Immigration presents every society with issues about the nature of its social relations, its changing or resistant hierarchies of power and status, and the degree of openness of its economic, social and cultural institutions. Immigration is thus both a project within the political economy of the nation state and a dynamic process within the cultural politics of the society. This chapter discusses new groups in Australia and their effect on and absorption into contemporary society. ‘New groups’ refers in this chapter to communities created in Australia after the break-up of the Soviet Union, composed of immigrants or refugees from countries that had hitherto had a small or non-existent presence. In the main these communities come from Africa, parts of the Middle East and parts of the Pacific.
As economic, ecological and political crises of global scale impose their consequences on small states and economies such as Australia, they foreground the multi-directional flows of power and resources between the global and the local, and the tenuous hold of the local political apparatus over international forces. Although the concept of social cohesion emerges from the social sciences, it has been fully politicized and normalized in policy and public discourse. Alexander Vladychenko, Director General of Social Cohesion for the Council of Europe, noted in 2007 that ‘a question which is currently fuelling political debate in all our societies [is] “How can we achieve social cohesion in a multicultural Europe?”’. The Europeans are aware that there is an emergent paradox of social cohesion potentially present as a consequence of an alleged ‘excessive level of diversity’. Furthermore the Europeans may see migrant diversity itself as a problem for social cohesion, the Council of Europe proposing that governments should be calling on strategic interventions geared towards human rights, participation and active citizenship. The problem, then, is not incompatibility of cultures, but rather the incapacity of the receiving societies to recognize and modify their own structures of exclusion (Council of Europe 2006).
In Australia ‘cohesion’ has a particular set of connotations, as during the late 1980s social cohesion stood as a proxy for cultural uniformity in reference to reducing Asian immigration. As Opposition Leader in 1988, John Howard used ‘social cohesion’ to articulate his and his party’s increasing opposition to multiculturalism as public policy, and to demand a major reduction in Asian immigration. He argued that multicultural readings of Australian society represented the antithesis of social cohesion, so much so that in 1988 the Liberal and National parties formally abandoned any commitment to multiculturalism. Howard (1988) said, ‘Multiculturalism cannot be a cement for all Australians’. While the use of multiculturalism was somewhat recovered for the 1996 federal election, it was never to find a firm base again.
The resurgence of an interest in social cohesion in the late 2000s came from a different direction. The European Community had been increasingly debating three distinct though ultimately related problems. Firstly there was the question of European identity and how it should be articulated, in relation to the national identities of the member states, in ways that accorded with the widespread desire to see Europe as a secular federation based on common values. Secondly, the issue of social marginalisation and alienation characterized parts of Europe, typically accompanied by economic distress and occupational disadvantage. This added a geographical dimension to the political economy of European social inequality. Finally, the consequences of generations of immigration from outside Europe – for example of Turkish guest workers, ex-Commonwealth citizens from the sub-continent and Africa, and Africans and Asians with some former colonial relation with the European powers, overlaid by the movement west of citizens of former Soviet bloc nations – generated further concerns about the porosity of borders and the perceived social distance of immigrant cultures from the assumed European heartland.
The European model argued that economic integration and citizenship offered the most secure foundations on which to underpin social cohesion, and that employment and education would serve as the drivers for intergenerational mobility and a longer term social order. As Australia has actively sought the citizenship of settlers, the citizenship question in the European form does not really exist in this country.
In the Australian context the language of social cohesion has been further complicated, again by using European discourses around social inclusion. However, where social cohesion foregrounds cultural difference as a central problem in both thought and action, to be dealt with through some form of accommodation between the host and the immigrant communities, social inclusion effectively ignores the issue. Whereas ‘cohesion’ implies a set of negotiating relationships between disparate but interacting parties (albeit of unequal power), ‘inclusion’ reinforces a hierarchy of power where dominant groups essentially set the parameters under which minorities will be expected to behave. Minorities only gain access to the benefits associated with inclusion if they do so without disrupting unduly the benefits already taken for granted by the host majorities (Jakubowicz 2006).
