New Migration Council to advocate for a bigger Australia

The announcement of the formation of a Migration Council of Australia and its launch by the Governor General on August 1, confirmed by Department of Immigration and Citizenship official Gary Fleming at the Settlement Council of Australia conference  in Adelaide in late June, marks a critical juncture in population and immigration policy.

The Council will operate as a non-government organisation, with its own board, and look more like the Settlement Council of Australia or the Australian Multicultural Foundation, than the government’s own and somewhat tame Australian Multicultural Council. Hopefully it will not be confused with the migration agents’ lobby, the Migration Institute of Australia. While it is independent of the Government, it is likely that the new body will fit snugly with the pro-migration wings of the both the major poltiical parties.

The MCA wants to find a new space to assert the importance of migration and effective settlement, and has brought together some heavy hitters to make this happen. Headed by Peter Scanlon (ex Patricks Chair) – and bringing together Business Council of Australia chair Tony Shepherd, Australia Post head Ahmed Fahour, Ethnic Communities Federation chair Pino Migliorino, Adult Migrant Education Victoria head Catherine Scarth and a number of others – the organisation seeks to build a bridge between those with an economic interest in a big Australia, and those with a social interest in a fair Australia.

Scanlon has been a key figure in building an information base about immigration and settlement through his Foundation’s financial support for the Monash study of social attitudes to immigration, diversity and levels of social cohesion. His leadership support, both political and financial, is seen to be critical for the effectiveness of the MCA. Scanlon has history as a strong advocate for his causes: in the Elders IXL struggle for BHP in the 1980s, with Patricks, and now with the Garvin Institute and the Scanlon Foundation. He is also a major real estate developer and will come under scrutiny for how this new lobby group might create benefits for his commercial interests.

The board has appointed Multicultural Minister Kate Lundy’s former advisor – the well connected and politically astute Carla Wilshire – to the CEO role, a challenging post which confronts the opportunities and pitfalls of the current immigration scene.

Immigration vs small Australia

There is growing community acceptance that a moderately bigger Australia is beneficial for the economy. Nevertheless, hostilities are also evident, and there is enormous distress over refugee and asylum seeker policy.

Meanwhile, the environmental sustainability debate has frozen over since the hysteria of 2010 gave way to the astonishment of 2011, with the immigration curve’s steep rise suddenly levelling out and then coasting down again.

Even so, the small Australia lobby(led by Foreign Minister Bob Carr and his mate Dick Smith) has not let up its push, and the Greens and the environmental lobby are still hammering away at reducing population growth. In the shadows behind them can be seen a collection of anti-immigrant and nativist activists.

Into the mix step Gina Rinehart and her Western Australian mining mates, whose deal with Immigration Minister Chris Bowen over 8,000 new jobs including nearly 2,000 457 visa recruits, hit a stumbling block with the unions. The unions, of course, are worried at the rapid destruction of industrial jobs in the east, and seem to have opted for a tried and true anti-immigration reaction.

Government challenges

The creation of the Council also highlights two key failures of the government:

1. There will clearly not be a statutory migration council, which would place migration and settlement planning at the heart of government, rather than palmed off to a civil society lobby group. The immigration councils of the post-war period did much to cement support for the immigration program among potentially conflicting interests; and

2. There will not be a government migration research institute (the Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research, abolished by John Howard, played a crucial role in providing research-based information for the policy debates of the 1980s and early 1990s, a major hole in current policy).

The decision to take the issue to the NGO sector provides an insight to the problem within government in handling migration issues.

Minister Bowen has very little purchase with Gillard, and seems unable or unwilling to communicate with her on wider issues, as the foreign workers issue in the mining industry reveals.

At the same time Lundy, who’s from a very different faction, seems to have limited purchase with Bowen. She has been unable to increase the funding of her settlement and multicultural responsibilities, one of the reasons the settlement sector fears the creation of the Migration Council (which is rumoured will be funded from money now allocated to the Settlement Council).

Meanwhile, Department of Immigration and Citizenship head Andrew Metcalfe (currently on leave but also prospectively on the board of the MCA), warned last year that the current immigration mess would produce major social unrest in Australia’s cities in coming years, a key problem for settlement. Governments have demonstrated their incapacity to resolve the many impasses that immigration highlights. At least two state governments, not consulted in the MCA development, remain wary about the potential impact of a new lobby.

On the sidelines, a joint federal parliamentary committee on migration will be reporting in August. It will be faced with reconciling the mass of public submissions (more than 500) that range from Anders Breivik-type White Power mania, to arguments from academics and others that the current policy environment is a logic- and information-free zone that requires major re-vitalisation, and a reassertion of social justice and human rights goals.

