It’s been a long-running debate for decades; if you move to a new country, should you learn the language to better embrace the local culture? Now, a top newspaper editor has sparked controversy by claiming all Aussie migrants should learn English, and even speak the language in the privacy of their home, to fully integrate themselves into “mainstream Australia”.
Sunday Mail Editor Peter Gleeson appeared on Sky News TV to respond to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s calls for a cut to immigration numbers recently. He wants tighter laws, reminiscent of those seen during John Howard’s time in power, in an effort to ease up pressure on housing and jobs.
But Gleeson has now taken the argument to a whole new level, and claimed the average Australian sees people who don’t speak fluent English as “failing to integrate properly”.
“I think so many reasons why so many people have deserted the Liberal National Party in the last few years and gone to parties like Pauline Hanson’s and Clive Palmer’s is that they have been very vocal on migration and vocal on immigration,” Gleeson told Sky News.
Sunday Mail editor Peter Gleeson: The average Australian is sitting back and looking at some of these people and going 'well you don't speak English at home, you're failing to integrate properly' – we just want these people to be Aussies.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) February 20, 2018
“I think that a lot of people, the average Australians, are sitting at home thinking ‘well OK, I want to buy a house in Sydney, but because of the immigration policies of the previous Federal government’s, because the way they have allowed a lot of people into this country with plenty of dough, I can’t afford a house in Sydney’.
“They are also sitting back and looking at some of these people thinking ‘well you don’t speak English at home, you’re failing to integrate properly into mainstream Australia’, we just want these people to be Aussies.”
His comments got a very mixed response on social media, with one user commenting on Twitter: “What can we all do as Australians to make people feel welcome and best able to connect with the community here? So much is possible!”
Meanwhile, another added: “Says who. There’s no difference in problems that previous first generation immigrant populations faced. It’s a dishonest narrative from someone who’s in the business of political point scoring. Truely a despicable act.”
In 2016, there were over 300 separately identified languages spoken in Australian homes, the 2016 census confirmed. On top of that, 21 per cent of Aussies spoke a language other than English at home.
Gleeson has since spoken again to defend his comments, and told SBS News: “I believe that anyone who comes to this country and is a migrant … Part of the process of coming to this country should be that they learn English.”
He insisted if he was to move to another country, such as France, he would make an effort to learn French. He did however say he hasn’t got a problem with people speaking different languages, as long as they make an effort to learn the local language too.
Responding to the controversial comments, Labor MP Stirling Hinchliffe said Gleeson had failed to understand what “being an Aussie” is. He tweeted: “Peter Gleeson is nice guy who I hope regrets this. Considering that 21 per cent of Australian families speak a language other than English at home, I think he doesn’t understand what being an ‘Aussie’ is.”
Meanwhile, Labor MP Martin Pakula added that both his parents hadn’t spoken English when they first moved to Australia, but they have both gone on to have hugely successful careers in society.
“My mum arrived here as a 6 year old,” he wrote. “No English. Ended up being a school teacher for decades. Dad was born here but spoke no English at home. Became a lawyer. I’m the Attorney General of Victoria, and you – mate – can get stuffed. Australian enough for you?”
My mum arrived here as a 6 year old. No English. Ended up being a school teacher for decades. Dad was born here but spoke no English at home. Became a lawyer. I’m the Attorney General of Victoria, and you – mate – can get stuffed. Australian enough for you? https://t.co/9EbACWqZrB
— Martin Pakula (@MartinPakulaMP) February 20, 2018
According to Australia’s official parliamentary library, the migration program’s planned intake rose from 74,000 to 140,000 per year between 1996 and 2007, when Howard was in power, with the annual rate sitting at around 110,000 for most of that period.
The planned migration intake is the number set annually for the number of migrants Australia is willing to accept, with the number mainly based on skills shortages in the labour force and the granting of family visas that allow Australian passport holders to bring relatives or partners into the country from overseas.
The number of planned migration places rose sharply under Howard successor Kevin Rudd, from 152,800 to more than 190,000 in 2009, but fell after that in response to the impact of the global financial crisis on economy, which led to “a decline in the need for additional skilled labour”.
But Abbott claims they began rising dramatically again in recent years, putting extra pressure on housing availability, and wages. The official stats bear out his claim. Since 2012, the planned migration intake has sat at 190,000 but according to the Department of Home Affairs statistics, Australia had a net migration intake of 183,608 from 2016-17, coming in under the planned 190,000.
Speaking on Aussie radio station 2GB recently, he told radio show host Mark Levy the recent “gossip” surrounding Barnaby Joyce’s scandal had been a “very serious distraction” from the real issues – including immigration, wages, housing and more.