Australia: Protecting girls from genital mutilation

Of note on the limits to accommodation:

Outrage was provoked a few weeks ago by a new Islamic guide for parents fostering children. Reaction to an extremely controversial provision in the guide pointed up the fine balance that continually needs to be struck between religious diversity in a multicultural society and preservation of the norms and laws of a liberal secular democracy.

The Islamic Position on Foster Care, Adoption and Guardianship, published by the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC), contained a paragraph on circumcision for children — both boys and girls.

It stated that circumcision for boys is obligatory in Islam. However, it skirted around the highly contentious matter of circumcision for girls — better known as ‘female genital mutilation’ (FGM).

Critics, including the NSW Families Minister, pounced immediately on the statement, contained in the initial version of the guide, that there is ‘no obligation’ to perform circumcision on girls. And those critics had good cause to be angry. It may well be that FGM is not obligatory in Islam; that’s beside the point. FGM is actually illegal in Australia. Why did the ANIC fail to recognise this?

Soon enough, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) added its voice, firing a broadside criticising the ANIC for appearing to equate FGM with circumcision, and stating in plain language that there was no place in Islam for ‘the horrors of FGM.’ A revised version of the foster guide was subsequently posted stating that, ‘It is impermissible and forbidden to circumcise girls in Islam.’

It was a welcome amendment — although it addressed only Islamic doctrine without mentioning the law. But the damage had been done.

Foster care in Australia is tightly governed by a set of strict legal requirements with which all providers, whether faith-based or not, must comply. Ensuring that the well-being of the child is protected means there can be no exemptions from the law.

All Australians with religious beliefs want the freedom to order their own lives, and the lives of their families and communities, according to the teachings of their faith tradition. Such teachings often deal with dietary rules, dress conventions, and rules governing attendance at worship. Sometimes they also express clear positions on moral issues, such as opposition to abortion or euthanasia.

As a result, faith-based views and teachings are often out of step with what we are told our wider, secular society demands. This, in turn, can provoke calls for contentious religious opinions to be banished from the public square when campaigners, activists, and even policy makers consider them to be out of step with contemporary secular opinion.

Advocates of multiculturalism profess to welcome the cultural and religious diversity that is one of its principal characteristics. And in Australia, one of the world’s most cohesive multicultural societies, people of all faiths and none are free to go about their lives openly and without hindrance.

This freedom is part of Australia’s so-called ‘secular settlement’.

Under this secular settlement, private religious practices such as dietary customs are tolerated, and faith-based organisations retain certain privileges, such as specific tax advantages, on condition that religious groups do not rock the social or political boat.

The settlement depends for its success on two key requirements being met. First, it requires that those who seek accommodation for their beliefs demonstrate a tolerant acceptance of all other members of society. And, second, it requires members of minority groups to exercise restraint to ensure that their private, faith-based practices do not offend against principles shared by the wider secular society.

Clearly, one of the distinctive characteristics of any religion is that it marks its followers in the practices of their daily lives, such as in their diets, as being somewhat set apart from other members of society. But while religion can be a sign of distinctiveness and apartness from wider society, it must never become a sign of alienation.

According to the 2016 census, Australians claiming an allegiance to Islam comprise 2.6 per cent of the population. Muslims, along with Hindus (1.9 per cent) and Buddhists (2.4 per cent), represent part of the significant demographic change that has taken place over the past 50 years in a country where 52 per cent still retain an allegiance to Christianity.

Our different religious communities advance widely diverging conceptions of the good life. And Australia’s success as a multicultural society depends on the fact that it is a secular state committed to remaining neutral in regard to those conceptions. If multiculturalism is to remain successful here, it also requires demonstrating respect for diverse points of view.

At the same time, the secular state has authority — and an obligation — to intervene in situations where certain practices, whether faith-based or not, threaten not just the well-being of the community, but the well-being of the individual. No exemption can be afforded minorities whose wish to avoid the obligation to obey the law threatens that well-being.

Australia has taken a strong stand on some practices often associated with Islam, such as the marriage of children and FGM, and has declared them illegal. The unacceptability of these practices is not simply a matter of culture or conflicting opinions; it is a matter of law. No faith-based exceptions to law can ever be granted where religious practice threatens to put children at risk.

The ANIC’s perceived failure to condemn FGM signalled not merely an indifference to prevailing Australian norms about the well-being and care of children. It also signalled an apparent unwillingness to ensure that the practice of Islam in Australia always complies unequivocally — and without exception — with the law of the land.

Australian Muslims, and members of other faith communities, must be free to live in ways distinguished by their faith-based customs and practices. But they also bear responsibility for ensuring those customs and practices never contravene the norms and laws of Australia.

Peter Kurti is Director of the Culture, Prosperity & Civil Society program at the Centre for Independent Studies, Adjunct Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia, and author of Sacred & Profane: Faith and Belief in a Secular Society

Source: Protecting girls from genital mutilation

Australian national anthem changes by one word to reflect ‘spirit of unity’ and indigenous population

Of note. Commentary that I have seen to date suggests not having much impact, with more critical voice included below:

The Australian national anthem has been changed to reflect the nation’s “spirit of unity” and its indigenous population, the country’s prime minister has said.

The one-word change to Advance Australia Fair, from “For we are young and free” to “For we are one and free” takes effect on Friday.

Speaking on New Year’s Eve, Scott Morrison called Australia the “most successful multicultural nation on Earth,” adding that “it is time to ensure this great unity is reflected more fully in our national anthem”.

“While Australia as a modern nation may be relatively young, our country’s story is ancient, as are the stories of the many First Nations peoples whose stewardship we rightly acknowledge and respect,” he said.

“In the spirit of unity, it is only right that we ensure our national anthem reflects this truth and shared appreciation.”

The move has been welcomed by the first indigenous Australian elected to the federal parliament’s lower house.

Ken Watt, Minister for Indigenous Australians, said in a statement that he had been asked about the change and supported it.

He called the one-word alteration “small in nature but significant in purpose”.

Mr Watt added: “It is an acknowledgement that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures date back 65,000 years.”

The change is not without its critics, however.

New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian has expressed support for indigenous Australians who said the national anthem does not reflect them and their history.

University of New South Wales law professor Megan Davis, a Cobble Cobble woman from the Barrungam nation in southwest Queensland state, criticised the lack of consultation with indigenous people about the change.

