There are some things that transcend cold hard facts-based decision making. Some kind of code of values, ethics even. These seem to have been all but forgotten as we prevent our own citizens from being with their families during the throes of a pandemic that’s killing thousands of people a day, while also shutting our borders to our own citizens.
Almost seven years ago the then PM Tony Abbot while announcing new counter terrorism laws, urged migrant/ naturalised Australians to sign up to Team Australia.
“everyone has got to be on team Australia”.
“everyone has got to put this country, its interests, its values and its people first, and you don’t migrate to this country unless you want to join our team”.
It was openly divisive language and even prompted a public rebuke from former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser.
I signed up to team Australia almost 6 years ago now. I passed the citizenship test, took the pledge, brought along more than my fair share of excited guests to my citizenship ceremony. Not long after, I had to rescind my Indian citizenship, which I did with some trepidation (India doesn’t allow its citizens dual nationality). I cried at the time, knowing that I was now even further removed from my parents, but I knew it had to be done.
I didn’t know at the time that signing up to Team Australia would come at such a cost. When the virus started to spread globally, Australia was the first to close its borders to China — sending Chinese travellers who were PR holders and Aussie citizens to Christmas island — and then to the world.
But that wasn’t enough. It went one step further. It put in place a heavy-handed system of exemptions for anyone daring to leave the country — you had to apply for an exemption, and have a government approved reason for leaving. And now, as of a few days ago, they’ve stopped all flights coming in from India and are proposing fining returning travellers from India $66,000 and a five year jail term.
When my dad passed away suddenly in June 2020 I was unable to return home for his funeral. The Australian government sat on my application or an exemption for over a week before they finally approved it (a few hours after my booked flight had already departed). It’s every migrant child’s worst nightmare. Living away from my family was always tough and I had taken so much comfort in knowing that if something were to happen to them, I could always count on being able to make it back within 24 hours. I can rest on that comfort no more.
We asked migrants to be part of our country, we made them jump through several hoops, to declare their loyalty. Migrants add to the nation’s skill level, help with the country’s demographics and ageing population, even add fiscally to the budget, through higher tax revenues. But what exactly do they get in return. There is a vast literature on the amount that migrants can earn just by moving. But that’s not the only aspect that motivates a migrants decision to leave their country. There are other elements, including quality of life, and this comes into play especially for higher skilled and educated migrants (Australia’s migrants heavily skew towards this segment).
Most of our (permanent) migrants skew to the highly skilled end of the spectrum. If we don’t work on making Australia a welcoming nation, we are going to lose a lot of our highly qualified and educated migrants.
The government should:
- Shelve this idea for watering down Indian-Aussie’s citizenship
- Immediately earmark/ do an audit of federal and state government facilities that would be suitable to house returning travellers
- Bring back planeloads of Indian Australians and Australia PR holders stranded overseas
- Offer to bring back the families of people living in India who are in danger of being killed in this crisis
- Immediately lift restrictions on citizens and pr holders leaving Australia
There is enough information out there on how little the government is willing to do to bring back its citizens. Migrants or Australians with family overseas are well informed of the risks. Should they choose to go in spite of these risks, because of desperation, let them.