Australians have a love-hate relationship with immigration

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Source: The New Daily

The average Australian is at the same time both anxious and supportive of immigration, according to surveys of the nation’s population.

The question of whether to increase or limit immigration was a polarising election issue in the Federal Election of 2019, amid anxieties over a swelling population’s effect on the environment, congestion, housing prices, and the relative harmony of our highly multicultural society.

Over the past decade, Australia has seen a 2.5 million population rise, with a growth of almost 400,000 people in the last year. The majority of last year’s increase – about 61 per cent net growth – were  immigrants.

Different studies reveal vastly different attitudes.

While Australians have become progressively more concerned about a growing population, it appears that Australians still see immigration’s benefits, according to two different surveys.

Times are changing

In a survey recently conducted by the Australian National University, only 30 per cent of Australians – compared to 45 per cent in 2010 – are in favour of population growth.

The 15 per cent drop over the past decade is credited to concerns about congested and overcrowded cities, and an expensive and out-of-reach housing market.

Nearly 90 per cent believed population growth should be parked because of the high price of housing, and 85 per cent believed cities were far too congested and overcrowded already. Pressure on the natural environment was also a major concern.

But a Scanlon Foundation survey has revealed that despite alarm over population growth, the majority of Australians still appreciate its benefits.

In support of immigration

In the Mapping Social Cohesion survey from 2018, 80 per cent believed “immigrants are generally good for Australia’s economy”.

Similarly, 82 per cent of Australians saw immigration as beneficial to “bringing new ideas and cultures”.

The Centre for Independent Studies’ polling has shown Australians who responded supported curbing immigration, at least until “key infrastructure has caught up”.

In polling by the Lowy Institute last year, 54 per cent of respondents had anti-immigration sentiments. The result reflected a 14 per cent rise compared to the previous year.

Respondents believed the “total number of migrants coming to Australia each year” was too high, and there were concerns over how immigration could be affecting Australia’s national identity.

While 54 per cent believed “Australia’s openness to people from all over the world is essential to who we are as a nation”, trailing behind at 41 per cent, Australians said “if [the country is] too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation”.

Next steps?

As we know from the 2019 Election, polls are not necessarily a reliable source of information about attitudes of the day. The key question is, Australia do about about immigration going forward?

The Coalition government under Scott Morrison has proposed to cap immigration to 160,000 immigrants per year. Whether such a proposition is the right course of action, and will placate anxieties over population growth and be manageable for planners, remains to be seen.

However, conflating immigration with unsustainable urban growth will not solve the broader issue which is that lowering permanent migration will not have a major effect on our over-developed and congested urban centres. There needs to be a broader review of urban planning and population policies to encourage people of all backgrounds – not just focusing on new migrants but also those who are established in Australia – to consider regional living, and a greater focus on infrastructure planning to support urban and regional growth.



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