Speech at the Australia-UK Leadership Forum,
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Thank you for the opportunity to lead this discussion on maintaining social cohesion and social trust. This is a big and important topic and goes to the heart of a well-functioning society.
Our previous sessions have largely focused on economic growth and national security. This session complements those two. Without social cohesion, economic growth will be constrained; without social cohesion, national security will be put at risk, as residents of this great city tragically know too well.
But social cohesion is also a goal in its own right. Cohesive societies are ones where there is trust and concern between people; where there is a connectedness. In cohesive societies, people contribute to, as much as take from, the public good. Individuals are treated fairly and with dignity.
There are many dimensions to social cohesion, but I am going to focus my remarks today on the dimension that is at the centre of the debate about social cohesion in Europe and Australia - how social cohesion can be maintained during a time of large scale, diverse immigration.
Australia has arguably been the most successful country in the world at doing this. I want to discuss the key elements which underpin this success, but also point to where we are being challenged and need to do better.
The Australian success story
For decades now, Australia has welcomed people from around the world and we have largely maintained social harmony in the process. People mix reasonably well and most Australians enjoy the cultural richness that comes from a diverse population. We are an open, welcoming country.
Moreover, when new people come to Australia, they succeed on almost every level: in employment, education, business creation, home ownership. On nearly every indicator, Australian migrants are achieving at the same rate if not better than the home born. The OECD's Indicators of Immigrant Integration Report illustrates how unusual Australia is in this regard. Just consider one example, employment, which is arguably the most important indicator: whereas the unemployment rate of Australian migrants is the same as the home-born, in the EU the migrant unemployment rate is 6 percentage points higher.
Australia's achievement is particularly remarkable given the size and diversity of our immigration program. Over 28 per cent of Australians were born overseas; another 21 per cent have a parent born overseas. The proportion of overseas born is more than twice that of the United Kingdom and the United States.
This is not to say that Australia is perfect in relation to social cohesion. Some of the challenges to social cohesion that we are facing today are similar to ones that the United Kingdom is facing - such as ethnic segregation and liberal values being challenged - an important issue on which I will touch on later. We can learn from the United Kingdom, particularly as you go through your
Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper process, as much as you may be able to learn from us.
What has underpinned Australia's relative success? My assessment is that there are two factors that have been central to Australia's success in maintaining social cohesion despite high, diverse immigration: (1) careful immigrant selection; and (2) an insistence on immigrant integration. In fact, these two factors have not just underpinned social cohesion, but the overall success of the nation itself.
Let me address each in turn.
Careful immigration selection means that we choose who comes into the nation. We don't outsource this choice to people smugglers and we don't leave it to chance. As former Prime Minister John Howard famously said, "we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come." Prime Minister Turnbull calls our immigration program essentially a recruitment exercise.
Careful immigrant selection starts with having strong borders. It is a statement of the obvious that you have no capacity to do considered selection if you have no border control. Controlling the borders is a prerequisite to being able to select the people that the nation wants.
Our strong border protection system is well known internationally, often from international bureaucrats or commentators criticising our approach. Our policy includes turning back boats of unlawful arrivals and a strict policy position that no one who arrives unlawfully will settle in Australia. The policy has worked and it has now been four years since a people-smuggling venture has reached our shores. There is a huge humanitarian dividend from this policy, but it is also a foundational pillar of our immigration program.
But strong borders is a policy that is always under pressure from the Left. Indeed, under the former Labor Government, our system was unraveled with tragic consequences including 1200 deaths at sea. Over 50,000 people arrived unlawfully, many of whose identity we have still not fully resolved.
Having secured our borders, Australia is able to select people to enter the country who want to become Australians, adopt our values and make a contribution to the nation. We have generally done this well, through a combination of a heavy emphasis on skilled migration, making up almost 70 per cent of our permanent migrant intake, and a strict vetting process.
