One more piece on the Pacific

I had a piece published at Online Opinion today which deals with one more aspect relating to my recent visit to Nauru.

Two weeks ago I attended a hearing of the Parliament’s Migration Committee which heard clear evidence that Australian businesses in many areas are still finding it difficult to find available workers, for unskilled as well as skilled and semi-skilled work. This situation not only inhibits earnings for those businesses, it costs all Australians by keeping economic activity and earnings below capacity.

A week later, I was in Nauru looking over newly renovated facilities, funded by the Australian taxpayer, to house refugees recently removed from Australian territory by our government.

Many hundreds of refugees – most of them from Afghanistan and Iraq – were sent to Nauru by Australia in 2001, and after tens of millions dollars spent by the Australian government over four or five years trying to create the false impression these people were undesirables who should be kept out, they were acknowledged to be refugees and brought back to Australia.

Many of them immediately started working in jobs, such as in the meatworks and agricultural industries, in states all over Australia – the same type of jobs I keep being told we can’t find enough workers for.

You can read the rest of the article at Online Opinion by clicking here.

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  1. As a matter of interest, has the esteemed Senator visited any refugee camps in other parts of the world (apart from Nauru), such as Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, etc ? If so, what were the Senator’s impressions ? What were the Senator’s impressions of living conditions in the camps, of UNHCR administration of the camps, of UNHCR processing of asylum claims, of resettlement opportunities for families, of the mental condition of asylum seekers in the camps, etc ?

  2. Franklin, that is none of our business quite frankly as the people in them are under the protection of the UNHCR. One thing I can tell you though, the people are not in jails for up to 7 years without trial or charge.

    Now we have the great news that 120 of those trapped on Lombok for the last 6 years while their families have been in Australia are finally coming here.

    By law we have not one obligation to any refugee in any overseas camp – we have an absolute obligation to hear the claims of anyone at all who arrives here.

  3. I still think I would rather have my freedom on a Pacific island, being fed and clothed free of charge, than be stuck in Sri Lanka or Africa being pursued by barbarians wielding machetes.

    One advantage of bringing in refugees rather than people on visas (working holidays) is that they are less likely to break someone’s heart when they return to their homeland.

    Yes, someone in my family has had personal experience of that one too.

  4. OK Coral off to Nauru with guards 24/7 and wire all around with nothing to do all day for 5 years.

    Then get back to us.

  5. As a non-asylum seeker non-refugee detainee I finally welcome my chance to speak directly to the Australian people with regards to Immigration matters notwithstanding the fact that it is in the context of Naru.

    I have been in detention for over a year now. for the record, i was convicted of non-violent offences for which I was sentenced to over one year. I am a first time offender. My child and job are here and I cannot understand a policy that refused to give me a second chance yet has rewarded repeat offenders with numerous warnings.

    I am now in detention without a criminal charge to justify such circumstances. For those of you who say “that’s the law”, remember it was the “law” that justified the detention of David Hicks for 5 years before he was finally given (some allege) his day in court. Australians complained furiously for this man to be released from such conditions yet nairy a word was saidd in teh news for people detained in Australia under similar circumstances. No detention in Australia is not as bad as how it seems in Cuba but that is not the point. Detention in whatever form without a criminal justification is abhorrent to human diginty and should end. Some of us in detention are not fleeing oppression and if the indignation towards a policy that locks people up for the crime of not having a visa iss to be roudly criticised, then I would hope that many of you in the community would support all of us not just a few.

    Right now 20 Baxter detainees are costing the taxpayer $30,000,000 a year. That is $1,500,000 per person. it is cheaper to house us at the Hilton. Villawood and other detention centres (we were told) were unsuitable for us as they are considered ‘transit’ centres.

    People are wasting away in here and the media ahave been at best negligent in covering this topic. the ccontinued support of the community is appreciated. Please keep up the pressure

  6. OK Marilyn, off to Africa or Sri Lanka, and remember to keep ducking the machetes.

    You may not get back to us.

  7. Andrew, I fundamentally disagree with your views on immigration and multiculturalism. Yet, I concur that Australia has an obligation to Iraqi refugees considering our nation’s involvement in that conflict.

    In particular, Iraq’s Christian community is facing extreme persecution. Up to 50% of them may have already fled the country.

