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July 1996, Volume 3, Number 7

Australian Government Reacts to Immigration Poll

On June 17, the Australian government announced that it will cut the intake of refugees and humanitarian migrants from 15,000 to 12,000 in 1997, but maintain overall immigration at 98,000. The government will increase the number of people accepted under family reunification and skilled categories by 3,000.

The announcement follows the leaking of a confidential Cabinet report that the government was considering cutting the humanitarian and refugee to 10,000.

In June 16 by-elections in Australia's Blaxland, two anti-immigration candidates garnered 22 percent of the vote, up from the 2.5 percent showing in the federal elections just three months ago. A report in the Sydney Morning Herald says that the vote was not so much anti-immigrant, but an indication that the Liberals and the Democrats decided not to contest the election.

The report concludes that immigration is not a burning issue in the country. Other immigration critics say the results show that the major political parties are out of step with public opinion on immigration.

According to the results of a Herald-AGB poll released on June 19, Australians think their country is accepting too many immigrants, especially from Asia. About 65 percent of 2,063 people polled thought that immigration was too high; three percent favored more immigration. Some 88 percent said there were too many Asian immigrants. About 25 percent of immigrants come from Asia.

A government official said that the poll accurately reflects the need to improve the balance between the skills program and family reunification.

According to unpublished government estimates, the number of immigrants entering Australia under the family reunification program is expected to jump to 58,000 in 1996, up from 44,500 in 1995. Much of this increase reflects the surge in spouse or parent sponsorship by former Chinese students who participated in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. About 37,000 students were granted permanent residency in Australia.

A recent report by Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research shows that 50 percent of all arrivals to New South Wales come from Asia, primarily Southeast Asia. New South Wales is the most populous Australian state, home to 33 percent of Australians. In 1992, New South Wales attracted 43 percent of Australia's immigrants.

The number of Singaporeans in Australia doubled from 3,176 in 1976 to 6,397 in 1992, and the number of Malaysian immigrants increased ninefold, from 9,179 in 1966 to 84,000 in 1992. Nearly 80 percent of the Malaysia immigrants are ethnic Chinese. Singaporeans and Malaysians typically enter the medical, dental, architectural and engineering professions.

The largest group of Asian immigrants are from Vietnam. Most immigrants from Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia arrive as professionals or under business immigration programs. Most Vietnamese came as refugees, and are credited with bringing Buddhism to Australia. The Vietnamese and Chinese migrants are in the lower socio-economic groups, and tend to cluster in inner-city areas.

A report by Monash University found that an Australian government proposal to block migrants from receiving welfare benefits for two years would reduce short-term costs, but not prevent a long-term welfare problem. The government has proposed extending its six-month waiting period for immigrants to receive welfare benefits. Under the proposal, those entering under the refugee and humanitarian program would still receive immediate access to benefits.

The report found that one-third of the recently arrived immigrants depend on welfare payments after entering the country, and at lease 25 percent continue to depend on welfare during their second year in the country.

The Australian government is trying to pass new laws to stop the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission from telling detained illegal immigrants about their rights. Currently, the HREOC delivers sealed envelopes to detained illegal immigrants spelling out their rights, including the right to request an attorney. By law, illegal immigrants can gain access to a lawyer only if they make a specific request.

Paul Chamberlin, "Migrant Reunions at Risk," The Age, June 20, 1996. Mark Riley, "Australia: New Move Against Illegal Immigrants," Sydney Morning Herald, June 21, 1996. Mark Riley, "Doubt over savings to be made on migrant welfare," Sydney Morning Herald, June 20, 1996. Stepan Kerk Yasharian, "Immigration as needs be," Sydney Morning Herald, June 20, 1996. Liam Fitzpatrick, "Job fears spark tough view on immigration," South China Morning Post, June 20, 1996. Michelle Grattan, "Australia: Most Say Migrant Intake is Too High, The Age, June 19, 1996. Michael Millett, "White Australia Alive and Kicking," Sydney Morning Herald, June 19, 1996. Philip Cornford, "Anti-migrant vote no surprise," Sydney Morning Herald, June 18, 1996.