Nor is it necessarily the case that intolerance has been greatest against the most recent arrivals (especially not, given the resentment experienced by Indigenous Australians); rather intolerance is expressed publicly against those most seen in whatever way to be a threat to the cultural economy of the society (true of Indigenous and non-Anglo groups). The novelty and social distance of an immigrant group can contribute to the ‘mainstream’ sense of apprehension, particularly where the rate of inflow and the concentration of newcomers are both unexpected and overwhelming. For instance, early groups of African settlers in the 1990s reported generally welcoming responses from Australian neighbours. However, where Africans have settled in denser communities and, in particular, in areas where youth unemployment is high and other urban gangs already control the turf, then antagonism tends to be more publicly expressed and occasional violence more pronounced and reported. Yet where equally recent Polynesian communities have settled in the same or similar areas, social reactions have been more muted, possibly because of some important shared cultural mores (especially in sports such as Rugby League football, where Islanders are well represented and Africans almost non-existent).
The events of recent history are therefore quite comprehensible when set against the longer history of racialized discourses of inclusion and exclusion. This chapter addresses the context for government and societal responses to key ‘new waves’ of immigration, which are popularly understood as being from Africa and the Islamic countries of the Middle East. It will also make some reference to the resurgence of Chinese communities within Australia, with their economic, social and political consequences.
Setting a context
Globalization has generated pressures and opportunities for international movement of people, opening new pathways for peoples whose past histories had been more local and constrained. In the post-Second World War period Australia began to be caught up in these globalizing processes, turning to the international pool of labour to feed its industrial development and responding to the emerging international discourses on human rights by accepting refugees from war and terror. Broadly speaking, Australia has sought to respond to three major sets of problems in managing migration – attracting high-value human capital in competition with other labour-importing countries; solidifying the long-term settlement intentions of desirable new arrivals by providing for family reunion; and managing the demands for refugee and humanitarian intake.
We can characterize ‘new groups’ as those whose numbers have substantially increased in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the nature of the global political economy changed significantly. It is therefore valuable to understand what the pattern of population and immigration looked like in Australia at the end of the 1980s. As the year 1988 marked the bicentennial of the settlement or occupation of Australia by a First Fleet of British military forces and convicted felons, it had major ideological importance as a moment in which narratives of the nation could be mobilized and calls to social cohesion could be given firmer traction.
During the mid-1980s Australia had been in the midst of a major public debate about the importance of ‘social cohesion’ and the implications of the term for public policy. The debate had two broad origins – one was the end of the ‘White Australia policy’ in the mid-1970s and the consequent but unexpected arrival of many tens of thousands of Indochinese refugees. By 1988 their numbers had reached 100 000 and some areas of the larger cities had become points of concentration for arrivals from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. There they joined the growing inflow of immigrants from other parts of Asia drawn by the new, non-discriminatory regulations and the industrial need for new workers.
The second element was essentially political – throughout the post-White Australia period there had been an informal pact between the leading political parties in the national parliament that they would not be the first to play ‘the race card’. That is, they would not seek to gain political advantage by playing on the racial fears of Australians who had so recently been hunkered down behind the defensive barrier of White Australia. With the defeat of the conservative government led by Malcolm Fraser in 1983, internal changes in his Liberal Party brought in a growing group of ultraconservatives who replaced the more liberal politicians associated with Fraser.
By 1990 the social milieu had been further affected by new waves of immigrants, many of them de facto refugees from the Middle East, especially Lebanon. While there had been Muslim settlers in Australia since the mid-nineteenth century, the most significant inflow had been Turks arriving in the post-1968 period, with most settling in Melbourne. The majority of Muslim Lebanese a generation later settled in Sydney, in a tight area to the west of the inner city, where they established a raft of institutions – mosques, schools, prayer halls, sports clubs – reflecting the diversity (and at times the antipathies) of their places of origin. The suburbs around the Villawood Immigration Reception and later Detention Centre provided cheap housing and drew in the cluster of Arabic-speaking groups whose presence has since allowed the area to be characterized as the ‘Green Crescent’.
