Saturday, November 19, 2016

Mingoola, Dutton and immigration

My main post today, From Africa's Great Lakes to Mingoola's Field of Dreams, is a follow up post to a rather inspirational story from the ABC Australian Story program on the resettlement of refugees from Central Africa in the small Northern New England settlement of Mingoola.

The program came out on the Monday. The following Thursday, Andrew Bolt in combination with Immigration Minister Dutton took the immigration debate in another direction.

Thursday afternoon, the Melbourne Herald Sun carried a promo for  Mr Bolt's TV program that night. Under the heading " On my shows tonight - refugee crime and the great media meltdown", the paper stated:
On The Bolt Report on Sky at 7pm - The amazing Sudanese crime rate. Our refugee program puts us in danger yet again. My guests: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Rowan Dean, Graham Richardson and Bruce Hawker. And a round of the greatest media meltdowns of the week.
In the interview that night, Minister Dutton began by talking about Sudanese refugees, but then segued into refugees more generally. The transcript does not seem to be up on his website, so I quote the Channel Nine report:
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says Islamic youth radicalisation and Middle Eastern crime gangs are the price Australia has paid for "flawed" policies by Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s. 
Mr Dutton was speaking after the federal government announced an inquiry into the settlement of migrants and links between young people and ethnic crime groups.
He said many Australians citizens who had joined foreign terrorist organisations were the children or grandchildren admitted to this country by the former Liberal prime minister. 
"The reality is Malcolm Fraser did make mistakes in bringing some people in the 1970s and we’re seeing that today, " he told Sky News. 
"We need to be honest in having that discussion. There was a mistake made. "
Earlier he was asked whether young Sudanese men were behind a crime wave in Melbourne. Mr Dutton said it was an "open question" what proportion of the Sudanese community was involved.
Back in October 2007, Mr Andrews, Tamworth and Sudanese Refugees, I found myself in the unusual position of defending then Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews over his remarks on Sudanese refugees against attacks that he had been racist. As in this case, the trigger for Mr Andrew's remarks had been the Melbourne shock-jocks. Sadly, the official links have all vanished, but enough remains to show the argument. In both this and the previous Tamworth case (the Tamworth stories are linked in the later post) a key concern was the way the main stream media misreported, attaching the racism tag in a way that (among other things) misreported while damaging Australia's international reputation. In both cases, an underlying theme was Australia's failure to provide sufficient resources to support refugee resettlement programs.

The world has changed. Xenophobia, dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries,.has always existed in Australia, as in most countries. I have argued and would still argue that Australia has been better at managing it that most countries. However, Mr Dutton and others appear to be playing to xenophobia, using it to score immediate political point.

The Australian Prime Minister argues that strong border policies are important (among other reasons) because they provide the base for Australian acceptance of migration. I think that there is some truth in that. I sometimes wonder, and this would not be a popular view, whether or not the White Australia policy was in fact a necessary precondition for the emergence of modern pluralist Australia. However, by playing too fear, Minister Dutton is undercutting the very consensus on which modern Australia has been based, one that the PM seems to accept.

Both left and right argue, if sometimes for different reasons, that Australia should stop accepting migrants. They may phrase it in different ways, but the effect is much the same, the progressive emergence of a new anti-migration consensus.

By all means, let's have a conversation as Minister Dutton suggests, but let's make it a real conversation, a dialogue. I happen to support immigration, although I don't think cramming people into a small number of metros is particularly sensible. For those opposed to immigration, do you want to stop all immigration or just reduce it? If opposed to all immigration, would you allow some measure of family reunion? If you would allow some measure of immigration, how much and on what basis?

The refugee intake is a small part of the total migration program. Would you stop all refugees or allow some in? If so, what level and what criteria would you use to accept refugees? There are more options here than people realise. For example, at present the refugee intake is centrally controlled and delivered. What would happen if it became community and family based within broad criteria? Refugees would be accepted, but on the basis that somebody - group or community - took responsibility for their support. The role of the state would then diminish from control to supporting individual, group or community endeavour.

On existing programs, it is nine years since I wrote that post on Mr Andrews and the Sudanese refugees. Clearly, some problems still exist. What are they? What can we learn? What might we do about it?

