We are slowly abandoning the mutual obligations that once made our immigration programs world class, says Fred Pawle.
"In this country, if you want to keep out of trouble, you always return a shout.” Such was the simple but stern advice given to protagonist Nino Culotta in a crowded bar on his first day in Australia in the 1966 Aussie film They’re a Weird Mob.
Italian actor Walter Chiara and Aussie bit player Jack Allen (playing “Fat Man in Bar”) milk the double entendre for its limited comedic potential, but the most overt emotional impact of the scene comes at the end, when Culotta, after just one schooner, picks up a bit of local slang, eliciting delight from the Fat Man.
“Hey! Did you hear what he said?” Allen says to the equally impressed bargirl. “Cheers!”
There is nothing nostalgic about emphasising the enduring significance of this cinematic moment. Both characters are acknowledging their mutual obligations towards each other, despite coming from opposite sides of the world and having only met a schooner earlier. The ensuing story extrapolates from that moment to illustrate the spectacular success of Australia’s postwar migration programs.
How times have changed. It would be impossible to make They’re A Weird Mob II today. A look at some statistics explains why.
Our migrants are no longer necessarily encouraged to follow Culotta’s lead. This graph, for example, shows that the unemployment rate of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East to be consistently higher than those from parts of Europe and Asia.
Our humanitarian intake is similarly unsuccessful. As Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge explained in his speech to the Menzies Research Centre in Sydney on Tuesday, only 17 per cent of this cohort have found work within 18 months of arriving. The likelihood of migrants finding work is exacerbated by a language barrier; an increasing proportion of migrants speak English poorly or not at all.
The left has typically portrayed the efforts of Minister Tudge and Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton to improve these outcomes as a racist attempt to “change the very nature of what our nation means, of what our communities are all about”.
It is nothing of the kind. Minister Tudge’s speech acknowledged that migrants from Britain, eastern and southern Europe, Asia and elsewhere have “reached the highest levels of (Australian) society”. We’ve had both a higher rate of migration than any comparably wealthy nation and a high rate of successful integration.
“We should be immensely proud of what we have achieved as a nation to date,” he said. “Australian multiculturalism, rooted in a policy of integration, has been more successful than any other nation."
Minister Tudge is simply trying to revive the pact between host and newcomer that worked so well in the past.
"We want all Australians, regardless of where they have come from, to make the most of the opportunities this great nation has to offer and we want their children to also have the same opportunities.
"For this to continue to occur, we need both the commitment of Australians to continue to welcome new arrivals and the commitment of newly arrived migrants to integrate into our community."
Read the minister's speech here.
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