Immigration dept denies 'assimilating'
The Age (Melbourne)
May 21, 2007 – 11:39AM
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship says it has not been directed to move towards a policy of “assimilating” migrants into Australian society.
Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe said his staff were implementing policies aimed at integrating migrants, but this did not extend to assimilation – even though Prime Minister John Howard has used the term.
“I've received no memo or notification about some sort of change,” Mr Metcalfe told a hearing of the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee.
Although ministers were speaking of “integration” more frequently now than in the past, he said the department's responsibilities had not changed.
Asked directly by Labor's Joe Ludwig if Australia had moved to a policy of assimilation, Mr Metcalfe replied: “That's not a word that I would use.”
Mr Metcalfe said the department respected that migrants would not abandon their culture just because they had moved to Australia.
“We provide a range of policies and programs that recognise that Australians come from many different countries of birth and … it's absolutely reasonable to expect that they will want to continue recognising their culture,” he said.
“That is one of the wonderful things about modern Australia.”
In January the government dumped “multicultural” from its lexicon and renamed the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
During the estimates hearing on Monday, Australian Greens senator Kerry Nettle quizzed department officials on any plans for Australia to accept people forced to flee their homelands due to climate change.
She cited the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea, where rising sea levels have forced the PNG government to relocate inhabitants.
Mr Metcalfe said Australia would not use the Refugee Convention as the basis for resettling people displaced by rising sea levels, as they would only be considered refugees if they were fleeing persecution.
“It's a tragedy if their land has been flooded by the sea, but that does not become a refugee matter, it becomes a humanitarian displacement issue,” he said.
“Any response … by Australia would be based upon broader humanitarian principles rather than an application of the Refugee Convention.
“That's why we don't talk about climate change refugees, we talk about international people movements.”
Human Services Minister Chris Ellison said it would be preferable for people displaced by rising sea levels to be resettled in an area that shared language, background and culture.