Real problem or “race to the bottom”? – Part II

MulticultimainIn Part I of this article I outlined the major shortcomings of the Refugees Convention and traced the ways it was contributing to the current influx of boat-borne asylum seekers to Australia and the ongoing political controversy that has engendered.

((I am not suggesting that Australia should “subvert” the Convention in any morally repugnant way. For a start, we should boost our offshore humanitarian intake to 25,000 per year. At the moment it is effectively zero because the entire quota is being taken up by self-selecting “boat people”. And we should devote the billions of dollars currently spent on processing and incarcerating “boat people” on improving the conditions in offshore refugee camps in Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan. This would do far more genuine good than our present policies, and no-one could reasonably accuse Australia of failing to shoulder its fair share of the international refugee burden. ~ KP)) I argued that the Convention should be radically overhauled or abandoned, but also suggested that in the absence of international will to overhaul it Australia might be better advised in effect to subvert the Convention by implementing policies  like the current Papua New Guinea Solution rather than incur the inevitable international  opprobrium that would flow from formally renouncing the Convention. However, I also suggested that adopting a cynical policy like the Papua New Guinea Solution could not be morally justified if the practical reality was that Australia could easily absorb the current numbers of boat-borne arrivals without significant social or economic tensions.  In Part II, I explore whether this is actually the case.

The ground work for an analysis of that question was done by the then Chairman of the Australian Multicultural Foundation Sir James  Gobbo in a 1995 paper which inter alia attacked the anti-multiculturalism arguments of (unjustly?) notorious historian Geoffrey Blainey:

The most formidable critic 1 has been Professor Geoffrey Blainey. He has on occasions been very forceful in his criticism, once using the word “sham” in an article. The most convenient course is to take a recent article which indicates a softening of his language and even, very tentatively, a concession that multiculturalism might not be the disaster he earlier predicted. In The Bulletin of 30 August 1994, he begins:

“It is too early to tell whether the official policy of multiculturalism is a success, an extravagant delusion or a failure. Even in 40 years’ time, its success will not necessarily be known. The policy might well work well in 39 years out of 40, but one month of extreme tension may erase all the gains. “

In similar vein, in his recently published Shorter History of Australia, Blainey wrote: “It will be many decades before the experiment can be safely pronounced as a triumph, or a moderate success or the begetter of a nation of tribes. “

Blainey goes on to say in his Bulletin article:

“Several important facts are rarely mentioned when Australia’s multicultural policy is analysed. Firstly, our policy is a brave experiment, still in its early stage, and not ready to be assessed. Secondly, it is easier to run this experiment in a nation like Australia with a fair amount of social cohesion, a high standard of living and, at present, no severe military tensions with a powerful neighbour.

Moreover, Australia still has an unusual population mix that helps the experiment while it is unfolding. The people are overwhelmingly European, contrary to the misleading statistics that often come from the multicultural lobby. We have a dominant, long-established, Anglo-Celtic culture and institutions, with a confetti of other ethnic groups, the largest of which are European and, therefore, not dissimilar to the host culture.”

One criticism is expressed as follows: “the big flaw in multicultural or multiracial nations is obvious: they often fall apart” and examples of racial conflict are then given. The short answer to this criticism is that the policies adopted in Australia have not been fashioned on any overseas countries and overseas conditions are not replicated here.

The real test will come, it is said, when Islam constitutes 10% of Australia’s population and 30% of the inhabitants of any one city.

To say this is not to disparage Islam and its moral and spiritual values, some of which were once supported by most Australians. But a rift between secular, laid-back Australia and dedicated Islam could become deep.

Then Blainey writes: “Unlike today, we will actually have a multicultural society in which real cultures and values are in fierce competition. To say this is not to disparage Islam and its moral and spiritual values, some of which were once supported by most Australians. But a rift between secular, laid-back Australia and dedicated Islam could become deep. “

Gobbo responds to Blainey’s somewhat extreme scenario in a measured way:

There is, of course, real force in the argument that a scenario of 30% of say Brisbane or Sydney belonging to “dedicated Islam” could pose real risk of damaging tensions in certain circumstances. One such circumstance could follow on foreign policy differences with a neighbour such as Indonesia if it were to change and become a fundamentalist Islamic country.

