appreciate the fact we are debating the migrant intake which is typically less than 5 per cent of the total intake in any particular year.”

“Small l liberalism is important in how we do refugee resettlement, in how we have strong migrant intakes in Australia, about the importance of a humane asylum seeker debate. I don’t think it’s small l liberal to talk about peaceful invasion and illegals. That doesn’t recognise the other as equal to ourselves. You must never change the notion that they are as an important human being as you are.”

There are a few other outtakes from these interviews, which can be found here.

The emerging population* debate (read immigration): a response to Nicholas Stuart

Nicholas Stuart had an op-ed in the Canberra Times this week arguing against a bigger Australia.

His argument is with Michael Fullilove, Director of the Lowy Institute, for his speech on ‘A Larger Australia’. I disagree with bits and pieces of Fullilove’s means, but on population, come down at the same end. However it is pleasing to see an emerging debate on this issue outside the confines of a federal election.

In familiar op-ed style, Stuart situates his argument within either/or:

Now this is one of those fundamental ideological positions you either hold, or you don’t. Intellectual arguments don’t seem to make much impression on those in favour or those against the idea that we can be “bigger”, and this is really a debate about population size.

I don’t believe this to be true and wonder if Stuart actually holds this belief, what is the purpose of his op-ed in the first place?

Stuart has three main arguments against a bigger Australia.

The first is to focus on infrastructure and the public cost of this provision. It’s an important point. More people require more stuff. Yet this only focuses on the demand migrants place on government and ignores the contribution from migrants. Most economic work on most developed economies shows the effect of immigration hovers around neutral. In Australia, we err on the side of positive because of the high-skilled nature of our immigration framework. Benign but limited as termed by the Productivity Commission in 2006. Therefore for Stuart to ignore the contribution of migrants to governments in the provision of public infrastructure is poor form. Yes, more schools and roads cost money. Thankfully migrants pay taxes too. His lament that “in the long run only a few benefit” is akin to claiming the only winners in the AFL last season were Hawthorn. While Melbourne may not have had a great year on the field, hundreds of people have good jobs because of the club and thousands more supporters gain enjoyment from participating. There is a good argument to be had about infrastructure in Australia, but blame state and federal governments as opposed to migrants.

Perhaps the most egregious part of his argument is his second point. Stuart co-opts Gina Rinehart as his main antagonist. This is despite the fact he goes to great lengths to explain one is not racist or anti-development to believe in a stable, low-growth population. In the same vein, one does not need to believe Gina Rinehart’s $2/day nonsense to believe in a larger Australia. Stuart is incorrect to state a big Australia means lower living standards. There is little proof to his claim. Australia today is the most populous and near to the richest we’ve ever been. This does not prove migrants are the individual equivalent of economic stimulus packages, but it does mean you require some evidence when you categorically state having more Aussies “simply means lower standards of living”. Stuart is dishonest by conflating Rinehart’s push for outlandish policy with the bigger Australia argument and the spectre of lower living standards. Even the most pessimistic takes on the impact on immigration see only very minimal impact on living standards (Borjas etc) while in Australia, the effects are generally small and positive (See Productivity Commission 2006).

Stuart’s last argument is the environment. “It’s fragile. Despite last week’s deluge, the rain isn’t coming when or where we want it. The soil is thin and old. There are limits”. All of this is true, but none of it precludes more people.

Finally, Stuart says:

There is another model. This week I’m in Sweden. In the 1600s this was a mighty power. Today it’s just a pleasant country; but I don’t think it’s lost anything in the transition.

Here is what Sweden has lost: the opportunity to take as many people possible on its journey to massive wealth. A nation is mostly a collection of the people within it. While Stuart laments our slide down the happiness and wellbeing measures (of course, Australia sits 2nd while Sweden sits 8th on the Human Development Index), since 1946 Australia has been busy integrating many people into high paying jobs, world class education and cultural exchange opportunities. Further, Sweden itself has run a pretty large immigration program over the past decade (just not for the past 400 years), something he would find if he ventured into the Stockholm suburbs in the south.

I think I understand the fear about more people from an environmental and economic point of view. There is a risk standards of living will fall with more people. Personally, I see this risk as much smaller than the risk of population stability in terms of wellbeing. In relation to the environment, unlike climate change, the issues of population are second order and based on tradition (i.e., water policy in Australia) rather than best practice*.

Stuart’s piece is more thoughtful (and pleasant) than the standard stable population writing that is spewed onto the internet by a small handful of excitable activists. However it contains many more questions than answers. I should note, I generally enjoy Stuart’s column in the Canberra Times as he explores matters at the margins as opposed to the general op-ed industrial complex which has arisen.

Other takes: Andrew Leigh has a more “factual” take on the population debate here, where he comes down on the side of more people (but only just it seems). Richard Tsukamasa Green has a different take to Fullilove here but supports a bigger population.

* Of course acknowledging people coming from low carbon economics to Australia increase Australia’s net carbon emissions. This is not an argument against immigration but for rigorous climate change policies.

Interview outtakes (I): Andrew Leigh on the ALP, immigration and the labour market

I’m in the process of writing some longer pieces about immigration and population. Last week I interviewed a range of politicians about these topics. However, as with most 20-30 minute interviews, you end up with a lot of interesting material which isn’t going to make it into final versions. Instead of losing this material, I’m going to post some of the more interesting out-takes and add my thoughts.

To kick things off, Andrew Leigh on how the ALP talks about immigration:

Me: “Much was made of then-Prime Minister Gillard’s remarks about foreigners and jobs last year. These issues polled well and proved popular with many party supporters. Yet evidence increasingly shows Australia’s migration framework has a strong positive impact on low-skilled earnings, given the complementary nature of high-skilled migrants. I found it very hard to intuitively understand more supply will not substantially lessen demand. What role does the ALP have to play when discussing the intersection of migration and the labour market? How can these complex messages be better understood in the electorate?”

Andrew Leigh: “I think it’s a hard conversation to have. One of the interesting dimensions which comes to mind, which comes when talking about this to unionists either in the work place, or organisations in areas with high migrant flows, is the concern that workers coming in from non-union cultures are much more likely to be compliant, much more able to put up with different safety standards, much more opposed to striking over safety concerns. They are sometimes less concerned with pushing down pay than conditions. I think they are reasonable arguments to have but we want to keep going back to to that basic touchstone about every first speech from a labor member about how ‘let me tell you about how many migrants come from my family’, ‘let me tell you about the migrants I’ve helped’, those kind of heart touching stories that are in so many labor maiden speeches. We ought to be the party of open Australia in an broad sense and not just an electoral sense.”

Leigh raises an important point. I tend to approach these issues by giving strong priority to economic gains, as I think this is how most policy arguments play out these days. However standards of work conditions are critical. What struck me is that this argument seems eminently sensible yet didn’t come through strongly last year in the media when this very debate was occurring about 457 visas.

Further, this raises additional questions about union memberships and migration in general. This 457 visa report I co-authored last year showed 7 per cent of 457 migrants were union members, however spiked up and down depending on industry association. I think higher unionisation amongst new migrants is probably one of the best outcomes in terms of ensuring migrant exploitation is minimised and conditions are maintained. However I assume a combination of industries and ethnic backgrounds make this all but impossible in certain workplaces. It’s very hard to know if a union penetration rate of 7 per cent is positive, negative or simply average.

Finally, when Leigh says the ALP should be open in a broad sense and not simply an electoral sense, he is right but this is extremely tricky in practice. The policy goals of the progressive political class are currently a substantial distance from the public perception about immigration – as I think the debate from last year showed.