George & Paul’s show on radio 2GB airs on Saturday and Sunday.
My recent column for The Australian the immigration debate:
Immigration is looming as a key issue ahead of next year’s federal election. Western countries are grappling with the aftershock of porous border policy that offered the enemies of freedom safe passage into the free world. Part of the public response is a call for refoms to immigration policy including a reduction in the overall migrant intake, proper applicant vetting and prioritising the national interest in migrant selection.
The Liberal coalition is recalibrating immigration policy to define the political centre ahead of next year’s federal election. In his new portfolio of Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge is embarking on an ambitious program of reform. He is setting the terms of reference for a lengthy debate on Australian values and citizenship. The field is wide open as Labor and the Greens pursue a more particularist policy of social inclusion that appeals to urban and ethnic enclaves but could impede the development of social policy in the broader national interest.
In recent weeks, concerns have been raised about the emergence of ethnic ghettos in Australia where cultural insularity is the norm. It follows a series of violent crimes involving youths of African appearance. The crime rate of some ethnic groups is disproportionately high. The cultivation of anti-Western sentiment among first and second generation immigrants devoted to jihad remains a serious national security issue. The problems have broadened the scope of inquiry about immigration reform. At the centre of inquiry is the question of how to balance rights with responsibilities and teach citizens that Western freedom is a form of order, not an excuse for violent disorder.
The government is crafting immigration policy to provide for the flourishing of open and civil society by clarifying core universal values, emphasising mutual obligations and setting limits on reckless tolerance. Tudge is framing the citizenship debate around four basic beliefs: there are core Australian values; the values provide for the flourishing of good society; social cohesion is a superior model for multicultural society to social inclusion; and successful citizenship is based on balancing rights with responsibilities.
In a speech for the Menzies Research Centre, the minister listed Australian values including freedom of speech, freedom of religion and equality between the sexes. The fuller list of values was outlined by the government last year in its attempt to strengthen the requirements for Australian citizenship. The government sought to amend the Australian Values Statement by adding the fundamental requirement that applicants pledge allegiance to Australia. Other proposed reforms were to increase the general residence requirement, introduce an English language test and require applicants to demonstrate integration into the Australian community.
Labor and the Greens have opposed recent government efforts to strengthen citizenship requirements and reform the Migration Act. Labor rejected the Liberal coalition’s recommendation to amend the Act to permit mandatory cancellation of visas for violent offenders aged between 16 and 18. They also rejected a recommendation to cancel the visas of anyone over 18 convicted of violent offences such as assault, sexual offences or the possession of child pornography.
Labor joined the Greens to vote down the government’s planned reforms to citizenship requirements last year. A major point of contention was the proposal to set an English test as a threshold requirement for citizenship. The proposal is based on a general shift in coalition policy from social inclusion to social cohesion.
Social inclusion became a mainstream approach to public policy in the late 20th century. Many Western leftists were disillusioned with state socialist ideology following the collapse of communist regimes and dissident testimonies about political persecution. In Europe and Australia, social inclusion advocates used human capital theory to explain how capitalism could be compatible with the ideal of equality. It became the unifying theory of Third Way politics. In 2012, I wrote about social inclusion in these pages: “It combines capitalism with equality of opportunity and is the centre-Left policy solution to socialism. But it is faltering for the simple reason that the ethos of advanced capitalism and the ideals of social equality appear to be incompatible. If social inclusion does in fact fail, it will signal the demise of the contemporary centre-Left.”
The Liberal coalition is rejecting social inclusion in favour of social cohesion. The new emphasis is on integration. In his speech to the Menzies Research Centre, Tudge explained why: “The Left focuses almost exclusively on the concept of ‘inclusio'”. Inclusion is fundamental but it implies that all the responsibility is on the host population to ‘include’ newcomers. But to become a fully functioning integrated society, newly arrived migrants also need to take positive steps. There is an onus on all of us.” He emphasised the fastest routes to integration are learning English and getting a job. Yet a higher percentage of new arrivals in the 2016 Census reported not speaking English well or at all compared to new arrivals in the 2011 Census.
The English language requirement is part of the government’s approach to social cohesion. While there are concerns about excluding some worthy applicants, the data indicates a need to change the current policy. As Andrew Clennell wrote in The Weekend Australian, among 256,504 people aged 25-34 who were born overseas and hold a degree, 58 per cent from English speaking backgrounds were employed as professionals. By contrast, only only 24 per cent of those from non-English speaking backgrounds worked as professionals. The data was captured for the period 2011-2016.
The government has an uphill battle to reform immigration law and citizenship requirements in the national interest. It will take a united front. However, the Liberal coalition’s track record on immigration and border security risks being spoiled by infighting. Labor MPs are ready to take advantage of the political fallout from the latest round of Turnbull v. Abbott.
While the debate over balancing immigration intake with critical infrastructure needs has merit, it is a distraction from the government’s core business. With the federal election a year away, the government should focus on consolidating gains and getting battle ready. The Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs is on the right track.