“This is a disappointing way to end 2020 and start 2021. Everything about us, without us,” she wrote on social media.

Last month, Australia’s national rugby team, the Wallabies, became the first sporting team to sing the anthem in an indigenous language before their match against Argentina.

Advance Australia Fair was composed by Peter Dodds McCormick and first performed in 1878.

It was adopted as the national anthem in 1984.

Source: Australian national anthem changes by one word to reflect ‘spirit of unity’ and indigenous population

And a critical Indigenous voice,

Last night the Morrison government announced that they were changing the national anthem, to be more inclusive of Indigenous peoples and of migrants (the not white ones anyways), by changing a single word, ‘young’. It’s now ‘one’.

We are one and free.

We are One Nation.

Pauline must be stoked.

This, from the same political party who every Invasion Day assure us that Indigenous peoples aren’t interested in meaningless symbolic gestures like Australia no longer throwing a party on the anniversary of invasion, are now confident that Indigenous peoples will be so excited about this meaningless symbolic change that presumably we will no longer refuse to sing it at national sporting events.

Changing the anthem from ‘young’ to ‘one’ is not only problematic because it’s symbolic tokenism aimed at silencing dissent that completely misses the nature of the dissent in the first place, but it’s also problematic because it’s the same wrongly labelled ‘one’ as the one made famous by ‘One Nation’.

The original version of ‘we are one’ was a view of multiculturalism which tried to encourage white Australia away from its traditional view of a fair go meaning ‘if your skin ain’t fair, you gots to go’ and to accept instead the notion that we could be ‘one nation with many cultures’. This was quickly co-opted by racist ideologues who replaced that sentiment with the assimilationist idea that one nation meant ‘one culture with many races’ and that was quickly cemented into the national consciousness by Pauline Hanson who seized the moment and took the name for her political party ‘One Nation’.

Despite One Nation tainting the concept of ‘one nation,’ both meanings have persisted in Australia without much national discourse or reflection on which one we should have, but it’s been pretty clear from a Liberal Party standpoint since the days of John Howard that they aren’t huge fans of the multiculturalism actually meaning multiple cultures. They are generally more on the side of white/western supremacy, which many liberals have hinted at, and which Tony Abbott flat out stated on multiple occasions when he was PM.

Their views on Indigenous assimilation are much the same.

This can be seen by their political insistence that reconciliation can only be achieved by ‘closing the gap’ rather than by recognising Indigenous Rights as defined by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Having an ambiguous working definition of multiculturalism began as a contest between the two, which the nation should have chosen between by now. Instead, both definitions have been left unchallenged to ensure that politicians can conveniently dog whistle to both sides whenever they talk about us being the ‘most successful multicultural country on Earth’.

This change plays right into that blurring of the lines between the two definitions.

We are one. And we are free. And from all the lands on earth we come.

You’d have thought they would have just straight up changed the anthem to ‘I am Australian’ by the Seekers, but I guess it has too much brand association with QANTAS these days, and because you don’t want to be seen as caving in to the politically correct demands of the slightly left of centrists who were presumably campaigning for this change.

Yesterday, on the last day of 2020, IndigenousX published a powerful piece from Gregory Phillips called ‘Can We Breathe?’ talking staunchly about truth telling, and about Indigenous empowerment.

Today, on the first day of 2021, we are talking about the anthem, or at least we are meant to be.

Instead of continuing to explain why the new anthem is just as shit as the old one though, I’m going to remind people of what some of our Indigenous Rights are:

Article 3: Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

Article 4: Indigenous peoples, in exercising their right to self-determination, have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.

Article 5: Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, while retaining their right to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the State.

Article 8.1: Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.

That’s only four of them, there are 46. Read them. There will be a test.

This is the test, and Australia is failing at it.

These are what needs to be informing our discussions around change.

Australia has worked hard for decades now to poison the well of Indigenous Rights discourse by reframing any such discussion as ‘Indigenous people want special treatment and free handouts’.

We need to move beyond the fear of being shown in this light and embrace the reality that being the Indigenous peoples of these lands and waters is special, and it brings with it special rights and responsibilities.

This is not us wanting something for nothing. This is us demanding our rights, and we have already paid far more than we should ever have had to for them.

Source: We are One Nation?

What do people really think about immigration to Australia? We analysed their internet usage to find out

Wonder whether anyone has tried a similar analysis with respect to interest in Canada:

Many opinion polls on migration in Australia have limited sample sizes, such as the Essential poll, which often interviews around 1,000 people.

This is small when you consider there are over 215 languages other than English spoken in Australia. Running a survey, even a multi-lingual one, will only ever capture so much variation and complexity.

I have recently conducted a study with Elisa Choy, founder of Maven Data, an AI-powered strategic market research company, to gauge public sentiment toward . To do this, we used a much larger data pool—all open-access internet sources across the globe.

Our aim was to find out what Australians think about migration through an analysis of how people engaged with all publicly available online sources on this topic. This includes what they searched for on Google, what they read and how they discussed the topic with others on blogs, social media and online comments.

Our study included both Australian and foreign websites, as Australians often consume overseas English-language media.

We found Australians overall have a neutral view towards migration—in that they are neither strongly opposed or in favor of it. But from their internet usage, we can tell they are highly engaged on the topic.

As part of our research, we also sought to gauge what potential migrants around the world think about Australia as a destination, using the same research method in countries where most migrants come from.

Surprisingly, we found a high degree of interest in Australia in only one country—India. In other countries, such as China, there was relatively low online engagement on Australian immigration. However, with China, this could have been the result of state control of the media.

How AI can measure people’s opinions without bias

Traditional opinion polling relies on weighted samples of a population that are usually benchmarked against statistics sourced from a census or other large demographic surveys.

Another downfall of polling is that it seeks to elicit people’s opinions through interviews or surveys, which are inherently biased and do not always reflect respondents’ actual beliefs or behavior.

These traditional methods can underestimate how much human behavior is driven by emotion and unconscious bias, which people may try to hide when answering a poll. This is particularly true with contentious issues like religion, politics and migration.

In contrast, when people engage with content online, there is no scope to lie, even to themselves. This provides the opportunity for a new type of data-driven, predictive, opinion research—without bias.

In our study, we searched and extracted all the online content we could find related to immigration—everything available through open-sourced websites, blogs and social media.

