Tuesday, October 9, 2007

African Immigration

Anti-Discrimination Board Statement on Decision to Suspend African Immigration

By the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW, Dr Stepan Kerkyasharian AM

30 years of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act

The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Mr Andrews might have been surprised by the reaction to his announcement last week to put a halt to further arrivals of people from Africa . I am sure if he expected people from all walks of life and across the political spectrum to see racism in the decision he wouldn’t have made it and he wouldn’t have presented it the way he did.

Since the official end of the White Australia policy, Australia has prided itself on the non-discriminatory nature of its immigration policy. This year we celebrate 30 years of legislated recognition that we do not discriminate on grounds of race or other characteristics. Mr Andrews, by his comments has introduced a quantum shift in the assessment of potential migrants in that, instead of assessing the individual and individual’s suitability to settle in Australia, we should now assess someone by way of race or country of origin. That is something that has never been done by any of his predecessors from either side of politics since the demise of the White Australia policy.

In fact to do so would surely amount to racial discrimination, because it would fit a classic description of race being the determinant characteristic of a decision, in other words it is the race which is being assessed and not the individual.

Yet, Mr Andrews has apparently created new criteria for assessing who should come and who should not, based on race and country of origin.

What are his criteria for determining that any refugee of Sudanese origin, ipso facto, is not suitable to settle in Australia? We have over the last half century successfully integrated people from almost every conceivable cultural, linguistic, racial and religious background on earth. Of course there were teething problems. Of course each group produced its own crooks and thugs… and its own brilliant students, performers, entrepreneurs and sportspeople.

So, if the Government judges that this latest wave of new settlers is going to have more difficulty than any previous one there might be a reason other than the culture or race of the people themselves. Perhaps we did not serve these desperate people well. Perhaps the Department of Immigration was not well prepared to receive and settle people who had experienced the worst that mankind could tolerate?

Why did it decide to send them to so-called non-traditional settlement locations? Why did it not properly prepare those host communities that lacked the infrastructure and the tradition of settling refugees to receive the African arrivals? Why did it outsource the settlement task out of the bureaucracy and effectively removing it from the direct responsibility of Government?

Those questions should be answered in full before we introduce race as a criteria for choosing which refugees to accept. Surely as Australians we are accustomed to caring for those who, through no fault of their own, are destitute and homeless.

Mr Andrews has introduced a racial element that cannot but open the door to accusations of racial discrimination. All Australians, whatever their personal views, will feel the sting of those accusations from our international friends and rivals alike.

The international newsagency Reuters left its clients’ readers, listeners and viewers in no doubt about how they should interpret Mr Andrews decision when it said “Race looms ahead of Australian elections” inferring it pointed to a return of race politics as had been championed by Pauline Hanson a decade ago.

But more importantly it will harm us as a society. It attacks our community harmony and our notions of community harmony by sending signals that its fine to criticise anyone purely on the basis of their ethnic background, without any regard to the damage done to thousands of other law-abiding Australians of the same background. In 2007 that is something we simply don’t need especially in the year that we celebrate the 30 th anniversary of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the establishment of the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW.

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