Monday, September 21, 2020

“As if we weren’t humans” - Australia's treatment of international students and other temporary migrants

 My thanks to Medianet for this story.  My comments follow the story.

Thousands of international students and temporary migrants sour on Australia as they experience exclusion and racism, and increasingly cannot pay for food and basic living needs.

A nationwide survey of more than 6000 international students and other temporary migrants conducted in July 2020 has found 70% lost all or most of their work during the pandemic. Thousands have been left unable to pay for food and rent. These migrants make up 10% of the Australian workforce.

As if we weren’t humans: The abandonment of temporary migrants in Australia during COVID-19 is the latest report from UNSW Law Associate Professor Bassina Farbenblum and UTS Law Associate Professor Laurie Berg; co-directors of the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative.

The survey revealed more than half the respondents (57%) believe their financial stress will deepen by year’s end, with one in three international students forecasting their funds will run out by October. Thousands expressed anguish and anger over the federal government’s decision to exclude temporary migrants from JobKeeper and JobSeeker support.

Beyond their immediate humanitarian plight, hundreds linked their distress to the Prime Minister’s message that those unable to support themselves should “make [their] way home”. They expressed feelings of abandonment and worthlessness: “like we do not exist”, “they don’t see us. They can’t hear us”.

In addition, a quarter experienced verbal racist abuse and a quarter reported people avoiding them because of their appearance. More than half of Chinese respondents reported experiencing either or both of these.

“Many reported that because of their Asian appearance they were punched, hit, kicked, shoved, deliberately spat at or coughed on by passers-by in the street and on public transport.”

While previous studies have documented aspects of the financial hardship of temporary migrants, this is the first study that reveals the depth of social exclusion, racism and deeper emotional consequences of Australia’s policies, which have significantly impacted Australia’s global reputation.

Following their pandemic experience, three in five international students, graduates and working holiday makers are now less likely or much less likely to recommend Australia as a place to study or have a working holiday. This includes important education markets such as Chinese and Nepalese students (76% and 69% respectively were now less likely to recommend Australia).

“I feel [the] Australian government doesn't think of temporary visa holders as human beings but merely a money making machine,” said one female Indian international student. “It’s appalling to see the PM consoling the citizens saying that we are all in this together but at the same time telling migrants to go back home in a pandemic.”

Another international Master’s student observed, “It's completely hypocritical that we’re important for tax purposes, and in the sense that we contribute billions of dollars to the economy as university fees, but are treated as some breed of untouchables”.

A/Prof Berg says that Australia will bear the diplomatic and economic consequences of these policies for decades to come:

“Many of those suffering in Australia now will return home to become leaders in business and politics, holding roles of social influence around the region. Their experiences during this period will not be quickly forgotten.”


At a purely personal level, I have been worried for some time about what I see as the harshness and inhumanity of the Australian Government's treatment of international students and other temporary residents during the covid-19 period. This has become more apparent as the crisis has dragged on.

Apart from the human issues involved, I think that the approach works against Australia's national interest. This was an opportunity for Australia to display humanity, to demonstrate to future students and possible residents that this was a worthwhile place to visit and study. Care now would have provided returns later.  

You will find the full report at

Monday, September 14, 2020

Aussie craft show moves to Facebook to help seniors beat the pandemic blues: reflections on the importance of older people


As will be clear from this blog, we are all doing our best to adjust to covid blues. This photo shows Melbourne's Picture to Page Papercraft Show in better days. 

Refusing to become yet another cancelled event, the annual event is  moving online, running a free three-day event on Facebook to help older Australians beat loneliness and stay in touch with the crafting community during the pandemic. 

Creative director and host Michelle Brown invites Australians to join her and a bevy of talented craft retailers and guest artists for a free weekend of live interactive video demonstrations on Facebook.

 Running from Friday 9 to Sunday 11 October, Michelle will chat with local and overseas guests as they share projects and explore new craft supplies for scrapbooking, art journaling, card making, stamping and much more. Usually, more than 2,000 dedicated crafters from across Australia head to Melbourne's Sandown Raceway each October to attend the three-day craft expo. 

“This year, we're running the entire expo on Facebook and making it free, to make it as easy as possible for Australians to attend,” Michelle says. “Many people are living alone and struggling to find enthusiasm during the lockdown, so we hope bringing engaging demonstrations to them in their own homes can inspire them to start crafting again.” 

“With most of our crafting community aged over 65, many with chronic health conditions who are forced to stay at home during the pandemic, maintaining a connection to crafting online is more important than ever." 

The online expo is built on the back of Michelle's successful Facebook and YouTube video series 'P2PCrafts Presents', with her team refining the approach to help technology-challenged craft retailers reach new audiences. 

"Our vibrant crafting community tells us how our online videos have brought them a much-needed spark of joy during the lockdown, so we're really excited to bring the From Picture to Page expo to Facebook so we can share it with all of Australia," Michelle told me.

Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in the sunroom looking out over the bush while stitching ribbon and lace on a 1900s blouse. Bronwyn Parry

As I read Michelle's material, I reflected on an earlier post, Saturday morning musings - problems with the rigid application of Australian covid-19 restrictions

One of the underlying points in that post was the importance of recognising the fundamental contribution of older people to our social and cultural infrastructure, of recognising and respecting their sense of agency. Too much today we present them as potential victims.

There is also a tendency to write down craft, to classify it as basketwork for the elderly. This holds notwithstanding the importance of the English arts and crafts movement, to take just one example.     

I am not sure that I should classify Bronwyn Parry as an older person. After all, I resent the tag and I am a fair bit older than her. But I do want to use her to make a point. 

I first met Bronwyn in my early days of blogging when she was a mature age postgrad at the University if New England. Her partner Gordon had a photo blog that became one of my favourite sources. I followed Bronwyn through the draft of het first romantic novel and her subsequent success as a novelist. But that's only a small part.     

This is the Hillgrove Museum where Bronwyn is currently recruiting and training volunteers to allow the museum to re-open. 

As a Jane Austin aficionado, Bronwyn is love with historical clothing, making and wearing. This is a craft activity, but one that feeds into history, into reenactment and the love of social activity.

As part of her activities, Bronwyn is active in supporting the Armidale Folk Museum. She sometimes works as a volunteer when the museum is open. More importantly. she works to build the museum's collection of historic clothing, She restores clothing, she researches historical structure and use of clothing, she mounts exhibits of clothing. And she educates me all the time!

I have some claim to be an historian, but in attending an opening at the Armidale Folk Museum I learned more from Bronwyn about women's clothing over the last two hundred years than I had in all my years. 

I mention all this because it explains why I am happy to promote Melbourne's Picture to Page Papercraft Show and its move to Facebook. You can find out more here.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Book review - 'I wonder'. The life and Work of Ken Inglis

 Back in 2007 I wrote Was Australia a Christian country - and what comes now. My answers were yes, not now and I don't know.

I mention this now for two reasons. 

First, I was listening to a radio program which asked the question was it possible for a country or group to maintain values based on Christianity once the religious underpinnings had been removed? How did that community articulate the values in such a way that they were independent of the religious expression on which they had been based?

Secondly, my recent train reading has been 'I Wonder'. The Life and Work of Ken Inglis (edited by Peter Browne and Seamus Spark, Monash University publishing, 2020) dedicated to the life of Ken Inglis.  

Ken Inglis was a prominent Australian historian. He spanned teaching, university administration, journalism and academic publication.  

 I knew of Inglis and his work. He was a gifted teacher and a considerable historian. However, our intellectual paths never really crossed. I wondered about that. I think that it was partly a matter of age, he was considerably older than me, but also one of interest. Ken belonged to what I think of the southern intellectual tradition, one dominated in academic terms by the Universities of Melbourne, Adelaide and the Australian National University. My tradition is very different.

I mention this now because I read the book as an alien, an outsider looking at a different world. The complexities and relationships in that world were interesting as an anthropological study, as a slice of Australian historiography, but it was the history method component that struck me. 

I chose the word anthropological deliberately, for Professor Inglis borrowed methods and insights acquired from anthropology and applied them to history. I try in my own limited way to do the same. This dates back to my my honours thesis, an ethnographic study of traditional Aboriginal life in Northern NSW. Now I am using both anthropological and sociological studies to inform my history of New England, so when I read the book and the description of this part of Inglis's work I nodded and said too true! However, this is the not the main theme of this brief essay.

One of the issues that Professor Inglis addressed was the decline in traditional religious beliefs and their replacement in Australia by civil or civic religion. I accept that this description my be a gross simplification of Professor Inglis's evolving views, but I do think that it captures a key point. 

I have always been conscious of the way organisations including states used symbols to unify and channel. Former Australian PM John Howard's use of mateship as a rallying call is a case in point. Here we have a symbol (mateship) with attributes (looking after each other, loyalty to the group) consciously used to unify. Now we may argue about the historical validity (did mateship exist?) or content (what does mateship actually mean?), but the intent is clear. 

While I was conscious of the use of symbols, I hadn't really thought about civic religion as a substitute for traditional beliefs, one applicable in a pluralist society with multiple faiths or the absence thereof. 

Professor Inglis came to this position via his study of war memorials, the memorialisation of those who had died serving their countries. I say countries, because this memorialisation process is a feature of entities past and present. This explanation left me wondering: if civil religion is now a substitute for traditional beliefs, how do you encapsulate the values and emotional content and beliefs in a way that will sustain and be of civic value; how do you stop them becoming a weapon of tyranny?   

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Saturday morning musings - problems with the rigid application of Australian covid-19 restrictions


Image from Red Bubble. 

Another Saturday morning. Another day of swirling complexity. It's not so much that my personal life is complex, although I am having some difficulty maintaining focus and my productivity is down to blazes. Rather, so many things have been happening in my fields of interest that I have lost the ability to keep up! In turn, that means my ability to write and analyse is diminished. And there is so much to write about!

