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.

Granular social cohesion in Australia

On Monday, the Scanlon Foundation released new research undertaken by Andrew Markus into social cohesion for new migrant arrivals and, more importantly, for five local areas. This research has steadily gained greater attention in recent years. This is critical as there is a growing sense something is not quite right.

Of the five local areas examined, Logan in Queensland and Mirrabooka in Perth, are the two to closely examine. Both are growing suburbs in growing cities. One could easily characterise these suburbs as the frontier of migrant Australia. Logan has experienced a decade of strong immigration from New Zealand and the Pacific and in 2011, 15 per cent of the population were born in the Pacific. Mirrabooka is different and has been at the forefront of Asian migration in Australia. Over 15 per cent of the population was born in Asian countries, an unprecedented number to consider 10 years ago.

Before getting into the social cohesion research, some context is important. Logan is in the third percentile for socio-economic disadvantage while Mirrabooka is in the eleventh. These are relatively poor areas of Australia, showing stark difference to other parts of Brisbane and Perth. The unemployment rate for Logan is over 13 per cent while Mirrabooka is 7.4 per cent. For people aged 25-54 nationally, about 40 per cent of people have a degree. In these two areas, that percentage shrinks to 18 (Logan) and 32 (Mirrabooka). This disadvantage will manifest itself in any insight into social cohesion for local areas when compared to Australia as a whole.

In part because of this disadvantage, social cohesion is lower in these two suburbs than for Australia as a whole. According to the Scanlon-Monash social cohesion index, Logan has an 18 per cent variance from the national average while Mirrabooka is 6 per cent. Drilling down, we see where this variance comes from. Social justice and equity in Logan is a full 38 per cent below the national average, as well as 16 per cent below in relation to acceptance. In Mirrabooka, social justice and equity is 9 per cent below the national average and 12 per cent in terms of participation.

I’ve read the full set of these reports and nothing I have seen to date is as despondent as the negative sentiment around social justice in Logan. One in four people living there don’t believe hard work will result in a better life, compared to less than 15 per cent nationally. This is a worrying sign of a community which feels excluded. Logan also shows lower levels of trust and higher levels of experienced discrimination. To top it all off, 58 per cent of respondents say there is too much immigration, compared to 42 per cent nationally.

There are strong messages here to those who will listen, and not just about immigration and settlement patterns. This research highlights the growing dissatisfaction in parts of suburban Australia where equality of opportunity is slipping away. Logan is a story with a central point. Many of those Pacific and New Zealand born people who have arrived in the last decade have no recourse to Australian citizenship. They work hard – participation rates of New Zealand citizens in Australia are amongst the highest for any country of origin – yet they don’t get ahead.

Australia has a proud record of social integration and cohesion. Permanent settlement outcomes, combined with employment and language for new migrants, have ensured ethnic isolation disappears by the second generation. This is not something other countries can lay claim to, apart from perhaps Canada.

This research shows we are at a critical point in very specific local areas. Nationally, the picture remains rosy. Yet scratching beneath the surface, an emerging issue presents. When a quarter of a community doesn’t believe hard work will result in getting ahead, long term incentives which hold communities together fracture. There is a the real possibility this leads to inter-generational disadvantage, something Australia has thankfully been good at avoiding. This is a policy issue for government and it needs attention now. Further, we need to examine and reexamine a host of other areas to better understand this particular issue of social cohesion.

Social Cohesion – Australia and the World

The sixth Scanlon Foundation “Mapping Social Cohesion” report was released last week. A slew of articles were published (Julia Baird, David Marr and John Masanaukas with good coverage in the Herald Sun were amongst the better ones). The report is thoughtful and considered, as was the coverage.

The trend of social cohesion in Australia is undoubtedly one where generally positive attitudes are slowly changing, becoming more complex. The five measured domains – belonging, worth, social justice, participation and acceptance and rejection – were all below the 2007 benchmark level, meaning the Index of Social Cohesion recorded its lowest level to date. This informed all of the coverage, where the negative shift of social attitudes was emphasised. This is completely understandable and a very important concept for public discussion.