    Unlike their Muslim counterparts, Arab Christians in Australia have a successful track record in terms of integration (note: I am aware of your aversion to integration or even the preservation of Australia’s predominately Anglo-Celtic/European culture). Based on this, I’m sure Iraqi Christian refugees would therefore be welcome by the majority of Australians.

    Have the Democrats raised this issue?

  8. Thanks Ralph. I have raised the issue of our obligation to Iraqi refugees (an obligation we had before the invasion for those who werein our country, but arguably an even greater one now). This includes Christian refugees and also Sabian Mandaens who I understand are copping it very badly at the moment also.

    I see no reason why supporting this has be a reason to cast slurs on Muslims though. Muslims (Arab and otherwise) have been resident in Australia for at least 150 years – I don’t agree there is or has been a general problem with integration.

    I also don’t know why you’d think I’m averse to integration – I have often written about the importance of supporting effective integration, which means giving strong support to multiculturalism. I’m also curious that you could imply that “Anglo-Celtic/European” could somehow describe a single culture.

  9. Has Senator Bartlett visited refugee camps in other parts of the world (apart from Nauru), such as Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, etc ? If so, what were the Senator’s impressions ?

  10. I have visited places where refugees were living in Indonesia awaiting resettlement, and been to refugee hostels and migrant detention centres in Europe, but I have not travelled to Africa or the Middle East (although have read plenty of reports by the UNHCR and others about some of them)

    I wouldn’t call Nauru a refugee camp in the same sense of the ones in places such as Africa, though. Nauru holds refugees who have been removed from a wealthy country which is perfectly able to accomodate, process and handle them, and who is a signatory to the Refugee Convention (i.e. Australia). Refugee camps in places such as Africa usually hold people who have fled from their homeland and are stuck in poor country – usually not a signatory to the Refugee Convention – awaiting resettlement, return or other options.

    Resettlement is something Australia does relatively well at, but unfortunately we simultaneously undermine efforts to strengthen and expand resettlement oportunities globally by our policy of pushing back, warehousing or diverting refugees and our deliberate breaching of thge Refugee Convention.

  11. Andrew, thanks for the feedback. In this day and age, it is rare to encounter a politician who is actually prepared to chat with us lowly commoners. If only Howard or Rudd took the time to respond in such a forum.

    Back on topic, I’m not implying the existence of a single “Anglo-Celtic/European” culture, although there are obviously many strong commonalities linking the various cultures of Europe and European-derived nations like Australia. My point was that Australian culture is primarily Anglo-Celtic/European in origin.

    As for Muslims, they may have been present in Australia for 150 years, but only in relatively tiny numbers. The real challenge is if/when the Muslim population reaches critical mass. History has demonstrated that culturally disparate minorities within a nation-state become increasingly intractable as their numbers increase. It’s all about the demographic balance.

    Lastly, I’m glad you support integration. However, integration and multiculturalism are mutually exclusive. Multiculturalism is ethno-cultural apartheid with lip gloss. The end result is a fragmented society of disparate tribes. I see no moral imperative for Australia’s Western culture and traditions to be displaced and marginalised in favour of tribalism.

  12. Thanks Ralph

    I disagree with your view that “integration and multiculturalism are mutually exclusive.” In my view, effective multiculturalism is the glue that makes integration work. Without it, you are just papering over cracks/differences and hoping it holds together. With it, you not only get genuine integration, you get maximum value out of the diversity of abilities, perspectives and experiences which people bring to our country.

    I don’t think it is correct to make the blanket assertion that “history has demonstrated that culturally disparate minorities within a nation-state become increasingly intractable as their numbers increase”. Having said that, I don’t suggest we blithely ignore the potential impact of demographic trends.

    In regards to Muslims, their total numbers are still very small (from memory, I think there are more Buddhists in Australia but that is also a small percentage). Islam is probably the fastest growing religion in Australia, albeit off a very low base (apart from the growing numbers of people of no religion at all, which is much greater in total number and in total growth) Not that it would worry me if many more Australians decided to be Muslim – the “Muslim population” in Australia consists of people from a wide range of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, so I thinking talking of them as if they were one single group in such a context is rather misleading. The one thing that would bind them together more strongly would be if they share the experience of being continually and unfairly attacked publicly solely on the basis of their religion.

  13. Andrew, how exactly does one glue together a society by emphasizing difference?

    Multiculturalism is inherently divisive as it rejects the cultural unity of Australian society in favour of a hodgepodge of disparate communities and identities. By depriving our citzenry of a shared culture, heritage and identity, multiculturalism has effectively devalued Australian citizenship.

