Wednesday, July 25, 2012


This long winded tirade is in response to one of Dina’s posts, and the comments some of her readers made.

Most of our ‘non-legal’ detainees are visa over-stayers, whereas most of the people arriving on boats are legally entitled to seek asylum.

So WHY is the vilification of asylum seekers such a vote taker? Perhaps the answer lies in white Australia's history - we have a long tradition of fearing invasion. Our coastline is huge and impossible to protect.

Shou'd foreign foe e'er sight our coast,
Or dare a foot to land,
We'll rouse to arms like sires of yore
To guard our native strand;
Britannia then shall surely know,
Beyond wide ocean's roll,
Her sons in fair Australia's land
Still keep an English soul.
In joyful strains then let us sing
"Advance Australia fair!"

During the Crimean war [1850s] we pointed cannons from cliff tops just in case the Russians were coming. After the European upheavals in 1848 we were scared of reds. During WW I we were terrified the Germans would swim across from New Guinea. The Japanese nearly succeeded in reaching us during WWII.

We've been terrified from gold rush days of the 'yellow hordes' of Chinese who might flood the country.

I suspect Howard's statement in 2001 that We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” tapped into something much more than a fear of extremist forms of Islam.


No matter how ashamed we might be or should be of the White Australia Policy it has been, for current generations of anglo/celtic/australians, a blessing. As the White Australia Policy was progressively dismantled, we were able to control the numbers – and the fundamental values – of people who have immigrated. 
This control, in turn, has given us the luxury of time to wait for each wave of non-Anglos to settle, to change a few things and, without changing us too much, become Australianised.

It is perfectly logical and natural for people of different cultural groups to congregate together when they first move to a new country. Everyone needs to converse in their first language occasionally, simply because they cannot discuss anything complex or important without the words to do so. 
Typically, waves of immigrants to Australia have moved into lower socio-economic areas, built their own communities, or helped each other save and establish themselves financially. They have done it because they had hope and opportunity which in turn fed their ambitions to eventually move to new neighbourhoods and make way for the next wave of immigrants.

This is no longer happening. We are no longer enjoying a long stretch of over-full employment. We are no longer living in an economy which can benefit from a glut of manual labour. We are no longer living in an economy that can realistically compete in manufacturing, in the long term. Unemployment is a reality for too many Australians and the concept of structural adjustment in industry no longer relevant. Too many workers have good reason to feel insecure about the future.

Increasing the rate of immigration once made sense but that rate is no longer sustainable. Immigrants were once 'useful' not just because they generated growth and provided a bigger and more concentrated internal market, but they made a huge contribution to infrastructure. Because technology and world politics are changing rapidly, immigrants are no longer able to contribute to infrastructure in the same way as they once did but are, instead, adding to the strain on what infrastructure we do have.

As our rate of growth and our prospects for future growth diminish, social support payments are being reeled in to the point where once productive people are suffering. These two forces combined will push us towards negative growth, putting us at risk of depression rather than recession. 
Not only can we afford less social supports as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement and contributes less taxes, we have also learned from the experiences of other countries that welfare dependence can be transgenerational and, in the long run, creates a lumpenproletariat and great social instability.

What we are currently seeing is a wave of immigrants who have few prospects of improving their financial position in the future, and little incentive to work at integration. 
Their own cultural values combined with their life experiences are such that there is a bigger step required for integration. Integration can no longer be expected within one or two generations. Where once a wave of immigrants settled only temporarily in neighbourhoods for community, we are now seeing waves of immigrants create cultural ghettos for themselves. Where once immigrants required minimal or short term financial support, they are now a long term drain on social support payments, and at risk of creating even more transgenerational welfare dependence.


Increasing or even attempting to maintain the rate of immigration given our current economic circumstances is crazy. We need to balance this craziness against a moral obligation to accept our share of the world’s displaced persons.

Let me go out on a limb here and make some sweeping assumptions on behalf of “my fellow Australians”:
  • most Australians are decent and compassionate people who don’t give a rats about somebody’s colour or even religion so long as they are not extremists.
  • some people smugglers are simply arranging boats so they can climb on one themselves;
  • people don’t risk their lives on leaky boats without a bloody good reason;
  • nobody wants to see kids or anyone else drown in incidents like the Christmas Island disaster.

Having made those outrages assumptions, I must also insist:
  • some people smugglers ARE exploiting human misery for their own gain;
  • sometimes the bloody good reason people get on leaky boats does not warrant a reward;
  • there may not be queues on every corner of every foreign country, but some people ARE queue jumpers;

And here’s the rub: Our governments are spending ridiculous and disproportionate amounts tapping into our history of xenophobia and promoting asylum seeker hysteria.

We are no longer living in those early formative years of the UN when we first agreed we needed to prevent future wars and make provisions for refugees. We are now often hypocritical when choosing which of our UN obligations will have priority.

Our obligations to refugees are becoming increasingly onerous and complex mainly because our own legislation is becoming increasingly ludicrous. Taking our share of refugees is no longer about providing reasonable levels of food, shelter, security and hope, it is a game in which our governments are happy to set asylum seekers up as a class receiving better support than that available to the average Australian citizen.

