Attitudes Toward Immigrants in Australia: A Comment on Callan

John J. Ray

University of South Wales, Australia

The title and contents of the recent paper by Callan (1983) might tend to suggest that the article represents a comprehensive survey of the published evidence on Australian attitudes towards immigrants. Such an impression would be mistaken and it is desired here to set out briefly one or two of the more important lacunae.

Callan addresses the question of the generality of prejudice and concludes that, because Anglo-Australians can quite readily rate different immigrant groups in order of preference, there is little generality in Anglo-Australian attitudes to outgroups. This conflicts with the contention by Adorno et al., (1950) that prejudiced attitudes are highly generalizable and some recognition of this conflict should surely have been made by Callan. Surely, in fact, that people can preference-rank different outgroups is not at all inconsistent with the generality of prejudice. The ranking could (and generally does) simply reflect degree of perceived difference from the in-group rather than a perception of differences among the out-groups themselves. Clearer evidence would be surveys of the correlations between different types of prejudice. Such surveys exist but were not mentioned by Callan. Ray & Doratis (1972), for instance used an Ethnocentrism scale in a survey of Australian school students which included 30 items (out of a total of 32) concerned with attitude towards immigrants and the scale as a whole was found to correlate only. 36 with another scale of "religiocentrism". Far from prejudice being highly generalizable, religious prejudice was found to be only a weak predictor of ethnic prejudice. Yet another survey of Australians (Ray, 1974) used three quite separate scales -- to measure attitude towards Jews, attitude towards Southern European immigrants and attitudes towards Aborigines (Australian native blacks). Attitude towards Jews and attitude toward Southern European immigrants were found to be fairly highly correlated but attitude towards immigrants and attitude towards Aborigines were quite weakly correlated. Again, the concept of there-being a general tendency in Australians to like or dislike outgroups was undermined.

Callan also quotes with apparent approval a statement that the presence of immigrants in Australia should reduce the overall level of prejudice in the community because the immigrants themselves are less prejudiced than native-born Australians. He does not mention evidence conflicting with this such as the finding by Phillips (1982 p. 96) in her survey of Australian schoolchildren that "Children from all ethnic groups revealed themselves as prejudiced towards other ethnic groups as Australian (-born) children were, and often more so". This paper may have reached Callan too late for him to revise his article but the correction does nonetheless need to be noted.

Finally, Callan's paper suffers badly from a lack of cross-cultural perspective. Callan seems to create the impression that Australians are generally antipathetic to immigrants. He does this by quoting, almost uniformly, examples of negative attitudes and actions by Anglo-Celtic Australians towards immigrants. Such findings are, however, surely trivial. Presumably all human communities do, at one time or another, evince some examples of such attitudes and actions. The only real question is how prevalent such attitudes and actions are. Is Australia worse or better than other comparable countries? This is not an insurmountably difficult question to answer. Callan, for instance, quotes a survey that shows only a minority of Anglo-Australians opposed to increased Asian immigration. Might not this result have been compared with the finding that in Britain [1] over 90 percent of the population oppose further Asian immigration? It may in fact be that Australians are one of the least prejudiced peoples on earth. There are certainly very few other nations that accept voluntarily as great a number of immigrants (relative to the population size) as Australia does every year.



1. The Harris Opinion pall conducted by the English Daily Express newspaper (August, 1972).


Adorno, T.W., E. Frenkel-Brunswik, D.J. Levinson and R.N. Sanford (1950) The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper.

Callan, V. (1983) Anglo-Australian Attitudes Toward Immigrants: A Review of Survey Evidence. International Migration Review, 17(1):120-137.

Phillips, S. 1982 Prejudice in Middle Childhood. J. Psychol. 110:91-99.

Ray, J.J. (1974) Are racists ethnocentric? Ch. 46 in Ray, J.J. Conservatism as heresy Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co.

Ray, J.J. & Doratis, D. (1972) Religiocentrism and ethnocentrism: Catholic and Protestant in Australian schools. Sociological Analysis 32, 170-179.

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