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Migration in Australia: What Are We So Afraid Of?

Lawyer, researcher, writer and social activist, working alongside many Australian and international non-profit third sector society orgs.

We used to invite, now we torture??

We used to invite, now we torture??

Laid-back or Apathetic?

Something odd has recently been brewing in the waters on our island nation. Whatever kool-aid our Parliamentarians have been drinking is starting to show symptoms of decisive moral abandonment, harsh cruelty, and an erosion of the core values Australia claims to represent.

No longer does the international landscape view us as those quirky people from Down Under, riding in kangaroo pouches to get to school or donning our infamous bungee smugglers as we parade around our lengthy coastlines with non-existent beach-bod inhibitions. Our reputation as "that" country which epitomizes mateship, offers "a fair go" to all and more than simply surviving the slings and arrows of multiculturalism, but thriving off it is what we have been known for in past times. Not long ago we sat atop "comrade mountain," leading the way as a shining example of how to embrace people’s differences as a nation, instead of letting differences divide the masses.

Figures have changed and grown since the last nationwide data rollout of the 2011 Census of Population and Housing (collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics; ABS). However, even then it illustrated that nearly a quarter of all Australian’s were born overseas and over a third (43%) of Australian’s had one overseas-born parent, a large portion of which was comprised of Indigenous and Torres Straight Islander natives.

In the past, the overall laid-back Aussie attitude was credited towards this tolerant approach of multiculturalism, yet it is that same passive attitude that is ruining our cultural identity presently. This isn’t to say that we haven’t had our own distinctive issues associated with waves of mass migration—the White Australia Policy of the 1900’s comes to mind—but every nation has its own unavoidable growing pains when dealing with friction caused by homogenization of people. What’s upsetting is that for the most part, we’ve welcomed foreigners into our lands and, as a nation, have widely benefited in many ways by doing so. So now why are we easily willing to throw it all away?

First Wave

British immigrant settlers constituted the first mass wave of Australian migration following the First Fleet’s arrival, spurring on the Gold Rush of the 1850’s. Australian history clearly shows this period as a defining era that altered Australia’s economic landscape, thrusting it into financial independence from our British colonisers as we prepared for assimilation into the Industrial Age. Due to lucrative financial potential, more foreign interest towards Australia stirred. Soon, the Chinese and Afghan camel traders caught wind of the potential monetary value found in trawling the bush-desert, digging rocks, and panning gold, resulting in further foreign entry into the domestic soil of Australia’s young contemporary society.

As previously mentioned, our 1901 White Australia policy was created to counter to this wave of immigration, birthed out of public fear that the brown and yellow people would erode our predominantly white European national identity. The traditional owners of the land didn’t mind this much; probably because they’ve already had to deal with the burdens of their own culture becoming marginalized—hindsight is 20/20.


Second Wave

Post WWII triggered the second wave of migration which mainly consisted of people with Eastern European origins—you know, "wogs." Again, as a whole Australia profited remarkably from acceptance of this group and illustrated that by repealing the White Australia Policy at this time to encourage further free-flowing human movement. These Eastern Europeans contributed to widespread infrastructure and construction efforts across Australia, some of our most famous landmarks to this day *insert Sydney Opera House here* were built off the backs of Eastern European labour.

The national economic stimulus of these people’s small business enterprises continues to pump significant financial contributions into the pockets of public administration, while adding lively and much needed colour and spice into urbanized areas surrounding all our major cities and regionally.

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Third Wave

Again in the 1970s, off the bat of the Vietnam War, Australia received its third wave, primarily consisting of Vietnamese and Cambodian boat arrivals fleeing military destruction and sectarian persecution. Fast-forward a few decades and again the Australian public benefits from the flow-on effects of accepting such people to our regional continent. This wave didn’t come without it’s trouble either though. Xenophobic commentary, as usual, followed Australian sentiment’s adjustment period to these new arrivals and politically charged the "Yellow Fever" conundrum, which took hold and is now taught as a defining example of Australian racism within our political history. After some time passed, the public majority eventually came around and beat the fear.

One cannot even walk down a street in inner Sydney without going past at least three Vietnamese roll shops, or one of the other restaurants along the sidewalks being either Chinese, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese or Pakistani in orientation. When asked to describe "Australian food," one cannot respond with a straight answer, "snags" is perhaps the best we could muster. Economically, aside from raw minerals, gas and coal, international education services is the only non-mining related import and export in the top five Australian international markets. The sheer amount of capital, brought into Australia’s economy from Asian students in our tertiary education institutions is staggering.


Fourth Wave

The fourth wave in the 1990s has ushered in many people of Islamic descent and Middle Eastern origin as a result of mass displacement and war-torn strife in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and other war-affected MENA regions. Our Parliament has capitalised on the pre-existing fear-based sentiments regarding "others" encroaching on our way of life, the same which we as a nation have weathered throughout almost a century. Australia’s tightening border controls and complete centralisation of authority regarding security, policing, and immigration have now resulted in arguably one of the most landscape-altering political moves in the recent history. On 18th July, the Australian Government announced the consolidation of ASIO (Australian Securities and Investigations Office), Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force, and the entire Immigration Department portfolio into one new "super portfolio" model, based off the homeland security structures of the U.K. Home Office.

Such a turn of the tide, of political ideological strong-arming as to actually create a super-portfolio that allows a very small amount of people to decidedly disturb and deter natural, legal movement of Muslim migrants, is a complete 180 degree turnaround of normal Australian practice that has been observed for our entire contemporary history. There is a very obvious schism between our country’s previous historical ability to adapt to mass migration and our current political trumpeting of "national security" as a means to unravel over a century of effort and assimilation.

One of Two Paths

There has always been an underlying sense of fear accompanying waves of migration, capitalized and exploited by those who many have bureaucratically benefited from it, but it had never stuck around for too long, nor had it managed to wriggle its way too deeply into our legal administrative systems and processes. Why then, in the past two decades, has there been a complete deterioration of Australian values when it comes to immigration with no factual basis?

Policies and legal alterations were made by the governments of the day all the time to take into account public representation and the need to regulate such an activity, but to drastically alter our entire administrative process and Parliamentary system based off something that has happened multiple times in our contemporary history, which we as a public have managed to adjust to adequately, is a considerable overreach.

Migration is not new news, people have come by boat for over 100 years, there have been the odd threats and there have been extensive advantages to our society by accepting and tolerating those that have come to our lands, for one reason or another. But to use this naturally-occurring, subjective phenomenon for political ends at the peril of human life is a blatant governmental manipulation and a skewing of our history itself.

How we the public respond to this bizarre behaviour by our Parliamentarians in the near future, will no doubt set us down one of two paths for who knows how long. We'll either continue down the path of respect for human liberties and benefit via our time’s tolerance, acceptance and compassion or we're going to end up with an Australian Home Office, which furthers the agenda of a few only by systematic exploitation and victimisation of the vulnerable, using public manipulation to get there. This move has the ability to set a benchmark for engaging in all sorts of treacherous activity, as is readily seen in other nations, because those with the power know and bet on the Australian public being too passive and too easily caved in by fear to really do anything about it.

The Conversation

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