Bob Gould, 1998

Robert Birrell and the Monash anti-immigrationists are at it again

Source: Self-published pamphlet, October 13, 1998

Transcribed by Steve Painter

You have to hand it to the Robert Birrell and the Monash University population and urban research bunch. They don't give up on their 25-year campaign against immigration, and their more recent campaign against Asian immigration, which they try to cloak in a show of concern for the migrants they investigate. They have just produced a new study aimed at highlighting the number of recent migrants who are in poor social groups. (Article in the Sydney Morning Herald, September 19, 1998, page 3, by John Marsh.)

This is a slightly new spin in their long campaign against migration. The last time I remember one of their studies being highlighted in the press, they concentrated on the notion of alleged Vietnamese ghettos in Cabramatta, Sydney and Richmond, Melbourne.

This line of argument was refuted by other demographers and migration consultants, who were able to satisfactorily establish that Birrell and company were wildly overstating the ghetto angle and that the concentration of Indochinese, for instance, in Cabramatta and Richmond was less than 20 per cent.

Obviously, the ghetto argument wasn't terribly successful among serious commentators, although it has been considerably more successful in the sphere of urban myth spread by people such as Pauline Hanson and Paul Sheehan.

Therefore, Birrell and company have produced a new study, in which they look for concentrations of poor people from a number of non-English-speaking backgrounds, in certain working-class suburbs around Sydney. What an amazing discovery! Poor, non-English-speaking migrants tend to be concentrated in poorer working-class suburbs. Gee whiz!

The underlying bias of the Monash Centre for Population and Urban Research against migrants and migration is made very clear in Birrell's reported comments, in which he uses his "discoveries" as a chance to once again repeat his long-standing attacks on multiculturalism and immigration.

A few questions must be asked about Birrell's study. Did he try to track the Asian and other non-English-speaking migrants alongside, say, a study of English speakers of roughly the same socioeconomic group in the same suburbs?

He obviously got his idea for selectively tracking non-English-speakers from the excellent research work of Phil Raskell, who, for many years has been studying the breakdown of economic power and income in Sydney, Who is Rich and Who is Poor?, and doing it as one properly should, not for migrants alone but for the whole population.

In his studies, exactly the same suburbs that Birrell mentions emerge as centres of poverty for both migrants and English-speakers. Birrell has turned this normal demographic inquiry into class, income and status, into a value-loaded attack on recent migrants.

The tendency of recent and poorer migrants to concentrate in already-existing poorer working class areas, is in fact obvious, and has existed right back to the first European settlement in Australia. For instance, from the middle of the 19th century, when Sydney began rapidly developing as a big port city, the poorest suburbs were the city itself, which had an enormous population in those days: Glebe, Chippendale, Ultimo, Pyrmont and Camperdown.

Studies in those days showed those suburbs to be the areas inhabited by the poorest working-class and even lumpen-proletarian people.

Census figures in those days, which listed occupations, showed a preponderance of labourers, domestics, unemployed and some tradesmen in those suburbs. They also showed a sharp religious imbalance in Sydney suburbs. The poorer working-class areas that I've just named had a much higher preponderance of Irish Catholics — about 40 per cent of the population — whereas richer people tended to live in the outer suburbs of Sydney, such as Petersham, Canterbury and Ashfield, and these suburbs were only about 15 per cent Irish Catholic.

The anti-migrant bigots of those days, largely from the British Protestant upper crust of the colony, used to regard the predominantly working-class Irish Catholic suburbs as cesspools of poverty and iniquity.

Further on in history, in the 1950s and 1960s, many of the suburbs Birrell mentions had a high proportion of Greek, Italian, Polish and Yugoslav migrants, who in their time were also much poorer when they arrived, for the obvious reasons.

Many studies were done in the 1950s and 1960s showing the poverty of the newer working-class migrants from European countries, and there was much clucking by the Robert Birrells of the time about Greek, Italian, Maltese and Yugoslav alleged ghettos. The irony is that many of the suburbs discussed in the 1950s and 1960s concerning the older European migrants are the same suburbs that Birrell talks about now.

All any of this underlines is the obvious point that the poorer cohort of every wave of migration tends to end up in the poorer suburbs.

As sugar coating on his essentially racist approach, Birrell mentions that there are many Asian migrants in Sydney who are affluent and do well, and who live in suburbs other than the ones he names, and he implies that their immigration may be all right. This, of course, raises the obvious question: is he demanding that only already affluent Asians be allowed in? This seems to be implied in his attack on family reunion and high levels of migration of less-skilled Asians.

Civilised Australians of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, who have some sense of Australian history, should consider that Australia has been for most of its existence a country of rapid mass migration. This migration has always been dominated by poorer people looking for a new life and better chance in a new country.

Poorer migrants have always outnumbered richer migrants. This was true of the Irish in the 19th century and the Europeans in the post-war years. I bet Birrell did not conduct a survey among the poor migrants on whom he descended as to whether they preferred being in Australia or in the poorer countries from which they came.

The answers they would give in any such survey are pretty obvious. Mostly, even difficult conditions in Australia are better than the conditions in their countries of origin, and it's this impulse that drives all mass migrations.

Birrell's concern for these poor people can be dismissed as crocodile tears, overlain on a constant and implacable desire to keep out the people from the nether world who he views as threatening the Australian social fabric.

Civilised Australians should mobilise vigorously, as a lot do, in defence of the general policy of keeping Australia's doors reasonably open to migrants from many countries on a non-racist basis, and on a basis that allows poorer people to migrate as well as richer people.