Migration Council’s first steps

The MCA has pulled some resources with it, but it will need a great deal of money and a fine feel for building community relations, if it’s not to alienate existing organisations or dry up its sources of meagre government support.

The Council will need to build a cross-party and community consensus on the need for continuing immigration and an expansion of its 457 component. But it needs to be wary that a rise in 457 visas sought by the mining lobby and other pro-growth advocates could increase already well-identified social problems of exploitation and isolation.

When you consider the inept and confused way the federal government has announced new immigration strategies, including the enterprise agreements with Rinehart, it seems that a broadly-based and responsive group concerned with ensuring rational, evidence-based policy, will have a critical role to play.

Even so, the MCA will have its work cut out to navigate the tensions and produce outcomes that work both for its economic and social backers.



Go to Broadcast:
Wednesday 20 June 2012 5:40PM (view full episode)

The results of the 2011 census were out on Thursday (21 June) and they showed big changes in Australia’s religious landscape. One question is intriguing the experts: What impact has recent immigration had on religious diversity? In the past five years, there’s been a huge increase in the number of immigrants coming from India, for example, and that’s almost certain to mean a big jump in the number of Australians identifying as Hindu. Andrew Jakubowicz muses with Andrew West about the possible direction the day before the results are released.

Professor Andrew Jakubowicz, a demographer and sociologist from the University of Technology, Sydney, has been crunching some numbers ahead of the census release and predicts three big changes in religious observance.

Andrew West: Now, the results of the 2011 census are out tomorrow, and they’re likely to show big changes in Australia’s religious landscape. One question is intriguing the experts: what impact has recent immigration had on religious diversity? In the past five years there’s been a huge increase in the number of immigrants coming from India, for example, and that’s almost certain to mean a big jump in the number of Australians identifying as Hindu. Professor Andrew Jakubowicz is a demographer and sociologist from the University of Technology Sydney. He’s been crunching some numbers ahead of tomorrow’s census release. He predicts three big changes in religious observance.

Andrew Jakubowicz: It’s going to show three things. Firstly it’s going to show that a higher proportion of the population are saying they have no religion, secondly it’s going to show that particular groups of religious identification are growing, and thirdly it’s going to show that some parts of the Australian religious landscape are actually declining.

Andrew West: Now, you’ve studied the particular intersection between immigration and religion, and you’ve given it very close consideration. How is immigration likely to affect the religious observance figures that show up?

Andrew Jakubowicz: Well, firstly I think what we’re going to see is that the non-Christian religions are going to be significantly greater than they have been in the past; that the rate of growth over the last decade and a half of non-Christian religions has been really quite astronomical, from admittedly a very, very small base. That’s going to be clearly there. We’re going to see, in some areas, non-Christian religions for the first time having a majority of their population Australian born rather than based…simply being immigrant, and I think in other areas we’re going to see some of the larger non-Christian religions getting very well established. As well, of course, there are significant contributions to the Christian communities of immigrants; some of the African communities, for instance, are very strongly Christian, some of the refugee groups from places like Iraq, India and so on are…or Pakistan, are going to be Christian. There are going to be significant claims from the new Chinese population for inclusion in the Christian communities.

Andrew West: We’ll break those down in a minute. When you look at the big non-Christian faith groups, which ones are likely to have risen and risen dramatically when the results come out?

Andrew Jakubowicz: Well, the three big ones are Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, and we’re going to see some quite dramatic changes.

Andrew West: Well, on Islam, for example?

Andrew Jakubowicz: Islam in 2006 had around 340,000 adherents of whom about 40 per cent were Australian born. It looks like they’ll probably be somewhere between 450,000 and 500,000 Muslims in Australia as a result of last year’s census, and probably for the first time 50 per cent or more of those will be Australian born.

Andrew West: Is that because Muslim families tend to be larger?

Andrew Jakubowicz: It’s not simply the family size, it’s also the age structure of the Muslim population. Most of the Muslims who arrive in Australia as immigrants are coming as young adults, so their family formation years are immediately in front of them, and yes it is the case they tend to have larger families or in some…particular ethnic groups they’ll have larger families, and by now also Islam’s been here so long that we’re now into the second, third generation; people whose grandparents were immigrants are now having children.

Andrew West: So as a percentage of the population, do we know roughly what it will be?

Andrew Jakubowicz: It will be somewhere about two and a half per cent, I would say, somewhere around that sort of figure, maybe higher than that even.

Andrew West: Let’s look at Hinduism, for example. There’s been a big rise in the number of people coming from the Indian subcontinent. How is that likely to affect the numbers of Hindus?

