Other settlement assistance programs

My chief hit me with the question, “What are the policy imperatives of grant funding?” Well, I thought the policy was clear. But there were no operational guidelines for prioritisation and so the squeaky wheels got the grease. So I set to work and thereby upset the policy chief in Canberra (whom I later accused of being my first public service racist). With accepted guidelines, the flexibility available to deal with squeaks was reduced, was it not? Favours would not be so readily available.

I then moved into project funding … Our many-hatted friend had a pet project. Obtaining funding for it would enhance his reputation with the other ethnic workers and shakers. The Minister accepted my recommendation … (after due process was followed, of course), and now we had a true friend.

Then the Minister asked me to look into some adverse publicity being skilfully generated by a mainstream community organisation, which was collectively beating at its breast with apparent anxiety over the plight of some Vietnamese in the district. The Vietnamese were being very well looked after, I pointed out. But these people really cared for the poor Viets and went to the press again. And the mainstream press did not seem to care a damn for truth, only headlines. So the Minister bought off this lot too (after due process was again followed, of course).

While the mainstream press paid no attention to our new policy, the ethnic press was helpful. One editor really wanted to help his people by having the department refer to him all immigration sponsorships by members of his community. Apart from the fact that he ran a travel agency, it was difficult to see how he could do better than departmental officers, who had all the language skills necessary.

The ethnic newspapers were well supported by their communities, I was told. The department employed journalists not only to spread the word to mainstream media (in case they cared) but also to ethnic newspapers (who did care). The latter watched the department like vultures watching a somnolescent rabbit. Following my belief that, in time, ethnic communities must be encouraged to be more aware of other ethnic communities, I spoke to the editors of the three major newspapers.

I explained that I had grown up in a country where the ethnic communities coexisted initially and each had limited communication with the others. I had noticed a similar pattern in Australia. Whilst the ethnic media informed their readers about matters affecting their lives in the country, what would they know about the rest of Australia, especially if their knowledge of English was limited?

Since successful settlement was of major concern to everyone, was there scope for some cover to be provided to the settlement successes of other ethnic communities? Two of the three editors said that the idea was fraught with difficulties, e.g. space, time, and cost had to be considered. No, they were not interested. The third editor was different. “Okay,” he said. “What can you do for me? Can you also provide the material and meet any extra costs?” This was my kind of man. Then our head office said that the idea was fraught with difficulties, e.g. time, cost, and capacity had to be considered. No, the proposal was fraught with difficulties and one would have to move with caution, if at all.

So, that was that. I had a feeling that, back at head office, nothing excited them. I drafted some guidelines for ethnic affairs officers (that was us); it took me a whole weekend. My draft was accepted by my regional chief and a year later, head office produced a little leaflet just when the thrust of the policy had been allowed to fade away.

In the meantime, my team researched funding sources available at three levels of government; the funds received by each ethnic community in the past; and set these against our assessment of needs. The Minister loved it all, whilst head office yawned. It was amazing how much of the taxpayers’ money was being directed to ethnic communities. What had this achieved?

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ will confirm that our governments – and thereby the taxpayer – were spending a lot of money enhancing access by the newly-arrived immigrant to services, mainly from the public sector. However, a new pot of honey will have predictable results. And politics is not easily separated from policies.

Mainstream media, and thereby the public at large, could have had little idea about all this. But, the ethnic media and ethnic community leaders were busy in what I (the outsider) considered to be ethnic empowerment of a kind.

More importantly, I felt that immigrants, no matter their origin, might desirably become more aware of the life and backgrounds of immigrants of other ethnicities, thus enhancing everyone’s integration into the nation. That is why I wrote ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity,’ which also examined the shared search by one and all for God, the Universal Creator; and which also highlighted the co-creation of mankind, viz. the Family of Man.)

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A new policy in migrant settlement

My new team was of genuine migrant origin, both born overseas. They had arrived in their teens without any knowledge of the English language and were now fluent. They also had tertiary qualifications. One, a Greek, had work experience in the State government, the second tier of government in Australia; the other, a Polish-Jew, had private sector and political experience.

Our job was to be a conduit between the Federal government and the migrant communities; the latter would be more adequately aware of the government’s policies to help migrants settle more successfully into the community. On the other hand, they would be better able to inform the government of any unmet settlement assistance needs, especially in obtaining access to services, especially government services. These services would include immigration, welfare, legal, health, and so on. Improved access to services was the call.

To enhance this access, the Federal Government had already established a telephone interpreter service, a translation unit, (to translate documents of relevance to the immigrant’s settlement), migrant resource centres (MRCs), and schemes of grants. MRCs were small shop fronts offering meeting rooms for the local ethnic communities, and information, counselling and advice in some of the languages predominating in the district. Essentially, they were advisory centres for migrants, with all the attendant benefits flowing from that.

The grants-in-aid scheme or GIA enabled a community to employ a welfare worker to service those of its members who needed advice, in their own language, on what services were available and how to access them. Another grants scheme subsidised one-off projects relating to settlement issues, including research. Mainstream, i.e. Anglo-Celt, organisations were eligible. The project subsidy scheme was a sort of slush fund or grease to quieten or sweeten those who went public about some poor ethnic group or other being in need about something or other.

There were lots of professionally caring people suddenly coming out of the woodwork. Some projects, on the other hand, were of genuine value and reasonably desirable, even if not necessary, reflecting the views of very genuine and sincere people about real needs.

When I arrived upon this scene, there had already been a substantial public debate about the provision of settlement services by ethnic communities through public funding. The predominant issue was whether taxpayer-funded plural service structures would result and, if so, whether this would be detrimental to a cohesive nation. The underlying question was, and still is, why service providers at any level of government, or even in the private sector should not ensure that their services are uniformly accessible to those in need of such services.

If such access required the provision of interpreters and translators, and public relations and information campaigns to reach their non-English-speaking constituency, the service delivery agencies, whether public or private, had an obligation to do so. And many did move along that track. However, the Federal government decided to embark on the funding of ethnic-controlled access mechanisms (it was mindful of the ethnic vote); and, in the early Eighties, it decided to establish in Sydney and Melbourne small but high-powered, high-profile ethnic-staffed units to liaise with the leaders of the local ethnic communities.

In the process, we would obviously come to know not only the hot spots of need, but also the hot spots of unrest. My team’s focus initially was on communities we knew little about, and whose needs might be great but who did not know how to express these needs. But we did also pay our respects to the major communities through their power brokers.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out,’ written in 1995/6, and based on my experiences in the 1980s, might today raise such questions such as: Was this policy the beginning of a political approach by government to offer a degree of empowerment to the major ethnic communities, who were led mainly by second generation Aussies of non-British descent? Had service providers, whether public or private, actually been deficient in the extent or quality of delivery?

In this context, some members of the media, and a few junior academics of ethnic descent, had to be told persistently that there can be no second or third generation of immigrants (or refugees). When accepted, the entrant became a first generation Australian, the descendants obviously definable only as Australians of a second and successive generations.

There also arose the issue of defining an ethnic. I asked whether the following person is an ethnic and, if so, how he is to be defined: Malaysian by birth, Ceylon Tamil by ancestry, Hindu by culture, and Australian by citizenship.)

A crash-through introduction to Immigration

When I accepted the invitation to transfer to the ethnic affairs area of the Department of Immigration, I had great hopes of making a sufficient contribution to policy through my own settlement experiences, my relatively extensive contact with migrants in my early years in Australia, and my work experience in policy, research and administration.

… … After about a week of boredom, which left me wondering what I would need to do to find interesting work, a senior officer came to see me. He had been delegated by the head of the agency to ask if I would like the responsibility for implementing the scheme of charging for services; since I came from Finance, I must know about money and machines. I replied that I came from Treasury, which knew nothing about money, machines, or anything else in the real world. But I would consider overnight whether I was competent to take on the job. The next day I said that I would, only to have him reply, “Don’t be a bloody fool.”

I asked why, and he said that the central policy area, which was responsible, had refused to implement an “immoral” policy, and so they had wasted nearly a whole month, leaving a little less than ten weeks or so to the crunch date.
… … Anyway, on day two, I presented a tentative approach, with staffing and briefing requirements, a timetable, and consultations with regulatory agencies.

The next day, I had an officer with experience on staffing matters, and another with accounting and audit experience. Someone in that agency was clever; the three of us were alike in our approach – we wanted and obtained full autonomy under clear guidelines, and it became clear within a week that we would, if necessary, bend any rule, but without breaking it. We were some team – Irish-Aussie, Maltese-English, and me. We loved everybody – but please do not get in our way.

We were not going to fail, especially through some moralising incompetent receiving more money than we did. My detailed plan of action, which looked impossible, was approved by the Executive, subject to weekly reports on progress and approvals for the next bout of actions by my team. We were briefed on immigration procedures (none of us knew anything about the subject). We obtained approval from relevant agencies about purchasing (on a truncated tender basis) the necessary machines; we had them modified and installed with necessary security; staff were appointed and trained; and instructions were issued to all overseas posts.

We even consulted the Audit Office, which normally examined departmental practices after a year of operation. When they demurred at a before-installation assessment, we told them that, were they to find fault later, our Minister would remind their Minister about their lack of co-operation in avoiding mistakes at the initial stage. It was wonderful how one could make most public servants jump, but not necessarily with joy, just by whispering the word ‘Minister’. As happens so often, many who are not responsible are in positions of responsibility.

Then the gremlins took over. The legal people said that the Attorney-General would need many weeks to draft regulations. I was curious as to why this task had not been set in train earlier. My chief took me to the Minister to explain why the implementation date could not be met. The Minister (whom I had met elsewhere) stood up, looked down on his senior adviser and said, “I do not mind if public servants work all night and every night, but you will meet the implementation date. Am I clear?” It was beautiful.

Three days later I was stopped outside his door by our acting chief of legal matters. His office’s role was to refer legal questions to the A-G. He gave me the draft regulations for my approval. What a surprising show of efficiency. I then made an enemy for life by examining them on the spot, in his room, and, much to his surprise, initialling and approving them, saying, “Ask the A-G’s Office to implement immediately.” This they did.

On crunch day, every office took money and there were no problems of an administrative nature. My team was flatteringly commended by the head of the agency. I suspect that he was quite aware of our crash-through approach.
This led him to ask me if I could help by taking a job in Melbourne. I was to be there for a short while only, and I would be promoted on my return. His deputy was party to this promise. Whacko, I thought! I would at last be entering the senior executive service permanently. Dream on, Daddyo!

(While these extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ may suggest that I had little respect for the way public servants operate, it has to be said that there is a discernible difference between the private sector and the public sector, especially among senior managers. Those in the private sector have clear targets contributing to profitability or growth to meet all the time, whereas only parts of the public sector had to meet deadlines; but where were the measures of efficiency for the latter?

Mainly through my work on promotion appeals committees (PACs), which covered for a number of years the whole public sector in the national capital, I became aware of significant differences in the quality of managers between agencies. Perhaps I was also influenced by the reality that a few colleagues I had passed over through my promotions had left for lesser agencies, and risen two steps above me.

But I was more aware of the undocumented assessments of competence by some senior public agency managers which did not meet the requirements of natural justice. But there seemed to be no one to evaluate the competence of these senior managers. Three PACs found top managers who claimed to be ‘too busy’ to examine policy issues.)

Entrants from Asia reflect quaint policies

What of the Tamils of Sri Lanka? Since the Minister, at the time of my appointment to the Melbourne position, had identified me in his press release as Malaysian-born of Sri Lankan origin, I kept well away from Sri Lankan matters. The Tamils had to fight to qualify for humanitarian entry. A special programme was eventually drawn up for them when it was obvious that they were at risk, and their sponsors were becoming vociferously political.

Getting selected was, however, a problem. Sponsored applicants had to go to Colombo, where riots had taken place, travelling through territory that was being contested. Then they had to wait for processing. With only two Australian officials in Colombo, there were delays. “The horses of hope gallop, but the asses of experience go slowly,” as the Russians say.

These delays reflected what two of my colleagues had referred to as a discriminatory policy. In turn, each one had complained to the head of the agency that, having three officials to cover the whole of the Indian subcontinent (whereas there were much larger numbers in each of Hong Kong, Korea, and Japan), ensured that fewer people from that part of the world could enter Australia.

The head of the agency had, by that time, retired while he was still in the job. He would not budge – as he said to me in another context – he had to accept the advice of his senior staff. The question is, who decided to narrow the processing door for the Indian sub-continent? Two of my colleagues of middle rank had served in India and knew the extent of the problem. Why, they asked the head of the agency, were the staffing levels unbalanced? There was no adequate answer, according to them. Since they worked for me and I knew them well, I accepted their story. Perhaps the fact that they were not posted overseas again, and that they subsequently left the department says enough?

In any event, processing in Colombo was slow. Local sponsors wondered whether it was meant to be slow – many thought so. Some also complained of corruption. However, the programme was successful until it was closed down – more promptly than those other ethno-specific programmes, which had somehow survived for so long. Efficiency at last – or a carefully hidden agenda, asked a Sri Lankan working in the agency.

The answer may be obvious when one considers another fact or two. Another colleague of mine working on migrant hostels policy discovered by chance one day that two-thirds of the Tamils entering the hostels for on-arrival transit accommodation were Christians, when the majority of the Tamils are Hindu. A non-discriminatory policy at work? The critic was a non-Asian Christian.

Yet another fact. In the Eighties, two researchers into the settlement record of Asian migrants in Australia found that the majority were Christians. How nice for the soul collectors! Was this a reflection of an unspoken policy by the department or the government? Or did this merely reflect the prejudices of the selectors in the field? And, in the meantime, the man in the street, egged on by sections of the media, is whining about the Asianisation of Australia – the whole country was going to be brown any minute! And the very same people spent so much time trying to acquire a suntan.

As well, prejudice seems to be reflected in academic ‘studies’. For example, there was a ‘finding’ that the proportion of Asians in the country would rise to some ridiculously high figure in a short time. The explanation was not in our fecundity or in some extraordinary increase in the immigration intakes.

On the contrary, if a person had an ancestor from Asia (yes, anywhere on that large continent) and even if all successive generations had married non-Asians (preferably whites), on the basis of the smallest fraction of that original Asian ‘blood’, he/she would be defined as Asian. This is exactly what white Aussies had done to the Aborigines; the slightest tinge of Aboriginal blood and you were black. What a way to frighten the xenophobic and racist whites. And what academic cleverness.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ indicate the cleverness of Australia’s bureaucrats – if not their politicians – in ensuring that the inflow of coloured Asians was graduated by colour intensity over time, when the immigration door was suddenly opened by a new government in the 1970s.

While discriminatory, it was sensible; yet, even an academic began to exaggerate the degree to which a hitherto white European nation might turn into a coloured Asian nation – but only by definition! As a later conservative politician claimed, Australia is in Asia only geographically (???) but not culturally. Communitarian Asians might insist on the latter.

Today, while we have the widest range of languages, ethnicities and geographical origins – so we claim – the nation remains in the safe hands of Anglo-Celts – seemingly, mainly Celts. That is, religio-tribalism yet rules!)

Some interesting aspects of humanitarian entry

A colleague who had worked at the Vienna office told me about a Pole who had enquired about going to Australia. … he was a refugee, he claimed. My friend asked, “Where is your wife?” “In Poland.” “Why don’t you go back and fetch her … “ So, the Pole wandered back to his home town by public transport, fetched his wife, and Australia received two more ‘refugees’.

It was very similar, according to this colleague, in certain Mediterranean cities. There were many unattached young women who enquired about migration. But they offered no skills. Coming from sundry villages, they could offer nothing more than onion picking or something like that. Knowing that there were many single Mediterranean men in Australia, the interviewing officials used to ask if the female applicant could sew. Inevitably, the answer was, “Yes.” So Australia gained another seamstress, hopefully as marriage fodder.

… … When the Solidarity union movement was attacked in Poland, Australia widened its global humanitarian policy, which had hitherto required an applicant to be outside his country and fearful of return because of discrimination. The policy now allowed an applicant to be within his country of nationality. Presumably, the Polish government consented to the departure of those who sought entry to Australia under this expanded policy.

… … when the East European refugee programme was introduced, there was talk of some of the new arrivals in the migrant hostels asking about the cars they thought they were to receive. … One arrived late one afternoon with a group of fellow countrymen. He was outstanding, with his lovely tan-coloured suitcase, matching shoes, and a silver grey suit. The next morning he wore torn jeans and a T-shirt and was queuing up for welfare support. He must have been well briefed overnight.

Another entrant took a dislike to the hostel food and was seen chasing the chef into the car park while brandishing a cleaver. Another was a traumatised person who used to punch out his hostel walls periodically. As his country of origin seemed to produce a disproportionate number of troubled people, some Aussie officials began to wonder if our intake had included former inmates of certain institutions in that country.

I once met a former senior scientist who had moved freely, and by air, between an Eastern European nation and other communist nations. His work had required this travel. He admitted that he had been happy in his job and that he had been well off. When I asked him why he had decided to become a refugee, he said, somewhat lamely I thought, that freedom was more important. A recruit or volunteer? He was going to learn a sharp lesson. Many of the professional Poles I met were unhappy because their qualifications and skills were not recognised in Australia. Driving taxis was no substitute for the job satisfaction they had relinquished. Freedom, which they did value, meant a relatively lower job satisfaction and status.

Later, I was to find that some had returned to Poland – long before Perestroika. They had written back to their friends in Australia to say that they were doing well again. Does the Russian adage: “A lizard on a cushion will still seek leaves” apply here?

… … When I addressed a multicultural group in a country town one night and talked of the government funding ethnicity-based services to the new arrivals, old and young rejected the intrusion of the State into their lives. Independence and self-sufficiency made the nation, they said. “What about accessing services?” they were asked. They were not aware of any problems, they said. And many, many of the old migrants do sincerely hold this belief. They are not jealous in any way of the new arrivals. They saw the new policies as undermining their faith in the individual’s ability to adapt without government interference, for they know what that can lead to.

So, did the welfare industry sell the taxpayer an expensive pup? The test is whether the newer arrivals, supported by an expensive network of settlement services, became better integrated than their predecessors. Judging by a tendency to whinge about needing more from government, an Australian tradition, yes.

(If the above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ suggest that humanitarian entry was somewhat of a game … …! Yet, to my knowledge, Australia did acquire good people, in the main.

But there had developed a sea change: where the earlier immigrants and war-displaced refugees had looked after themselves without whingeing, there seems to have developed, from about the 1970s, a more welfare-oriented perspective. This was, to me – an outsider in the game – the commencement of an era of ethnic empowerment. This subsequently became melded into the age of entitlement.)

The abuse of humanitarian entry

When the taxpaying community becomes tired of subsidising some of the rorts of humanitarian entry, the true spirit of adventure and self-reliance that were the hallmarks of migration will return. So say most of the old migrants and the old Aussie, but not the professional ethnic or his welfare cohorts. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime (or two) should be the basis of policy, instead of encouraging him to sit around waiting for a handout of a sardine pickle.

… … Humanitarian policy is often misrepresented. My first experience of such misrepresentation was when the then Minister announced a one-off amnesty for people illegally in Australia. After a very clear exposition by the Minister, at which I was present, one of the ethnic representatives, who spoke excellent English, went back and wrote a biased and error-filled report in his ethnic language newspaper. An unexpected and genuine gesture was misrepresented.

“They gave the naked man a shirt and he said it was too thick,” as the Russians say. What did the newsman gain from such a misrepresentation? Did he see his role as attacking the government at every opportunity (while seeking privileges)? Attack, whinge, attack – is the tactical ploy of some professional ethnics.

When I was transferred to the position of head of the humanitarian entry policy of Immigration, I found that a new policy had just been approved but not implemented. In addition to refugee entry based on the formal definition relating to a well-founded fear of persecution, there would be humanitarian entry based on a well-founded fear of discrimination. The policy as drafted seemed to be an impossible one to administer. …

… … I rewrote the policy, the Minister approved it, and it was implemented. A survey of the programme after six months showed not one Baha’i, the only people who, according to Amnesty International and other reports, were clearly in need of succour through that policy. … … I finalised the support mechanisms with the leaders of the Baha’i faith to provide settlement assistance to those approved for humanitarian entry into Australia.

… … With time, more and more people were approved under the humanitarian policy, always on a case-by-case basis. There had to be an apparent prima facie basis for acceptance. And all manner of people from a range of countries were coming in. To my knowledge, that programme was successful, although there were many instances of abuse. Those who knew how to squawk the loudest were the most successful of the dubious cases. Some of the sponsors were not averse to personally abusing officials – I can vouch for that.

… … When the refugee programme (which had resulted in a huge intake of Vietnamese, mainly of ethnic-Chinese ancestry, and with a substantial proportion of Catholics) was expanded to cover East Europeans, I understood from my political contacts that their party wanted some white refugees for a change. When the programme was subsequently expanded to cover Latin Americans, it was rumoured that the then Minister wanted some left-wing refugees, also for a change. Was it significant that the people in the geographical areas covered were predominantly of the same Church?

The bureaucrats too made their contribution to changes of policy. Their motives were mixed – to grease the squeaky wheel (for genuine humanitarian concerns or to ease the pressure on the Minister); to big-note themselves (with an eye to promotion into the international agencies); or to do favours (with a possible career upgrade if politicians so decided). I do not believe that cost to the taxpayer, coherence in policy, or the consequential shifts in ethnic community balance or relations or tensions, were given adequate consideration. That would also require a certain intellectual competence and I saw little evidence of that in my day.

(The above extracts from my book ‘Destiny Will Out’ should indicate that humanitarian entry policy was essentially a political ploy. Flexibility, not corruption or lax administration, was the name of the game, although a few inexperienced senior bureaucrats were then unavoidable.

Today, asylum-seeking economic immigrants arriving by boat (without documentation) or by air (with entry visas) have thrown politicians into confusion. Approvals of boat people reportedly exceed 90 %. How could that be?

Their supporters are either irresponsible in terms of the cost to honest taxpayers, or to the inherent policy issues. These include inter-community cohesion in Australia, and the family responsibilities of the men who place their women and children on unsafe boats, surely knowing that processing of their claims will take place overseas. Whinge, attack, whinge remains the weapon of choice of asylum-seeker glee-clubs.)