Document Type

Working Paper


Considerable concern has been expressed from time to time about the impact of immigration on the social cohesion of Australian society. A particular claim that surfaced in the nineteen-eighties was that prevailing levels of Asian immigration would create increased social tensions and possibly inter-communal violence on a scale not experienced in Australia before. Views of this kind came to public attention in 1984 with the much publicised interventions by Geoffrey Blainey, in his Warrnambool speech, and in the book All for Australia, published later that year. (Blainey, 1984)

In spite of the belief or perception in some quarters that immigration had already or was about to generate overt social conflict, very little scholarly or academic research has ever been conducted into these questions in Australia. There are, to be sure, a number of valuable surveys of attitudes, including attitudes to immigration, immigrants and Asian immigrants in particular—see literature review in chapter 2. Such data does not however deal with actual behaviour or with the dynamics of inter-communal relationships. Similarly while levels of violence have attracted considerable attention—including the question of racist violence, currently being examined by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission—there are as yet no reliable indicators of the scale, character and causation of behaviour of this kind.

As a result of this dearth of information, it is no exaggeration to say that public policy debate on immigration, multiculturalism and social cohesion takes place in an information vacuum. Beliefs are rehearsed, anecdotes re-counted and rhetoric liberally dispensed without much reference to actual social trends or to evidence. This state of affairs has adversely affected the capacity of policy makers to respond to the issues raised.