It is a scenario that is beyond credibility on any reasonable view of demographic data. Assuming one takes the city with the highest presence by far of adherents to Islam at the present time, namely Sydney, one finds some 73,000 who are listed as Muslim. The total population of Sydney is three million. It is difficult to see how that figure of 73,000 could rise to nearly one million unless there was a major and deliberate change in our immigration program. How would all these Muslim migrants gain entry given the tests which are so weighted in favour of those who speak English and possess qualifications not often found in applicants from countries such as Turkey and Lebanon.

Even if by some prolongation it would be possible to reach such a high percentage, it would presumably take many decades to achieve this figure. Why should one assume that Australian Muslims will not be affected and modified by their environment, especially in the state schools in which the vast majority of Muslim children are being, and will continue to be, educated.

 However, although Blaney’s scenario of the Muslim proportion of the  population of Sydney reaching 30% is extreme, it did in fact more than double to around 160,000 within a decade of Gobbo’s 1996 paper, and there is little doubt that that rate of increase would have continued and even accelerated in the seven years since then. Moreover, had steps not been taken to arrest the current flow of boat-borne asylum seeker arrivals by implementing the Papua New Guinea Solution, there is little doubt that the rate of increase of the Moslem population of Sydney would have significantly accelerated. Asylum seekers have been arriving at the rate of 30,000 per year in the current calendar year, and the overwhelming majority of them are Iranian, Iraqi and Afghan.  Just taking a straight line arithmetic increase (and not taking into account subsequent applications for family reunion visas by people who are successful in obtaining protection visas), there is no doubt that the Muslim population of Sydney will be well over 500,000 by 2020 if the boats are not stopped or their passengers permanently diverted to Papua New Guinea or elsewhere.

Moreover, settlement patterns indicate that most of those arrivals would choose to live in particular areas of south-western Sydney, exacerbating an existing marked ethnic  enclave/ghetto phenomenon. See the map on page 23 of this paper.

The social and economic effects of such a concentration are exacerbated by the fact that boat-borne asylum seekers on average have much lower levels of education, training and command of the English language than any other migrant stream. All other migrant streams, including the offshore humanitarian visa stream, are selected in significant part against criteria including the possession of sufficiently high levels of education, training and English language to be able to be absorbed readily and quickly into the Australian community and become productive members of it. That simply does not apply to irregular asylum seekers arriving by boat. As a result, the grant of protection visas to large numbers of these people over a significant period of time can be expected to result in even faster increases in the development of ethnic  enclaves in south-western Sydney and similar areas of other Australian cities. The formation and perpetuation of those enclaves in turn inhibits the smooth absorption (not assimilation) of migrants into the Australian community which has been the hallmark of Australia’s highly successful multiculturalism policies.

You see, in my view Blaney’s fundamental opposition to multiculturalism is demonstrably wrong. I agree with Gobbo that it has been highly successful. However, Blainey is only wrong as long as Australia’s migration program continues to be carefully managed and nurtured as it has been over the last 30 years or more.  What most people simply do not understand is that the success of Australia’s migration program with its emphasis on non-racially based multiculturalism, by contrast with multiculturalism policies in Europe and elsewhere which are generally viewed as abject failures, is no accident.

Australians are not remarkably more tolerant of ethnic diversity than the citizens of European countries where multiculturalism has manifestly failed.

Australians are not remarkably more tolerant of ethnic diversity than the citizens of European countries where multiculturalism has manifestly failed. Instead, the remarkable success of Australian multiculturalism flows from the fact that our migration programs are carefully managed, with migrants from all streams not only selected against criteria including age, health, education, training and English language, but also with substantial amounts of support and assistance being provided to improve migrants’ skills in all those areas. Moreover, migrants under the offshore humanitarian program are carefully selected from a wide range of national and ethnic origins to ensure that arrival numbers are never high enough to result in or exacerbate the formation of ethnic enclaves. Moreover, humanitarian migrants are deliberately resettled in a highly dispersed manner in numerous different cities and regional centres around Australia. It is entirely natural that people coming to a new and strange country will at first band together. Problems only occur where such phenomena are allowed to develop and perpetuate themselves, because that inhibits harmonious absorption into the Australian community. Multiculturalism policies based on encouraging the maintenance of cultural ties and practices are both positive and desirable, but only if they take place within the context of overall harmonious absorption into the community, not where de facto separation into ethnic enclaves is allowed to occur as a significant feature.

