Is Australia to be in Asia or vice versa?

That we have no plans for economic development (remember market forces?), whereas those countries which have plans are becoming industrially more efficient, is countered by the argument that we, consistent with modern economic theology, will move out of production to service industries. What do we do then with our unskilled surplus labour? … …

I detect an ambivalence in Australia. The realities of living in a global village require that we join Asia. But the more vociferous a claim by politicians that we are part of Asia, the more recalcitrant the old Aussie. One can understand his stance. His predominantly British colonial heritage leads him to look down on others, particularly the coloured ones. His relationship with the Aborigines has influenced him further in this direction. He has had a high standard of living, knowing that he has been his boss’s social equal, and that his boss has not been that much better off financially (until recently).

He has felt comfortable in recent times with Asians being in Australia to study – thousands of well-behaved students will go home feeling friendly and grateful to Australia. He also reads about Asians attending Australian defence courses … He feels good.

Poor fellow! Now he is being told that he is not really in an outpost of a superior European civilisation. What about his ancestral, cultural, political and economic links with Europe? There is, however, little being said by the politicians about that because they are really speaking (they hope) to Australian entrepreneurs, especially those recently recruited from East and North Asia. What is confusing the ordinary old Aussie is that this island continent is somehow being dragged towards Asia.

And does he take his cultural superiority with him into Asia? He thinks he is because his government keeps telling him about its lectures to sundry Asian leaderships about human rights deficiencies in their respective bailiwicks. So the old Aussie thinks that he is going to help the Asian, as befitting his destiny. He does not know about that Burmese saying, “Sparrows who emulate a peacock are likely to break a thigh.” Yet, from time to time, he reads that if we miss the bus into Asia, we are going to be left by the roadside, all alone in the cold wind, for a long time. He is also told how fast these Asian economies are growing, how modern is their technology, and how close they are to our godfather, the USA.

What is the poor Aussie to think? Worse still, instead of many nice friendly students and a small number of highly visible unemployed refugees of the East Asian kind (upon whom he can continue to look down), he is now confronted by exceedingly wealthy Asians. A Rolls Royce with a uniformed chauffeur conveying an Indian lady and children, another Indian beetling along in another Rolls, medical specialists and businessmen buying up very expensive mansions in the top suburbs, knocking them down and building new palaces spanning two blocks, and other evidence of a lifestyle not generally seen in Australia, is very upsetting for many. … …

Today, however, it is all Asian entry, hopefully with money, money, money. The benefits of business migration entry are unknown and uncertain. … … I used to address immigration agents involved with (later responsible for) business migration entry. My job was to alert the agents, especially the non-Asian ones, about settlement issues and stresses. … When Asian entrepreneurs were first allowed entry, they could go out the day after arrival and take their money with them. We would not have known.

Later, they were required to stay a minimum of one year, or risk denial of re-entry. However, if they claimed to have genuine business reasons for a temporary return home during the first year, off they went. But everyone carefully bought a house and set up their children for study in Australia before returning to carry on as usual back home. There were said to be at least thirty thousand such heads of household in Hong Kong in 1996.

To my knowledge, there was no effective follow-up as to whether these entrepreneurs did establish viable and continuing business in Australia, or that the funds brought in actually stayed.

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ indicate how Australia wobbled about in its relationships with Asia. However, younger generations, not bound by ancestral mindsets, have taken us onto more pragmatic policies.

Whether we can over-ride a tendency to be overly grateful to those who offer military protection, or are the largest customers of dug-up natural resources, or who invest large chunks of money on property and existing enterprises, has yet to be determined.

Will we outgrow being ‘the lucky country,’ the pejorative term coined by that great social commentator Donald Horne?)