I am not going to catch-up in one post, nor do I want to add to a range of partially completed posts where my desire to make a substantive contribution was over-run by by the combination of time and events. Instead, a series of short posts follows focused on single points.  

The political and social consensus that has underpinned the Australian response to covid-19 is now badly frayed. While I do not support the anti-lockdown protests, I do think that Government responses have become too rigid and rules-based.  

The area where I live has had no covid-19 cases within 321 kilometres for many months. Most parts have had no cases. And yet, we are caught up in restrictions that affect all aspects of daily life. 

Twice a week I set out the chairs for my history course, measuring the difference between the chairs.  Each chair is then wiped down with disinfectant. At the end of the session, the chairs are wiped down again and put away. Each person has to sign two registers, one for entering the building, the second for course attendance, to allow tracking in the event of an infection. Technically, the pens used should be wiped after use, as should the computer keyboard and the controls to the air-conditioning and audio visual equipment.

I do not object to this. I am grateful that my course is still running, even though I had to cut overall numbers and create an additional session to fit reduced numbers dictated by covid restrictions. A number of attendees have chosen to drop out entirely, others have switched to first semester next year, That course is already full from transferees to the point that I may have to run two sessions if current restrictions continue.

There have been benefits in the changes. Any teacher likes a dedicated class and I have both that and more time for discussion within the smaller groups. And yet, the continued restrictions have had a wearing effect that has increased as time passes and the immediate relevance declines. 

As part of this, people have become less compliant. I find myself not wiping things. Problems are compounded by the continues suspension of the social infrastructure that formed toe core of many people's social life. The Armidale Historical Society, for example, has not met for months, a suspension that presently has no end in sight. 

Things are opening up slowly in NSW, but the social infrastructure  on which so many and especially older people depend has been at least partially broken. 

Much of the covid-19 discussion on older Australians has focused on two things: the increased risk associated with age and the problems associated with old people's homes. It ignores the millions   of older Australians who are active and were involved in a multiplicity of activities, activities that are critical to our society. The restrictions imposed for their own good have reduced their choices and contributions as well as the things that give meaning to their lives. 

I was talking to an old friend recently. A fair bit older than me, he drives, is completing a new book of essays and is trying to stay in touch. His wife of many years died a few years ago. He adored her; she was his support and the centre of his life. Her death cut out his underpinnings. He also has medical problems. In all this, he goes on. Now covid-19 has wiped out many of the things that he was involved in. I think that he is waiting for death and that makes me very sad. 

For those of you who are younger, remember this. As you grow older, the time you have to achieve things or indeed to enjoy things shortens. In my friend's case and given his health, covid-19 restrictions may have taken away a significant proportion of his remaining life. 

These remarks are not an attack on restrictions nor the need for care. Rather, they are a plea for compassion and a more nuanced approach. 

In Armidale, the boarding schools have been struggling with the management of borders coming from multiple jurisdictions. TAS (The Armidale School) has borders coming from four states and overseas. Each state has different rules governing travel, border permits and quarantine requirements, creating hardships and logistical complexities.

Further north, Queensland's imposition of  border controls had severe effects on border communities. Patients requiring treatment in Queensland were prevented from accessing that treatment. Borders attending Queensland schools could not come home for holidays because they would then need to quarantine for 14 days upon return. This held even though their home areas had no covid-19 cases. 

Queensland declared the ACT a covid-19 hotspot even though that territory has had no cases for an extended period, the rationale being that the ACT is surrounded by NSW which had been declared as a covid-19 hot spot. That declaration in itself is an example of sloppy thinking, one based on definitions. NSW is not a covid-19 hotspot, parts of greater Sydney are. 

Down south, the Victorian Andrews Government has set benchmarks that must be met before restrictions can be eased. in Victoria  Those restrictions treat regional Victoria as though it is a single entity, There, the regional cases are concentrated especially in the regional inner ring around Melbourne. Areas that have had no cases or no cases for a long time are being managed based on statistical measures driven by cases in a small number of places. As in Queensland, border areas adjoining NSW and South Australia have been particularly affected.      

The effects of these restrictions on individuals are being played out across the media, eroding support for the continuation of necessary restrictions. This is an example.   

At Federal level, the Morrison Government has been arguing for easing of internal border restriction and for the need for a national approach. I would have more sympathy for these arguments if that Government had not already displayed the same rules based rigidity, the same lack of compassion displayed elsewhere. The treatment of international students and of Australian citizens stranded overseas come to mind as examples. 

With time, some of the more egregious features of the restrictions are removed or at least modified, However, the focus is wrong. Instead of focusing on enforcing the restrictions regardless, the focus should be on minimising the impacts given the need for restrictions. In Queensland, the Government found a way of managing the quarantine requirements to allow the AFL to carry out the finals there, a decision based on the economic value of the events. I don't object, but it leaves a bad taste when that same Government rigidly enforces restrictions on others even where those restrictions make limited or no sense. 

Postscript 14 October 2020

This story from the Armidale ExpressNEGS and TAS among region's schools supporting boarders unable to return home for holidays, provides a snapshot of problems facing Armidale boarders.