By Callen Sorensen – Karklis
Australia: the said land of the fair go and mateship.
Australia has a strong history with links to multiculturalism and immigration and we are arguably defined by our rich diversity: our first Australians (our Indigenous peoples), the descendants of the Kanakas (Pacific Islanders), Japanese pearlers, Chinese gold miners, Eastern European post-war migrants as well as the British and other Western European peoples who came to reside in this country over the generations. All this possible despite the draconian ‘White Australia Policy’ in place in the first half of the 20th century.
If anything the ‘white man’s paradise’ mantra held Australia back during the nation’s early days. Protectionist policy and tariffs held us back from potential trade with Asia, an economic contributor was our agricultural exports to European interests. Australia’s GDP was at a growth rate of 3.4% annually from 1901 – 2000 and much of the times were dominated by a weakened economy, much of the time until the after the post-war period.
The Curtin/Chifley’s immigration plans and the weakening of the White Australia Policy sparked the beginning of our success in large economic scale construction in programs like the Snowy Mountain Scheme as well as expanded business in the community. If not for the continual acceptance of multiculturalism, the breaking down the White Australia Policy may not have occurred, as would the economic deregulatory reforms that benefited Australia. Overall, accepting more trade with our Asian neighbours and accepting refugees coming here to build upon our nation’s growing success has undoubtedly been to our economic benefit.
If not for the changes in Australian society, this country would no doubt be the ‘white trash’ of Asia. Strong words, yes. The era of compassionate treatment to refugees found in the community especially during the Whitlam and Fraser eras during the onslaught and aftermath of the Vietnam War saw the rise of a largely successful community of Vietnamese peoples in Australia. And they have now been accepted in the community and we are enriched because of it.
But where has this compassion of yesterday gone today? If we are the country of ‘fair go and mateship’ doesn’t this make us hypocritical on the issue of refugees? I’m sure that’s how the rest of the world sees us.
Sadly, our compassion faded into memory when Howard pushed the fears of the unknown too far on the electorate with the Tampa election in the aftermath of the 9/11; the rise of Hansonism; Tony Abbotts ‘Stop the Boats’ campaign (waged with the help of the raging populist right-wing of the conservatives); and yes, least of all sadly, the Labor Party who gave in to the consensus of saving seats come election time by caving into the right . . . ultimately leading to a kicked political football, deaths at sea, people locked indefinitely in detention (including children), disease, and abuse scandals.
As a progressive I admit we on this side of politics have let the fundamentalist populist right win the day on this issue. Why? Where has our voice gone? We caved into consensus and let the worst of humanity’s fears prevail. Seeking asylum is legally a human right. Many people who are refugees – no matter their circumstance – are coming here to help contribute to our nation because we are a land of opportunity. Who can blame people for wanting to come to the lucky country? The argument that refugees are just more dole bulgers here for a free hand out is just incoherent and ignorant. If anything, a culture needs to be encouraged for Australians and newly arrived immigrants alike to work on more civil works programs or incentives to help boost the business community. We need to encourage more say with our community peers, friends, families, church, sports, business, and political leaders on taking a moral stand here on issues such as this once more. People need to know that having refugees come here can be a good thing for us socially, culturally, and economically. Projects such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme need to be revisited for another grand scheme where it benefits Australia overall in the same such way that this scheme did after the Second World War.
It is a scary prospect indeed with a possible return of Pauline Hanson to the political fray as a likely senator in this year’s federal election in a months’ time thanks to Turnbull’s senate reforms which may benefit her preference count. Her return may just as well trigger a debate on issues such as refugees being illegitimate (in her view). Let’s not forget the lack of scope and quality to the Turnbull Government’s long-term planning on the issues such as refugees and climate change. Given that climate change, however, is a real issue and worsening in time rolls with rising sea levels and increasing temperatures – both which could render countless millions homeless forcing mass migration of grand proportions not seen before – this begs the question: “Is this really necessary to not help our fellow ‘man’ in such times?” When good men do nothing (to quote a famous saying), this is also a true evil in this world. We must ask ourselves why we allow people – our government – to do nothing about refugees, and about climate change.
Progressives need to take a stand and help guide this ‘wave’ of immigration to enjoy and build upon our country’s success. We have the resources and we have the potential; renewable technology, scientific advancement, new civil projects, a vast food bowl throughout regional Australia – all this could help helping usher a new golden era or we could allow xenophobia to keep its grip on us and see us fall behind and become intellectually and passionately a third class nation.
We stand together or not all for a better tomorrow.
About the author: Callen is a proud member of the ALP and an executive member of the QLD Fabians Society, and his local Crime Stoppers branch, he has strong connections to North Stradbroke Island as a Quandamooka Noonucle Indigenous person. Callen has worked for various unions, distributing, sales companies and market research briefly and has worked in retail for over 6 years. Callen is currently a university student.