    National majorities have a right to preserve their own culture, values and heritage. They have a right to define the qualifications for membership in and even admission to their societies. It is the key to preserving a unified national identity. In three decades, multiculturalism has marginalized Australian national culture and returned us to tribalism.

    As a young Australian, I don’t even know what it means to be Australian anymore. In former times it implied a shared cultural identity and invoked sentiments of attachment to and affection for our nation’s heritage, traditions and people. But now it seems like nothing more than an easily obtained passport. If that is the case, I’m better off applying for repatriation to my grandparents’ country of origin. Sure the language is difficult, but at least then I’d have a passport allowing me to work in the EU.

    Speaking of Europe, has the Senator read a recent report by UK-based think tank Civitas? In its paper entitled “A Nation of Immigrants?”, Civitas warned that current immigration trends could lead to the social and political fragmentation of Britain and that it may have reached a “tipping point” beyond which it could no longer be seen as a single nation. Is this desirable for Australia also?

    Note, most of the UK’s immigrants are coming from Eastern Europe, namely Poland. Our immigrants are far more ethnically and culturally disparate. Plus, Australia has a higher per capita immigration rate than the UK. According to, Australia’s real immigration numbers will approach 300,000 next financial year!

  14. Ralph

    You’re right that we have a far more ethnically and culturally disparate migrant intake than the UK (as well as larger overall per capita). Despite that, we have done far better at maintaining social cohesion – in my view larger because we worked with reality by adopting an overt policy multiculturalism, rather than just expecting everyone to ‘fit in’ to a ‘reality’ that was as much imagined as real, which the Brits and others like the French did.

    If you want mono-culturalism, I fear you’re at least 50 years too late. Ever since the government realised there weren’t enough English speaking white people to meet our migration needs, and starting taking in waves of other European people – mostly skilled refugees – we’ve had a reality of a culturally diverse country. Not a bad thing in my view – it’s like a diverse economy and a diverse ecology – as long as you keep it well balanced, diversity is much more healthy and dynamic.

    As for Crikey’s number of 300 000 migrants, it all depends on which categories you count. Formal migration in the traditional sense of permanent settlers is less than that, but it you count people receiving visas that give them long-term residency rights, it’s closer to 500 000 last year (and will be well over that this year).

    Anyway, I think I’ll do a separate post on migrant intake, rather than respond much more here, as it really merits a wider debate than the topic of this post.

  15. It is most regrettable that Senator Bartlett has not visited refugee camps in Africa, Asia, the Middle East. A central theme of the asylum seeker debate was that asylum seekers with thousands and thousands of dollars for payment to people smugglers were greatly reducing the number of resettlement places available for more destitute and needy refugees in UNHCR camps. Perhaps Senator Bartlett could have more thoroughly investigated this aspect of the asylum seeker debate by visiting the camps and looking into the eyes of the men, women and children who missed out on the chance of resettlement and explaining his viewpoint to them, after all they were the ones whose futures were most directly affected by asylum shopping and people smuggling.

  16. You’re right on one count Franklin: there are a large number of needy refugees around the world.

    But you’re wrong on one more important count: those refugees who have arrived in our waters by boat and we allow in (after an extensive stay locked up) do not “take the place” of anyone in Africa or elsewhere. There is no set limit to the number of refugees Australia will admit.

  17. I am afraid you are mistaken Franklin. There is no connection between the conditions in refugee camps in Africa or anywhere else and how Australia handles asylum seekers and refugees who are in Australia.

    The current Australian government may have implemented an administrative arrangement whereby they withhold a place from an offshore camp for every refugee that is recognised on Australian soil, but that is an artifice implemented by the Coalition government for political purposes.

    There might at least be some honesty behind the artifice if the Australian government actually chose its offshore refugee intake from those who are in the most need according to a set criteria – such as in most danger, most atrocious conditions, or have waited the longest – but they do not. They do occasionally say they choose those in greatest in need, but it is simply a lie.

    It is the Australian government’s deliberate pitting of one group of refugees against another which makes those people miss out on a place. If you are genuinely concerned about them, as opposed to just adopting their dishonest political posturing, I trust you will join my in publicly venting your anger at the government for the desparate lives they consciously and knowingly destroy for their own short-term political gain.

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