With the first Gulf War in 1990 Australia was presented with a rather new phenomenon, the presence of potentially a significant number of people with cultural and emotional links to the ‘enemy’. In the major world wars Australia had incarcerated those who were possible enemy sympathizers – including, for instance, Australia-born Italians and the Indigenous wives of Japanese pearl divers in the Second World War. This could not be easily done in the 1990s, if only because it was hard to discern who might be a civilian with Baathist sympathies. Nevertheless the Australian media made much of testing the loyalty of Arab Australians and thus, for the first time in two generations, introduced the possibility of ‘enemies within’ into the wider Australian consciousness.
During the early 1990s a significant change in immigration was that occasioned by the break-up of the Soviet Union and the de-Sovietization of Eastern Europe. This transformation created turmoil, most tragically in the former Yugoslavia. Australia became the temporary refuge for over 4000 Bosnians and a permanent refuge once more for people from throughout the Balkans. However, the critical shift in Australia, while not as large as that produced through the intake of Indochinese that followed the lifting of White Australia in the 1970s, was created by the decision to give refuge to black Africans fleeing various civil wars and hostilities in countries such as Sierra Leone, Burundi, Rwanda, the Congo DR, Sudan and Somalia. In many cases the refugees came from generations of fragmented families, surviving without education and exposed to sustained atrocious violence.
The building blocs
From the initial establishment of the post-war immigration program, the question of how the newcomers would settle into Australian society was a cause for government concern. On the one hand the program’s necessity for the nation’s economic development could be undermined by anger and hostility evoked among the host population – that is, the effect on Australians of the newcomers. But the domestic reaction was also problematic, as a hostile response could too easily turn potential settlers into temporary sojourners. This tension has continued throughout the 60 years or more of the program and provides one of the underlying though varying imperatives within which policy is contained.
Given the earlier racialization of immigration and deeply embedded fears in particular of Asian population inflows, the end of White Australia was not a unanimously welcomed move. When assimilation was replaced by multiculturalism as a policy parameter for managing settlement, there was significant scepticism and indeed opposition to the moves. However, by the late 1980s a shaky political consensus among policy elites supported a non-racial immigration policy and a national narrative that could incorporate cultural diversity, albeit within a hierarchy of preferred cultures. Furthermore, government institutions at both national and state levels began to redirect their management practices towards access and equity. Many states and the Commonwealth developed charters of cultural diversity, which recognized the complexity of the social world and validated cultural retention and intergenerational cultural transmission.
The debate was well embedded within the policy environment, as key policy players in the 1987–88 indicate in their differing orientation to multicultural policy. Peter Shergold (an English immigrant) was then head of Prime Minister Hawke’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, and later head of Prime Minister Howard’s Department until 2008. Stephen FitzGerald was a former ambassador to China who led a review of immigration and settlement policies. Here their views on the essence of the debate reveal both the political and policy issues at stake.
DR PETER SHERGOLD
Foundation Director, Office of Multicultural Affairs, 1987–90
PROFESSOR STEPHEN FITZGERALD
Chair, Committee to Advise on Australia’s Immigration Policies (CAAIP), 1987–88
The FitzGerald Report was of course positively hostile to the concept of multiculturalism, and [had] an underlying distrust of the power that was being wielded by ethnic communities and a strong emphasis on an economic approach to our immigration policy. The Office of Multicultural Affairs and myself had strong concerns about drafts of the FitzGerald Report, and when the FitzGerald Report appeared, and very crudely – and this is very crudely – the Prime Minister was persuaded of our position. And therefore, although the FitzGerald Review on Immigration had a significant impact, many of its key elements were not to have the role on government policy that they otherwise would have had …
The FitzGerald Report was, I suppose, a real litmus test of whether the Office of Multicultural Affairs was going to exert a real influence on government, because there is no doubt that both Clyde Holding and then, in particular Robert Ray, were sympathetic to the directions that FitzGerald was moving in. Apart from that, FitzGerald very much had the ear of influential ministers, in particular John Dawkins, who was very attracted to the Asian push.
