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Australian Immigration Policy and Dr. Bob Birrell

Centre for Population & Urban Research CPUR headed by Dr. Bob Birrell, Monash University.

Asking Dr.Bob Birrell of the CPUR, as media and governments do, to research and report on immigration would be like Andrew Demetriou of the AFL to do the same on soccer….

Accentuating difference amongst old and new Australians, what would Sir John Monash think?

“Poynting et al. (2004: 210-211) observe that through their reporting, some media outlets often create ‘fears of cultural rift’ and ‘the politics of fear’ (see also Kabir 2006 a: Online; Kabir 2006 b: 313-328) through depictions of mainstream Australians and Australians of Lebanese (and other background), its use of images and links with headlines, and its patterns of discourse.

Surprisingly both an opinion piece, ‘It’s not a race war, it’s a clash of cultures’ by Keith Windschuttle (16/12/2005: 14), and a report ‘Lebanese pushing kids to marry “in”’ by Tracy Ong published next day (The Weekend Australian, 17-18/12/2005: 6) referred to the study of Dr Bob Birrell conducted in 2000 in which Birrell found the already high level of in-marriage for the children of Lebanese migrants rose in the 1990s. But it is interesting to note that in December 2005 when police found two Anglo-Australian Cronulla men possessed seven home-made bombs (see ‘Molotov cocktails land men in jail’, 17-18/12/2005: 6), there was no commentary in the press about their culture, religion or family structure.”

After becoming aware of academic “research” and reported “facts” in the media cited by politicians on both sides of politics and various experts and commentators in Australian society and media, it would be of interest to analyse the work of Centre for Population & Urban Research (CPUR). Dr.Bob Birrell and the CPUR is quoted and cited often, is described by Bob Carr as “Australia’s best demographer” when arguing against migration to Sydney, also by Tim Flannery to support his argument that a sustainable environment requires zero population growth i.e. reduced or zero migration, and Sydney radio talk back program(s) claiming NESB migration is creating social tensions leading to riots and other social problems, due to ethnicity.

“Part of the paranoia which grew during the 1990s centred around the proposition that governments would not listen to the people and that elites were shifting debate. The most elaborate version of this had already been developed by Katharine Betts in her study Immigration and Ideology. Betts emerged as a close ally of Bob Birrell who has consistently opposed mass immigration for twenty years. Together they launched the quarterly journal People and Place in 1993, which effectively carried on the very debate which was supposed to be “suppressed” by the “politically correct” (Jupp, “Tacking into the Wind: Immigration and Multicultural Policy in the 1990s”, Australian Public Intellectual Network, 2010)

If one reviewed various articles from the journal of the CPUR, i.e. “People & Place” one is struck by the focus upon demographic and NESB issues centred round ethnicity, migration, access and perceived “traditional (anglo) Australian culture”. Following are selected abstracts from “People & Place” which could be seen as factoids used to show bias against NESB migrants and Australians, and vice versa for this article, but another common theme from CPUR is lack of solutions to perceived issues?


Ian Dobson, Bob Birrell and Virginia Rapson

Current equity plans for Australian higher education are based on research which claims that non-English-speaking-background (NESB) people are under-represented in the universities. The problem is held to be particularly acute for recent arrivals and equity plans are currently in place to rectify this situation. The background research, however, is inaccurate. Young NESB people have higher participation rates than English-speaking-background people. In some cases, such as the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese speakers, the level of participation is striking.

Has anyone thought the positive, i.e. it is because those of NESB value education and will do everything possible to achieve? Conversely “Anglo Australians” are not so motivated, receive less than optimum advice and encouragement in their formative years, while choosing “easier” subjects? Tennis player Pat Cash when asked why there were now very few internationally competitive Australian players versus more significant numbers of Central Eastern Europeans, stated that the latter “would crawl across cut glass” to achieve while Australians would not.


This article explores the impact of the Coalition Government’s proposals to limit recently-arrived migrants’ access to social welfare benefits. It concludes that while the short-term consequences for these migrants will be severe, the proposals do not address the more significant long term welfare costs of family migration.

Implies, that “Australians” who were formerly migrants have not been punished enough in first generation and we should start focussing upon future generations of migrant family reunions as well? Fits the stereotype that immigrants of NESB only migrate for benefits, return home and/or get their families out to follow suit.


Before non-English-speaking background doctors holding overseas qualifications can begin the medical and clinical examinations required to practise in Australia they must first pass an English language test. This has proved to be a severe hurdle for some language groups, in many cases delaying their progress and, in others, preventing significant numbers from proceeding to the medical and clinical examinations.

Effective cross cultural communication is not simply a language issue, it is generally a two way negotiation where participants need to be sympathetic and aware of related communication issues within a cultural context. This is exemplified by body language, use of slang/argot, Australian accent can be incomprehensible (even to other native speakers of English), tests such as IELTS were designed for formal study entrants, both VET and university, not workplace communication culture and proficiency. Further many health/medical personnel of NESB are not provided with training, orientation nor ongoing support for the Australian workplace, which is then compounded by Australian colleagues without other language and cross cultural skills e.g. empathy regarding pitfalls and misunderstandings that can occur in workplace communication.

