October 13, 2015
Deep-seated attitudes to migration pose problems for new PM
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has inherited a nation deeply divided on issues around immigration, refugee policy and arrivals from Islamic countries, research by the Australian Institute for Progress has revealed.
A national survey has shown that Australians are not only polarised on immigration, but they are very much “talking past” one another – using the same words to indicate radically different things.
Australian Institute for Progress Executive Director Graham Young said the deep division in attitudes to immigration and even different interpretations of basic concepts made this a complex issue not just for the new PM and his government, but for the community at large.
The two most divisive aspects of immigration policy were the way Australia deals with refugees, and immigration from Islamic countries.
This is based on an online qualitative survey of 1,349 Australians, and is the subject of a major report “Australian Attitudes to Immigration”, released today.
“From our research a strong majority of Australians favours immigration levels as high as, or higher than, at present by 69 per cent to 27 per cent,” Mr Young said. “But that’s where the agreement stops.
“Australians are very much ‘talking past’ each other on this subject – using the same terms and words for vastly differing concepts.
“Left wing voters are ‘humanitarian’ and see immigration almost entirely in terms of refugee policy. They tend to ignore the hundreds of thousands of non-refugee immigrants settled here each year.
“Right wing voters tend to be ‘utilitarian’ and see immigration almost entirely in terms of the benefits of increased size and economic capacity that skilled and targeted immigration can bring.
“This is particularly true amongst non-Greens minor party voters, whose preferences the government will need to be re-elected. These voters are also the most opposed to multiculturalism.”
Mr Young said that non-Greens minor party voters, and Coalition voters, were also very strongly opposed on balance to Muslim immigration.
“This partly reflects different attitudes to citizenship. Many left wing voters see citizenship as a right that you receive by being physically present in Australia. We’ve labelled this concept of citizenship ‘camping’.
“On the other side of the debate the ‘team’ approach means that voters think that migrants should have to sign up to pre-existing mainstream values before they will have earned citizenship.”
The research also found:
• Liberal Party (40 per cent) and non-Greens minor party voters (43 per cent) are most likely to want a decrease from current levels of immigration, but are still, on balance, in favour of current or higher levels of immigration.
• Greens and Labor voters who favoured increased migration did so due to a perceived need to take more refugees;
• Other reasons given for increasing the migration intake included skills, economic activity, the benefits of a larger community for economic and defence purposes, and greater diversity.
• Opponents of continued increases in immigration cited environmental issues, social security costs, housing and infrastructure, nationalism and abuse of 457 visas as key opinion drivers.
• But overall, the issue most likely to be mentioned as being a problem for those opposed to increasing immigration was a perceived failure of immigrants to assimilate.
Mr Young said that whether or not these perceptions reflected reality, they had to be dealt with because they were real to voters.
“It’s important that politicians and communities understand where Australians stand, and the nuances of the way they express themselves.
“We will be using this qualitative research as a guide to formulating quantitative research to determine how real the concerns about immigration from Islamic countries is, including concepts of citizenship amongst refugees, whether they intend to integrate or not, and how important religion versus other factors is to them.”
The Australian Institute for Progress exists to advance the discussion, development and implementation of public policy for Australia’s future, from its base in Brisbane. It is politically unaligned, and funded through membership, donations and consultancies.
Media contacts: AIP Executive Director Graham Young – 0411 104 801
AIP Director of Communications Malcolm Cole – 0408 612 603