Moving on from White Australia: Election 2022?

Despite years of critique the Australian national parliament has been overwhelmingly White and massively male, unlike the country as a whole. But something changed at the 2022 election – most clearly around racism and sexism. How might this play out in the negotiations to come?

The Whitlam government supposedly ended the White Australia policy in 1973. For fifty years though, White Australia has hung on in the elite structures –Commonwealth cabinets, the High Court and the ABC Board as examples, even while changing at state and especially local levels. Prior to the 2019 election I argued that we would realise down the track that “Election 2019 was the last White Australia election, in which Euro-Australians dominated the parliamentary seats and both major party leaderships, and where xenophobia was the insistent leitmotif of the Right“. If this election marks an ending for White Australia we would expect to see change in voting, representation and policy.

Just before the election the BBC asked why the Australian Parliament was so White (and male). Sydney Policy Lab director Prof Tim Soutphomassane noted recently that “a celebration of cultural diversity has never been accompanied by a sharing of Anglo-Celtic institutional power”. Peter Khalil, an ALP MP , said in November last year that Australian politics was still swamped by an “Anglo Boys club”. Opting to describe himself as one of the 21% of the population who were NIPOCs (non-Indigenous people of colour) he reflected on years of racism and marginalisation he had experienced and witnessed inside the ALP and outside.

At the 2022 election the trajectories of change differed from each other along almost every conceivable parameter that was not old White male: middle aged well off White women took the elite Liberal urban seats from men. Younger people of colour, usually women, took many of the new Labor seats. Smart mainly young White people took the seats that were turning Green. White Australia was fragmenting along race and gender fault lines. The LNP was left with almost only older White guys in the House.

Voting

The election demonstrated the salience of specific ethnicity in contributing to voter-decisions in many seats, while the more general concern about rising racism played out for a more diverse electorate. “The Chinese vote” has been a focus for interest with many newspaper articles reflecting on the impact of the bellicose rhetoric of the LNP towards China and its impact on the “safety” that Chinese-ancestry voters felt with the conservatives. The Tally Room blog has argued that there was a significant shift towards the ALP (or better put, away from the Liberals) in electorates where the China-ancestry vote was significant. Where the opportunity existed for a potentially-successful Asian or Chinese candidate for the ALP, they were usually successful.

In Fowler, which is a very multicultural electorate with a large Vietnamese community (many with Chinese ethnicity) where the ALP ran the seemingly-resented candidate Kristina Keneally, the ALP vote dropped by nearly 19%. The local Independent Dai Le picked up all nearly all those previously ALP votes, while also taking nearly all the votes that left the Liberals (13%). The Senate vote in Fowler for the ALP also dropped significantly (8%) from 2019, while the Liberal vote rose slightly. In effect the ALP’s safest seat in NSW most likely cost the Party a secure majority.

The key electorates where an apparent anti-Liberal shift in the Chinese-ancestry vote was determinate included Bennelong, Reid and Parramatta in NSW, Chisholm, Higgins and Kooyong in Victoria, and Tangney in Western Australia (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-24/chinese-australian-vote-election-swing-labor/101091384). Some benfitted the ALP, some the Independents.

Representation

Peter Khalil (Wills, Vic) and Dr Anne Aly (Cowan, WA) had been fairly lonely non-European members of the ALP Caucus until the election. Aly (her origin is Egyptian Muslim) worked tirelessly during the long COVID lock-down in Perth to build opportunity for candidates of colour. In Perth Sam Lim (a Malaysian-Chinese immigrant) took Tangney with a 11% swing, building on his deep links with communities throughout Perth as a key police liaison person during the lockdown. Zaneta Mascarenhas, born in Kalgoorlie, whose parents arrived from Goa in 1979, took Swan with a 12% swing. Aly herself increased her vote in Cowan by nearly 10%.

In NSW the 9% first preference swing against Liberals in Bennelong was achieved by Jerome Laxale,the popular Labor mayor of Ryde, whose parents were Francophones from Mauritius and Le Reunion. He repeated the victory that Maxine McKew had achieved against John Howard in 2007, also with strong Chinese and Korean support. McKew though was another outsider Capatain’s pick, and could not hold the seat against John Alexander. Kristina Kenneally tried to take it as a Captain’s pick in a Section 44 by-election, but did not get that local support and failed. In Reid a popular local candidate, Sally Sitou, of Lao Chinese background, reclaimed the seat for the ALP with an 8% swing, on the base of very strong Chinese support.

In Victoria both seats that went to the ALP were won by “ethnic background” candidates. In Chisholm Greek-background Carlina Garland saw a 7% swing away from Gladys Liu, though only 4% went to the ALP. In Higgins Dr Michelle Anada-Rajah, a Tamil born in Sri Lanka, saw a 5% swing away from Liberal Dr Katie Allen bring her 3% of first preferences.

In summary of the ten or so seats the ALP won from the Liberals across the country, six were won by “ethnic candidates”, four of whom were people of colour. On the other hand the seven new “teal” seats, though all won by women, are all now represented by Euro-Australians (aka Whites). So how might this matter?

Policy

The ALP released its Election Statement on Multiculturalism under the names of Katy Gallagher (Finance) and Andrew Giles (Multicultural Affairs) two days before the vote and well after most of the pre-polls and postal votes had been cast. The Statement appears pulled out of the 2021 Multicultural Engagement Taskforce Report chaired by Peter Khalil. Two critical additions include a commitment to a Multicultural Framework Review, which will have to consider whether Australia should have a Multicultural Act (which is Green’s policy), and a re-assessment of the standards for measuring Australia’s diversity. The COVID pandemic and the failures to protect multicultural communities have foregrounded the urgencyof these issues .

It is unlikely the LNP or the Teals will have an interest in or an appetite for pushing these concerns to the top of the food chain. However the new ALP NIPOCs and the Independent Dai Le will have a major investment in exactly that dynamic, creating with Aly and Khalil a significant bloc. The new government’s best-known leaders are Albanese and Wong, two surnames drawn from the deep hinterland of multicultural Australia. Farewell White Australia?

Two Strongs don’t make it Right

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

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.