A majority of Australians agree with the policy of turning back all boats carrying asylum seekers and overwhelmingly believe the present level of immigration is “about right”, a new study has found.
The Australian Election Study 2004 was conducted by the Australian National University and Queensland Institute of Technology and included polling of 1769 people in October-December 2004.
The findings show that the Federal Government has strong support for keeping its policy of turning away boat people, while at the same time relaxing its detention policy by allowing some people in long-term detention to be released into the community.
But they also suggest that if the cabinet increases its skilled migrant intake by 20,000 in the 2005-06 year, it could have a hard time selling it to the community, especially as it would be the largest increase in 20 years.
Even though the polling shows people did not want to increase the level of immigration, those polled generally had positive attitudes towards migrants, seeing them as good for the economy and able to make Australia more open.
Migrants were generally not seen as taking jobs from people born in Australia, although they were seen as increasing the crime rate. The poll showed 59.6 per cent either strongly agreed or agreed that immigrants are generally good for the economy, with only 10.8 per cent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.
On whether immigrants take jobs from people born in Australia, 40.6 per cent either strongly disagreed or disagreed, with 29 per cent agreeing or strongly agreeing.
A strong majority, or 80.6 per cent, either agreed or strongly agreed that immigrants made Australia more open, compared with 5.7 per cent who strongly disagreed or disagreed. On whether immigrants increased the crime rate, 40.8 per cent agreed or strongly agreed, while 28.7 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
While the study did not test ideas on detention, it found 54.4 per cent of those polled either strongly agreed or agreed with the Government’s policy of turning away boats carrying asylum seekers, with only 28 per cent strongly disagreeing or disagreeing.
On the number of migrants allowed into Australia, 49 per cent said it was “about right”, 31 per cent said it had “gone much too far, or gone too far” and 20 per cent said it had “not gone far enough or not gone nearly far enough”.
Immigration was rated as a “quite important” election issue by 45.6 per cent of those surveyed and “extremely important” by 31.6 per cent. Only 22.8 per cent rated it as a “not very important” issue in the 2004 election.