We are sometimes challenged in the latter because information about individuals is sometimes difficult to obtain from abroad. In half of all cases, individuals have already been in the country for several years on short-term visas before they apply for permanent residency. We know a lot about them after they have been here for a few years. But in the other half of cases - constituting about 100,000 people each year - they are granted full permanent residency before ever stepping foot in Australia. This is less ideal, and something that requires further consideration.
If you cannot control and select who comes into your nation, then you put your security at risk, do not maximise the economic opportunity, and make social cohesion much harder.
The second factor that underpins Australia's social cohesion is a strong expectation on migrant integration. This is something that I know that the UK government is carefully considering, following the Casey Review. And I am honoured to be joined by the author of that review, Dame Louise Casey, in leading this discussion.
Integration means that people share our values, engage in the community, and work and play with other Australians. They blend into the fabric of our nation and are willing to contribute to it as much as benefit from it.
In Australia, this is built into our multicultural policy and what has made our multiculturalism successful to date. Our model is integrated multiculturalism. It is not an assimilationist model, where people must leave their heritage behind. We don't want or expect that, but of course where there are conflicts in cultural behaviours, Australian law and values must prevail.
But nor is it a separatist model which we have frequently seen in Europe where people have sometimes brought their entire practices, language and culture and planted them into the new land, with little expectation placed upon them to share or mix with the local community. Former Prime Minister, David Cameron, was very blunt in relation to this stating in 2011:
"Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream...We've even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values."
A model of separatist multiculturalism is not really multiculturalism at all - it is actually monoculturalism side by side. Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, called this "plural monoculturalism." And it is a bad formula for a nation's social and economic cohesion. To the contrary, it can be a formula for conflict and alienation.
Ours is integrated multiculturalism and we need to jealously defend it.
How have we achieved this integration?
In part it has been a function of being an immigrant nation in an isolated part of the word. But we have also had formal mechanisms, which we continue to work on. Let me mention three:
First, we have expectations that migrants will contribute and participate in the workforce. This in part comes about from the nature of our migration policy which is firmly weighted towards skilled migration. But also through the fact that we don't allow new migrants to access welfare payments for the first two years, with legislation in the parliament to extend that to four. We have a challenge with our humanitarian intake in relation to work, in part because I believe we do not place the same high expectations upon them to secure employment. We can do better here.
Second, we require English to be learnt for many new migrants, and provide 510 hours of free English language classes for those who need it. English capability is fundamental for a number of reasons, but most importantly it underpins integration and therefore social cohesion. If you cannot communicate, it is difficult to integrate. How do you have a conversation with your neighbor, join a local community group, or participate fully in our democracy without a shared language? We are doing further work in this area, including considering whether there should be a conversational English language requirement on all migrants before full permanent residency is granted.
Third, we place an emphasis on Australian values as the glue that holds the nation together. We do this through requiring people to sign a values statement before coming into Australia, satisfy a citizenship test and pledge allegiance before becoming a citizen. The weakness of this, however, is that we presently have few mechanisms to assess people against their signed statement.
Equally importantly, however, is the strength of the values and identity of the nation generally. I will come back to this in a minute as it is arguably the most important ongoing challenge for Australia and the West.
While we have done well in maintaining social cohesion due to some of the reasons outlined, we are being challenged like you in the United Kingdom on a number of dimensions:
- The number and proportion of people with little or no English language capability is rising rapidly and will soon hit a million. The numbers in Australia are not dissimilar to yours in the UK, despite our population being less than half.
- We have a higher than ever concentration of the overseas born in particular geographic areas, often overlayed with poor English, and with a single ethnicity dominating. This means that they will have fewer interactions with the rest of the population and hence slower integration. Some regions have more than 60 per cent overseas born with a third not able to speak the national language. Again, this is something that the UK has also identified in the Casey Review and Integration Green Paper.
This is a difficult area to get right. David Goodhart from the Policy Exchange think tank summarises well the challenge:
"The tendency for people to cluster together with those who are most like them, is a powerful instinct. A cohesive but ethnically diverse society must both allow for its expression and prevent it becoming too entrenched."