Using advanced analytics, Maven Data can measure the intensity of people’s emotions on a topic to predict both their actual beliefs and future behavior. The researchers do this by analyzing the specific websites people visit—including Google, media and , blogs and social media. They then measure the emotional tone of these sources and people’s engagement with them using an algorithm.

The company has a proven track record, too. Choy successfully predicted the winners of The Voice in 2019 and 2020, MasterChef Australia in 2020 and seven of the nine battleground states in the 2020 US presidential election.

What Australians think about migration

In our analysis, we found Australians are engaging heavily with government websites in particular, as well as media websites and . They are highly engaged on this topic and watching closely at how the government plans to act.

Further, much of Australians’ interest in this subject is focused on “gaining facts” rather than forming or reinforcing opinions, which means the government has the power to shape opinion on this issue in the future.

Based on this, we would classify immigration as a “timeless” topic in AI terminology, meaning it is of enduring interest and deeply relevant to Australians.

What potential migrants think about coming to Australia

We then analyzed what the world thinks about Australia as an immigration destination.

To do this, we looked at how people in Australia’s major migration source countries engaged with not just Australian and other English-language media, but also Chinese, Indian, Arabic, Vietnamese and Spanish online information sources.

The short story is that the world is largely neutral on Australia as a major migration destination at the moment.

Chinese speakers were generally not engaged with Australia as a potential destination. However, when they did look at information about Australia online, it was centered on the country’s healthcare system, management of COVID-19 and the government’s relationship with China.

Spanish speakers were more interested in the US as a potential immigration destination (despite high levels of COVID-19 cases). This is a key finding, as Spanish speakers are a potential source of increasing migration for Australia given population growth in Latin America.

Indians, on the other hand, were highly interested in Australia as a migration destination. For Indians, the central concerns were related to visas to Australia (including the Global Talent Visa), Australia’s COVID-19 recovery, opportunities for migrants and how migration agents worked.

Key online sources that Indians looked to for information included major media outlets like the ABC, Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald, as well as government websites and Y-Axis Australia (an immigration agency).

Given India was the largest source country of immigrants to Australia in 2018–19, these findings should be of great interest to government.

What does this mean for government?

Our research tells us Australians are actively watching the government’s next move on migration and expecting it to demonstrate leadership in this area.

When we considered the global views of potential migrants, we can see Australia is perhaps no longer seen as the key destination it once was and immigration may not rebound as expected or hoped after the pandemic.

In 2019, the OECD ranked Australia as the top immigration destination in terms of attracting and retaining “high talent” migrants—highly educated workers, entrepreneurs and university students—but we may now face tough competition from other countries, such as Canada.

Another finding from our research is that migrants overseas are often reliant on translations of government websites for information rather than official Australian government websites in English.

This means there is scope for the government to translate its online immigration sources into other languages to reach more potential migrants.

Our findings should be particularly relevant to sectors reliant on immigration, such as the tertiary education, retail, hospitality, health and IT sectors, as we come out of the COVID-19 crisis.

Source: What do people really think about immigration to Australia? We analysed their internet usage to find out

Australian Multiculturalism in 2020

Based upon the speech by Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multiculturalism Alan Tudge. Surprising no mention of racial disparities in terms of economic outcomes and COVID-19, as well as more explicit anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism rhetoric:

There are few government policies that have survived, despite numerous challenges, for 40 years. Australian multiculturalism is, fortunately, one of them.

A speech delivered in August by Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multiculturalism Alan Tudge, was a solid restatement of Australia’s long-term commitment to multiculturalism. 

This commitment promotes the same values that have held multiculturalism strong under both Coalition and Labor governments, including the insistence that all Australians uphold responsibilities to the state and society, such as respect for the rule of law and mutual tolerance. These commitments are coupled with the rights of individuals to maintain ties to their faith, language or national group. Australian multiculturalism also focuses on spreading core values of democratic participation, free speech and free association, and gender equality, as well as a commitment to learning the English language. This combination has seen Australia described by many as “the most successful multicultural country in the world.”

“Our social cohesion is particularly remarkable given the size and diversity of our migrant intake. There are people from every single country on earth living here,” Tudge emphasised during his National Press Club address.

Nonetheless, as Tudge acknowledged, it is also true that Australia’s multiculturalism has been facing significant challenges. Some of those challenges have been overcome, others are being addressed, still others are emerging. 

What has been common to all these challenges so far is a willingness by government, not-for-profit groups, academics and community leaders to recommit to multiculturalism, while working towards its improvement. This willingness must continue.

Tudge outlined four significant contemporary challenges to Australian multiculturalism: coronavirus, foreign interference, lower levels of English language adoption by some migrants, and technology.

For some commentators, these challenges are too significant to overcome. Some have charged that Victoria, in particular, is crumbling under “toxic multiculturalism” and that this has somehow caused the spread of coronavirus. 

This can lead to charges that Australia should be trying harder to assimilate migrants. But the idea of assimilation, where, as Tudge said in 2018, “we must abandon our cultural and religious heritage and all become the same,” is illiberal and impinges on people’s freedom to express their identity. Australian multiculturalism has always favoured an approach based on integration – whereby Australians are encouraged to maintain cultural and religious traditions associated with their heritage, if they wish, but also expected to adapt to and seek to be a part of mainstream Australian economic, social and occupational life. 

Other critics argue multiculturalism has not gone far enough. Despite being official policy for so many decades, multicultural Australia is not yet reflected in the media and leadership positions, they argue. For example, all of Australia’s prime ministers have been of Western European, Christian background. These critics sometimes advocate affirmative action or similar policies.

While there are certainly challenges, Australian multiculturalism has absorbed the impacts of significant global challenges. It has previously dealt with foreign interference, albeit on a smaller scale, while the challenges of migrants learning English and participating in the economy are long term ones. Technology is a modern minefield, but can provide solutions as well as challenges.

Coronavirus 

As a result of coronavirus, lockdown measures have restricted participation in important community rituals – such as collective religious worship or meetings of volunteer groups. The economic hit caused by coronavirus and its effect on employment have also affected Australia’s social fabric. As Tudge said, “we know that when unemployment rises, sentiment towards migrants can deteriorate.”

But this is not the first global event to impact Australia’s robust multiculturalism. Take the 9/11 terror attacks and the world they created once many populations realised they were a target of fanatical Islamists. 

In the 2000s and into the 2010s, Australians worried about the likelihood of a large-scale terrorist attack in Australia. This was felt acutely by many groups, including Australian Muslims.