Alan Matheson, who had been the ACTU representative on that Committee, at least from the outside, seemed to not exert much influence. There was Helen Hughes, who was always running an economic rationalist agenda through the FitzGerald Inquiry. And FitzGerald simply assumed that he had the weight, in Cabinet, to push his agenda forward. And although the Report is very articulate, in some ways brilliantly written, and quite helpful in terms of immigration policy, it was in my view extremely dangerous in terms of the way it would be seen as signalling the end of multiculturalism …
I have no doubt at all that FitzGerald and the Minister at the time, Clyde Holding, just thought there would be no problem with this. And therefore when the Office of Multicultural Affairs briefed the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister called in the Minister for Immigration and said: no, this was simply not going to be acceptable in its draft form – then changes were made. It came as a real shock in a very real way. Clyde Holding lost his ministerial position as a result of it and Robert Ray was pretty outraged by it …
The Prime Minister decided to get involved in this and got involved in a way where he, in general, supported the policy positions put to him by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, which meant not only was he then, in effect, rejecting the policy advice provided by the Department of Immigration, but which the Ministers for Immigration were picking up. And there was a lot of tension and hostility that resulted from that.
library/media/Audio/id/589 We [CAAIP] had to look at things like the numbers. You had to look at the mix, the categories, the selection process. We also were asked to look at the legislation. And that was a major, but probably less publicised aspect, of the work of the Committee at the time.
[John[ Dawkins was a strong supporter [of the Committee’s views], a very strong supporter. [Kim] Beazley was a supporter. [Bill] Hayden was certainly supportive. Who stood on the other side? I think that [Prime Minister Bob] Hawke was the main person. I think Hawke was a kind of … as we all know he was a populist, he was a lowest common denominator person – highly intelligent, but not intellectual.
I don’t think that Hawke’s view really was infused too much by a kind of intellectual vision about what it all meant. But he was a kind of soft sentimental touch for the multicultural idea.
A paper was distributed and its thrust was how to manage the CAAIP Report when it appeared. And it was subsequently denied by all members of the Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs that I spoke to, that such a paper had ever existed, and the reason for that is that the copies were pulled back – but it existed, I know that.
The actual authorship appeared to have been the Office of Multicultural Affairs. But I can’t vouch for that. There is some doubt about that. But it would be consistent with something that happened subsequently.
The idea that multiculturalism might have run its course was deeply offensive to vested interests of the kind which represent in my view the ‘ism’, the dogma – their vested interest in the sense that it was developing as an industry, it provided their employment, their rationale, their ‘raison d’etre’. And a lot of people, I might add, in this category were people who were themselves immigrants from Britain …
There was no doubt that there were people who were working to head off any suggestion that multiculturalism might come to be seen as a phase in the evolution of Australian society and ultimately replaced by something which in my conception would be bigger, broader, all-encompassing and so on. And there were several things that happened then, towards the end of the CAAIP Report. One was the concoction of a Report which went to the Prime Minister which was not, of course, shown to me and was never supposed to have been seen by me.
It was prepared by the Office, by OMA, and I think I have to say, it is the most mendacious document that I have ever come across in public life in Australia.
The deeply embedded societal disagreements were thus well in place as the ‘new groups’ began to feature as emerging ‘problems’ in the media and in government discussions. The election of Howard (a strong supporter of the FitzGerald recommendation to abandon multiculturalism) in 1996 occurred in a wider environment of rising alarm about immigration. Pauline Hanson, a Queensland Liberal candidate in 1996, had her endorsement as a candidate withdrawn just prior to the election, her statements on Aboriginal welfare having been deemed unacceptable in the election atmosphere. She was subsequently elected as an Independent and launched a campaign to stop Asian and non-European immigration. Her rhetoric played an important part in foregrounding the unnerving politics of race, and the race card was played over and over.