In all this, I think that we have to be prepared to call people out, to make them explain. Minister Dutton should not be allowed to simply assert that Mr Fraser made mistakes and that we are paying a price now and that this somehow justifies current actions. There is probably little point in defending Mr Fraser and his policies. Better that Mr Dutton should be required to explain his position. What does he mean by mistake? How serious is the problem? What would he have done instead? How many children or grandchildren? Are the proportions different from other groups? What has been the cost to the community?

One may disagree with his answers, but if forced to respond then his thinking will be exposed to the clear light of public scrutiny. In a conversation, it is necessary to let the other side answer, to use questions to clarify their views. We may not like the clarification, but we will know and can then respond.

Meantime, it is still nice to have a Mingoola to inspire.

Mingoola Follow Up

A brief note on follow up reaction to the Mingoola story.

On Wednesday 30 November 2016, Matt Bedford (Armidale Express) reported on a visit to Armidale by Emmanuel Musoni for discussions with local refugee advocates about the possible placement of some of the 200 refugee families now seeking country placements as a consequence of Mingoola.

The following day in an opinion piece in the Express (Australian Story episode on Mingoola refugees strikes a chord), Donna Ward reported that Deputy PM and member for New England Barnaby Joyce had been inundated with calls from all over Australia seeking to replicate the model in other small, rural towns. "Seeing what the refugees have brought to the Mingoola community," Donna wrote, "the arrival of African families is something we (Northern Tablelands) would welcome with open arms."

Just under a week later on Tuesday 6 December, Tawar Razaghi reported on AbC New England North West that more regional refugee resettlements were likely, backed by Deputy Prime Minister. She reported:
The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) plans to roll out a similar program in the next 12 months, with Armidale, in northern New South Wales, flagged as an ideal town to host it. 
The voluntary program is being developed by the NFF along with the Migration Council. 
The Federation's Sarah McKinnon said the Northern Tablelands city had been identified for a number of reasons. 
"Areas where there's a lot of rural and regional opportunity and there's good infrastructures and services there," Ms McKinnon said. 
"In many of these towns there are already established refugee populations. 
"They're the kind of towns that we're looking to begin the pilot because we want to give it the best chance of success." 
Other towns considered by the NFF to successfully implement the pilot model are Wagga Wagga in New South Wales and Toowoomba in Queensland.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

Read your full story on the New England blog too. Indeed a wonderful story. I really don't have enough experience or knowledge to answer your big questions regarding immigration.

On one side of my family we are first fleeters, on the other side we are post WWI immigrants from the north of England, where my grandmother was the child of one of the many who was injured on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. She was born after her father had died. Also many other immigrants from England, Ireland, Scotland and Sri Lanka are tied in to my background.

I guess we are all immigrants in one way or another.

Focusing on the first part of your post, regarding allegations of crime and violence perpetrated by Sudanese refugees, I do remember a time when my friends and I were all considering which high school our children would do best at.

A friend with a daughter had a particular school in mind for her. She was concerned because that school had a history of sponsoring Sudanese refugees and she had been told that some of these girls had been brought up in such trying circumstances that they really had no recognition of how to conduct themselves in a safer place. She sent her daughter to that school, and to my knowledge, the behaviour of those girls was not a problem which presented.

In my own experience, I had the great privilege of mentoring a refugee from the South Sudan during his HSC year. I had heard about him (he was in the year above my son, though older in years) when my boy was in year 7. His family were all (apart from one brother) murdered and he saw it. I am sure he has some demons, but he is happy, smiley and appreciative of everything he has. He is extremely admired by his peers. Despite only about 5 years of formal schooling in a language not his own, he did well enough in the HSC to gain admittance to an American college.

He is a gifted basketball player. When I started asking him what he might do when basketball wasn't an option, and I was thinking coaching or mentoring younger players. But no, he told me that he wanted to get enough education and expertise to go back to the South Sudan and make a difference.

So still no answers, but some personal stories. Sorry it is so long.


Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, GL, for the compliment on the original Mindoola post. We all are, even in the Aborigines! I think that the stories are important and they make a point about the need to avoid universal statements or at least qualify them.

Anonymous said...

There has been a bit of clarification on this, whether satisfactory or not. Pauline Hansen comments. I'll leave it there.

Jim Belshaw said...

Morning, GL. Saw the clarifications.