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!)