Nevertheless, while immigration did decline after 1996 under Howard, it began to rise after 2001, though the proportion of immigrants who left Australia was also on the rise. The Hanson rhetoric and the government’s implementation of policies that could be said to reflect her ideas drove the decline, and in particular stimulated earlier immigrants to leave the country. The changing makeup of the migrant inflow pointed to the closing down of European immigration and the expansion of Asian, African, Middle East and Pacific sources.
Meanwhile in inner-western Sydney the media were identifying the rise of Middle Eastern crime gangs. The activity of these gangs had been brought to public attention by a number of disgruntled police who were concerned that criminal acts were not being prosecuted, and a reign of terror had begun to emerge. Events reached their first break-out in 1998, when a drive-by shooting sprayed the police station in Lakemba, the heart of the Green Crescent, with 9 millimetre bullets. Media interviews with local Arabs reported their frustration at what they claimed to experience as thuggish police harassment. The media reported increasing incidences of other shootings, while the then state premier, Bob Carr, called on the Lebanese Muslim community to put its own house in order. (It should be noted that a number of people convicted of other gun crimes were Lebanese Christians.) Both these communities were closely associated with factions inside the Labor Party.
Over the next few years media attention intensified as lurid cases of aggravated rape, abductions and sexual violence were associated with Muslim young men. In parallel the police carried out a series of raids on jihadist suspects, some of whom were released after police evidence failed, some of whom were convicted and gaoled for terrorism offences. The range of these offences grew as new legislation was enacted at the state and federal levels through 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 (see legislation listed at the end of this chapter).
A number of explanatory models, based on opposing sets of assumptions, have been postulated in relation to the behaviour of the people involved. They broadly split along lines that either support or oppose the policy settings of multiculturalism as they are commonly represented in public debate.
On the one hand, those who oppose multiculturalism tend to argue that young Australian Muslims, especially men, are socialized in a culture of gynophobic, sexist and misogynistic violence, where atavistic pre-modern feudal values of masculine hegemony are imposed in authoritarian familial environments on women and children. As one former police commissioner described it, they are the children of the people who blew Beirut to pieces (his comments applied to both Muslims and Christians). Furthermore, their culture of misogyny is amplified by a rising volume of imported jihadist rhetoric, which justifies violence and separatist fantasies, extols hyper-masculinity and is fuelled by a criminal subculture of drugs (including ice, cocaine, heroin and hashish), car-rebirthing and standover extortion. It is driven by its own anti-Semitic, anti- American and anti-Australian/White racism.
Multiculturalism, it is said, has condoned the separatist rhetoric and thereby inflamed the conditions under which a ghettoized world of unAustralian horrors is allowed to flourish and from which non-Muslims are intimidated into leaving. The Cronulla riots in the southern summer of 2005, understandable in relation to the frustration and revulsion felt by young non-Muslim Australians, and totally foreseeable in the disgustingly brutal street rampages enacted by Muslim youth in retaliation, were just an explosive example of the poison that had been contained previously to the Green Crescent (for example, Windschuttle 2005).
On the other hand, those who support multiculturalism and see its more effective implementation as a solution to these problems tend to argue that deep-seated racism in Australian society and popular culture has pervaded relations between young Australian Muslims and their society, squeezing them into internally focused communities. Most share the core values of Australia and simply want the same freedom to be themselves and to follow their beliefs that other Australians take for granted. However, stereotyping in the media, expectations of their failure projected on to them by the public education system, experiencing regular harassment by police and hostility to them in the employment market together build significant barriers to full participation. Well-publicized but failed legal cases against Muslims accused of terrorism offences contribute to their sense of being the targets of state marginalization and social exclusion. While many are religious, many are also effectively secular while retaining a basic Muslim identity – as is the case with most Christians and many Jews. Only a small minority are drawn to crime and fewer still to jihadist political positions. However, in a situation where they feel scapegoated and marginalized by the wider society, they may find comfort and support in smaller extremist communities where they can bond with people of like-mind and experience. Cronulla was an example of the hostility they experience on a more diffuse but sustained level in their everyday lives, and the retaliation attacks were an uncontrolled outburst of frustration and anger. As later events were to show, many of the participants in the Cronulla retaliation attacks showed sincere remorse for their uncharacteristic actions (Four Corners 2006).
