Inconvenient truths: The Hoopla talks nonsense on migration

The Hoopla is a very good website. I reckon Gabrielle Chan, their political correspondent, is one of the best in the country.

That’s why is such a shame to produce shocking stuff like this:

Antoinette Lattouf’s article is terrible. Her message is immigrants don’t like other immigrants, particularly asylum seekers. To investigate this claim, she seeks out the views of; her mother, a Liberal Party candidate, people in ‘ethnic hubs’ in Western Sydney, a Lebanese small business owner, James Jupp and a seamstress. She acknowledges, “While I’m not suggesting my methods are the most qualitative and findings definitive, it’s certainly food for thought”.  Despite this, she claims “More than three decades later, one in four Australians were born overseas. And surprisingly, many of them have conservative views about immigration.” (emphasis mine)

The entire piece is an over the top effort to demonstrate something which is baseless. Lattouf positions negative immigrant attitudes to other immigrants as the mainstream, then scorns these attitudes as impossible to understand, something that is almost unnatural.

Luckily there is some quantifiable evidence to better understand attitudes to immigration. Andrew Markus from Monash University, funded by the Scanlon Foundation, has been running social cohesion surveys since 2007. Even better, the report contrasts attitudes of second and third generation Australians against migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds.

From last year’s report:

“Table 29: ‘Which of the following four statements comes closest to your view about the best policy for dealing with asylum seekers, who try to reach Australia by boat?’. Response: ‘turn back boats’ or ‘detain and send back’”

Survey 3rd Gen Aus 2nd Gen Aus Australian (all) non-English speaking
National 35.7 30.6 35.4 33.0
Local 53.5 23.4 36.9 32.1

What this shows is that at the national level, Australian’s and non-English speaking migrants have about the same attitudes to turning back the boats and sending back asylum seekers. However to describe this as “many” or imply the majority of these migrants have these positions is patently false.

The table also shows the difference between national level responses and responses from neighbourhoods with high proportions of non-English speaking backgrounds (that’s the local level on the bottom row). This shows that Australians, particularly third-generation Australians have particularly strong attitudes on turning back boats. However the level of support for non-English speaking migrants, even in areas of high ethnicity, are the same as national attitudes for the same group.

The author did her readers a disservice by ignoring this survey data. I’m not going to say they are ‘facts’ as social attitudes can change from year to year (noting that the survey was from late 2012) however I am going to say this report is about a billion times better to understand attitudes about asylum seekers and immigration than anything contained in Antoinette Lattouf’s article.

Personally, one thing above all else stands out to me about the debate about attitudes to migration.

Evidence? Who needs it?

While this doesn’t relate specifically to asylum seekers (“correlation between unemployment and those of the view that the immigration intake is ‘too high’ 1974-2012”), it clearly demonstrates the link between the labour market and attitudes to immigration. Regardless of the actual level of migration (some of the largest intakes were in the late 2000s, when anti-migration levels were at their lowest in decades), people conceive their attitudes in an environment where jobs can be ‘stolen’ and ‘taken’ by migrants. When unemployment is low, this occurs to a lesser extent. When unemployment is higher, these attitudes rise.

Finally, James Jupp should know better. He is meant to be one of Australia’s foremost academic experts on multiculturalism and immigration policy (I disagree with this, but it is what it is). He comes across as a facilitator to baseless claims.

“When I suggested that the migrants I spoke to wanted what sounded like a return of the White Australia policy, Dr Jupp says he’s not surprised. “It’s not uncommon for every wave of immigrants and refugees to be suspicious or unhappy of the next.””

Except, of course it’s uncommon. A few anecdotes make poor evidence for grand theories of Australia’s multicultural society.

By accepting the premise of the author’s questions, and then incorrectly stating that every wave of migrants and refugees are suspicious of the next, he does a disservice to the broader understanding of social attitudes to migration policy in this country.

Some people will say articles like this don’t matter that much and that it’s an engaging read. I think that’s garbage. Stuff like this paints a picture about a group of people who are already highly marginalised in society. This is unhelpful in the extreme and distorts the attitudes of the millions of migrants who the author didn’t happen to bump into when she was out in Western Sydney.

(Social Cohesion reports in full and a full set of tables about these issues)

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