The development of ethnic enclaves, especially where they include significant numbers of people with low levels of education, employment skills and English language who therefore exhibit high levels of unemployment, is highly problematic for multicultural Australia. No doubt deliberately  on the part of migration authorities, there is very little published research on comparative levels of criminality and formation of criminal gangs in migrant communities. One of the few papers was by Satyanshu Mukherjee from the Australian Institute of Criminology in 1999.It showed that, while most ethnic groups actually had crime rates lower than the national average, Vietnamese, Lebanese and Pacific Islander migrants exhibited crime  rates around 50% higher than the average. The first two groups overwhelmingly arrived in large numbers in the 1970s and early 1980s as refugees. Like Middle Eastern asylum seekers today, they were not selected for possession of education, employment or English language skills, and as a result clearly defined and persistent ethnic enclaves immediately developed in both Sydney and Melbourne.  This 2006 paper (based on a 2001 survey) appears to confirm the association of crime and criminal gangs with particular ethnic groups.  Of course, problems posed by the arrival of large numbers of Vietnamese refugees have gradually receded in recent years, which illustrates that even quite large numbers of uncontrolled arrivals can eventually be absorbed  harmoniously into the Australian community, but not without significant tensions in the meantime. Unless carefully managed, those tensions can easily expand into widespread and entrenched ethnic tension, violence and community division of the sort we see today in numerous parts of Europe.

Australian migration authorities have long been aware of the dangers posed by the arrival of large numbers of irregular asylum seekers  That is why they have given strong advice to successive governments starting with the Hawke government in 1990 that have resulted in a bipartisan determination to adopt policies and strategies designed to minimise the number of such arrivals. I have long advanced the seemingly unpopular/politically incorrect argument that migration authorities and successive Federal governments are entirely justified in adopting these policies. They are not racist either in their motivation or  implementation. In fact they are entirely necessary to maintain and enhance the remarkable success story of Australian multiculturalism.

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About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

Hi Ken,

yes, agreed with the basic proposition that it is entirely in Australia’s interest to pick and choose the migrants it wants and to be very reticent of taking in large groups of people with poor skills and english because those groups might feel unwanted\unsuccessful and behave accordingly. I do not think that in the long run there is all that much difference between Islam and Catholicism and hence that one cannot have a cohesive nation state with large groups of different religions including Islam, but that’s the long run. I think the Islamic heartlands have to pacify and grow into prosperous service-based economies to take the edge off things in the religious diaspora, and that will take a few generations at least.

Don’t count on losing the tag politically incorrect though, whether you are right or wrong! Part of the internal pacification drive is to pretend the absence of systematic problems with any identifiable group, and to be angry at those who defy the pretense, particularly if they are well-to-do white males such as yourself. An important part of the nation state story is to get people to believe the story.

Bill Posters
Bill Posters
10 years ago
Reply to  Ken Parish

At the end of the day I’m not all that interested in having discussions with people who are not willing to open their minds and be challenged by thinking carefully about issues that are for whatever reasons regarded by the woolly-minded as culturally or politically off-limits.

How brave of you, as a white man in the first world, to battle the “woolly-minded”. What a noble battle against oppression.

10 years ago

even quite large numbers of uncontrolled arrivals can eventually be absorbed harmoniously into the Australian community, but not without significant tensions in the meantime. Unless carefully managed, those tensions can easily expand into widespread and entrenched ethnic tension, violence and community division of the sort we see today in numerous parts of Europe.

Is there any guide of the quantity of immigrants that form the tipping point between seamless integration and a longer more tension ridden process? Or indeed between eventual integration and entrenched ethnic tension?