V.4 No.4 IMMIGRANTS AND THE PROFESSIONS Bob Birrell and Lesleyanne Hawthorne

Migrants have made a major contribution to Australia’s professionally-qualified workforce. Those arriving pre-1980s and early 1980s have largely been able to convert their qualifications into professional level employment. However, later arriving migrants have been far less successful..

Is this a coincidence that the authors are focussing upon arrivals since the early 1980s, i.e. higher numbers of Asians? Have they offered any solutions? How welcoming have predominantly “skip” or Anglo workplace and employers been?


This paper identifies different groupings of Australians according to their views about what really matters for being ‘truly Australian’. It also characterises these groupings in terms of their attitudes on other issues and their socio-demographic background.

Why should such a question even be considered, is it not highly suggestive in a supposedly sophisticated and multicultural society that Australia represents? When similar questions have been raised in other countries, and enacted, it has led to cultural exclusivity and by its nature excludes those who are different, e.g. Nazi Germany, Apartheid South Africa etc..


In March 1996 there was a gap between political candidates and voters on the question of immigration and (with the exception of Coalition candidates) on the question of pride in Australia’s history. On both questions Coalition candidates’ opinions were closer to those of the voters. Concern about immigration is unlikely to have cost Labor the election by itself, but this concern is linked to feelings of national pride. Both attitudes are strongly associated with a vote for the Coalition and may well have swung the tide against the Keating Government.

With Australia’s history of racial prejudice toward Aboriginals and Asian migrants manifested since Federation by official “white Australia” policy informing all society and political parties, plus the media, it is hardly surprising. This was compounded further by Pauline Hanson then John Howard’s (re)claiming of the racial vote with concurrent “dog whistling” (as opposed to his public anti Asian views of the 80s). Not only did it give licence to racists who would prefer a return to “white Australia” policy but fair minded Australians unconsciously espoused incredibly patronising attitudes, if not implicit prejudice, towards immigrants and NESB Australians.


The author outlines recent developments in the politics of population policy in Australia. Many Australian conservationists and scientists are concerned about the demographic future of their country. Their focus is on the numbers and they are thinking for the long term. The politicians, and perhaps many of the voters, may think the numbers are a secondary issue. They may be confused by them and have little understanding of what they are or what they mean. Voters and politicians are more likely to feel that they understand the question of the Australian identity, and to respond to political messages about whether this identity should or should not be considered as source of pride. Environmentalists will have their work cut out to persuade the people and their leaders to maintain a clear focus on the next half century and the overall trajectory of the country’s future.

Firstly population growth figures have been skewed by scare stories leading to surges of temporary entrants due to mooted migration changes in the media (and those who applied some years earlier during economic boom), and is an issue of greater Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane, not Australia. Rather than focusing upon the abstract or external factors get out of cars, more public & intercity transport, smaller houses, more apartments, real energy and service costs. No matter what environmental policy Australia moots or implements the majority of Australians are not prepared to compromise in any way, yet many have solutions not considered by state governments.

The real issue is Australian obsession of urbanisation compared with the USA and Europe. Why are we not paring back capital city resources that attract further population and maintaining state governments beholden to local city based power? Implementation of real regional development policy could include weakening of state borders (and related anomalies), taking power from state governments e.g. health funding direct to regions, education to federal (with a national high school certificate of education), merging state & federal government departments and moving to regional cities, giving regions power to offer incentives for direct international investment (internet and local communities already preclude the need for state capital based advisory and other related bodies)

Why is there no attention paid to real issues and problems in Australia concerning our population and urban centres:

Under use or ignorance of our multicultural NESB resources in workplaces and regions i.e. community links, languages etc. for marketing, provision and support of Australian international trade, services etc.?

Lack of positive non Anglo Celtic European stereotypes in the media and advertising e.g. ABC’s Australian Story features predominantly skips and token Aboriginals?

What is Australia doing to deal with ageing population, retiring baby boomers, decreasing tax base and related problems in future such funding health care, aged care and pensions?

Widespread use of temporary employment contracts leading to job insecurity, lack of innovation etc. while predominantly ageing baby boomer permanents amble into retirement…at the expense of generation X, Y and NESBs?

Airline security re. “War on Terror” since 9/11 as highlighted by whistle blower Kessling? While resources are used to give more authority to Customs etc. to inspect majority of Australians and international visa holders after disembarking aircraft upon arrival, bikies can brawl, and much air cargo departing on aircraft avoids inspection? Surely nothing to do with agenda at worst of breeding fear and obedience, or at best window dressing?

Damage to the Australian brand and character in the eyes of the international community, regional trading partners, tourists and international students?

Lack of any serious policy and discussion of regional development?

2 Responses to “Australian Immigration Policy and Dr. Bob Birrell”

  1. […] Continues on with input from the prolific demographer and immigration researcher Dr.Bob Birrell of CPUR at Monash University…. […]

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