However I feel this is a small case of missing the forrest for the trees. Professor Markus says compared to international standards, “Australia remains highly cohesive”, where “life in Australia continues to satisfy the new arrivals”. Too often this is overlooked, where our success at building a cohesive society is diminished. A quick peek overseas should act as a good reminder.

Lets start with the share of migrants in Australia. In an oft-quoted figure, about 1 in 4 Australians are born overseas, and 1 in 2 having at least one parent born overseas. Perhaps this isn’t impressive anymore. It should be:

Migrants as a proportion of population

(Source: OECD)

Amongst rich, developed countries with sizeable populations, Australia is unique. While the U.S. is the traditional home of the immigrant dream, Australia is a much better reflection of that reality. This underscores social cohesion, as people mingle economically, socially and culturally. This is the core of multiculturalism in Australia and while the rest of the world struggle with what this means for society, we only struggle with what the word means. As the Scanlon Report says, multiculturalism is now accepted across society.

Next, the labour market:

Migrants and Natives: Unemployment

(Source: International Migration Outlook 2013, OECD)

This shows the difference in unemployment between migrants and domestic born populations for OECD countries. Australia is in the sweet spot, with basically no difference in unemployment between the two groups. Differences can appear, i.e. 6.7% of migrants were unemployed in 2009 compared to 5.3% of Australian-born, yet they tend to smooth out quickly. This is not the case for other developed countries. Migrants struggle in many labour markets, stifling integration into society and damaging social cohesion. This isn’t a perfect picture. Despite some recent convergence, participation rates, especially for women, tend to be lower for migrants than Australian-born.

These labour market results are one of the foundations of strong social cohesion in Australia. A job is important for a host of individual reasons but also for social integration. Having a job helps prevent geographic migrant clustering (“migrant ghettos”). It also prevents migrants acting as a fiscal drag. While you will occasionally read fluff pieces about migrants addicted to welfare or simply coming to Australia for the public benefits, it’s completely incorrect.

migrants and natives: fiscal contribution

This shows the different fiscal contribution of migrant and domestic households. Basically, how do migrants contribute to the budget? Those big blue lines on the left indicate countries where there is a substantial gap between migrants contribution and domestic contributions. Australia doesn’t have a blue line, either negative or positive, meaning migrant and Australian-born households have the same fiscal contribution.

These differences come back to the labour market, and are due to a range of factors, including Australia’s two decade plus journey towards prioritising skilled migration. Family migration and asylum seekers, which are much more prominent in Europe, tend to contribute less to government budgets than domestic-born households. This happens in Australia as well, but is offset by the large proportion of skilled migrants. I believe this has a strong impact on social cohesion, as people don’t associate migrants with the dole in Australia, preventing negative sentiment from escalating. Again, this doesn’t mean things are perfect. If migrant and Australian-born employment rates were equal, the budget would improve by ~0.5%, the fourth largest gain in the OECD.

I don’t mean to ignore the changing trends of Australian attitudes to social cohesion and immigration. There is a shift, and its negative since 2007. However, social cohesion in Australia relative to the rest of the world is unprecedented. Much like how the Australian economy has softened since the GFC, it remains the envy of the developed world. This is despite the vitriol of Hansonism, the fall out from the Tampa and the Cronulla riots. These negatives have failed to rapidly change social cohesion in Australia, which remains strong. This is important to recognise as it demonstrates what has worked in the past.

Andrew Markus recognises this. The Scanlon surveys are a vital insight into Australian society and hopefully his research this year fulfils one of its central objectives, the provision of an early warning against threats to social cohesion, and creating a public environment to “foster informed debate on the challenges necessarily accompanying the maintenance of a successful large scale immigration program”.

Note: the OECD’s annual International Migration Outlook is an excellent document, with useful accompanying country summaries, here is Australia (.xls)