Andrew Jakubowicz: Well, we know for instance that the Indian-born population in Australia has increased by well over 100 per cent over the last five years. I mean, it’s really quite a huge increase. That being the case, I think it’s likely that we’ll be seeing somewhere in the vicinity of a quarter of a million Hindus, maybe more, identified in the next census. That makes them about a bit over one per cent of the population.

Andrew West: And the other major group you mentioned were Buddhists. What are the figures going to show there?

Andrew Jakubowicz: Well, Buddhism’s always been a slightly peculiar religion in Australia because there are a lot of non-Asian Australians who identify as Buddhists, and when asked in the census what religion they are, they put down Buddhism whether or not they’re formally practising, but for the most part we’re looking at people partly from India, mainly from places like Thailand; we’re looking at people from other parts of Indochina and of course from China itself. It’s likely, I think, that we’ll be looking at a Buddhist population probably of over 600,000. That would make them also a bit over three per cent of the population. Right, so these together, you know, we’re seeing quite a transformation, if you like, in the faith landscape of Australia. These are no longer minorities (by ‘minorities’ in the sense that we thought of them as marginal in the past). What we’re now looking at are groups that are large enough and concentrated enough to make a significant impact on the whole way in which we think about religious practice.

Andrew West: So cumulatively, the census data is likely to show the non-Christian population heading close to eight, nine per cent?

Andrew Jakubowicz: I would say easily that sort of figure is now non-Christian, and that means that, obviously the Christian population is going down. One of the impacts, for instance, with Chinese immigration is actually to increase the number of people who report no religion, because coming out of a communist society many of them have no faith base at all, even though in Australia their practices are rather different perhaps.

Andrew West: And yet, Andrew, as you well know from your fieldwork, a lot of Christian congregations are swelling with Chinese parishioners. So how does that match up?

Andrew Jakubowicz: Well, I think it also depends which Chinese we’re talking about. People from Hong Kong are much more likely…the new generation’s much more likely to be Christian; some of the Taiwanese are likely to be Christian, the PRC immigrants, possibly…

Andrew West: Mainland China.

Andrew Jakubowicz: Mainland China, sorry, mainland Chinese, possibly less likely, but then they encounter Australian proselytising religions, particularly the Pentecostalists, who have particularly identified those communities, but there’s also a long tradition say in the Baptist Church and in the Anglican Communion and so on, through missionary links and so on to the Chinese communities. So there’s a bit of that, but I would think the overarching impact of the big Chinese increase will not be seen particularly in the Christian churches, though particular Christian churches may suddenly discover, or have been discovering, that their congregations are in fact being transformed by Chinese arrivals, particularly in cities like Sydney.

Andrew West: Yes, we’ve talked about this a lot before…Uniting Church, a relatively small church but its parishes being bolstered by Koreans and Pacific Islanders, for example.

Andrew Jakubowicz: That’s right, and I think the Uniting Church is in fact flipping back now, not flipping back consciously, but it’s now sort of drawing the benefit of its okl missionary base, when the Methodists and Presbyterians went wandering around all over the South Pacific, the seeds that were sown many decades ago are now coming home to roost.

Andrew West: Even though the way that it might seem as a big change, of course faith in Australia has been multicultural for a very long time, as you well know. For 60, 70 years we’ve had one of the largest Greek Orthodox populations. What is, though, basically different about this? I mean, why is this almost revolutionary?

Andrew Jakubowicz: Well, you asked me the question specifically about non-Christian, and I think that’s what’s changing; there’s a non-Christian dimension, which raises the point, you know, if we’re looking at sort of eight or nine per cent of the population not being Christian, there then becomes an issue about how the rhetoric of Australian morality, for instance, is affected. If Australian politicians like the former prime minister John Howard talk about, you know, Judeo-Christian moralities, what do you do when a significant part of the Australian middle class is neither Christian nor Jewish, but quite attached to conservative political choices, for instance? So I think there’s some interesting…going to be some interesting questions about the way in which the rhetoric of the nation is framed over the next decade or so as these sorts of things change.

The other thing I think which is going to be fascinating is to see what happens to the alliances on social issues that are going to emerge with these very, very important non-Christian communities. For instance, opposition to gay marriage, issues around abortion, questions about divorce and so on—[on] many of these issues conservative Jews, conservative Muslims, conservative Christians line up together, and we’ve already seen some of those alliances starting to be voiced around the question of gay marriage.

Andrew West: Professor Andrew Jakubowicz of the University of Technology Sydney on what the census data is likely to reveal about the impact of immigration on religion in Australia. There’s an extended interview with Andrew on our homepage at the RN website, and this is the Religion and Ethics Report with me, Andrew West.