Australia’s immigration intake is like native title: it’s one of those areas of life and law to which our much-trumpeted anti-discrimination standards simply don’t apply.

The Africans who have attracted the attention of Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews recently are, of course, black people (particularly tall ones who stand out at railway stations). But in theory at least, an African refugee could include a white person fleeing Robert Mugabe’s regime.

However, the large numbers of white Africans who have migrated to Australia in recent years need not worry that Mr Andrews is talking about their friends and relatives who intend to follow. Most white Africans have had language, money, skills and social capital enough to qualify for a place in our large mainstream migration program, rather than waiting for one in our tiny humanitarian intake.

Keeping Australia predominantly white takes quite a bit of effort, considering that most people in the world, particularly most young people, are some other colour. We’ve started to admit more migrants from Asia because Europe doesn’t have the surplus populations of working age for export that it once offered. Until Mr Costello’s generation of “one for the country” babies grows up to secure Australia’s destiny as a white nation, we appear to need migrant labour, both skilled and unskilled as much as Asians and Africans need Australian money and, in the case of refugees, peace and security.

There could be a win-win deal in all of this if governments were prepared to spend enough time and money on making it work. Resettlement programs were once par for the course, not novelty extras. Resettlement resources need directing not only at new migrant populations, but also at existing populations in receiving areas, particularly socioeconomically disadvantaged ones where the newcomers’ arrival might otherwise be resented.

It may be worth selecting settlement areas more carefully: for example, people from rural Africa with initially limited resources and employment prospects may find it easier to settle in economically viable areas of rural Australia than in the cities, at least if they get proper language assistance. It may be particularly important to encourage recently-arrived refugees out of Sydney, with its high costs and significant wealth gaps, which can fuel crime by members of marginalised groups.

Attention may also need to be paid to ways in which other aspects of the migration program contribute to integration problems, for example where refugees who migrate permanently to Australia are displaced from the bottom of the labour market by holders of 457 visas from other parts of the “third world” on lower wages.

If the Minister for Immigration wants to adjust the refugee intake to admit more people from countries closer than Africa, perhaps he could take the same approach to the mainstream migration program? This would have interesting consequences for Australia’s ethnicity and the distribution of its considerable wealth among people of different races.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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