These two discourses cannot easily sit together, though the national action plan on Muslim communities adopted by the federal government in 2006 sought to do so. By 2008 this plan had been reconceptualized as a ‘de-radicalization’ strategy, designed to target young Muslim men, now the bullseye for concerted attention by governments. Government representatives expressed increasing unease about ‘home grown terrorism’, with senior security officials mentioning dozens of cases under investigation in their rare media reports.
Security or alarm?
In the lead-up to the second Gulf War/invasion/liberation of Iraq in 2003, the Australian government implemented a major public information campaign it called ‘Alert but not alarmed’. The campaign, ridiculed by some of its opponents, had a public face of fridge magnets and television advertisements http://multiculturalaustralia.edu.au/history/timeline/period/This-Generation/screen/6.Terrorism accessed 9 Feb 2009), but a much deeper background of increased surveillance and expenditure on domestic intelligence.
While it has been argued that the campaign was as much about creating the conditions of cognitive dissonance necessary to allow the government to thwart public opposition to the Iraq war as it was about internal security concerns, one clear and ongoing effect was to heighten intercommunal suspicions about Muslims and to intensify Muslims’ apprehension about their place in Australian society. The campaign followed on from the passage of a raft of legislation that targeted terrorism, but seemed to be mainly concerned to deter or apprehend jihadists. While there is one organization listed by the Australian government that is not Islamist (the Kurdish Workers’ Party), the remainder are all Muslim in countries from Uzbekistan to the Mahgreb, from the Middle East through Indonesia and the Philippines (http://www.ag.gov.au/agd/www/nationalsecurity.nsf). Unlike other countries, Australia has not proscribed any other non- Muslim organizations, a factor that has been well noted by Muslim community leaders. Indeed throughout the period that the legislation was being drafted Muslim leaders sought to have the government reduce the severity of the penalties and modify the language and associated campaign images.
In combination these laws produced a draconian web of constraints within which freedom of speech would turn out to be heavily restricted and executive authority dramatically extended. The case of Dr Mohamed Haneef in 2007, accused of terrorism offences and then exonerated, intensified Muslim communities’ sense of harassment and intimidation.
The ALP government returned at the November 2007 election argued that the failure of previous government’s initiatives reflected the selection of ‘easier’ targets by program proposers, too much of a concentration on inter-faith dialogue among those who were willing to engage (that is, not those who were perceived as threat), and the impossibility of resolving the leadership quagmire that characterized the Islamic organisations. Moreover, there were constantly expressed concerns that previous policy had given too much power to religious and extremist Islamic leaders, mostly foreign born and unconnected with Australian society, whose utterances promoted a scandalized public perception of Islam and Muslims, magnified by a populist and sensation-hungry media. What was now needed, it was proposed, was the discovery of more secular, younger leaders, who were effectively integrated and shared Australian core values. Government policy shifted to targeting ‘young men’ and organizing their integration, while the Federal Police established community engagement units to facilitate surveillance and intelligence gathering in Sydney and Melbourne.
A nation of tribes?
Historic studies of Australian settlement patterns (for example, Burnley, Murphy and Fagan 1997) have pointed to a staging process for immigrant settlement, especially in cities. When non-Anglo (and even Anglo) immigrants arrive, they either settle initially near migrant hostels, if that is where they were first located, or seek out compatriots in areas of employment opportunity and cheaper housing. Over time the relative strength of language groups has changed, a process that will accelerate far more dramatically in the next decade as the leading European groups begin to decline due to the death of the elderly cohort that made up the 1950s and 60s mass immigration.