The living conditions we provide DO exceed a level of charity nobody should take for granted. The legal rights to appeal go on and on and on and cost an unjustifiable bucket. Every time a policy changes we blow another couple of billion dollars building new facilities in a new location.

In those early years following WWII when we took in displaced persons, or when we promoted sponsored immigration in exchange for labour, people did not have to apply for and wait for refugee status… they already had visas and simply went to temporary centres until they could be usefully placed in the community.

We are now dealing with detention centres, not placement centres. 
Let’s be honest and call them prisons. 
The lengthy legal and investigative and appeal processes involved in applications for refugee status – designed to improve our treatment of people and show them more respect –are compounding the problem of hopelessness which is eating at these people. It is much the same sense of hopelessness that is eating at indigenous Australia
The living conditions are not the problem, but the no-point-in-hoping-to-start-living conditions.

We do not need to stop the boats because we hate people, and certainly not because we have an ounce of respect for the BS artists who live and work in Canberra. We need to stop them because we cannot afford to be swamped by asylum seekers. I do not want the standard of living in this country to go down the gurgler, partly because in the end not even asylum seekers will benefit, but mostly because I’m plain bloody selfish and honest enough to say so.

I’ve bored people enough in the past talking about the solutions, but for the purposes of this post I would like to say the following:

We could afford to help a heck of a lot more people, ourselves included, if we stopped the politics and got on with a bit of sensible, efficient planning. 


  1. Good post, but really depressing.
    Here's my analogy.

    It's like a happy middle class family with two kids. They have enough food and other resources, but things are slightly strained. I mean they have to pay careful attention to their budget.

    Then one of the parent's siblings is killed. These people had 5 kids. There's no one to take the kids. The happy middle class family now has 7 kids. They're no longer happy. They're squished because things are too crowded. They don't have enough food to feed everyone. They don't have enough money to go on any vacations anymore. They have to take the kids out of private school and put them in government schools.

    They have to move out of their house and get a smaller house in a much less nice neighborhood...that doesn't have good government schools.

    The cousins don't get along well.

    It's a mess.

    Life kind of sucks now. The happy family is no longer a happy family.

    But what could they do? Could they have refused to take in the other kids?

    As for infrastructure and all that. Aren't there skill shortages in Australia?

    It's hard for me to see why they can't match people with the jobs needed? I imagine they might need training. Is that too expensive?

    Maybe one of the problems is they're putting people in detention centres instead of putting them to work.

    Use them as cheap labor and call it an internship.

    1. Part One of the usual long-winded reply:

      It IS depressing, isn't it? Your analogy of the family describes the situation perfectly. Now for the solutions: without any intention of painting Iraqis, Iranis and others as a bunch of ignorant people, we first have to ask 'what skills do they have?' that we need. Before anything else, they need to have really good English, and to not be tied down looking after small children.

      After the fall of Saigon, when Malcolm Fraser took in thousands of Vietnamese, two classes of people came to Australia. The first would be middle to upper class - people with money and/or professional qualifications. Lawyers were lost before they started. As a former French colony, Vietnamese law was built on the Napoleonic code which is utterly irrelevant here. Doctors and other professionals who could be retrained first had to get a good grasp of English - the higher the qualification the more important the level of English proficiency. Many of these people focused on their kids and earned their money using what I describe as 'portable skills'. House painting might be a good example but, for the most part, people killed themselves doing piece work at home on sewing machines - something that has been a way out for people all over the world for more than a hundred years. A lot of Vietnamese bought bread shops because there is no legal requirement for training to bake bread just to sell it, and because with some fierce price-cutting they were able to find a niche market. Two guys built me a fantastic new kitchen I could transport to the country and assemble myself. All they needed was skill and an exceptional attitude to customer service.
      Many Vietnamese of both professional and labouring classes were employed in the manufacturing industry.

      These jobs no longer exist for a number of reasons. Firstly, Over-regulation. Employers will no longer train people, and you need a certificate these days to clean anything from an office block to a nursing home bed.
      Secondly, the decline of manufacturing. Some industries have been heavily subsidised for decades e.g. the car industry. Labour is expensive here, and many industries have moved offshore. There are a couple of billion people in China and India who are very easy to exploit. [In America, so-called 'rednecks' make up exactly the class that has been on the scrapheap for years for this very reason.] Cane cutting, grape picking, and other labour intensive jobs have all been mechanised. The mining industry uses driverless trucks. Tunnels for freeways are dug by machine. These jobs and more are the jobs once filled by immigrants.

      A third reason is that Australia's governments have moved away from running a mixed economy to privatisation. An American firm runs our detention centres. Our armed forces are being supplied with equipment made overseas. There should be some room for manoeuvre here, but even if the suppliers were Australian, employment of any jobless person will still rely on private enterprise being as compassionate as you are. If only.

