Like many other countries, Australia is questioning its immigration policies. Its population reached 25 million in 2018, and 62% of its growth in the last 10 years has been from immigration. Most of its immigrants are currently coming from China and India, and Australia’s projected population at mid-century is expected to be 40 million. In 1996, 85,000 people emigrated to Australia. In 2017, 208,000 arrived.
Australia’s Prime Minister when we were there last spring was Malcolm Turnbull. No longer PM, he is generally thought to have toughened emigration rules. For example, he made it mandatory for applicants to wait four years before applying for citizenship instead of one year. The new Prime Minister, Evangelical Christian Scott Morrison implemented Operation Sovereign Borders while a member of Parliament. This was designed to stop asylum seekers from arriving in Australia by boat, the situation that has countries in Europe like Italy questioning both its current policies and its future. There appears to be in Australia a movement away from general family migration to attracting those with skilled workforce needs.
Some states in Australia are more welcoming to immigrants than others. Victoria and its main city Melbourne have traditionally welcomed non-Australians. The city was founded by free settlers from Europe. Today, 400,000 Australians have Greek ancestry. By the 1970s more than 160,000 people born in Greece lived here and almost half of them were in Melbourne. That’s why a fine Hellenic Museum thrives in this city.
Melbourne also has an immigration museum. It’s on Flinders Street not too far from the Flinders Street Station. It opened in 1998 in an old Customs House that was once, appropriately, the administrative center for migration. The brochure I was handed challenged me to “Imagine packing your life into a suitcase and setting off into the unknown”, and the people doing just that in featured photos were clearly not from Greece. Very pro-immigration, this museum reminded me that 9 million people have come to Australia from all over the world since 1788. It promised, and delivered, moving stories about many of them. Lonely Planet once called these tales “heart-rending”. The Immigration Museum obviously wants Australians to welcome diversity while tugging at both emotions and thought-processes.
The Qur’an above that’s on display is said to remain “a significant cultural object for Muslim Albanians in Victoria”. And messages like the following abound. ” A busy street. An unfamiliar country. You’re lost. All you can hear is a language you can’t understand. Suddenly you hear words or an accent you recognize. Immediately you feel more at home.”
This museum has clearly not been updated since 2014. Since then migration has become a very controversial contemporary issue throughout the world. If you like open borders, you’ll probably think that Melbourne’s Immigration Museum is doing its job quite well.