By Ross B. Taylor AM
Last week, whilst undertaking some repairs to my house, I met a young man who owns a timber manufacturing business in Perth. His name was Yassa.
He looked ‘Asian’, and was black skinned. And possibly a Muslim?
Over a few days of discussions, as I constantly messed-up my DIY repair work, I learned that Yassa was actually from Ethiopia. He came to WA as a war refugee with his Mum and brother at the age of fifteen. He is now 32, runs this successful timber business, working six days a week, and has a wife and two young sons who are addicted to AFL footy. Yassa supplies products around Australia and even exports products back into Africa.
As I reflected on the recent federal election fall-out and the reincarnation of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, it occurred to me that Australia needs more people like Yassa; not less.
We are an ageing population, so we need immigration to keep our economy growing and to ensure old people like me can be looked after in our latter years. People like Yassa not only build businesses, they seek to expand by exporting back to their home region: Good news for Australia’s poor trade deficit.
Our Vietnamese community is the same. Almost 35% of WA’s vegetables are grown by Vietnamese migrants, and they too, export into Asia. Most Vietnamese work really hard to make a living, and that’s also good for Australia.
The problem with Yassa though, is he probably looks like a ‘Muslim terrorist’ in the eyes of Pauline Hanson followers, even though he is not even ‘Asian’. And herein lays the problem we face as Hanson finds herself and her party not only back in our parliament, but possibly holding the balance-of-power in the Senate, and as such in a position to exercise outcomes concerning immigration, religion, and trade.
To our north-west lays Asia that holds the future of Australia in their hands. Australia is home to some 450,000 foreign students who pay to study here and thus creating one of Australia’s largest export industries. Around 380,000 of these students are from Asia including Indonesia, India and China. Today many of their parents will be asking if their children will still be welcome in Australia, or will be safe here, under the influence of powerful politicians such as Pauline Hanson?
Perhaps Ms Hanson will say that all students are welcome, but the perception in Asia is that One Nation is about the ‘White Australian’ policy being re-visited. And sadly the extreme rednecks in our community will seize upon Hanson’s elevation to senior levels in this nation, to attack people who even look like Muslims or perhaps even Asians, including people like Yassa.
As Australia’s resources boom winds down, tourism is becoming a critical area for us to maintain economic growth and our standard of living. Asia – in particular China, Indonesia and India - represents the really big opportunity for our tourism businesses by attracting more Asian holidaymakers to our shores.
Right now we need Asians to come here in droves to visit us, but having a soon-to-be powerful voice in Parliament saying ‘Asians are not welcome’ could have potentially disastrous impacts on this huge but fickle industry.The pathway we are now heading along is about to become even more muddy, as when combined with the Xenophon Party and Bob Katter, Australia will also have a dominant group in the anti-foreign investment league.
The concept of foreigners ‘buying up agricultural land’ in Australia – and in any country for that matter – is highly sensitive. But we must be careful as our country, with only 24 million people, has no hope of raising the money we need to produce our food, grow our economy and to create infrastructure and jobs for our nation.
Investment in Australian business helps us and brings improved standards of living to our people. We must be careful that we don’t ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ by presenting our nation as anti-immigration, anti-foreign investment, and anti-free choice of one’s religion.
So that brings me back to people like Yassa who is now worried that extreme rednecks in Australia, having been inspired by the intemperate and bigoted statements from the One Nation leader, will confront people like him and his family.
These are potentially dangerous times for our country; a country that has embraced and grown-up in a multicultural environment. As a very powerful voice in our new parliament we can only hope that Pauline Hanson will choose her words very carefully as people’s lives and freedoms may depend on what she says.
So is Yassa the type of immigrant we need in Australia? In my view, yes. And is he a Muslim or not? Actually, I didn’t get around to asking, given that Ethiopia has a population with almost an equal number of Muslims and Christians.
And anyway, should it even matter?
Ross B. Taylor is the president of the Perth-based Indonesia Institute (Inc)