Research conducted by Anne Aly (then an academic and now a Member of Parliament) and Mark Balnaves in 2007 showed Muslim Australians had even higher levels of anxiety than other Australians about the impact of terrorism. The researchers wrote “Muslim participants expressed that they felt they were being targeted by the media and by politicians and that the media frequently identified them as terrorists.”

Fast forward to 2020, and the origins of COVID-19 in the Chinese city of Wuhan led to reports of racism and threats against people of Chinese origin in Australia and elsewhere. A report by Human Rights Watch in May noted that there was a rise in both racist rhetoric and racist attacks against Asian people. 

In the months and years following the September 11 attacks, in Australia at least, the Government focussed on protecting the entire community from terrorism, Australian Muslims included. Civil society responded with many attempts at interfaith outreach in Australia.

During 2020, the Government has responded promptly to challenges to multiculturalism brought on by coronavirus. Tudge publicly condemned anti-Chinese racism, saying “racist attacks have no place in Australia. It is not the Australian way.”

His opposition counterpart Andrew Giles called for an anti-racism campaign and Tudge and Giles then co-sponsored a motion in the House of Representatives condemning attacks on Chinese Australians. 

“Racism threatens this and it undermines our social cohesion,” Giles told Parliament. “It was the Chinese-Australian community that first felt the waves of this coronavirus crisis. They felt it affecting their communities before it affected the wider community. The leadership that they have shown is something that I am deeply appreciative of, and I’m sure all members who represent Chinese-Australian communities would share that sentiment.”

The Government also responded with an advertising campaign, in Tudge’s words, “to call out racism, to reinforce the Government’s support to the Chinese and indeed the Asian Australian community.”

While none of these measures address the potential weakening of community cohesion that has taken place due to the necessary closure of places of worship, communal institutions and meeting rooms, there have been serious attempts by Australian leaders to address challenges to multiculturalism during the coronavirus pandemic.

Foreign interference

Foreign interference is not a new phenomenon in Australia – in fact Australia’s intelligence agency, ASIO, was founded in 1949 in response to Soviet espionage activities. The idea that foreign interference is a potential threat to Australian multiculturalism is, however, a contemporary development, as is the source of interference. Informed commentators accuse China of significant interference, with Russia and Iran also reported to have infiltrated Australian institutions, public and private. 

Once again drawing on the post-September 11 comparison, Lowy Institute non-resident fellow Anthony Bubalo wrote, “In the same way that al-Qaeda wants Muslims to doubt they will ever be accepted by non-Muslims, the CCP [Chinese Community Party] wants the Chinese diaspora to owe its first loyalty to Beijing.”

Bubalo reported that some Australians of Chinese origin believed that the Government’s focus on Chinese foreign interference felt menacing. In response, he suggested the Government might focus on taking lessons from the post-September 11 experience in managing social cohesion; using “precise language” to differentiate between Chinese people and the CCP; and for leaders to attempt to “define the boundaries of acceptable debate.”

The Government’s approach to dealing with this challenge has been a practical one. Under previous prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, foreign interference legislation was passed and a foreign influence register introduced. 

While expressing sympathy to those in diaspora communities who have been exploited, threatened or intimidated by the government or loyalists of their former homeland, Tudge linked more free English language tuition to the challenge of foreign interference. 

“Malign information or propaganda can be spread through multicultural media, including foreign language media controlled or funded by state players. This can be particularly influential if local residents’ English is poor and hence they are more reliant on foreign-language sources,” Tudge said.

Whether this dual approach, of more English tuition on one side and enhanced law enforcement on the other, is sufficient to tackle the CCP’s reach into diaspora communities in Sydney and Melbourne, or to prevent intervention from other state-based actors, very much remains to be seen. 

English language

The centrality of the English language in ensuring the success of Australian multiculturalism has been stressed from the beginning.

There have been no recent attempts by any official body or major opinion-leader to discourage Australians using their mother tongue – a stroll through any one of Australia’s multicultural suburbs will indicate that. In fact, the bilingualism of so many Australians is a key economic advantage and according to Australia’s most recent multicultural statement, “our multilingual workforce is broadening business horizons and boosting Australia’s competitive edge in an increasingly globalised economy.” However, the primacy of learning the English language has always been emphasised in Australian multiculturalism.

Knowledge of the English language helps new Australians navigate education, employment and essential services. All Australians should be able to respond to a local job advertisement, report a crime to police, or respond to public health messages. Without knowledge of English, these simple tasks can become insurmountable challenges.

The extension of more English language classes to migrants who need additional help is a positive move by the Morrison Government and one which should strengthen multiculturalism. But in a move that attracted some criticism, the Morrison Government went one step further, announcing that people applying to stay in Australia on a partner visa will be required to either have a functional level of English, or have attended up to 500 hours of English classes. 

Again, Tudge emphasised the importance of speaking English to properly participate in Australian society – he also noted that those who did not speak English were vulnerable to family violence and other exploitation and struggled to report abuses to law enforcement authorities. Critics, including Human Rights Watch, opposed the new announcement because it would “disproportionately affect families from certain nationalities – predominantly non-Western, non-English speaking countries – and those who find learning a new language difficult”.

Technology

In his speech to the National Press Club, Tudge quoted former chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth Lord Jonathan Sacks – who passed away in November – on the influence of technology in spreading what would have previously been local tensions far beyond local shores. 

The challenge to multiculturalism posed by Australians playing out historic enmities in their new home is not new – consider the ethnic-based fan violence at Australian soccer matches in past decades. However, technology – including, but not confined to, social media – has supercharged this effect.

The most extreme example of this is the role technology is playing in the recruitment of terrorist sympathisers, and even terrorists themselves. These terrorists and their supporters – whether they are Islamist or from the far-right – are a threat not just to national security, but to multiculturalism.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said that since the Christchurch attack, when an Australian man apparently radicalised online committed and broadcast a massacre at two mosques in New Zealand, “the Australian Government has taken a number of steps to limit Australians’ and our exposure to terrorist and extreme violent material online.”

At the less violent, but still dangerous, end of the spectrum, technology is fragmenting media audiences. Where once the broadcast news on the radio or TV was the main source of mass communication, now a University of Canberra report indicates that one in five Australians prefer news that confirms their own worldview. This type of content is readily found on social media, the preferred source of news for 52% of Australians, according to the Digital News Report: 2020.

