Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge has warned that Australia’s successful multiculturalism model is at risk of following the failed European path of ethnic separatism unless significant policy intervention addresses lower integration rates and falling English-language skills.
Mr Tudge has also flagged that the government will seek to expand English-language tests and require a demonstrated commitment to Australian values.
While hailing Australia’s multiculturalism model as the most successful in the world, Mr Tudge said there were signs it was no longer working as well as it had.
This reinforced the need for the Senate to pass its amendments to the Citizenship Act to elevate greater English-language skills as a priority, he said.
In his first major statement since taking over the portfolio in December’s ministerial reshuffle, Mr Tudge says current policy settings are no longer adequate, amid evidence of increasing ethnic clustering and the number of new migrants unable to speak English rising significantly to almost a quarter of all arrivals.
Research has revealed there is increasing geographic concentration of the overseas-born population, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney where there are 67 suburbs where more than half the residents were born overseas.
In a reference to the Sudanese gang violence in Melbourne, Mr Tudge used the example of Greater Dandenong, where 61.7 per cent of the population of 152,000 was born overseas and almost 17 per cent did not speak English well or at all. Recent census data shows the percentage of new arrivals with little or no English increased from 19 per cent to 24 per cent in 10 years.
Mr Tudge says the emerging ethnic enclaves are aligning with falling rates of spoken English.
“Australia is the most successful multicultural country in the world,” he says in a written speech to be delivered tonight to the Menzies Research Institute in Sydney.
“More people from more countries have come here to start a new life than almost any other nation and we have generally been able to maintain strong social cohesion in the process.
“But I want to sound a note of caution: Australian multiculturalism is not God-given and cannot be taken for granted.
“Indeed, there is emerging evidence that we are not integrating as well as what we have done in the past. Moreover, there are external factors that weren’t present even a decade ago that make integration more challenging.”
Mr Tudge’s speech will lay the groundwork for a renewed push by the Turnbull government to reintroduce its citizenship laws, which Labor and the Greens have blocked in the Senate, and would have addressed the issues raised by the minister.
Labor has baulked at moves to strengthen English-language proficiency for new migrants, more rigorous assessments of commitments to Australian values and extending the waiting period to three years before welfare can be accessed.
Mr Tudge said that although Australian multiculturalism stood apart from assimilation models, such as in the US, and the unintended “separatism” of Europe, there were risks ahead that needed to be addressed if Australia were to avoid Europe’s dilemma.
“Author Douglas Murray writes that this separatism is resulting in the ‘slow death of Europe’ as groups effectively colonise parts of it and erode the values that made Europe so prosperous, free and (consequently) attractive to migrants,” Mr Tudge says.
“The successful Australian model is one of integration; not assimilation and not separatism. We need to jealously guard our successful model and introduce new measures to ensure it continues.
“The challenge is greater today because some diasporas are larger, the migrant intake more diverse, and because technology can foster insularity. We need to re-examine our policies to ensure that they give the new migrant the best chance of succeeding, as previous generations have done.
“Our current policies do not address the challenges outlined above. In fact, there are very few formal requirements that encourage integration, adoption of Australian values and English proficiency.”
A Scanlon Foundation Mapping Social Cohesion report recently found that clustering was becoming more concentrated.
“This is particularly the case where the concentration of overseas born in particular suburbs is aligned with a considerable absence of English being spoken or understood,” Mr Tudge said.
“Poorer English (also) means that the prospect of getting a good job is diminished.”
He cites Melbourne University research that shows that 18 months after arrival, migrants who spoke English very well were 3.7 times more likely to be employed than those who had poor English.
Mr Tudge’s speech follows attempts in past weeks by former prime minister Tony Abbott to provoke a debate within the Liberal Party about immigration levels. He cited integration problems as being among the reasons, along with infrastructure, house prices and wage growth, that immigration rates should be halved to 100,000 a year.