I’m also wondering if it’s an issue of proportion, (i.e. proportion of new immigrants relative to total population), or whether there is some absolute level which triggers the formation of an isolated ethnic community and the proportions just govern how conspicuous the tension is at the national level.

10 years ago
Reply to  Ken Parish

Re France, it doesn’t help if half your immigrants have either collective memories of being tortured by you or of being betrayed by you after being tortured for you.

But their biggest problems came from the decades of practically anti-assimilatory policies (i..e their social housing schemes) and entrenched racism that, coupled with negligeable growth, stopped their immigrants having a real chance at anything.

Mike Pepperday
Mike Pepperday
10 years ago

Thanks for the analysis, Ken. Both the complaints of racism and the sanctimonious concern for lives lost at sea are beside the point; we can’t take 40 million refugees.

I have always thought that our “multiculturalism” a bit superficial—food and folk dances—which is to say that managed multiculturalism is really respectful assimilation. One thing that must help is the official welcome: that by satisfying some not very onerous conditions after two years the immigrant can, with due ceremony, become a citizen. Thus even if people face occasional discrimination in daily intercourse, they know it is rogue, not policy, and not even genuine public sentiment.

Ingolf Eide
10 years ago

Ken, I’ve long been instinctively against deterrence based policies but this pair of posts have made me think again.

Not particularly happy with any of it but then again it’ll probably never be that kind of issue.

Are you surprised the main parties haven’t made a real attempt to properly frame matters in the way you have? I’d have thought a measure of consensus (and a more humanitarian overall approach to the refugee problem) might just have a chance of emerging if they did.

10 years ago

I’m not sure that refugee arrivals constitute a great part of the Lebanese community in Australia, which after all has been coming here since the 1870s. I accept it’s possible that Lebanese who arrived as refugees make up the greater part of the criminality stats for that community. Really, we should find some hard numbers. If there are no hard numbers supporting your argument, I submit it needs to be rethought.

I’m also not at all sure that the the average Western Sydney resident is more likely to meet a refugee than the effete latté-sipping elitists of Inner Sydney. More likely to live near a refugee, sure, but that is not the same as meeting people or understanding them.

10 years ago
Reply to  Ken Parish

Okay, how long was the intake 4000 a year and how long would that take to generate large ethnic enclaves in Sydney? What distinguishes an immigrant ethnic enclave from a homegrown enclave like the Exclusive Brethren?

You mention 3 high crime groups. Pacific Islanders are very rarely refugees. The Vietnamese community, which once did have high levels of criminality, is now widely agreed to be normalising at a rapid rate. Where 2 of your 3 examples are not refugee related, and the third is not nearly as open and shut as your original post suggests, what do we actually have by way of an argument? I am tempted to mention that the Irish community was notorious as a growing criminal enclave in the Sydney of the 1840s and 50s, and as we all know the worst fears were confirmed and that community continues to be a dangerous thorn in Australia’s side. If you want an example of a dangerous immigrant community I’d invite you to examine the case of the Sydney Ducks some time.

I really am not seeing here a smoking gun that justifies abandoning the Convention, and I note that it’s not just the Refugee Convention, we would have to withdraw from an enormous number of other international instruments and we would still have tod eal with jus cogens areas of international law.

I am not arguing there should be no limits on the refugee and special humanitarian intake, just pointing out that we have been using deterrent measures since the early 90s, almost a generation now. All that seems to be happening is that each set of deterrent measures is found not to be harsh enough so we give the thumbscrews another turn in the certain knowledge that the next set of deterrent measures will work better than the last.

10 years ago

For me it’s easy. If people want us to be more moral they should support the most pro-business pro-markets party.

The richer the “swinging voter” becomes, the more tolerant and welcoming the country will be. People whose biggest dilemma is whether to buy or lease the second car are not going to care if the government is spending a fortune educating those migrants over there, people who are scared for their job and wondering how sustainable their mortgage payments are will see things differently.

10 years ago
Reply to  Patrick

That is assuming that the pro-market/pro-business policies will actually make the swinging voter better off. Of course when you have the government throwing the locals to the wolves, it is a little hard to get political support for helping out foreigners.