Why is this a problem? There is no gatekeeper for the publication of news on the internet: no editorial guidelines, no Press Council guidelines, no Australian Communication and Media Authority oversight. People can – and do – publish what they want online and those with low levels of media literacy may not be able to distinguish between real and fake news. In addition, social media algorithms tend to reward scandalous or controversial content – often allowing it to reach more people, than fact-based, considered reporting.

Viewing only news that is consistent with one’s own worldview and being effectively led by social media platforms to consume salacious news content ahead of fact-based reporting create an ongoing threat to multiculturalism. These phenomena deny us the chance to learn about those different from ourselves in a positive way. They prioritise dominant stories over the marginalised, and can create enmity toward disfavoured groups by presenting news about them in a distorted and unbalanced way. And they may relegate fact-based reporting to the history books. 

There is no easy fix. However, there are important things everyone can do. First, pressure social media organisations to review their algorithms to promote credible sources over “fake news”. Second, lobby these same companies to remove content that incites hate or violence. Finally, choose reporting by organisations that are bound by an editorial code of conduct or oversight authorities, such as the Press Council or Australian Communications and Media Authority in Australia.

Conclusion

These four fundamental challenges to multiculturalism are currently being addressed in Australia. It will be some years before we can judge the success of the relevant strategies. 

There are certainly signs of stress on Australian multiculturalism. The 2019 Scanlon Foundation Mapping Social Cohesion study found that there has been a decline by about 10% in the number of Australians who feel a “sense of belonging” over the past 10 years. That same study reported that more than one in four Muslim and Hindu Australians reported they had been discriminated against because of their skin colour over the previous 12 months. On the whole though, the Scanlon Foundation research found evidence of stability in Australia’s social cohesion.

With a Government and Opposition committed to the value and integrity of Australian multiculturalism, and with support from the community, the multicultural values that have set Australians on a largely successful path over the past 40 years can continue. 

The size and scope of these challenges should not be underestimated. Work will need to continue at all levels – from the suburban multicultural food festival that helps us get to know our neighbours, to stronger nationwide cyber-security defences.

Source: Australian Multiculturalism in 2020

Australia: If that is not who we are, then who are we?

Bitingly sharp critique of the phrase “This is not who we are,” written mainly but not exclusively from an Indigenous perspective. While over the top, more than a kernel of truth in terms of the various divisions and fault lines that apply more broadly than Australia and Indigenous issues:

After news of Australian war crimes in Afghanistan made headlines, it was only a matter of time before a politician uttered the words “This is not who we are”

Australia has been trying very hard for a very long time to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to the idea of ‘we’.

It has tried to create the impossible, or at least the grossly contradictory and hypocritical, by aggressively separating and dividing people across every imaginable line while simultaneously appealing to an idealised sense of ‘we’ whenever it is convenient or expedient.

We are separated across state lines, a fact which has never been clearer than when watching our Prime Minister first attack Victorians and then try to steal their achievement as his own.

We are separated across racial lines with racist dog whistling from media and politics, and more overt racism from everyday white supremacists.

We have simultaneously rejected Indigenous rights, rejected multiculturalism, and embraced assimilation in a way that allows racism to be framed as only a problem when someone complains about it and not when someone enacts it. The divisive act, separating we into usand them, is the acknowledgement of mistreatment rather than the mistreatment itself – “Why do they always have it to make it about race?” they ask, to an elusive ‘them’ who they like to imagine make everything about race.

We are separated across political lines with a renewed animosity and disdain aimed not just between our political parties, but from our politicians to the people they are meant to represent.

We work hard to separate ourselves with all sorts of real and imagined differences; AFL or NRL, Ford or Holden, devon or fritz, potato scollops or potato cakes, and while many of these are a bit of a laugh, some have still led to more than a few playground/pub punch ons over the years.

We also separate ourselves in ways that actively dehumanise those of us who are not we so that we are less concerned about about their human rights being denied (which is of course the point of dehumanising someone in the first instance); homeless, unemployed, incarcerated, lower income, asylum seekers, Indigenous peoples – if only they’d worked a little harder, not jumped the cue, not made it about ‘us and them’, not been mean to me once in primary school, then they’d be one of us, then they’d deserve dignity, respect and basic human rights.

And amongst all of that division there is a singular unified theory of ‘We’ that transcends time and space and all of reality.

The mythical ‘We’ who arrived on the First Fleet, even though it was not us who committed the massacres. That is not who we are!

And the we who were already here for thousands of years before we are not us but they, but only because they always make it about race by playing the race card, and they didn’t even invent the wheel so they should be thankful it was us who invaded and not some other them, not that it was even an invasion to begin with… and on it goes.

It is the We who wins gold medals at the Olympics, or beats India at the cricket, or New Zealand in the rugby, but it is not us if they refuse to sing the anthem, or if they take a knee, or dare to wear an Aboriginal flag, or throw an imaginary spear. That is divisive! That is not who we are!

It is the We who fought bravely in every war (except the frontier wars which never happened) so that we can celebrate our veterans, our beloved ANZACs, with alcoholism, gambling and sacred biscuits once a year. We forget they even exist outside our imagined dreams of past national glory even as we all mindlessly chant ‘Lest we forget’. And when they return different from when they left and in need of our support, we pass the buck yet again because it is not us who fail our returned service men and women just as it is not us who committed the war crimes – that is not who we are.

We is an impossible dream but still one that many feel is worth pursuing, personally I could take it or leave it, especially since that dream has been turned into a nightmare by those who exploit us by using we as a convenient scapegoat allowing them to pick and choose not just who is we, but when we are we. We push them away for not being we enough, we thin the ranks of we by declaring that all of us who do wrong in our name were never really we to begin with – they are unWe. They are not the real We. They are not who we are.

But either it is who we are, because we share a sense of collective identity, and accept collective responsibility for both the good and the bad, or if it is not then we, the collective embodiment of Australia, does not exist as anything other than a system of ever changing rules that benefit a select few, that denies Indigenous people justice, and that locks up brown people for trying to exercise our legal right to seek asylum.

We are the greatest nation on earth, because we only accept collective responsibility for all the good stuff while denying any responsibility for the bad stuff, though we will still happily keep the land and resources that were gained through doing the bad things that we didn’t do.

But here is the long and short of it for all of us.

If we want to have “Australia won a gold medal at the Olympics” then we also have to take “Australia committed war crimes”.

Of course we did not all individually do all the bad things anymore than we all collectively did the good things, for that is what being a collective is all about – collective responsibility.

