Archive for immigration

Two Strongs don’t make it Right

Posted in Social movements with tags , , , on July 6, 2017 by Andrew Jakubowicz

During May 2017 two national inquiries were calling for public submissions to strengthen what an outsider might think sounded like the same policy challenge in a multicultural democracy such as Australia. On the one hand the Senate wanted to understand what action might be required to strengthen multiculturalism, while on the other the Government wanted to strengthen citizenship. The Senate inquiry is continuing and has taken public evidence, including for LyLy Lim  and myself, based on our written submission (Submission 8). The Government one barely stopped to take breath at the closure date, refused to make the submissions to its consultation public, and announced through Minister Dutton soon thereafter increased restrictions and constraints on gaining and retaining citizenship.

However the inquirers each defined “strengthen” in rather different ways, to the point where the word came to represent a totally opposing set of values, world views, and social priorities. In a period of political chaos, post-truth and Trumpet rhetoric, any claim to strength must necessarily suggest assumptions about the causes of the weakness to be supplanted, and the dynamic driving the moral erosion set to be removed.

The Senate inquiry dates from November 2016 when the Greens decided to push for a more robust multicultural policy, in particular one that would bring in national legislation to create a legislative basis for multiculturalism, a proposition last floated by the ALP in 1989 but never enacted or reintroduced by any government since the rise of the Howard opposition. The ALP went along with the Green’s initiative, as the reorganisation of the multiculturalism shadow policy was only starting to take shape. Meanwhile GetUp was moving towards its own firmer strategy on linking with culturally diverse communities, an initiative that would be first tested early in 2017 in the struggle to stop the proposed government changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Inquiry was launched on the International Day for the elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in Australia known under its vanilla alias as “Harmony Day”. Any publicity hoped for at the launch was overwhelmed by the Government’s own statement of Multiculturalism, which carefully bypassed all the issues raised in the Senate reference. The senators identified issues such as the adequacy of data on racially motivated crimes, the impact of vilification and discrimination, and the impact of media and political stigmatisation of minority communities on bigotry and harassment. It looked for ways that might improve public discourse and recognise the contribution of immigrant groups. Centrally it wished to consider legislative underpinnings for the currently rootless amalgam of provisions that count as Federal multicultural policy, last put into the public arena for (inconclusive) debate in 1989.

For the Senate then to strengthen multiculturalism appears to entail building a stronger legislative base, improving the information about the impact of xenophobia on minorities, and extending the human rights base for multicultural practice.

The Citizenship inquiry, despite its wattle and gum tree green discussion paper, was framed by consultations initially managed by Sen Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and former Immigration minister and now human rights ambassador Phillip Ruddock. They reported that there was a widespread fear among older multi-generation Australians that potential terrorists and other ne’er-do-wells were finding it too easy to get citizenship, and that not only should the access be toughened, but the loss of citizenship should be more readily used to punish miscreants. The second of those measures, the cancelling of citizenship for terrorists with dual nationality was enacted early on. Raising the bar by lengthening the time people need to prove their commitment to Australia (by volunteering at school tuck shops among other proofs), increasing the level of English required to the equivalent of a year 10 school-leaver, and swearing to uphold a set of values yet to be defined, makes citizenship (and the voting rights that come with it) a much more challenging exercise for humanitarian entrants and both older and less well-educated applicants from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Thus strengthening citizenship is concerned not with bolstering the quality of the process of citizenship achievement for the applicants, but rather in quietening the concerns of the most xenophobic elements in Australian society. That is, the process in place is designed to increase the stigmatisation experienced by minorities, normalise low levels of racist discourse and moral vilification against immigrants, while increasing the sense of marginalisation and exclusion for wide sections of the community. Such concerns about exclusion were once voiced by former Liberal MP Petro Georgiou, who almost alone stood against the Howard government’s last round introduction under then Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews of the first Australian values and ‘strengthened’ English language test. He commented sadly that his parents, proud Greek Australians, would never have made it through the hoops then being applied.

By strengthening citizenship in the way it is proposed, whether intentionally or uncaringly, the sense of exclusion widens, the possibilities of achievement lessen, and the value of the future citizen is adduced from their class rather than their character (think perhaps Asian billionaire vs rescued Yasidi grandmother). Asserting a human rights perspective provides a more reliable basis for strengthening social cohesion than does an approach that merely toughens the rules. For loyalty to Australia will ultimately depend on the recognition and respect paid to its aspiring citizens, not their performance of ritualised elements of culture which is far more complex than Minister Dutton and his black shirts are able to recognise.

 

 

New Migration Council to advocate for a bigger Australia

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on June 28, 2012 by Andrew Jakubowicz

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.