Over time communities develop, centred on religious, communal and educational facilities. This was a typical pattern for the Chinese in 19th-century Sydney and Melbourne, for Mediterraneans in the inter-war period, and Europeans in the post-Second World War period. Within a generation or less, the more successful and affluent families would relocate to more salubrious neighbourhoods, often creating a secondary concentration. By the third generation the grandchildren of the immigrants would have widely intermarried into other communities and dispersed through the society, reflecting economic rather than ethnic preferences.
For the first two generations after the Second World War this model generally applied. However, the large refugee communities that were rapidly formed in the wake of the Indochinese, Middle-East and African conflagrations are now in their first generation of settlement, with some reaching into the second. The more affluent and educated Asian immigrants (from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and parts of India) have tended to leap-frog the areas of first settlement and move into areas where there is a an ageing Anglo or earlier immigrant population who are leaving ‘empty-nest’ family homes for smaller apartments or retirement villages, or new developments on the edge of the metropolitan areas. However, within areas of first settlement, or more particularly economically stressed working-class areas where many different generations of immigrants live, pockets of quite intense concentration continue. Here two or even three generations of particular groups may live, marrying within the group and finding their emotional and economic needs met quite locally. Where communities focus around religious rituals they create large institutions that both draw people to them and hold them locally. This process intensifies in cities where public transport is poor and women for the most part do not drive or are otherwise restricted in their public movement.
By 2006 a new discourse had surfaced in relation to African settlement. Extremist white power groups had targeted African refugee communities in Brisbane and Ipswich (once the heartland of Pauline Hanson’s political support), leafleting housing estates to raise the ire of white residents. In Melbourne, where the majority of African refugees were located, urban gangs began to emerge, drawing on US black power mottos and gangland culture. A study by the Sydney Centre for Refugee Research argued that these were not African problems, but rather issues generated by protracted displacement (Thorell 2007).
However, Liberal Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews announced in October 2007 that African refugee intakes were to be cut, beginning with a total cessation of movement for those on the current accepted waiting list in camps in Africa. He argued that their failure to assimilate resulted in urban violence and that the inflow should be reduced until those already in Australia demonstrated their capacity to integrate. There was already a fairly large-scale settlement of refugee families in rural areas, where there were large government grants to help local bodies assist in their settlement, and regional employment programs seeking their labour. In addition, many refugee families, especially those from the Sudan, had begun to move themselves out of the inner-city housing estates and resettle in rural agricultural districts, seeking thereby to distance themselves from the turmoil of inner-city drug cultures, and provide opportunities for their children in safer locales with more appropriate occupational demand. Andrews’ comments were seen as highly provocative (Melbourne Protests 2007) and some commentators saw them as an unsophisticated attempt to wedge the opposition Labor Party in the lead-up to the November 2007 federal election. Concerns about the settlement experiences of Africans – especially young men – were not so easily resolved. In November 2008 two Sudanese men were stabbed to death in a street brawl between African gangs in Adelaide.
Religious conflict and social division
Ethno-religious conflict has a strong pedigree in Australia. Tension between the Anglican English, the Scots Protestants and Irish Catholics intertwines with the national narrative and flavours the most celebrated moments of national formation, such as the struggles over conscription in the Second World War (an opposition led by a Catholic bishop). However, in recent years with inter-Christian tensions subdued, it has been the presence of other ethno-religious tendencies that has generated intense if sporadic tension. In the 1986–2006 period, while the major Christian denominations remained relatively stable in their proportions, new religious groups (especially evangelicals) had a greater rate of growth, while the irreligious have also increased. Non-Christian groups are dominated by Buddhists, with rapidly rising numbers of Muslims and Hindus and a static Jewish population.
The debates over the position of women, the nature of modesty and the control of women’s sexuality have dominated public controversies over the place of Islam in secular Australia (Jakubowicz 2007a). Australia is a society that recognizes and facilitates religious belief, its secularity demonstrated in the separation of church and state. Even so, Australian governments work closely with religious institutions, using their services to provide education, health and welfare services and investing public funds in their sites of religious importance and rituals of religious celebration. In general, Australian governments have taken the view, in the last generation or so, that religious organizations provide a significant contribution to social cohesion and offer contexts for the elaboration of moral codes in a society that is increasingly commercialized and individualistic. For the most part Islamic institutions fit this model; they provide welfare and educational services and have benefited greatly from the privatization of health and welfare provision promoted by neo-liberal governments of both political persuasions.