And we do not need to stand for an anthem or salute a flag or be suitably proficient in English to do that, we just need to acknowledge problems where they exist and strive to make them better and never turn a blind eye or shirk our collective responsibilities to ourselves, to each other, or to our fellow human beings regardless of where we come from.

There is strength in the collective ‘we’, but there is a danger when we let them decide who weare and who we are not.

The modern incarnation of jingoistic, patriotic, racist as fuck, white ethnostate loving nationalism has its roots in the Howard/Hanson era, but of course is merely an adaption of the same white ethnostate ideal that Australia was built on. Once the idea of a Whites Only nation was put to bed, Australia was either going to embrace true multiculturalism or it was going begrudgingly accept that not everyone can be white while demanding that they damn sure do their best to act it anyway. This is where the origin of ‘One Nation’ comes from, for before it was a racist political party it was part of a strategy aimed at getting people to accept multiculturalism.

As Andrew Jakubowicz explains:

Multiculturalism may well be supported by 80% of Australians, but this level drops when anxiety about border security rises. So, multiculturalism’s opponents have much to gain from heightened public concern about “Muslim immigration”.

Hanson’s election has helped clarify the sides of the debate around how Australians have “imagined community” for more than 30 years, since Geoffrey Blainey first shaped the opposition arguments. There is one nation with many cultures, which was Bob Hawke’s 1989 definition of multiculturalism. And then there should be only one culture albeit followed by many races, which is Hanson’s conceptualisation – though wrongly labelled as “One Nation”.

The first sees Australia as a civic nation in which reciprocity and difference, supported by core commitments to democracy and equality, provide the architecture for creativity and cohesion.

The second sees Australia as an (Anglo-Christian) ethnic (multicoloured) monocultural nation in which assimilation into an imagined singular worldview drives calls for cohesion and claims of social strength.

We have never really reconciled which of the above ‘we’ we mean when we talk about ‘we’, and until we do we will be incapable of working out where we are heading because not only do we not know where we are, we apparently don’t even know who we are, even if some of us want to pretend to know who we aren’t.

Source: If that is not who we are, then who are we?

Australia’s Population Ponzi Scheme

While over the top, there is an element of truth in the critique of immigration-based GDP growth strategies, which tend to focus more on overall GDP growth than the more important per capita and productivity-based growth and some of the adverse environmental impacts:

The current economic system in Australia is a Ponzi scheme based on maintaining positive GDP through migration. Populations of native species are plummeting and people are faced with increased job insecurity and housing costs, all of which are side effects of the Australian government’s ongoing drive for an ever increasing population.

In the 35 years prior to 2005, Australia’s net overseas migration averaged around 70,000 per annum. But from 2005 this number was trebled, and ever since then Australia’s population has been increasing at the rate of an extra million people every three years.

As a result, Australia has been a part of the on-average 68 percent fall in global wildlife populations between 1970 and 2016. Some Australian species’ numbers have plummeted by up to 97 percent, primarily due to habitat loss.

The environmental havoc is justified as needed for the economy, but the evidence does not support this claim. In the 1950s and 1960s Australia had strong industry protection policies and a strong manufacturing industry, and therefore both migrant and non-migrant workers had good wages. Generally, families could live off one income.

But by 2005, the industry protection was gone. The economic impacts of the trebling of migration rates for the last 15 years have been negative for ordinary Australians, many of whom are post-war migrants or their descendants.

Job insecurity and casual employment have jumped, housing costs are some of the highest in the world, travel times and traffic congestion in the major cities have risen dramatically, and wage growth has stalled.

Notwithstanding these negative outcomes, Australian governments are now wedded to what amounts to a migration driven Population Ponzi scheme. The migration keeps GDP in positive territory, so governments and bureaucrats can boast that Australia is growing and not in recession, despite living standards flatlining and the environment tanking. And our universities and vocational education institutions have dropped the ball on education and turned into corporate parasites, selling permanent residence to international students and paying million dollar-plus salaries to their administrators.

Australians have been conned by nonsense from political, business, and media elites about the size and nature of our migration programs. We have fallen for the bogus claim that questioning any migration program, no matter its size, is racist. For the record, one-quarter of Australians were born overseas and one half had one or both parents born overseas. We are more multiracial than the United States or the United Kingdom—more multiracial and welcoming than pretty much anywhere in the world.

We have believed convenient lies like “we need migrants to pay our pensions,” or “we don’t have these skills in Australia,” or “our economy depends on high migration levels.” To the extent there’s any truth in the latter, it is because we are now running a Ponzi scheme. The longer we let it grow, the bigger the collapse at the end will be.

I believe change will come, but it won’t come till people understand that Australia’s economic problems are a consequence of the Population Ponzi scheme; that is, that they are caused by poor government policy. Flatlining incomes and job insecurity are government policy. Unaffordable housing and massive personal debt are government policy. The demise of manufacturing and a narrow economy based on construction and services is government policy. A dense population plagued by traffic congestion and declining vegetation cover, and vulnerable to pandemics, is government policy.

There is, of course, an alternative. For many years, Australia enjoyed high levels of social cohesion and self-sufficiency. We made more of our own things, and provided more universal access to health, education, and the age pension. Countries like Germany, Japan, and the Scandinavian countries show that being high skill and high wage and being in good economic shape is more likely when you don’t run a Population Ponzi scheme than when you do.

It is said that when the tide goes out you can see who’s been swimming naked. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the nakedness of the Australian economy. But like drug addicts, knowing the drug is bad, but taking it anyway, Australia’s high migration addicts are calling for the program to be resumed as soon as possible. They should be ignored.

Kelvin Thomsonserved as the Labor Party Member for Wills in Australia’s Federal Parliament for over 20 years, from 1996 until the 2016 election. Kelvin is now chief of staff for the Sustainable Australia Party’s Victorian Upper House MP Clifford Hayes, and a national media spokesman for the Sustainable Australia Party.

Source: Australia’s Population Ponzi Scheme

Australia: Governments must stop the patronising attitude to multicultural media

Similar situation in Canada, unfortunately (see the Canadian Ethnic Media Association’s The Need for adequate and equitable recognition of Canada’s Ethnic media):

Since the beginning of the COVID crisis not a single multicultural media outlet has been invited or been granted access into the daily media briefings from the Victorian Premier or the Australian Prime Minister.

