The asylum seeker debate is causing a lot of political and media flurry at the moment. In one way that’s good, because it’s an important and complex issue with some crucial principles at stake. But for years I have found it frustrating that an excessive focus on a very small number of people arriving here in boats takes up so much attention, while there is so little debate about the wider migration system.
Migration not only involves hundreds of thousands of people arriving in Australia each year, as well as quite a few Australians leaving. How we manage those many short and long term settlers and what processes we use to determine the make up of those migrants have a huge impact on the future of Australia in a way that few other issues do. Yet we spend so little time debating those matters, while getting into a lather over the tiny proportion who arrive in boats – despite ample evidence which shows the vast majority of such people make good contributions to Australia.
Next week I’ll be at two conferences which will hopefully enable some of these issues to be given some of the extra thought and attention they merit. In Brisbane, the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland (ECCQ) are holding a two day summit on multiculturalism, present and future. I do some work for ECCQ and will be participating in a few of the sessions. Straight after that, I’ll be heading to Shepparton in Victoria to attend the national conference of FECCA – the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia.
I am only stating that issues relating to migration and multiculturalism merit a lot more attention that they get, not that people shouldn’t be talking about the asylum seeker issue. I could hardly complain about that, given how often I’ve written on the topic myself. I wrote a couple more this week – an article for Crikey’s daily e-news, plus a blog post extending on it.
In other writing, I’ve been given the chance to write for a new website called Asian Correspondent which has just been launched. It’s still in trial mode to some extent, but it features writers and bloggers from a range of countries in the south-east Asian region. I’ve been interested in the impact of blogging on the politics and debates in other countries in our region for some time, as it seems to me to have much more of a direct impact than bloggers in Australia tend to. I wrote previously about the impact they may have had on the significant result at the last Malaysian election, which included the election of Jeff Ooi, who was well known as a blogger (and who is also now writing on Asian Correspondent.
We’ll have to see how it goes, but increasing debate across national borders about issues in the many different countries in our region would be a good thing. We’re all still very insular in our approach in many ways, and certainly Australians in general don’t focus much on what’s happening in the countries in our near neighbourhood. When we do look to what’s happening outside our borders, we still tend to stick predominantly to what’s sometimes called the Anglosphere.
There are issues where we do need better understandings and cooperation across national boundaries – and not just with asylum seekers! Climate change is another obvious one, and I’ve made that a topic of one my initial posts, along with another about the new Indonesia Foreign Minister, who among other things gained a PhD from the Australian National University. (In the interests of full disclosure, I suppose I should note that I do research work for ANU too)
Another long-time blogger from Brisbane, John Quiggin, is also writing some pieces for the Asian Correspondent website. I’ll be interested to see if his insights on climate change and economic issues such as trade and development will draw attention from further afield.