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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4118


Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (13:35): I rise today because I think the country needs to have a serious talk about immigration. Not a one-sided, shrill debate or a pejorative slamming of people with different points of view, but a careful analysis of how immigration is playing with our economic, our social and our cultural interests. No-one is denying or is in any doubt that immigration has played a vital role in Australia's history. It's been talked about very often that we are a migrant nation, and we will continue to be so. I shut down entirely the people who say we should have zero immigration or we should be limiting the content of our migrant intake according to people's skin colour or according to their cultural background or anything else. But what we do need to do is to make sure immigration is working towards our economic interests, towards our social interests and towards our cultural interests. And until we can have a sensible and reasoned discussion about it, we're never going to be able to achieve those aims.

I will deal with the economic equation for a moment. Governments love big migration policies. They love them because you have more people coming into a particular country and they're going to consume more things—they're going to buy things from business, they're going to require services, they're going to require physical goods and commodities—and that grows GDP, the gross domestic product, which is the economy. But that growth does actually come at the expense of personal economic wellbeing or family economic wellbeing, and that's why the Australian people think immigration is far too high. They're seeing it firsthand: the constrictions and restrictions on their ability to get some jobs, on their ability to commute in a reasonable manner, on the provision of infrastructure, on the economic wellbeing that they experience.

If you look at it on a per capita basis, Australians are going backwards when it comes to per capita income. So, while the economy's growing because you've got more people coming here, it's actually having a detrimental effect for the average Aussie. That's not sustainable. We need to make sure that our immigration intake is working towards the benefit of the average Aussie. We need to make sure the governments of state and federal persuasions can keep up with the growing demands that a growing population is placing upon them to provide services and goods, as well as the infrastructure that's necessary.

Then you can have a look at the social context. There are many who will deny it, but there is no doubt that there are pockets of immigrants where law and order issues are decisively built around these communities. In Victoria, people often talk about the African gang problems. That's how they're generalised; I don't know the specifics of which African nations they're from, but that's what they talk about. People are genuinely living in fear of the conduct of some of these people. Part of that reason, which I'll come back to later, relates to the opportunities that are available to them. In the meantime, we can make decisions about whether we're going to add to these problems, or whether we don't. The Australian people are demanding that we have, I think, a sensible and reasonable conversation about the types of migrants that are currently coming to our country.

Then, of course, you can talk about the cultural interests as well. It's often said we're a multicultural country. We come from many different cultures; there are hundreds of cultures that have come here. We've come from many, many different lands, but we're united by the Australian culture. It is an amazing amalgam of Western European, Asian, Aboriginal and African culture. They've come together and are working together under law and order.

The progress that was made throughout our history was because. when people came to this country. they brought elements of their culture to add to ours that built upon and strengthened it. We often hear these trite sayings: 'We wouldn't have Italian restaurants if it weren't for the Italians'—or Chinese restaurants. That's one aspect of it. But they also infuse a little bit of their traditions and history within our legal framework and within the social and cultural mores that we've come to expect from our founding values and principles. Unfortunately, that idea, that concept that you should integrate and become part of the broader community is slowly being dismissed. One example of that, of course, is the people who defend the rights of some Middle Eastern women to wear a facial veil. If you're wearing a facial veil in this country, you're cutting yourself off from the rest of society. You're basically saying, 'I don't want to interact with you in that place. I don't want to be able to get a job. I don't want to be able to be a regular part of the Australian community.' I can't understand why people would defend that. Why would we defend the thought that people can isolate themselves from the rest of us and expect us to provide them with all the benefits, protections, safety and great, wonderful things that we have in this country? We have to be able to discuss these things in a rational, considered manner because, otherwise, we will lose some of what makes this country so good.

When we come to some of the causes of these problems, it's quite easy to recognise that there is an economic issue at work here as well. The unemployment rates in some migrant communities bear out that we may need to reconsider how we're going to approach our migrant intake. Adam Creighton pointed out in April in The Australian that South African and English migrants to Australia have unemployment rates of about two per cent. Compare that with the then national rate of around 5.6 per cent. Further, migrants from southern and eastern Europe reported very low unemployment levels as well. But, according to the latest ABS data, 44,000 of the 70,000 migrants from the Middle East and North African region were unemployed or not seeking work. It's worth noting that, exclusively within the refugee intake, Croatian refugees had a four per cent unemployment rate but Afghan, Iraqi and Sudanese refugees had an unemployment rate of between 19 per cent and 22 per cent. I do note that there will be people who will say, 'We need to do more for these individuals.' I would counter that argument and say that perhaps we should reflect on our capacity to do what we can within the financial constraints that we have and the demands that we have on the system, which is already creaking under the yolk of debt because we've got too many people taking from the system rather than contributing to it.

An analysis of 2011 census data by the Department of Home Affairs shows that, if you take away the aged southern European demographic, the demographics with the highest levels of unemployment are those from the Middle East and North Africa. It also suggests that the employment-to-population ratio for Australian-born citizens is close to 80 per cent, yet those born in these two other regions have a much lower average of just under 50 per cent. There is a significant difference here. As we've got a national debt which is growing, as we have a welfare debt which is consuming an ever-larger part of the budget, we need to ask ourselves: can we sustain this?

The Department of Social Services data last year showed that, of 33,000 refugees that were on unemployment benefits a year after they arrived, that number fell to 21,000 refugees three years in, but there were still 17,000 or thereabouts on welfare after five years. Over that time, the number of refugees on single parenting payments, carer payment and the disability support pension actually rose. You can go through it. If you run back over that data, it says that, in that period of time, 40 per cent of the people who were born in Iraq and who are in this country are on welfare. It's 29 per cent for those who were born in Lebanon, 25 per cent for those from Sudan and 23 per cent for those from Afghanistan. Yet, for countries like South Africa, it's just three per cent. It tells a stark story about how we can sustain such high levels of unemployment or welfare dependency in sections of the community.

We can determine the make-up of the immigration intake that we have here in a compassionate and reasoned manner that is consistent with our economic, our social and our cultural interests. When it comes to that, we need to review a number of areas. We have to make sure that immigration continues to have a positive benefit for all of us. We need migrants to continue to contribute to Australia. We need to get them off welfare and into the tax system, we need to reform our visa assessment processes and, most of all, we need to halve our migration intake until we can catch up to the demands that are already on the system.