Earlier this year as the reality of the pandemic hit our shores and federal and state governments imposed the first lockdown we saw fear enter into the psyche of the entire community. Supermarket shelves were emptied as a collective primal instinct set in. People envisaged the worst, and it was the government and the media’s role to allay those fears.

At Neos Kosmos we immediately assured our staff and our readers that it was ‘business as usual’, in fact our commitment to report the news was heightened, not only for accuracy but with ongoing rolling coverage as developments unfolded. Our community needed us more than ever.

It has been very difficult to produce the essential service we provide to the community. As with most publishers, we had to cut back our freelance contributors and slash costs wherever we could as advertising revenue plummeted.

Meanwhile our ongoing coverage, in Greek and English, was being distilled from the established mainstream news sources (ABC, News Corporation and Nine outlets). This is not uncommon for any small publisher who needs to cover national or state news, with limited resources.

As the devastating aged care crisis in Victoria emerged in July we decided to ask the Victorian government questions directly on behalf of our readers and the community. Our most respected community members, our parents and grandparents, the pioneers of our community, who sacrificed so much, had been compromised by endemic failures, at both state and federal level. Many began to die.

We made our first request to attend the Victorian Premier’s daily media conference on August 3, as the crisis of the second wave in Victoria was unfolding. As a respected publisher with 63 years of journalism experience behind us, it was a no brainer, we needed to ask questions directly to our Premier. To our surprise we were denied access… and have been denied access ever since.

Earlier in the year, the federal government had set up weekly multicultural media briefings by Minister Alan Tudge, the Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. This was welcome, however, these conferences are more government public relations than the opportunity for media to scrutinise and ask unvetted questions. Media must either submit questions or ask them via chat, leaving it up to the Minister’s advisors as to which get answered and when.

Multicultural media is treated as a second-class citizen, and in the words of a current Victorian Minister, who’s name we shall not reveal, it is being treated in a very ‘paternalistic’ manner. Over the past three and half months we have lobbied our leaders, whilst continuing to request access to the Premier’s briefings. We are continuously denied, being given excuses and that our request will be ‘put forward’.

Well over 150 Greek Australian Victorians have died over the past few months from COVID, an unproportionally high number of the 800 plus that have lost their lives in this state. Our government will not let the community’s represented media ask unvetted questions. Why?

We are told that due to COVID there are limited media placings in the auditorium due to social distancing requirements. We don’t make the cut. We rely on the likes of the ABC, The Australian, The Age and Sky News. When suggesting that we do not need to be physically present, but to be able to ask questions via Zoom, or the like, we were told this suggestion would be ‘put forward’. That was in July. We are still waiting.

That fact of the matter is that no government has wanted to deal with the ‘headache’ of having to manage tens, if not hundreds, of requests from multicultural media outlets to attend conferences. It has even been suggested that it would be easier to consider if we (multicultural media) had a representative group.

Such a suggestion is valid and overdue, and is currently in discussion, however no broad industry group could speak on behalf of vastly different communities and media outlets, each with unique circumstances, needs and even politics.

There is no excuse, governments of all persuasions need to be able to assess a media outlets credibility and public interest, and we need to ask direct questions at briefings. Something must change and government needs to act. Governments must stop the paternalistic behaviour and engage with our journalists. Journalists who understand their communities and who can not only ask the right questions but to make government and mainstream media aware of the nuances of any particular community.

In Melbourne’s most recent outbreak at East Preston Islamic College a mainstream journalist asked the Victorian Premier at his media conference last Friday ‘what improvements had been made in communications with non-English speaking communities’.

The Premier replied “I think that every day we look for different ways, enhanced ways to get to some communities that are pretty hard to get to, they’re hard to sometimes connect with. And that can be language issues, cultural issues, all sorts of things.”

He then went on to say, “we engage with community leaders, we use multicultural media, we use mainstream media, all manner of social media platforms..” and also said “there’s a constant search for ways in which we can better link with the diverse communities that make up our city and state.”

Not a single multicultural media journalist was present at that conference.

Source: Governments must stop the patronising attitude to multicultural media

Those onshore will be prioritised for permanent residency visa, says Alan Tudge

Given ongoing travel restrictions, likely a similar approach will be taken in Canada (in June, over half of Permanent Residents admissions were from previous temporary status):

The Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs in interaction with multicultural media on Friday said the migration program for 2020-21 will see onshore applicants being prioritised, particularly for partner visas.


Highlights:

  • Onshore applicants to be prioritised
  • Australia’s borders are expected to remain closed until late 2021
  • Net Overseas Migration (NOM) expected to fall to -72,000 persons by the end of 2020-21

The 2020-21 permanent migration program has 79,600 places allocated in the Skill stream and 77,300 places to the Family stream with a majority within the family stream allocated to partner visas.

Partner visas have been allocated 72,300 places, an increase from 37,118 last year.

‘This will give more certainty to those wanting to settle in Australia with their partners and plan for their futures. It will address nearly all the present applicants awaiting finalisation of their visa,” Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs said.

It is expected that 75 per cent of partner visas will go to those already in Australia, Minister Tudge said.

“It is in part because we will have fewer people coming into the country, we are placing great priority on making permanent residents those who are already here,” Mr Tudge replied to the question by SBS Hindi.

“It is because we have spaces available and the reason why we have fewer people come into the country is of course because of the pandemic and the speed limit being the quarantine limit levels we have in place.

“Consequently, what we call the net overseas migration figure, we will actually have, this financial year, the first time, in 75 years, more people leaving the country than coming into the country. So, we are trying to regularise more people in Australia,” Mr Tudge told SBS Hindi.

Which visas will be prioritised?

  • Onshore applicants of partner visas will be prioritised.
  • Partner visa applicants where the relevant sponsor resides in a designated regional area will also be prioritised this year.
  • Employer-Sponsored, Global Talent, Business Innovation and Investment Program visas will be prioritised within the Skilled Stream.
  • Employer-Sponsored visas will be prioritised over non-sponsored visas with a focus on occupations on the Priority Migration Skills Occupation List.

‘Innovators, investors and job creators – those who are going to grow Australian businesses, create Australian jobs and supercharge our economic recovery – will be the target of our skilled visas,’ Acting Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs said.

‘Difficult year for those offshore’

Melbourne-based registered migration agent Rohit Mohan says it is going to be a difficult year for skilled migrants who hoped to migrate to Australia from other countries.