The rage about the Muslim presence is most intense when proposals emerge for new Muslim institutions such as mosques or schools in previously non-Muslim neighbourhoods. Social geographer Kevin Dunn has documented this process, where local government has continually blocked such developments, giving planning grounds (usually traffic) as the rationale. Dunn concludes from his studies that such activities by local councils reflect widespread prejudices in the local community. Councils reframe the opposition, using professional criteria in order to deflect accusations of racism (and the potential for legal action under human rights legislation) (for example, Dunn 2005).
In her study of what she calls the ‘Jihad Seminar’, Hanifa Deen (2008) examines the conflict between the Islamic Council of Victoria and Catch the Fire Ministries, an evangelical Christian group whose leadership came from South Asia (Jakubowicz 2007b). Ultimately the case slowed to a halt, both sides exhausted, angry, but unable to push forward an outcome that would allow further peace. In the end both sides agreed to apologize for any unintentional hurt, to pursue their beliefs in a civil manner, but not resile from their deepest beliefs. Deen argues that this was a victory for the sensibility of secularism.
There is a curious ambiguity about inter-ethnic relations in Australia (Jakubowicz 2006). We can witness the emergence of a multicultural globalizing professional class espousing values of recognition and acceptance of difference. Close by there is a series of often-fragmented communities created yet bypassed by globalization, turning inward and antagonistic to strangers. The global period since the end of the Soviet bloc reflects fragmentation as well; societies fragmented through war and genocide, lives bent and twisted by conflict and terror. These features rather than the cultural attributes of particular peoples underlie the current inter-group tensions in Australia.
Government policy can do something about such tensions. Australian history demonstrates how easily government policies can exacerbate them and feed anger and hostility on all sides; in different Australian states similar tensions have had very different outcomes. Victoria, for instance, has had a lower level of tension (though not without violent incidents) than NSW. The presence of proactive government policies can alleviate anxieties and create opportunities for collaborative and creative solutions of problems. Their absence can intensify hostility and deepen social cleavages.
In its first year in office the national Labor government spoke often of social inclusion, arguing from within the language of European social democracy for the participation of ‘all Australians’. The question that this rhetoric would pose but not answer would be fundamental for a society whose government had pledged to increase immigration and open itself up to the people of its region; would those on the edges be invited in to share the power at the centre? Would they be permitted to work equally with others in rewriting the script for the nation’s future? Or would they be expected, coerced and intimidated into falling into line in a narrative that they could not hope to affect.
Anti-terrorism Act 2004
Anti-terrorism Act (No. 2) 2004
Anti-terrorism Act (No. 2) 2005 (includes sedition provisions)
ASIO Legislation Amendment Act 2003
Australian Federal Police and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2004
Australian Protective Service Amendment Act 2003
Aviation Transport Security Act 2004
Border Security Legislation Amendment Act 2002
Criminal Code Amendment (Suppression of Terrorist Bombings) Act 2002
Criminal Code Amendment (Offences Against Australians) Act 2002
Criminal Code Amendment (Espionage and Related Matters) Act 2002
Criminal Code Amendment (Anti-Hoax and Other Measures) Act 2002
Criminal Code Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2003 (Constitutional Reference of Power)
Firearms and Crimes Legislation Amendment (Public Safety) Act 2003 (NSW)
Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Public Safety) Bill 2005 (NSW)
Migration Amendment (Excision from Migration Zone) (Consequential Provisions) Act 2001 – allowed indefinite detention of unauthorized arrivals
Migration Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Act 2001
National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act 2004
Security Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2002
Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism Act 2002
Surveillance Devices Act 2004
Telecommunications Interception Legislation Amendment Act 2002