Having left a country that has little respect for human rights, migrating to Australia means everything to me. I could join a protest and not worry about water cannon and tear gas. Now I could finally get involved in direct politics and join a political party and share that with work colleagues with no fear of reprisal.
What I did not envisage however was the watering down of social and economic rights, fought on the struggles of the labour unions, aboriginal land rights and women’s movements and now more recently gay rights – by the very group I represent, immigrants.
This progressive agenda is being systematically attacked in large part as a result of both main political parties wooing immigrants in marginal seats particularly in the outer suburbs of Sydney. For many immigrants, key issues too often focus only on job growth and trickle-down economics and wealth creation and they are by and large socially and fiscally conservative
Let us take the issue of the treatment of asylum seekers. Many immigrants ironically support the current policy to turn back the boats believing that only those who fulfill the required migration criteria should be allowed to settle in Australia. Economic immigrants tend to come from countries that are hostile to refugees and asylum seekers and have very little understanding of the moral obligation Australia must abide by given that Australia is a signatory to the Refugee Convention.
The latest census figures confirm that the fastest-growing migrant ethnic groups are Chinese and Indian; the fastest-growing religion Hinduism. There has been a shift from family reunion to highly skilled workers, often arriving on a temporary basis, either on working visas or as students.
Australian labour laws are arguably some of the best in the world in terms of protection of workers rights and have been responsible for ensuring that wages keep up with the fast growth of cost of living and this in turn has maintained the enviable high living standards in Australia. Many immigrants were attracted to Australia for that very reason.
Yet many immigrants are happy to employ international students on skilled/unskilled subclass 457 visas and exploit them in return for sponsorship to secure permanent residency. This not only undermines the enterprise agreements hard fought and won by unions but frankly I also wonder if it lends credence to the worrying claims that migrants are taking away local jobs.
What a sad day it was for Communities of Colour when the controversial metadata law was legislated early April. The new law was passed in the name of national security as often is the case with draconian laws that override civil liberties. There is little evidence, as seen in the United States, that similar Patriot Act laws were effective deterrents. In fact, over and over again we have come to see that the surveillance of information gathering and sharing is a tool used for racial profiling. But again, I was stunned by the lack of objection from communities of colour on this issue. Immigrant groups across all ethnicities were so vocal on the need to keep racial vilification laws on the books but there were no similar organised protest nor opposition on the metadata retention law, when we know it will negatively impact Muslim communities.
Do we really naively think racial profiling stops with Muslims? Ethnic communities are and will always be easy targets to distract the White majority and divert attention when parties in power struggle in the polls, a strategy we see across the world used over and over again in western democracies. Now it is the Muslims. Whose turn will it be next; the Chinese who are now being blamed for buying up property in Sydney?
While I am a strong supporter of multiculturalism and see diversity and the need for social inclusion as the bedrock of any healthy democracy, I wish other immigrants would also embrace and acknowledge these hard won victories of 50s and 60s which led to great economic and social reform in Australia and understand the perilous road we are headed on towards a surveillance State.
Ultimately, I fear a more worrying trend in immigration voting patterns may be the reason this country is losing ground on key progressive issues as experienced in recent times in Canada.
We, immigrants need a platform that spells out that we want to protect this progressive platform and we need to stand by our progressive White brothers and sisters and demonstrate there is plurality in the voices of migrants.