Why does Australia give migrants such a hard time?

John Thistleton 14 September 2020 6
Multicultural festival

Australia prides itself on encouraging immigration but the lived experience of many migrants – especially during COVID-19 – has been less than welcoming. Photo: File.

Employers in Goulburn’s meat processing, hospitality, aged care, supermarkets and health sectors recruit from a stream of migrants desperate for work, permanent residency and citizenship.

But strict travel restrictions abroad and at home to contain the spread of COVID-19 have stopped migrants arriving or leaving the country.

Southern Meats human resources manager Kenny Conroy says the disruptions mean a fight for workers.

“It’s an industry-wide issue relying on foreign labour,” he says. “It’s thrown a spanner in the works, especially since the drought has broken.”

Migrants are cycled through Goulburn, and other regional places around Australia, while qualifying for their permanent status. New arrivals often work long hours under extreme conditions.

Australia does not recognise many of their qualifications, and is unhelpful with their paperwork, yet relies on them to staff service stations, clean toilets and bath and feed the elderly, among many low-paying tasks.

Some migrants in Goulburn could not return to their countries when respective borders closed. At the same time, businesses employing them ceased trading, and while most local employers look after their staff, it was left to churches and charities to feed some of these migrants.

According to the 2016 Census, few migrants have settled permanently in Goulburn in recent years. They move to bigger cities to be closer to relatives and more work opportunities. In a nation with an appalling attitude towards humanity – yet reliant on migration for economic growth – it’s hard to justify inflicting such unnecessary hardship on new arrivals.

Heni Hardy

Heni Hardy settled in Goulburn, from Bali, and she now runs the Goulburn Multicultural Centre. Photo: Supplied.

The few migrants who remain in Goulburn enrich our community. Prominent among them is Heni Hardy, an optimistic, energetic woman who left a high-profile business career in Denpasar, Bali, where she taught the Latin-inspired cardio-dance Zumba, which she resumed in Australia, first in Canberra and then in Goulburn after arriving in 2012.

With limited English, Heni volunteered at the Goulburn Multicultural Centre (GMC) and became its manager two years later.

“GMC is like a home away from home for many people who would otherwise be very lonely,” she says.

Asians, Africans, Pacific Islanders, Iranians and Europeans find companionship at GMC, while relying on Facebook Messenger video and WhatsApp to keep in touch with loved ones. Africans in locked-down Melbourne cannot visit their relatives in Goulburn, and more than ever, the multicultural centre is helping ease their feelings of isolation.

About 20 volunteers help with teaching cooking, sewing, driving, how to complete a driver’s licence test, and English conversation. Volunteers include retired school teacher Lois Mor, who, for six years, has taught English conversation, sewing, food, nutrition and understanding labelling in supermarkets.

Lois also visits homes for one-on-one teaching.

Raised on a family farm in Queensland, where her father grew sugar cane and tomatoes, she met many new Australians who worked temporarily on the farm.

“I think my father’s values have stayed with me all this time,” she says.

This year, when COVID-19 arrived, Lois switched her sewing classes to make stylish masks with her migrants to match their wardrobes.

“During the years, I think I have sold four sewing machines,” she says. “Some have gone away and started their own sewing business.”

Arriving from Java, Indonesia, Yenny Bent has been volunteering at GMC since 2018, providing information after exercise classes and at stalls and festivals and for foreign students. Now a permanent resident, she, like Heni, is a Rotarian.

Yenny learnt English when she was in kindergarten, a complementary skill to her Indonesian bahasa.

She says everyone at GMC relies on Heni’s knowledge.

“She is fantastic,” she says. “When people come looking for help, she knows what to do and who to contact. She has many years of experience.”

GMC’s work is crucial. Staff and volunteers are apolitical and are a beacon of hope for people in a new country who are undergoing the challenge of their lives.


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6 Responses to Why does Australia give migrants such a hard time?
Mike Bolton Mike Bolton 10:39 am 15 Sep 20

The reliance of migrant workers is somewhat due to widespread exploitation of migrant workers who are contracted or made to utilise loopholes in the Australian business system to work for less than what Australian workers receive or wages that would be in accordance with award wages, as well as having lower working conditions. If there was a fair and just system with the prevention of employment exploitation of migrant workers, the situation of reliance of foreign workers may be different. In any case, migrant workers should always receive the same pay and have the same working conditions as Australian workers.

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 10:31 am 15 Sep 20

Here’s the thing, John. We don’t!

No question, individual migrants can face a hard time, not as hard as the Indigenous. But also, due to extraordinary migration, pre-COVID Australia had nearly the highest level of population growth of any OECD country. By far the highest, for overseas students, relative to population.

So radical is this model, that Salvatore Babones rightly dubbed it, the “world’s first immigration economy”.

With Keneally having had the “factory reset”, LibLab is set to revert to this “BIg Australia” program, ASAP. Cities and environment can’t cope, voters don’t want it, but that counts for nothing.

Linda Stapleton Linda Stapleton 10:09 am 15 Sep 20

The issue as I see it is there are an annoying group who insist we have a culture that must be maintained and that migrants taint this. The problem is that when push comes to shove these people are unable to define in a clear and nonaggressive manner, exactly what this so called 'culture' is that must not be tainted.

steve2020 steve2020 10:06 am 15 Sep 20

There are a few things to comment on. Why are the qualifications not being recognised? It could be due to that the standards of training or education relating to the qualifications are not up to the standards required, or pertinent for employment in the relevant sectors in Australia. It’s an issue that could be dealt with before going through the visa application processes or dealt with during the process to avoid migrants ending up working in menial jobs in Australia. A lot is being left to chance when the skill set may not be suitable to fulfill skilled migration shortages or desired employment outcomes for migrants. Another issue is that the regional resettlement program partially does not fulfill the intended outcome to increase regional populations and prevent strain on major capital city growth if migrants are moving to bigger cities and is only being used as a strategy to gain points for permanent residency. Also, I think desperation for residency, greed, unreasonable or ill-founded expectations or outcomes when they occur are not good values to base holiday or working visa stream migrations on. I say this having dealt with migrants in these situations, in working life and in providing assistances.

Lastly, the onus is generally on the source country to provide or assist with repatriation flights or necessary welfare assistance in circumstances that have arisen due to the virus. In this regard, even Australia may have shortcomings in providing assistance after the initial phase of repatriation flights and quarantine, to repatriate Australian citizens stranded overseas in the same manner or circumstances, such as Australian citizens on working holidays overseas.

Sher Young Sher Young 8:28 am 15 Sep 20

All who integrate, accept and refrain from changing our culture, share their culture are welcome in my world 🌎

Todd Hepworth Todd Hepworth 7:39 am 15 Sep 20

Because we are inherently racist

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