      A related issue - since we are talking about people with no portable skills earning social support payments - is getting Australia's own unemployed to work for the dole. Although it's an idea with merit, it is sold as a means of punishing dole bludgers. Once again, employers resent being asked to provide training or supervision, and the government won't pay for supervision either.

    2. Part two

      Training is a whole 'nother sore point. Universities [fed gov] are increasingly underfunded and dependent on research contracts for money and they are cutting staff everywhere [especially since we lost heaps of Indian students as customers]. As in the US, degrees are almost prohibitively expensive for anyone.

      TAFE colleges [state govs] fill the training gap between graduate professionals and those who are only part-trained [e.g. book-keeping as opposed to tax accounting], forklift driving, hospital bed cleaning etc. This year the Vic Gov made savage cuts to TAFE funding as well as cutting funding for kids to move from high-school to TAFE.

      It would be nice to be nice but the reality is government is already crapping on our own citizens and providing even more preferences to asylum seekers would only end in violence [not encouraged by me, of course].

      I agree that boredom is a major problem, but a bigger problem is that people need certainty. Two years in a detention centre not even knowing if you'll be granted citizenship must be hard to endure.
      For asylum seekers there is one certainty - if they make it to Oz more than 90% end up citizens, and they get more support than in most western countries.
      For visa-overstayers there is another certainty - if they have enough money and common sense they can fly in and blend in and are unlikely to be caught.

      Everything you describe would be brilliant, not just for asylum seekers but for those who are already citizens.

    3. Thank you for explaining all that.

      It does seem hopeless.

      The only thing I can think of is to make the detention centres like Israeli Kibbutzes. Kind of like a commune. Make people work for each other in the centres.

      I'm not sure if they'd be willing to do that....or if they'd have the skills to do that. I hope they'd have basic skills like cleaning and cooking.

      But would it be one of those things that are heavily regulated? Are you serious about people needing certificates to clean?

      I don't know.

      The world is nuts.

      That's all I can conclude.

    4. Dina, you are very kind to call all that an explanation. Sometimes when my fingers finish sounding off I fear I've been a patronising shrew. And still you come back!

      Cleaning, you would think, is a portable skill. There are people who will train you to use things like a floor polisher, but generally contracts to clean office blocks are family affairs, or subcontracted to families. If you 'know' somebody you would not need a certificate. [It's the cleaning equivalent of a family owned bread shop].

      But seriously, to clean a hospital bed - Yes.

      I confess we feed our dogs chicken wings for breakfast and because we use so many we can't afford to do the free range thing. I'm not a personal fan of chicken but if I was I wouldn't buy it from the shop where we get our chicken wings. The people serving don't hesitate to scratch their hair or whatever then use their bare hands to bag up the chicken wings. Last time, the woman serving me kept coughing all over them without even covering her mouth [tho' as she was using uncovered hands it wouldn't matter, I suppose].
      LEGALLY, the shop should lodge a 'food safety' plan with the local council. The person in charge should have a supervisor level food handling certificate, and the other people serving should have a basic food handling certificate or some record of training. People are supposed to know about when to wash their hands, using disposable gloves to handle food, and not handle cash until they throw away the gloves, etc etc. Of course, in practice it IS a joke, but the regulations are real.

      During the last great Depression John Maynard Keynes said the way to get things moving again would be to put people to work digging holes, and then pay them to fill the holes again. It was a way of saying governments should spend money to create jobs, or even go into debt temporarily to solve the depression. People who have jobs spend money which creates jobs for others.
      In the US that sort of Keynesian thinking would be economic heresy. [Just the same, the US is in debt up to its eyeballs, and the Fed Reserve is 'printing money'].
      Privatisation here is, I think, partly a [late] reaction against Keynesian theory. If there is no public service left, governments cannot simply make more public service jobs to create the same result as making jobs digging holes.

      What is really at the heart of it all is a question of how willing we are to share opportunities and with whom. Everyone needs water, food, shelter and meaningful employment. If the world wasn't so nuts maybe we would forget about efficiency and use all that labour to do things anyway. Old fashioned labour achieved some real miracles by today's standards.

      The Kibbutz/Commune movement in Israel was a smashing success when it started partly because a lot of young Jewish people from around the world would go for 6 or 12 months as volunteers, but mainly because it reflected an ideal and a lot of hope.

      Motivation always comes back to hope.

  2. Well worth the read. Btw, aren't some of our prisons and our detention centres run by G4S? It is a global company but has its roots in Denmark.

    1. TY.
      Just googled G4S and a quick glance suggested it seems to have a very complicated corporate structure and I could feel my eyes glazing over so I shut down the page. The last I heard - heaven knows when or where - the centres were run by a corp. with another name, but I don't doubt you are right. Broad sweeping statements are inexcusable but I have no self discipline.

  3. Hey a minor detail in the overall post. I thought G4S was English until I checked. It was Securancy or something like that in the past. It is doing a fine job with security at the Olympics, not.

    1. The name Securancy rings a bell.
      If the Olympics ever come to Melbourne again I'm taking off for a while.