New study shows Aussies embracing immigration

A study by Monash University has found an increase
in support for immigration in Australia in 2011

Half a century on from the fall of the White Australia Policy, which created obstacles for non-European people trying to emigrate to Australia, support for immigration is on the increase Down Under.

The findings of a nationwide study were released today by the Scanlon Foundation at Monash University in Victoria. The study investigated attitudes among the Australian public about immigration, racial tolerance and prejudice, government trust and national pride, in order to gauge the level of social harmony and cohesion in Oz.

The study's author, Professor Andrew Markus, said the study has shown significant short and long-term trends in public thinking, particularly in relation to the often controversial issue of Australian immigration.

"Questions related to the immigration intake have been a staple of public opinion polling for over 50 years.  Responses indicate considerable shift in opinion over time, with negative view of the level of intake in the range 36%-73% since 1990," Prof Markus explained.

But while considerable trends over a decade are expected, the study also found an increase in support for immigration from last year's results.

In response to the question: "what do you think of the number of immigrants accepted into Australia at present?", 55% answered "about right/too few" as opposed to 46% in 2010.  At the same time, 39% answered that the intake is "too high" down from 47% last year. 

Similarly, in response to the statement that "accepting immigrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger", 24% strongly agreed (up from 19% in 2010) and 16% disagreed (down from 19%) while the number that strongly disagreed remained stagnant at 11%.

The change may not seem all that great, particularly when you consider that the results for 2011 are a return to the pattern of results from 2007 to 2009.  However, as Prof Markus points out, the result for this year is significant as it "was obtained despite a widespread perception that immigration had increased over the last 12 months".

So, in other words, more than half of the Aussie public is happy with the immigration intake despite the fact they think it is increasing. That's a far cry from the Pauline Hanson era!

The study also looked at various perceptions of specific national and ethnic migrant groups, and how these perceptions may be changing.  Despite the endless Aussie jokes at the expense of Kiwis, Poms and Seppos (Septic tank...yank...full make the connection) "negative sentiment" towards migrants English-speaking countries like New Zealand, the UK and the US was found to be less than 5%. 

However, this number is expected to rise if the All Blacks or English win the Rugby World Cup (not stipulated in the study).

Traditional negative perceptions of some migrant groups are also on the decline, the study has found.

"It is notable that some 95% of respondents are positive or neutral towards immigrants from Italy and Greece, almost 90% positive or neutral towards Vietnam and over 85% towards China.  These findings point to a substantial change in Australian attitudes in a relatively short period of time," Professor Markus wrote in the report.

Negative sentiment towards Middle-Eastern and or Islamic immigrants has increased. But at the same time, the study found that "even with regard to immigrants from Lebanon, who recorded the highest level of negative response (24%), those with positive (32%) and neutral (41%) feelings, a combined 73%, formed a large majority".

 Immigration is often a controversial issue, overlapping with other debates on population, sustainability and racial predjudice. As Professor Markus explains, "in all countries of immigration there is a hierarchy of ethnic preference, which influences attitudes to newcomers, at times determining categories of admission and exclusion".

The Scanlon Foundation study gives a realistic account of the attitudes and sentiments a new migrant to Australia might encounter.

But if the Wallabies win the cup, you can expect a warm embrace!

- Aleks Vickovich is Online Editor for the Australian Visa Bureau