Integration is key to Australia's successful migrant story
Australian multiculturalism is different to what is termed multiculturalism in other (particularly European) nations because of our strong emphasis on integration.
That means a person who comes here shares our values, engages in the community and has full rights to government services. In exchange, they must obey the law, participate in and uphold democratic principles, and support other Australians. These things are the glue to building trust between all citizens and consequently help foster social cohesion.
With integrated multiculturalism, there is shared responsibility. The existing population must open its arms to newcomers and the newly arrived have responsibilities to do their best to participate fully in our society.
This model of integrated multiculturalism is different to an “assimilationist” model or a “separatist” model. Assimilation is the idea that we must abandon our cultural and religious heritage and all become the same. We don’t expect or want that in Australia. But where there are conflicts in cultural behaviours, Australian law and values must prevail. On the other hand, a separatist model of multiculturalism is the opposite to assimilation, and is when people bring their entire practices, languages and cultures and plant them in the new land, with little desire to share or mix with their local community. They live side by side, rather than merged with, the existing population. While not the stated policy intent of Europe, the impact of its policies has been precisely this in some places.
The successful Australian model is one of integration, not assimilation and not separatism.
Our success in integrating people over the decades is evidenced by the 2015 OECD Indicators of Immigrant Integration report. It finds, for example, that we have the third lowest rate of overseas-born unemployment of all 34 OECD countries surveyed. There is almost no difference between the unemployment rates of Australia’s migrants and those born here, whereas across the OECD migrants had an unemployment rate that was 2.6 percentage points higher than non-migrants.
Migrants here do better than the Australian-born population in education attainment. Migrant parents want to secure success for their children, in large part through education. Poverty rates among children of migrants are low and home ownership is similar to that of the Australian-born population.
Migrants here have generally participated, succeeded and contributed to our nation. What is particularly remarkable, however, is that Australia’s success at integration has occurred despite a rate of migration that is much higher than elsewhere — 28 per cent of the total Australian population is born overseas, the third highest in the OECD.
There is, however, no room for complacency. The challenges to successful integration are perhaps greater than in previous decades, and there are indicators we are not doing as well as we once did.
The challenges are greater due to the size of the diasporas, diversity of the migration intake and availability of technology.
In past decades, for example, despite the initial challenges of settling in a new country, new migrants interacted with the existing population through work, school and elsewhere because their diasporas were relatively small.
They tended to maintain less regular contact with their country of origin because of the cost of travel and communications. Today, diasporas can be larger, making it easier for the new migrant to settle initially, but possibly limiting their external interactions.
Technology means a person can communicate easily and cheaply with their birth country or within their diaspora. Today, a person can more easily live here within a language and cultural bubble.
The data also suggests that our success in integrating new migrants has waned. For example, there is an increasing geographic concentration of the overseas-born population. In some respects, there is nothing new about concentrations of newly arrived migrants but the Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion report suggests this is getting more pronounced. Further, a very high proportion of those born overseas is often aligned with a considerable absence of English capability.
The 2016 census, for example, shows 24 per cent of the people who arrived between January and August that year reported they did not speak English well or at all. This compared with 18 and 19 per cent respectively in the 2006 and 2011 censuses.
The Scanlon Foundation also highlighted the relatively high level of negative feeling towards Muslims, in part “fed by the reality — and the heightened perception — of radical rejectionism of Australia’s secular democratic values and institutions within segments of the Muslim population”.
These challenges are real and we must be alert to them, but they are not insurmountable. We need to work hard at integration by stamping out any remnants of racism, but also by setting higher expectations for those who want to call Australia home. With rights come responsibilities. Ultimately, this will ensure the migrant has the best opportunity to succeed — and it is essential for the ongoing success of our multicultural nation.
Alan Tudge is the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. This is an edited extract ofa speech he will deliver at the Menzies Research Centre tonight.