Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Musings - UAI offers, Tamworth and refugees

I have noticed a real spike in traffic on this blog in the last few days. When I look at the details, this has come from two topics.

The first is people doing searches on topics relating to the NSW Higher School Certificate or the UAI. I think that this simply reflects the fact that first round offers for NSW and ACT universities will become available from 9 oclock tonight.

Based on news reports, there are 3,000 more places being offered this year, but 10,000 students who want to go to university will still miss out on Government funded places. That's a fair size number. So parents are worried. This includes us, since Helen has applied for a new course at a new university. She would have got in last year with her then UAI ranking. This year who knows.

Looking at the pattern of searches, parents obviously remain confused. One of the difficulties here appears to be that there is no single site that supplies all the information in simple terms that concerned parents need. Certainly I have found this. Given that youngest (Clare) is doing the HSC this year, maybe one thing that I should do later in the year is to put up some straight information material with supporting links written from a parent perspective.

On youngest, Clare is not well today, spending the entire day lying down on the coach.

Tamworth and refugees is the second traffic spike. Part of this has come from search engines, part from redirects from Ninglun's site, and especially from his Jim Belshaw on Tamworth story. I have watched this post climb up the most visited rankings on Neil's site, again reflecting interest.

The fact that Tamworth Council has changed directions has now been well reported. I will comment, but I am also forming the view that we are missing the real story.

I like to provide a different perspective. When I began reporting on Tamworth, I tried to draw out some of the issues from both a Tamworth and process perspective. Yes, I was critical, but I also tried to avoid stereotypes.

Out of all this has come my view that we are missing a most remarkable story.

The Australian Government has been saying for some time that Australia remains a world leader in accepting refugees. Often, this claim is made in the context of debates over things like our detention policy, so the facts tend to get submerged. Further, the way we organise our statistics makes it difficult to get accurate numbers.

So let's put numbers aside and look at what we (I) learned from the Tamworth case.

1. Recognising that the official statistics are biased because of the way we classify refugees, in the last financial year we appear to have accepted around 17,000 refugees for permanent settlement, over half from trouble spots in Africa including Sudan.

2. The African refugees are very different from those we have accepted in the past. They look different, have less education and in many cases have been severely traumatised. This was one of the points made by Tamworth City Council.

3. We have an official program for settling these refugees in specific communities. This may have weaknesses, another Tamworth point, but dozens of communities (especially it seems in Regional Australia) have agreed to participate. For those who do not know Regional Australia, because most migrants go the capital cities the ethnic mix in Regional Australia is much less varied. So these communities are accepting people who are very different from those already living there.

4. When the Tamworth imbroglio broke, many of these communities who had accepted Sudanese refugees came to the defence of their people. I am not saying that things are perfect, simply that things seem to be working.

So why don't we promote the things that are working? This, or so it seems to me, is the real story.

Here I must admit to a prejudice that those who read my blogs can infer.

I know country Australia pretty well. I know that country people including those in the regional centres have prejudices. However, country people with their sense of community have something that I fear has been lost by many metro Australians. They can distinguish between their general prejudices and their responses to individuals.

A country person may be prejudiced against a specific group and may express those views in both private and public conversation in a way no longer acceptable in the more politically correct metro centres. But a country person also has the capacity to decide that a particular individual, family or group is okay because of their contribution to the community. This capacity, once and maybe still a mainstream Australian capacity, is the reason why Australia was able to accept so many migrants after the second world war.

No comments: