Asylum seeking – a racket?

Visitors to Australia, armed with visas, can be ‘turned around’ at Australia’s airports and sent back to the point of departure immediately, were immigration officials not satisfied about their reason for seeking entry. However, once in the country, all that they need to do to avoid being sent home is to claim asylum, to be a refugee in genuine fear of persecution on return to their country of nationality. The other path is to seek to be ‘intercepted’ by Australia’s border protection vessels at sea, and to claim asylum.

As a migrant in Australia, the son of a migrant into another country, and the grandson of an immigrant (on my mother’s lineage), I believe that I understand migrants and what impels them. The majority of my friends in Australia over 6 decades were/are immigrants. My former Immigration colleagues used to describe an immigrant as an adventurer; he would choose to cross the seas and to survive (without public welfare) in a foreign country whose language and culture were alien.

As a former Director of Policy on refugees and humanitarian entrants (as well as on ethnic affairs, citizenship, and migrant settlement), I am well aware of the diverse motivations of governments and those individuals who had sought to enter Australia under prevailing generous policies on concessional entry. In spite of the policies being somewhat flexible, even porous for political purposes, there was no shortage of optimists seeking concessional entry without cause, and contrary to policy, or those within the country endeavouring to assist them. The latter were usually representatives of churches or ethnic communities.

I have been personally abused and threatened for not agreeing to approve entry outside of policy (because I had no authority to do so).

From both my experience of dealing with concessional entry of persons from 3 continents, and what I have read about the current situation, I am inclined to accept that asylum seeking in Australia is indeed a racket; although there may be some applicants who have a genuine fear of persecution on return to their country of nationality. How is one to know how genuine their fear is?    


Going with the flow

The integrated ethnic communities forming the new multicultural Australia may have been influenced by the Cosmos during their lives, or by the laws which govern the Brownian movements of particles in a medium. This is pure speculation. What is clear is that many immigrants were going with the prevailing cultural flow. They adopted, with some exuberance, an old Aussie tradition. Workers’ compensation was a well-known lurk; as were reported claims for neck injuries (whip lash) resulting from obviously minor accidents involving close relatives; RSI (repetitive strain injury) was claimed even when no physical work had been involved.

Clever refugees widened the game. They obtained additional low-rent public accommodation because their families were suddenly unable to get along with one another; refugee family structures were denied when the alternative offered additional benefits (eg. a wife becomes a sister, thereby enabling an enhanced family reunion); refugees were able to change their personal particulars (except gender, nature being inflexible) – that is, they were not what they now are (how is officialdom to know better?); doctor-shopping, with prescription (ie. subsidised) medication being posted overseas; accompanied minors being let loose on arrival.

That these pattern claims had only a brief lifetime suggests that the lurks were countered successfully. But there was the issue of the role of certain medical practitioners and gullible public officials . With the Minister’s consent, I ended the personal particulars practice. The insurance companies prevented further whip lash. A serious attempt to reduce ‘mediterranean backs’ claims was reportedly unsuccessful; yet an Immigration colleague of mine had pointed out to him, by the owner of a taverna on a Greek island, a number of men working their farms – they were, he said, Australians who had retired on compensation.

Lurks do tend to wither in time. Yet a team member of mine had his medico offer to write RSI as the cause of an injury resulting from a gardening accident. It was significant that the take up or creation of loopholes was multiethnic, indicating either adaptation or that men behave uniformly whatever their cultural origin.


To capture what was believed to be the ethnic vote, both sides of politics once offered very expensive policies – a parallel migrant settlement service operated by settled ethnic communities; and a multicultural policy which involved these communities telling one another, and anyone else who cared, how to relate to one another. This exercise in ethnic empowerment achieved nothing more than had been achieved by mainstreaming. Mainstreaming refers to each official agency providing its services in a language-sensitive manner.

Strangely, it was about 25 years after the initial entry of non-English speaking Europeans that the claim was made that the national settlement service was inadequate. Two matters come to my mind. At a gathering chaired by me in the early 1980s, immigrants who had settled in successfully criticised the new policy; why is it needed now, they challenged. In the mid-1990s, two outstanding ethnic community leaders stated publicly that 10 years should have been the lifetime of the new policy. In the meantime, millions had been spent; I had been given responsibility for accounting for much of that money.

As for the term multicultural, it merely describes a multi-ethnic polity, the ethnic diversity of the nation. Multicultural policy is unnecessary, unless ethnic empowerment is intended. We, the multicultural mix, mix freely, dress alike, behave alike, pray to the one and only Creator, pay our taxes, protect our families, and serve civil society; while some live on welfare or rip off others. It is not government policy which led us immigrants (not all of us being ethnics) to relate to one another peaceably. As governments subsequently indicated, it is a shared citizenship which eventually bonds us, not by being within a salad of ethno-cultural identities.

From a lifetime of careful observation, I conclude that there is an innate tendency for many of us to reach out to one another, especially migrant to migrant. Most importantly, I have observed little children in migrant hostel childcare, from 3 continents, with no shared language, playing together and sharing toys, and somehow communicating with one another. Is not there something in human nature which guides us thus?

Read ‘Destiny Will Out’ to see how much the Australian government had done to settle immigrants; and ‘The Dance of Destiny’ for some discussion about broader issues. ‘The Karma of Culture’ highlights migrant adaptation, and ‘the Footprints of Unity’ leads to broader issues such as national identity and the hope of a Family of Man. ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ seeks to place mankind in the Cosmos.


The Australian Aborigines were expected to assimilate; that is, to become absorbed into the mainstream population. How? De-tribalised, de-culturalised, denigrated, privately despised, abused or ignored – how where they to find their way? What happened to all that taxpayer money paid to State and Territory governments, the professional advice from fly-in, fly-out consultants, and the re-iterated policy pronouncements by mainstream political leaders?

The European immigrants were a different kettle of fish; they were not just industrial fodder. They adapted (as encouraged by the host people), but retained their core cultural identity. Indeed, some brought their tribal prejudices with them, but were advised to dispose of them. (That would take, at least, another generation.) Most integrated (but not assimilated) into the nation. That is, they fused as coherent entities, both as individuals and as cultural communities, with the host peoples. The latter reflected the earlier fusion of the varied peoples from the British Isles as Australians.

A multi-ethno-cultural national identity was achieved. In a half-century, equivalent to about 2 generations, there has been some merging of cultures. Fusion cuisine is in, as is marriage across ethnic borders. The blending of the ethno-culturally diverse intake has been successful.

However, there have been reports that Australia’s criminal class has been internationalised, and that the offspring of some refugees have been active in the drug trade. At another level, Rome’s social policies continue to apply, allegedly through its parliamentary influence, in spite of the adherents of that church representing only about 25% of the Australian population. As well, although almost all of the Islamic community are believed to be integrating well into the nation (as expected), there are some seeking some separation – through a dual legal system. It is incredible that, in the light of the equal opportunities provided by Australia, anyone would want to be different. Why not live in a country which already provides sharia law?

Threats to a nation’s comfort zone

The White Australia policy did have a good motive. It was intended to keep the nation white and British, while no man would disdain any kind of work, and would be well paid. The worker thus stood tall, equal to everyone else. Such an approach is surely worth emulating elsewhere. See chapter 1 in ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’

So, evolved the ‘fair-go’ ethos of the nation. Apparently, this philosophy did not then apply to the indigene, or anyone else – including the ‘ABC’, the Australia-born Chinese who had been in the country for generations.

When I arrived, many of the locals seemed to be in some fear of the ‘yellow hordes from the North’ who would invade them any day, the foreign faiths surrounding them, and (I kid you not) invasion by the Martians. So, there it was – a century and a half of discomfort, overlaid by a borrowed mantle of Christian colonial superiority. There was generally no guilt about the indigene (‘Why can’t they be like us?’). All this was fed by a popular racist periodical, now defunct.

The impacts of the coincidental arrival of Europeans and Asian students on Australians is discussed in my ezine articles on culture shocks ( and my website ( To be fair, it has to be accepted that one cannot flood a nation with foreigners to a large extent or for ever. My sympathies were with the Anglo-Australians whose comfort zone had been shaken, as I had been sympathetic to the Malays whose land was filled by a large variety of other Asians by the British.

The British established rubber estates in Malaya with Indian labour, tin mines with Chinese labour, and civil administration with Ceylonese like my father; the latter brought in more than an adequate command of the English language. Today, the Malays have regained control of their land, unlike the Australian indigenes who have yet to be empowered. In the meanwhile, the Chinese are reported to be buying up Australian assets most rapidly. More change is clearly afoot!

The development of the host nation

It would have been a terrible shock to the immediate post-war Australians, who had been British to their bootstraps, to find large numbers of Europeans coming to stay because of a government policy. However, having placed itself under the protection of the USA when Japan threatened it, the nation now needed an extended labour force to develop its infrastructure, and implement the foreign (mainly American) investment which followed.

When the needed workforce was in place, Australia jumped from an under-developed nation ‘riding on the sheep’s back’ to a high consumption industrial nation, thus by-passing the normal path of slow, incremental industrialisation. Behind the necessary tariff wall, Australian industry blossomed, but became progressively inefficient (both technologically and economically) relative to the rest of the industrial world.

I worked for 6 years in the Australian Tariff Board which looked after the protective needs of Australia’s manufacturing industry. However, in my first report in 1953, when I recommended the removal of tariff protection for a product under scrutiny, I was pejoratively labelled a ‘free trader.’ It was a Labor Government which, many years later, introduced a less protective regime, thus inducing industry to become more competitive globally.

But, we Australians ate well then, and still eat well, thanks to an unending flow of foreign capital – which naturally results in foreign control of much, if not most, of our businesses and natural resources. Yet, we remain comfortable in our lifestyles, aided by myopic political leaders not known for any sort of implementable planning for a sound future.

One surely has to challenge those responsible for permitting more than one automotive manufacturer to be established to cater solely for the small Australian market. Overseas demand was met by the parent companies. A comparable policy applied to other industries. Because of high labour costs, unit costs were simply not competitive. Yet, with high (or higher) labour costs, Japan reportedly had lower unit costs in comparable industries. This was because of production for a global market. Should Australia learn from Singapore? See ‘Destiny Will Out’ by Arasa.

The confusion about race

How is race to be defined? By skin colour? That is, white vs. coloured? How much whiter is the European in contrast to the people in adjacent Asia, all the way to the Himalayas? Or, is the white race limited to the people of Europe who, over no more than 5 centuries (a mere blink in the face of human history), dominated the seas to invade the lands of long-settled people, and to establish white-ruled nations?

What then of Admiral Cheng Ho’s 7 Treasure Fleets which collected tribute and changed rulers here and there, before European men were enabled by the loot from Central and South America to develop their own economies, and thence to expand overseas militarily? Chauvinistic Chinese could claim themselves to be a separate (and superior) race. What then of the Indians, Persians, Arabs, Egyptians and Mongols, each of whom dominated (in one way or the other) some significant part of the globe in historical times? Are they separate races?

Worse still, how is the term used, both officially and in private transactions? Racial vilification legislation applies in Australia, which is a white nation, in spite of recent improvements in its colour-balance. This legislation is to protect a coloured person from acts or utterances by a white person. How then does one treat abuse by a coloured person directed at a white person? What of abuse by a coloured person directed to another coloured person, especially if the latter is of a different ethnicity, country of origin or language?

The bottom line is that an alleged offender displays either prejudice or discrimination. This can be triggered by all kinds of differences, especially cultural (including religious). Then, of course, it is far too easy for some to feel offended, especially if there is someone official to complain to (hopefully, with some cash available in ‘compensation’).

As the immigrant-created Western nations are becoming progressively tinted, and many of the ‘coloured’ are becoming lighter in shade, how are they going to hold the line that racism refers to a ‘white’ abusing a ‘coloured’? How white has the abuser to be? See my article ‘Racism – decidedly a meaningless term’ in

Ethno-cultural superiority

When white Anglo-Celt Australians, divided by sect but not by class, and upheld by a belief in the superiority of the ‘white’ race, its desert-derived religion, and the power of the armaments which enabled this race to rule over coloured peoples world-wide, came face to face with young educated Asians, many found to their horror a generally unexpressed superiority, based on history. Being stomped on by European buccaneers and the administrators who followed them left no great imprint on their sense of who they are.

As Kim (a real person I knew) said to his classmates preparing to enter university way back in racist White Australia, “I am of Chinese descent. My ancestors have been civilised for more than 5,000 years, long before the white man came down from the trees.’ That went down well! Yet, that was the attitude implanted in us all by our parents while they waited patiently for the interlopers to leave: we Asians are inferior to none! See my unpublished paper ‘Early cultural shocks: Asians in Australia’ from my address to students of Australian history at the University of Wollongong; and my 4 articles titled ‘Early cultural shocks: East-West relations’ in Raja A Ratnam.

Perhaps that is why, even in pre-war British Malaya, intercultural relations among the Asians were at a stronger level than in Australia at the end of the last century. After all, it was the white invaders and colonisers who came up with the concept of the ‘white race’, in contrast to the tinted, subjugated ‘natives,’ the ‘coloured races.’ Even some academics once sought to prove that the white race is genetically superior; some went as far as to deny that the Europeans had to learn anything from the ‘black races’ of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia and India. It is a pity that they had not met Kim.

For the record, I can confirm that we were taught not to disrespect white people as a whole, while we remained anti-colonial and anti-racist. Those of my relatives and friends who later studied in Britain confirmed that mutual respect was the norm over there.

A uniform way of life

We humans have risen to great heights since we ascended from the animal kingdom from which we are said to have evolved. Or, have we?

From nuclear, to small, to large extended families, to clans, to tribes and, in the last 5 centuries or so, to nations – this has been the traditional path to modern societies. In Asia communalism yet prevails, as in the Mediterranean regions of Europe. I do not know if communalism applies in the rest of Europe. Presumably communalism arose from tribalism.

Yet, in the currently dominant nations of the West, those created anew by immigrants from Europe (including the British Isles) in the last half-millennium, individualism (with its non-cohering societal relations) prevails. These new nations are the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Individualism may have been unavoidable in the foundation periods; but later? So, without the intervention of the State, could these new nations have evolved uniform ways of life, underpinned by shared values, comparable to the long-established, time-tested, uniform ways of life in communal, possibly tribally-led Asian territories?

As a bicultural Asian-Australian, formed by the communalism of Asia, but with both feet firmly grounded in the West, I can see both sides of the sampan as I continue on my personal river of destiny. However, the indigenes in these new Western nations, whose cultures were severely damaged, if not destroyed, while the invader continuously undermined the limited economic resources left to them, have not shared in this new way of life. Their traditional communalism is all they have left to protect themselves from the predations of their uninvited rulers. See my article ‘A needed unity from a recent diversity’ in

A salad or a casserole

Unlike certain countries in Europe, the Middle East, and South-East Asia, relying on cheap foreign labour, while seeking to retain the purity of their people (ignoring the reality of history – that most of us are casseroles), Australia does enable accepted arrivals to participate fully within the nation’s institutions, provided that the arrivals do not seek to alter the nation to suit their particular religio-cultural prejudices or egos.

However, in Australia’s foundation period, the Roman Catholic Church achieved separation for its flock through a parallel education system. This right now applies to other religions as well. Does this reflect an unexpressed need to protect private and sole paths to the Celestial Home of the Heavenly Father?

Is it surprising that now some clerics of Islam seek to have the host nation’s institutions altered to provide a dual legal system – that is, to include sharia law? Is Australia now to become more of a cultural salad, as applies in those nations which do not offer equal opportunity? It is an interesting approach – the new arrival wants his host nation to change its laws and customary practices: by what right? And with what benefit to the nation?

See ‘Traditional Cultures’ by R.Ratnam in ‘Culture is … … Australian Stories Across Cultures’, an anthology by the Multicultural Writers’ Association of Australia.