A LITTLE while ago, in a comment on PNG Attitude, I mentioned the Labor politician Arthur Calwell and the Australian post-World War II migration program. As I was a child migrant, the program has particular resonance for me.
Then Peter Kranz pulled me up when he pointed out Calwell’s support of the White Australia policy.
Indeed my fellow migrants and I were all white, originating either in the United Kingdom or Europe.
However, if you look beyond the racism, it was indisputable that the program heralded a period of prolonged economic growth and prosperity in Australia that lasted well into the 1980s. At the same time it also enriched Australian culture.
Towards the end of that period Australia was providing refuge to thousands of Vietnamese who arrived by boat after the disastrous war in their country.
Those refugees also added to the ethnic mix and impacted our economy in a positive way. Their arrival also heralded the true beginning of multiculturalism.
If you look further back in Australia’s history you can see similar migration events that preceded periods of economic prosperity.
Because of the ‘open’ Australian immigration policy, personal wealth and income in Australia was five times greater than anywhere else in the world between 1860 and 1880. Many of the migrants who helped achieve that enviable situation were Chinese.
Then open immigration was effectively closed down by the White Australia Policy. What followed was a period in the economic and social doldrums culminating in the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In his recent book, Australia’s Second Chance: What Our History Tells Us About Our Future, George Megalogenis argues that it wasn’t resources booms that heralded periods of prosperity in Australia but booms in human capital.
If you believe Megalogenis, our attitude to asylum seekers is actually working against us.
We would be far better off embracing as many refugees as possible and helping them settle here no matter how they arrive.
Strong migrant flows and economic growth are inexplicably linked. Contrary to popular belief, migration underpins growth in housing construction, service industries and innovation technologies leading to lower unemployment and wages growth. Patchy and unsustainable resource booms are unable to do this in the long term.
Our xenophobic politicians don’t seem to be able to see this. Instead they have a cruel and inhumane attitude to what they call ‘illegal’ migrants.
Common sense tells you that anyone who has the courage to flee a repressive and corrupt regime and journey in a leaky boat to Australia would be very likely to embrace our country and work as hard as possible to fit in by becoming industrious and productive. And, by and large, those few that do make it here do exactly like that.
The specious arguments about stopping the boats and preventing drownings at sea just don’t stack up. Neither does the rhetoric about ‘evil’ people smugglers.
Most of the ‘evil’ smugglers are simply poor Indonesian fishermen taking the opportunity to make a few bucks by ferrying people to our shores. The ‘evil’ people are the public officials who turn a blind eye and the criminals who organise the trips.
It is a highly disorganised trade. A bit of pressure on Indonesia by an immigration minister with a focus on effective policing, some on-shore processing in Indonesia and a mutually agreed boat turn back arrangement would fix the problem in a much more efficient and humane way.
Australia is not doing itself a favour by its xenophobic attitude. If it embraced asylum seekers and migrants it might discover how useful they could be.
And Papua New Guinea, dragged into the equation by its greedy prime minister, has also acted against its own interests.
Many of the asylum seekers are educated people. They could be a real asset in a country where competent, professional expertise is in short supply.
If Papua New Guinea had managed to get its act together and had processed the asylum seekers quickly and provided them with safe and secure resettlement it would now be reaping the benefits.
The few bad apples could have easily been weeded out. Why would a terrorist want to live in Papua New Guinea anyway?
The country has enough of its own ‘terrorists’ in the Haus Tambaran.