- Our values are being challenged by some who not only reject our values, but want to use violence to destroy them.
- Surveys show there is a slight increase in discrimination being faced and lower sense of belonging.
Our challenges are made harder today because technology means that a person can communicate easily and cheaply back to their birth country or within their own diaspora. In short, a person can more easily live within a language and cultural bubble in suburban Australia.
This is why we are continuing to think about this deeply and work on policies to address issues now, before they get larger. Our ship is slightly veering towards a European separatist multicultural model and we want to pull it back to be firmly on the Australian integrated path.
The obligation to integrate is not burdensome - it's empowering. Without it, migrants are denied the chance of fully participating in their new country and sharing in the wealth and opportunity of Australia's exceptionally vibrant economy.
Ideology and values
Let me finish by discussing the most important ongoing imperative for Australia and, in my views, for the West generally in maintaining social cohesion: maintaining our convictions for our core set of values.
Ultimately it is our values and national identity, more than anything else, that binds us together. Moreover, they are what makes us wealthy, free and consequently attractive for migrants to want to join our societies.
But in recent decades, we have become more passive in defending them. Post-modern thinking, which suggests that no one set of values is better than another, has gained ground. Moreover, identity politics (which is now rife across the West) gives cover for practices and behaviours which should be deemed intolerable. Hence, it takes years for some western countries to even take a strong position against something as barbaric as female genital mutilation. Identity politics can be divisive and the anathema to social cohesion. It frequently leads to the tyranny of low expectations.
In Australia, diversity, tolerance and inclusion are now the near universally cited principles by NGOs, companies and the elite when discussing our multi-ethnic society.
But these principles provide no guidance for what we actually hold dear as Australians and expect of each other. Diversity can be great, but not when it includes those who want Sharia law and will use violence to achieve their ends.
Similarly, tolerance is generally a good principle, but we should not be tolerant of FGM or child marriage or women being prohibited from learning English, studying, or even driving. Diversity and tolerance, by themselves, are value-free principles. They are only positive principles when they operate within the confines of an agreed set of values which we collectively hold and will not compromise.
The principle of inclusion is equally insufficient. It is of course a good principle, but it implies that all the responsibility is on the host population to "include" the newcomers, when to become a fully integrated society, newly arrived migrants also need to take positive steps. There is an onus on all of us. Melbourne Sudanese leader, Ambrose Mareng, made this point better than anyone a couple of weeks ago in the context of a vigorous debate about Sudanese gangs:
"Feeling welcome is not the issue here. We have been made welcome ever since we landed in this country, but we do have a problem with integration. And there is a misunderstanding of freedom. Freedom to damage yourself and others and others' property? This is not freedom."
Australia is ethnically diverse and we will remain so. We are tolerant and we are inclusive. However, the most important thing is the values which unite us.
We need muscular ongoing promotion of our values: of freedom of speech and worship, equality between sexes, democracy and the rule of law, a fair go for all, the taking of individual responsibility.
And we need to be confident enough in these values to call out practices which are contradictory to them, even if those practices are the 'culture' of a particular group.
Let me go back to the start in relation to what I set out to cover. Can social cohesion be maintained while also having large, diverse immigration? I think it can, but it is hard. It does rely on a careful immigrant selection process, and then ensuring that policies support integration.
I worry for much of Europe that they have done too little for too long on both of these counts. I look at a country like Denmark and some of the policies they are proposing, including requiring all children as young as one year old from certain areas to be placed into mandatory daycare for 25 hours a week for instruction in Danish values, and am thankful Australia is not in that position.
But it is also a salutary lesson for us Australians to never be complacent about social cohesion. Addressing small challenges now with modest incremental policy is far preferable to having to introduce dramatic initiatives down the track.
If we want Australia to continue its multicultural success, we must take active steps now to ensure that social cohesion remains strong.