Earlier this week, Fraser Anning, the newest Senator for Queensland elected on the platform of Bob Katter’s Australian Party, used his first speech to spurt racially charged bigotries. The speech called for a “final solution to the immigration problem” that would “end Australian-job-stealing 457 visas and make student visas conditional on foreign students returning to the country they came from”. Senator Anning, someone who has been appointed to represent the interests of Australia, went on to tell the Senate and the various forms of media that were watching that “many of those who claim to be asylum seekers are actually just welfare seekers who only come to Australia to live on welfare in public housing at the expense of working Australians”. What is truly concerning is that this is the opinion held by an elected official – this racism and blatant disregard for our fellow humans is something that Senator Anning was elected on.
Potentially the only positive that has resulted from Senator Anning’s racist diatribe is the way that the Senate united to condemn him and his vicious words. The Senate came together to submit a bipartisan motion that acknowledged that in Australia’s history successive governments from both sides of politics pursued a “racially non-discriminatory immigration policy” and that this policy has overwhelmingly benefitted Australia. The Senate went on to note that Australia’s migration intake will never be defined by race, faith or ethnic origin. While this is a great step forward – and it is comforting that voices from all sides of politics have condemned the statements made by Senator Anning – I feel that it is important to reflect on where Australia has come from and the important role that immigrants have played, and should continue to play, in making Australia the amazing place to live that it is today.
I feel that in the face of such racism it is important to be clear on the facts about migration. In the period between 2016 and 2017, a total of 459, 932 people migrated to Australia – of these people, just five percent received humanitarian and special eligibility visas. The vast majority (68%) of visas issued where for education – things that stimulate the Australian economy. Australia can, and is for most, a warm place. A place of hope and betterment. That’s what makes Australia the great country that it is.
I think it is important to remember the stories of Harry Triguboff, who came to Australia as a refugee in 1947 and went on to work as a taxi fleet owner and milkman before becoming a property developer, and Australia’s 6 most wealthy person, who then has moved to help fund organisations such as the Westmead Children’s Hospital and the Sydney National Cancer Foundation. Or Indian migrant Jaskaran Singh Dhaliwal, who after studying at the University of South Australia has become a registered nurse working and living in Adelaide.
To me Australia is a place of diversity – I can travel 5 minutes from my house and have access to countless different cuisines. I have friends that come from countless different countries. I enjoy learning different languages, and I consider one of Australia’s darkest policy moment to have been the White Australia Policy. If you have not heard of it before, the White Australia Policy or the Immigration Restriction Act was passed in 1901. The Act prohibited persons of non-European descent from migrating to Australia. The Act remained in existence until 1947 when non-Europeans were given the right to settle permanently in Australia for migration reasons, but it was not until 1964 that the policy was entirely removed and persons of non-European descent faced the same entry requirements as their European counterparts. I look back on this part of our history with great shame but at least we can take comfort in the knowledge that Australia has learned from it. That we have moved on.
Today, the remarks of Senator Anning scare me. They make me worry that Australia is going back to a place of racism, of bigotry and of inequity. I fear for the path that Senator Anning would have us walk down. But I also know that Australians are kind, that Australian’s are diverse and that we are better than this.