Migration, citizenship and integration

I was in Hobart on Monday at the annual conference of FECCA – the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia. I gave a speech on the topic of citizenship and migration. The government is currently making much of their new citizenship test, a $125 million initiative supposedly aimed at improving integration of migrants and promoting ‘Australian values’. To me, the time when we can have most impact in encouraging and enabling integration is when people first arrive in Australia, not after they have been here for four years or more, which is when people now become eligible for citizenship (at least one year of that four year period has to have been as a permanent resident). Yet many people who first arrive here on long-term temporary residency visas are given virtually no formal settlement assistance at all.

The notion that forcing people to take a multiple choice test on a computer to obtain citizenship will somehow improve their ability and willingness to integrate with Australia is one which I have seen no evidence for. Making it harder for permanent residents to become citizens is not likely to improve their willingness to apply. There are one million non-citizen permanent residents in Australia. Many of these have lived here for decades. The majority of them come from either the UK or New Zealand, which suggest that it is this group that we are having the most trouble getting to fully integrate. People who come from non-English speaking backgrounds are amongst those who become citizens the quickest; those who are refugees quickest of all.

Twenty-five percent of Australians are overseas born. Modern Australia would not exist without the skills and efforts migrants, and our economy and services would collapse overnight if the hundreds of thousands of people who come here each year as skilled workers, students, holiday workers, refugees and spouses all stopped coming.

Despite this, the government is wasting $125 million trying to convince people that there is a problem with migrants. Now, according to a speech Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews gave to the Sydney Institute, the government is planning to introduce stricter rules in “assessing the capacity of visa applicants to settle in Australia.”

Factors taken into account in making an assessment include an applicant’s adaptability and resourcefulness, their knowledge of Australia and their expectations about living in Australia, their attitude towards learning English and their English language skills. Those visa applicants who are currently interviewed, such as applicants for humanitarian visas also will be assessed during the interview against the integration criterion.

Migrants’ attitudes will be assessed by specially trained officers of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

The Minister gave the opening address to the FECCA conference, but he waited until the next day when he was speaking to the Sydney Institute to make this announcement. He used lots of reasonable sounding language to surround it, but the core of it is once again to create suspicion about migrants, based on a ‘problem’ that is not defined and which no evidence is produced to demonstrate it exists.

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  1. Geoff
    It may come as a surprise to you that
    I am a linguist by profession and I did my post grad studies in comparative linguistics in England (Reading). I speak, read and write fluently in at least 6 languages and I studied Latin both in high school (four years) and at the uni.(2 years)
    My first profession is an English philologist which I obtained at the uni after 5 years of full time studies (42 contact hours per week, and over 120 written and oral exams). I also completed 2 post grad studies in Australia – Adelaide uni (Australian and N.Zealand literature) and I also got a post grad diploma in Information Management. Time and again we are told that many migrants are ‘overqualified for Australia’ and that’s precisely the reason we are here – to help Australia to ‘build bridges’.
    You do not have to offend me, or my mum, or advise me on anything. I have been to England. Now it is your turn to go there and learn at least some eristics. You may find out that there are no Martin Bryants, Snowtown killers or juvenile school arsonists there. It would be good if you could distinguish social pathology from national culture.

  2. Well zen, mon petite chou, if you were truly a philologist I’d expect you to recognize the saying and understand its meaning.

    “Teach your mother to suck eggs” has nothing to do with your mother.

    It has slight variations and sometimes grandmother is used. Many similar expressions have been invented as well, down the years. Such as; Don’t teach your grandmother how to milk ducks, and don’t teach your grandmother to steal sheep.

    Admittedly, it does look odd, but its meaning is clear enough: don’t give needless assistance or presume to offer advice to an expert or someone who is knowledgeable or already well versed. As that prolific author, Anon, once wrote:

    Teach not thy parent’s mother to extract
    The embryo juices of the bird by suction.
    The good old lady can that feat enact,
    Quite irrespective of your kind instruction.

    Am I impressed with your resume? About as much as I am with your attitude. Sorry but that’s the Australian in me. Try it on an American.