“The government has made it clear that they will be prioritising those onshore. This will hit the skilled migrants offshore hard. It is going to be a difficult year for them,” Mr Mohan told SBS Hindi.

Mr Mohan says the program restructuring takes into account unemployment crisis that Australia is currently facing.

“Onshore applicants are likely to have a job, and border closures do not affect these applicants. The government has taken this step to address the high level of unemployment in the country. Calling skilled migrants who are either sought by employers or highly talented makes more sense than inviting migrants who might need to look for a job in an already competitive market,” he says.

“Onshore applicants will have a huge advantage though. It is a great development for them,” he adds.

Australia’s borders are expected to remain closed until late 2021 with Net Overseas Migration (NOM) expected to fall to -72,000 persons by the end of 2020-21.

Source: Those onshore will be prioritised for permanent residency visa, says Alan Tudge

No English, no visa: Australia to block visa for partners if they don’t speak English

Draconian:

Australians who fall in love with non-English speaking foreigners will be barred from bringing their partners into the country to be married if they do not speak English.

In Tuesday’s federal budget the government said it would introduce an English language test for both the person being sponsored for a visa to move to Australia to marry their partner and their sponsor if they are non-English speaking permanent residents.

“These changes will help support English language acquisition and enhance social cohesion and economic participation outcomes,” the budget papers said.

The measure is estimated to save the government $4.9 million over the forward estimates.

Chelsea Sonkar, 30, from Canberra, has applied for a partner visa for her husband Sanjay Sonkar, 30, from Varanasi, India.

She has been raising their one-year-old son alone for the past year while working and studying because Sanjay was caught in India when the borders closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mrs Sonkar said the government was sending a clear but ugly message about the type of husband or wife that they deemed suitable for Australians.

“My instinctive reaction was that the government has a preference for the type of spouse that they want to include in the Australian community,” she said.

“It sends a very strong message that spouses coming from poorer backgrounds are not welcome.

Mrs Sonkar is confident Mr Sonkar would pass an oral language test because he works as a tourist guide and converses in several languages conversationally. But she is worried that if the test is written he will be at a disadvantage because he dropped out of school when he was 16 to support his family after his father became ill.

“To think that small instance could potentially cost him, he’s just doing the best he can and he’s a good man,” she said.

Mrs Sonkar said the new requirement was in addition to the minimum $8000 visa application fee, the more than two years it takes the department to process partner visas plus the extensive paperwork required to prove that a relationship is genuine.

“I felt angry because now there’s another hurdle that we have to jump through when we’re doing everything we can,” she said.

The changes were criticised by the Opposition’s spokesman for multicultural affairs, Andrew Giles.

“English proficiency isn’t a test of someone’s love,” Mr Giles said.

“These changes arrived without any warning, consultation or explanation and take us back to the 1950s. Why would Australia’s government seek to do something like this, instead of keeping partners together?”

Amelia Elliot, who runs an online support and lobbying group for Australians trying to obtain visas for their partners, said the change was “pure discrimination.”

“It dictates that we cannot love who we love, and that instead we must marry according to what is dictated by budget policy. This government treats multi-national couples as second-class citizens and it must stop.”

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge did not respond to requests for comment.

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/no-english-no-visa-australia-to-block-visa-for-partners-if-they-don-t-speak-english-20201007-p562o3.html

Immigration Slump to Weigh Heavily on Australian House Prices

So far, Canadian housing prices continue to defy gravity despite the decline in immigration arrivals:

Fitch Ratings-Hong Kong/Sydney-21 September 2020: Australia’s house prices are set to decline by 5%-10% over the next 12 to 18 months, as net immigration weakens sharply, says Fitch Ratings. Price declines on this scale would be unlikely to have a ratings impact on Fitch-rated residential mortgage-backed security (RMBS) transactions, but the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic may create risks that will require close monitoring.

Immigration had already been slowing prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, but has plunged since the health crisis led to strict controls on international travel. The Australian government in May predicted that immigration would fall by 15% in the year to June 2020 (FY20) and by a further 85% in FY21. This would represent a fall of almost 200,000 permanent arrivals in FY21 relative to FY19, and mark the lowest level of net immigration since June 1993.

The decline will lead to a significant drop in household formation. The most recent Australian Census, held in August 2016, showed that the average Australian household had 2.6 people. If this ratio holds for immigrants, the reduction in immigration between FY19 and FY21 would imply demand for around 76,000 fewer dwellings than would have otherwise been the case. Assuming the natural population increase remains similar to previous years, Fitch estimates the population growth for Australia will reach just 0.7% in 2020, a level not seen in the past 40 years, and down from 1.4% in 2019.

Previous recessions in Australia that were coupled with significant unemployment resulted in a reduction in household formation as fewer adult children moved to their own dwellings. The exceptional uncertainty related to the current recession, and its disproportionate impact on young people, is likely to reduce household formation and property demand even more.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has indicated that 171,000 housing approvals were granted in FY20. This is significantly down on the peak for approvals of 243,000 in the 12 months to August 2016, which may help to mitigate the demand shock. Monetary policy has also loosened, which could provide some support for house prices, as could government policies targeting support for the housing sector.

Nevertheless, we believe house prices will face downward pressure nationwide, as supportive factors will be outweighed by the impact of the change in net immigration, along with high unemployment and general economic uncertainty. Indeed, risks to our forecast for house prices are skewed to the downside, and price falls could exceed 10% if our assumptions about the path of the pandemic prove to be overly optimistic.

Fitch modelling for RMBS transactions addresses risks to house prices associated with the impact of the pandemic. Our stress analysis at ‘Bsf’ includes market value declines of at least 25%, so the 5%-10% drop in prices we expect should not have significant effects on ratings. Nevertheless, price declines will vary between regions, and transactions that have collateral concentrated on inner city units in Sydney and Melbourne may be more affected. Moreover, we remain alert to the potential for downside risks associated with the pandemic’s evolution, and will continue to monitor trends in the housing market closely.

Fitch estimates that immigration into Australia has added approximately 1% to GDP annually over the past 10 years. An end to pandemic-related travel restrictions could result in a rapid reversion of immigration to previous trends, and we expect new permanent arrivals to remain a driver of medium-term growth. However, we do not expect restrictions to be eased until well into 2021, and there may be public pressure on the authorities to limit immigration in the near term as long as unemployment remains high.

Source: Immigration Slump to Weigh Heavily on Australian House Prices