Forget the numbers, look at
the spin: that’s the message from a new opinion poll on attitudes to
immigration, reported in this morning’s SMH and Age.

For The SMH
it’s a good news, Australia-v-the-world story. “Most think migrants
good for nation, study finds”, says the headline. “Compared with five
European countries, Australians were far more welcoming of migrants,
with most saying they weren’t having a major impact on existing
communities … The study painted a picture of a nation generally
content with its immigration system, but in some areas a significant
minority reported feeling threatened.”

Down in the fifth
paragraph, you find the information that “In NSW, 26% of people
believed migrants were more likely to be involved in crime, compared to
18% of Victorians”, but that’s all that is said about
interstate differences.

The Age, however, relegates the
international aspect to a side story: its main heading is “Victorians
more welcoming to the newcomer”. “Nearly two out of three Victorians
(63%) say immigrants have a positive influence, compared with
about half those in other states”. And the article explains how support
for immigration is positively correlated with youth, income and level
of education.

On one reading, the different treatment just
confirms the cliche: Sydney regards itself as a world city, while
Melbourne is obsessed about interstate rivalry. But The SMH‘s
spin is hiding an important point. Although most Australians have
positive attitudes to immigration, their support is far from uniform.
For example, 82% of those with postgraduate qualifications say migrants
have a positive influence, “but only 49% of those who have not
finished secondary education”. The pattern, not surprisingly, echoes
that of the1999 republic referendum, which almost passed in Victoria
but wasn’t close in any of the other states.

In light of the ethnic tensions on show in last year’s Cronulla riot – referred to briefly by The Age and not at all by The SMH – these interstate differences are of more than academic interest. Just don’t expect to read about them in the Sydney media.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey