Essential poll on banning Muslim immigration and listening to Pauline Hanson

The Essential Report poll on attitudes to Muslim migration is here, along with responses to questions about Pauline Hanson. One thousand people were polled. The poll was run in August and re-run in case it was a ‘rogue’.

Key responses (with a couple of comments in parentheses):

  • 49 per cent would support a ban on Muslim immigration to Australia; 40 per cent would oppose such a ban;
  • 60 per cent of Liberal voters would support such a ban, 40 per cent of Labor voters and 34 per cent of Green voters;
  • people over 45 years of age were more in favour of a ban (the numbers do not go up smoothly with age, however; perhaps the polled numbers in each age group were too small);
  • when asked for their reasons for supporting a ban, 41 per cent said Muslims did not integrate into Australian society, 27 per cent mentioned a terrorist threat and 22 per cent said ‘they do not share our values’ (the first and third answers seem closely related);
  • on Pauline Hanson, 65 per cent agree that she tackles issues other politicians are too scared to handle and 62 per cent agree she speaks for a lot of ordinary Australians;
  • 48 per cent agree with the idea of a national debate on Hanson’s call to ban Muslim migration;
  • there is pretty much an even split on whether Hanson should get so much media coverage but only 38 per cent agree that her election is a backward step for Australian democracy.

Mainstream media reports on the Essential poll: Fairfax, News, SBS. The Fairfax report noted a Roy Morgan poll from 2015 which found less opposition to Muslim immigration. The Essential post looks a little rushed: one question refers to someone called ‘Paul Hanson’ and the summary responses to one set of questions look like they are given twice until you realise there is a line missing. (We looked at the full report to ensure we were getting it right.)

Ideas on how to respond to the information provided came from pollster Peter Lewis (don’t tell the fearful that they are wrong but try to harness their hurt to useful ends) and Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane (Australians should not be complacent about racial intolerance being some kind of ‘initiation rite’ for new arrivals). ‘Our society is diminished by inflammatory rhetoric or appeals to xenophobia’, the Commissioner went on. ‘We expect our political representatives to set the tone for our society, not to be targeting particular groups with hostility.’

Meanwhile, in The Conversation, La Trobe University political science academic Gwenda Tavan, writing before the Essential results came out, says Hanson is exercising ‘the privilege of the paranoid right. The normal rules of political engagement – coherence, consistency, fact, logic, proportion – do not apply.’

What’s needed most of all [Tavan says] is a positive counter-narrative to Hanson’s toxic discourse – one that celebrates Australian multiculturalism, consciously tackles the misinformation that surrounds immigration policy, and demands respect and dignity for all Australians regardless of their religion, culture or ethnicity.

In her article, Tavan quotes Richard Hofstadter (The Paranoid Style in American Politics) and Australian Alan Davies (Skills, Outlooks and Passions) two classic works which others might dip into as they seek to find a handle on Hanson.

John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations blog was updated a number of times during the week with contributions from people who used to work in immigration and refugee policy or who have strong views on these subjects. Graham Freudenberg took a historical view of waves of new arrivals who have felt Anglo-Celtic bigotry – though, hang on, the Irish were one of the first waves to suffer.

John Nieuwenhuysen, former head of the Bureau of Immigration Research, has some international comparisons. ‘The whole thrust of the Australian Government’s policy’, he says, ‘is to make those held offshore under mandatory detention suffer so severely that others will be dissuaded from trying to reach Australia. Surely, this is not a shared value between the Government and all its people, or the international community.’

Elaine Pearson of Human Rights Watch denies that Australia’s border policy is an appropriate global model. ‘To be a responsible regional player, Australia should be working hard to resolve refugee crises, not causing new ones.’

Then there was Peter Martin of Fairfax who looked at a report totting up the massive cost per detainee: $573 100 according to the Audit Office. That’s a total of $9.2 billion over three years.

Finally, Sean Kelly in The Monthly Today weaves the Essential results into a thinkpiece about public opinion and politics.

In our system [Kelly says], we elect politicians to make decisions on our behalf. We elect them not because they agree with everything we think, but because we reckon they’re up to the job. It’s worth bearing in mind, in the light of that Muslim immigration poll, that even though many Australians agree with Pauline Hanson’s signature policy, most of them still didn’t vote for her or her party.

Updates 22 September 2016 and after: comments from Prime Minister Turnbull (scroll down quite a way) and Deputy Opposition Leader Plibersek. The PM’s UN speech in full. Frank Brennan comments on the PM’s speech. And so does Paul Bongiorno. And Max Newman on the World Socialist Web Site. See also our recent link to Gorman and Kuhn piece contrasting today’s refugee policies with those of the 1930s. Then, Anne Aly MP talks to Fairfax. Meanwhile, Tasmanian blogger Dave Chadwick thinks about terrorism and how our fears are cynically exploited. Academic Andrew Markus asks questions about the questions asked in the survey. Tony Wright on Gordon Barton, 50 years ago and a very different minor party founder.

21 September 2016 updated

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