Inclusion: the key to achieving social cohesion
On 7 March 2018 the Minister for Multiculturalism and Citizenship, the Hon Alan Tudge MP, has shared details of the government’s proposed reintroduction of changes to Australia’s citizenship legislation. Stating that “ethnic separatism is putting … multicultural society at risk”, the Minister has indicated the Government’s intention to ensure Australia does not become a society in which different migrant groups “live side by side” with “little desire to share or mix with their local community”. Pointing to examples in Europe where policy has had this outcome, Minister Tudge believes changing citizenship laws will help prevent this from occurring in Australia.
The Settlement Council of Australia is concerned about the impacts of the proposed changes on the settlement prospects of migrants, and while supportive of the government’s intentions to promote integration and social cohesion, feels these changes are not necessarily the answer.
Different groups of migrants take longer, or need extra support, to achieve their full potential in Australia, and the settlement and related sectors are in the ideal position to support all migrants, where the need arises, to ensure the best possible settlement outcomes. These outcomes include not only the acquisition of English language skills, but also finding employment, securing suitable housing, engaging with their communities and many others. This is done in an inclusive and welcoming manner, through case work, education and supplementary programs.
The act of acquiring Australian citizenship is a crucial step in the personal transition for migrants as they develop a sense of belonging in their new community. That is, the opportunity to obtain Australian citizenship is vital to achieving the best possible settlement outcomes. International research supports this view, suggesting that the sooner a migrant is able to access citizenship, the sooner, and stronger, their ties to their new home are able to grow.
SCoA supports the government’s desire to foster a strong sense of citizenship, promoting loyalty and pride. SCoA agrees that the concept of citizenship is an important part of our social fabric and we believe that this should be celebrated through public education about the benefits of Australian multiculturalism, as well as the values our country holds dear. After all, Australia is a nation built on immigration. It is repeatedly celebrated for its ability to include people from diverse backgrounds, skills and experience, and for the diversity and prosperity that this brings.
Our concern, however, and one that has been echoed by our members across the country, is that the proposed changes appear to be exclusionary in nature, and are likely to be felt most acutely by humanitarian entrants, however we do not suggest that they are exclusive to this cohort.
In short, SCoA holds concerns that the proposed changes as they currently stand could forever deny citizenship to whole cohorts of migrants, creating a social divide between those who are eligible, and those who are not.
SCoA believes that this may be detrimental both psychologically and socially. It is likely to send a message that the value of some migrants is lower than others, thereby diminishing the very real contributions those persons make. This may result in alienation and poor mental health for those migrants and further impede their ability to contribute to Australia.
SCoA endorses the view that English language ability is important to many migrants’ ability to settle well in Australia. However, SCoA notes and celebrates the commitment of government to fund crucial English language tuition for certain migrants, as well as the efforts of settlement service providers and, increasingly, government and other services, to cater for culturally and linguistically diverse clients; a commitment manifested through providing translators, interpreters and, often, staff fluent in community languages.
SCoA suggests that the government’s focus should be on enhancing the delivery of these services, and ensuring their effectiveness and suitability for all migrants that need them, including those who have not traditionally been eligible for such services. This would result in the promotion of an inclusive and welcoming approach to settlement, which will have far greater positive impact on social cohesion than imposing an unnecessarily high bar on all applicants for citizenship.
For these reasons, SCoA urges the Government to avoid enacting mechanisms that will put citizenship out of reach for so many and instead implement a program of inclusive education both for new arrivals and the broader Australian community, which promotes our cultural diversity, prioritises English language training and gives everyone in Australia an equal opportunity to contribute to our vibrant multicultural nation.