Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs are descending into ethnic ghettoisation. Migrants are withdrawing into enclaves and living at the margins of society. They are turning their backs on the English language and stubbornly maintaining their ancestral tongues.
This is the disturbing impression recently conveyed by Helen Kroger, a former federal senator and House of Representatives hopeful in the Liberal Party.
Referring to the inhabitants of Bruce, one of Australia's most ethnically diverse federal seats, she said: "There are over 150 communities with different ethnic origins residing in the area ... it is concerning that many of these people do not speak English as their first language and this needs to be addressed".
Accompanying these concerns was her plea to ensure that immigrants' languages do not become "a barrier to building an inclusive society".
Kroger's rhetoric is deeply irresponsible and gives a flawed picture of immigrant realities. She is engaging in what political scientists call "nationalist outbidding".
Politicians who resort to this strategy are interested not in offering policies justifiable through logic and evidence. Rather, their intention is to outmanoeuvre opponents by depicting minorities as a national threat and presenting themselves as more capable at responding to that threat.
The context of Kroger's outbidding is the preselection contest in Bruce. She is one of the contenders and her statements were part of a pitch to Liberal Party members. Observers have suggested that her communication was designed to win the support of party members negatively predisposed towards immigrants.
Such strategies typically produce ethnic tensions. Nationalist outbidding was behind the murderous political violence witnessed in Rwanda, Northern Ireland, and the former Yugoslavia.
Kroger's outbidding is unlikely to spark a civil war in the seat of Bruce. However, it is likely to resonate far and wide. Her fear-mongering incites suspicion and resentment towards migrants.
People already piqued by political commentary stoking paranoia around supposed civilisational incompatibilities between Muslims and non-Muslims and divided loyalties among individuals with dual citizenship are especially likely to be drawn to her depiction of non-English-speaking migrants as problem citizens.
The imagery of insular ethnic groups clustering in suburbs affirms the frequently pedalled notion that Australia is facing an integration crisis and that the government needs to step in to protect the integrity of the nation by making citizens culturally alike.
However, there are a variety of reasons why these depictions of immigrants are unfounded and why associated policies of linguistic homogenisation are misplaced.
First, there is no integration crisis to speak of in the seat of Bruce or in the whole of Melbourne that is attributable to English language deficiencies. Immigrants can be geographically concentrated, and many first-generation members lack the English fluency associated with a native speaker, but it is sensationalist to depict this as ethnic segregation.
Overwhelmingly, immigrants seek to conform to official national languages, as their economic and social success in a new country depends on doing so. These incentives, coupled with the powerful socialising environment of schools, mean the children of immigrants acquire native speaker proficiency of English, despite often continuing to speak their parents' tongue at home.
Second, the use of one's natal language as a primary mode of communication is not a choice first-generation migrants make; it arises out of necessity. Achieving mastery over a new language requires huge effort. It is a feat that most adults fail to achieve in their lifetimes, even when they passionately devote themselves to the task.
Language proficiency is even further beyond the grasp of migrants when they are economically disadvantaged and educationally underprivileged. Their efforts will be directed towards meeting subsistence needs, often through work in poorly paid and menial professions. This leaves them without time or money to invest in learning a new language.
For these reasons, it is oppressive and impractical to compel everyone to make English their first language. This advanced level of language proficiency cannot be induced on demand or by governmental decree.
Any assumption to the contrary brings one into dangerous territory. A government that dictated what language people should speak in their homes, among friends and relatives, at their places of worship, in their local neighbourhoods, and in their spheres of relaxation would be totalitarian.
Finally, bi or multi-lingualism is not a liability. It is an asset both to individuals and states. Far from being suspicious of it, governments should seize and promote it. In today's world, human organisation and activity involving trade, finance, science, technological development, art, politics and law is not simply confined to nation-states. It is also global in scope.
Under these conditions of global interconnectedness, a multilingual population will be better placed to take advantage of benefits.
Given this, a government that discourages linguistic pluralism in favour of linguistic conformity is not only anachronistic, it is doing its citizens and the national interest a disservice.
George Vasilev is a lecturer in Politics at La Trobe University and author of Solidarity across Divides.