Immigration policy:

Dan Plane writes: Re. “Shades of White Australia in immigration policy’s language rules” (yesterday, item 12). I just read Albertr Yu’s article on the relative unfairness of the Immigration Department’s language policy.

He doesn’t appear to be arguing for the abolition of requirements on English proficiency. Instead, he appears to only be railing against the Immigration Department’s “exemption” of holders of certain passports from having to demonstrate their English proficiency through IELTS testing to meet those requirements.

Yu’s claim regarding exemptions are not wholly accurate. This inaccuracy undercuts his argument that the language policy unfairly favours “white” immigrants.

Currently, qualification for permanent resident visas, at least the 175 Skilled Migrant Visa (Offshore), is judged through a point system, with a certain number of points being awarded for having a given level of English skills, amongst other attributes, such as a qualification, work experience in Australia, etc. If you have a passport from one of the countries listed by Yu, you are automatically deemed to have a certain minimally-acceptable proficiency in English, and receive a few points. But you do not get “maximum” points for English proficiency with one of those passports.

Indeed, if you are an older immigrant (I was 44 at the time of my application — apparently almost decrepit by Aussie immigration standards, where once you turn 45 you get ZERO points for your age) you may very well not qualify for a visa without those precious extra few English language-related points added in to your total.

That’s the situation I found myself in when I applied for my visa: out of luck unless I could demonstrate that I had “Superior” English and could get the maximum language skills points.  This is in spite of the fact that I am a white American and native speaker of English with degrees from two different US universities, and admitted to practice law in Hong Kong, the United States and Australia — someone that most people would assume should merit an exemption from having to demonstrate English proficiency.

But because of the points system, I found myself in a room with 300 or so of my fellow immigrants taking the IELTS test so I could eke out the last few points I needed to qualify for the visa by obtaining a score of eight or a nine on the IELTS test (highest score is nine).

Whilst I wasn’t pleased about having to pay hundreds of dollars to take an English test in order to qualify for my permanent resident visa, I did so, and even paid a few hundred dollars more for study guides to ensure that I wasn’t undone in the test by my own complacency in assuming that I should be able to ace it just by showing up because I am an educated native English speaker.

Getting into Australia is tough for a number of reasons, particularly for “old” duffers like me. And yes, it may be harder — and perhaps a bit more expensive — for a non-native (or even a native!) English speaker to pass the IELTS test and obtain sufficient points to qualify for a permanent resident visa. But it’s not unfair, and it’s not racist. It’s reasonable, fair, and balanced against the benefit — permanent residence in Australia — relatively inexpensive.

Requiring holders of UK, US, NZ, etc., passports to take an IELTS test to demonstrate minimal English proficiency would be a waste of the time and money of the vast majority of those individuals, and in the end, would only put money in the pockets of IELTS.

Justin Templer writes: South Korean immigrant Albert Yu writes that he hopes “that one day, Australia’s migration program will be completely free of any racist element, and well and truly quash Curtin’s bigoted vision of this country being ‘an outpost of the British race'”. This is because there is an English language threshold requirement for permanent residency visas.

I am a “white” immigrant to Australia — before I was allowed to immigrate I was three times refused permission. These refusals were based on Australia’s needs and my qualifications at that time, and I accepted that.

For Yu to suggest that the English language requirement is racist is ridiculous. I agree with his view that it might be crudely framed, if he is correct in saying that there is an automatic “pass” for citizens of the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, the US and the Republic of Ireland (we all know that folk from these countries are often incomprehensible). But to turn this into an echo of the White Australia policy is ludicrous. And insulting.

The Aussie dollar:

Simon Mansfield writes: Re. “Why the Aussie dollar keeps its ‘stickiness’” (yesterday, item 19). While this is old news — it’s nice to see that it’s finally being reported in Crikey — albeit without any discussion of the options

For a start, the RBA Chairman could stop giving speeches that telegraph in big letters that there is zero political risk the Australian government or it’s agencies will do anything about a currency speculation bubble driven by foreign governments and their central banks.

Wayne Swan could stop listening to the Boss and fly over to Switzerland and suggest that his counterpart have a little word to Glenn Stevens’ own counterpart at the Swiss National Bank
to park all those faux francs and euros somewhere else for a while. Let’s not forget that Switzerland is at the heart of the European banking system and essentially “it was you guys who broke the global economy so fix it yourself and stop breaking our economy.”

Meanwhile, the so-called Gillard Government — through the Treasury — could meet with the RBA and revise the current agreement that puts the focus on inflation and ignores the currency — even though that’s the other central role of the RBA to oversee along with the price of money. Read the RBA Charter it’s pretty straight forward on what the bank is meant to do.

From there we have a range of options. Along with the other half dozen countries getting played by the SNB and others — we could print money on a dollar to franc basis and directly retaliate against a recalcitrant Swiss central bank that doesn’t takes it marbles and play elsewhere. That should get the Swiss government’s attention and make it a World Bank and IMF issue – not to mention a G20 finance minister’s issue or heaven forbid Angela’s problem to fix.

To up the ante, the RBA could slash rates to .25 % and instruct the banks to operate to a LVR of 75% or lower until further notice. All those mortgage savings would either pay down debt or flow back into the retail and construction sectors and do wonders for the big states where 80% of the population actually lives.

Or the government could get creative — and release 500 billion in new 10-50 year bonds that could be lent to the local to banks and used for infrastructure building on a massive scale – built by a surge in new migration from Europe and America — explaining to the public that we either grow up or suffocate down the mines.

30 years of painful economic adjustment in the wake of tariff reforms is being flushed down the toilet. Decades of building SMEs that are based on added value, innovation and creativity to win in the global export markets are bit by bit bleeding to death as they let key workers go and cut and cut until their principals decide forget it — I might as well shut it all down and retire while there is something left to get out with. Decades of experience are being lost for no good reason.

Meanwhile, the agriculture industry which is enjoying its best crop yields in a decade is facing a currency nightmare that is only being salvaged by a drought in America. Otherwise our wheat and other bulk crops would be too expensive to harvest and transport.

As the mining booms fades we better hope that the currency does correct — otherwise what are we going to do if there is no export economy left outside of a declining mining sector. We are being played for suckers by foreign governments as a global currency war rages.

Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers:

John Craig writes: Re. “Nuclear drumbeat grows as US eyes Australia” (yesterday, item 1). Your article suggested that proposals from the US Center for Strategic and International Studies for basing nuclear-powered aircraft carriers in Western Australia may have had more US government support than Australia’s Defence Minister (Stephen Smith) acknowledged.

Whether or not this is correct, I should like to suggest for your consideration that the US’s apparent intention to respond to China’s rising military capacities and militarism by increasing its “hard power” assets in the Asia Pacific region (including some in Australia) would not only be expensive but also relatively ineffectual. That the US has such an intention is implied by various recent proposals in relation to locating forces in Australia, and reportedly also by discussions between Australian defence analysts and their US counterparts.

A better alternative, involving a primary emphasis on a soft power response, is suggested in Comments on Australia’s Strategic Edge in 2030, the latter (which comments on what seems to be an Australian analyst’s response to information from US analysts) suggests that the US and Australia may have been suckered for decades by traditional “Art of War” methods, which primarily involve the use of “soft power” — because: (a) the possibility that such games may have been being played was not considered; and (b) there was no awareness of even what to look for due to a pervasive lack of Asia-literacy.

If Australia wants to assist the US in countering China’s rising military capacity and militarism, the most effective way to help would be to boost general understanding of traditional strategy in East Asia — perhaps by methods like those suggested in An Opportunity to Boost Asia-literacy.

Peter Fray

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