The Age yesterday reported claims that comments former Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews made last year about the reasons for slowing the African refugee intake led to more hostility towards Africans:
following Mr Andrews’ comments the NSW Immigration Department [sic] received reports of racial harassment directed at the African community.
“On 14 November 2007, the (deleted) reported that anecdotal evidence suggested an increase in racial harassment directed at Africans in the Parramatta area,” the department-in-confidence community update says.
As is usually the case with these claims, there is no real evidence here of either cause or effect. My own view is that politicians have little influence on subjects people can make up their own minds about. But what politicians say, and reactions to their comments (usually very heated where ethnicity is concerned), do alter the salience of particular issues. It is possible, though not very likely, that greater public discussion of the problems of African migrants had negative consequences for them.
But we can say that there is little sign in survey evidence that particular issues to do with African migrants, relating to gangs and crime, have had any influence on overall public opinion.
The Australian Election Survey asks whether respondents believe that immigrants increase the crime rate. Those agreeing with this proposition increased slightly from 41% in 2004 to 43% in 2007 (though ‘strongly agree’ was down from 16% to 12%). But this could just be statistical noise. It was 47% in each of 1998 and 2001 and 52% in 1996. So the overall trend is down.
Two other questions on the impact of migrants had the same pattern – on whether they are good for the economy and whether they take jobs away from other Australians – of similar results to 2004 and more pro-migration since the 1990s. The proposition that ‘immigrants make Australia more open to ideas and cultures’ has consistently received about 75% endorsement.
But one result has changed. The 1996 to 2004 trend of fewer people saying that the migrant intake should be reduced has ended, increasing from 35% to 46%. It doesn’t obviously have anything to do with crime, the economy or jobs. So what’s happened?
Without survey evidence, any theories are just speculation. But I would guess that housing affordability and availability might be something to do with it. Migration is one reason why demand for housing is running ahead of supply. An obvious way to ease this pressure would be to take fewer migrants.