  3. I didn’t realise being an arrogant anti-intellectual boor was part of Australian culture Geoff. No wonder so many other people don’t identify with your characterisation of it.

    It’s a good way to avoid having to accept uncomfortable facts or the possibility that just maybe someone you disagree with might have some knowledege you weren’t aware of that demonstrates you might be mistaken.

    Although your oh-so-cutting risposte telling someone you don’t like to “go back where they came from” does have an unfortunate echo of the insecure xenophobes of days gone by – not to mention the unpleasant white supremicists who embarassed our country so badly at Cronulla. No wonder you want a return to the 1950s, where being openly obnoxious towards someone who’d come from or lived overseas was socially acceptable, if not encouraged as a way of showing you’d assimilated with the dominant ‘culture’.

  4. Geoff, I came to Australia because I have an Australian husband and he wanted to come back after many years away. Australia is a lovely place but so is Britain in my view.

    The phrases you use ‘cultural apartheid’ ‘Australian Culture’ no doubt have meaning to you but really they are quite abstract and meaningless to me. The only sense I can make of what you say is that you think that what you are represents the ‘Australian way’, and I’m sure to some extent that would be true, just as I am equally sure that there will be many Australians who are different to you who think they represent the Australian way, and they will be right too. What I wanted to know was what the ‘australian way’ way meant to you in concrete terms, but I notice that you are simply unable or don’t want to articulate it. That’s fine I was just curious. Lots of things have surprised me since I have been here but Austalia is a beautiful country and I’m looking forward to understanding it better.
    Bye everyone it was interesting to read your views.

  5. To be fair Carol, Geoff did articulate his version of the “Australian way” – lots of blustering about how people should be “true Aussies” without ever being able to define it as anything that isn’t British, continuous streams of childish abuse at anyone who disagrees with him, followed by the time honoured conculding argument telling people to “go back where you came from”.

  6. Trying to stifle debate Ken? Patience Ken.

    Adele; “I didn’t realise being an arrogant anti-intellectual boor was part of Australian culture Geoff…”

    Well actually Adele your ad hom response was disappointingly predictable. Nothing arrogant in what I said at all. Just the facts.

    I gather you are unaware of the Australian attitude to braggadocio. To authority, pomposity and arrogance. To airs and graces. I suggest you read about our troops in WWI and WWII. Bushrangers. I suggest you look to our history and the breaking down of the English class structure and the creation of a more egalitarian society.

    Gee you didn’t disappoint me after all, thanks Andrew. I don’t believe I’ve ever used the term “true Aussies” by the way Andrew. Not in my everyday vernacular. I may be Australian but I’m not stereotypically an “Ocker”.

    I’ve provided a more comprehensive definition of the Australian culture than you or any of your supporters. I haven’t used childish abuse to anyone. As for people leaving Australia, if they see us in a negative light and would be happier elsewhere, it is a logical suggestion.

    One more time then, for Andrew and the rest too lazy or in denial to bother… #23, #43, #82


    which I end with… “We want others to join us as Australians and change with us… not force change upon us, or be separate from us.”

  7. “… he thinks Australian culture is about the ‘Australian story’ the history, literature, films, music.”

    Personally I’d add a few other things as well, but don’t disagree with the concept.

    Where I disagree with Geoff is that I think Australia’s history, literature, films, music etc have been influenced by people from places other than Britain, changing it in subtle ways, yet it still remains Australian and is the better for it.

    This is the same as Zen comments – that English culture has been influenced by many other cultures yet remains English culture but is greatly enriched.

  8. Fair enough Ken – I’ll go with your ability to make a balanced judgement about these things. No doubt Geoff will again claim that my closing off a thread is somehow stifling debate or censoring him, but he has made nearly 60 comments on this thread which has been running nearly 3 months, so I’m not doing a very good job of stifling him if that’s my aim.

    the end seems to come down to ‘become like me and then change with me’ or else go back where you came from.

    Time to adopt that Australian attitude towards pomposity and arrogance.

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