Rob Idol

12,000 Syrian Refugees: Abbott’s parting gift

With Tony Abbott gone, his decision to allow 12,000 Syrian refugees into the country remains; Rob Idol thinks congratulations are in order – for ourselves.

Last week, something very important happened in Australia. Following pressure from all corners of the country, the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott had what appeared to be a significant change of heart and announced that Australia would be taking in 12,000 Syrian refugees, over and above our normal refugee intake. Is it enough? Probably not. Can we do more? Surely. It was a start, it what it represents is important on a number of fronts.

In the first instance, it was a very significant breakthrough in the political rhetoric to which we have been subjected since the Abbott Government took power. Our refugee policy had been 100% targeted at one simple war cry…stop the boats. That was the answer, regardless of the question being asked. Refugees, legitimate or not, were referred to as illegals or queue jumpers. We were sent a very consistent message that anyone coming to this country on a boat was illegal, even though the contrary was true.

This announcement has started the road back to repair some of that damage.

Those at the top of the tree are again talking in terms of compassion. Cynically it could be viewed, that with his job on the line, Abbott let his heart control his head. It could also be argued that Abbott’s change of heart had little to do with a call from his own conscience; but the call to arms from within his own party, most notably from Mike Baird the NSW Premier, has shown at the very least that even the conservative side of the political spectrum in this country is capable of positive social policy.

The lucky number of refugees pales in comparison to the 800,000 admitted by Germany. In terms of the current crisis, it’s a small drop in a very large ocean. What it represents is extremely significant – a u-turn on the very dangerous road we had been travelling on; where Australia had lost its humanity, empathy and perhaps, its way.

Apart from the very welcome shift in approach from Abbott, there was something even more exciting afoot. The pressure from within his own party might have got him over the line, but it was the pressure on the streets, in the media and on social media that started and sustained the movement. We just witnessed an incredible show of people power in this country on an issue that deserved the support.

We are a country built on migration. Pretending that we weren’t would have been beyond shameful. But that’s not what happened. Australians from all walks of life stood up and said enough is enough. Where the silent majority had been content with sitting on the fence on many polarising issues, it was this that we collectively found our voice.

The entire country committed to different war cry on refugees….we need to do more. The little cynical voice in my head that didn’t think we were capable got beaten down a few notches.

And it’s a start. While it’s not an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back. It is an opportunity to build and redefine the way that we look at the issue of immigration, particularly the plight of refugees. It offers us the chance to put our collective minds and resources together to find advantages in further increasing our refugee intake beyond humanitarian aspects.

For example, could there be economic upsides? could there be cultural upsides? There certainly have, in previous migration waves, why not now? Why not take the opportunity to allow other cultures to be added to our own rich tapestry. It sounds idealistic, but how quickly we forget the enormous positive impact that immigration has had in building the culture of this country.

I always like to think of food as a simple metaphor for us. I can walk down my street and get a Thai curry that could rival the offerings of Bangkok, or a pizza that’s on par with one of the best from Naples. It might seem insignificant, but it’s an allegory for our Great Southern Land.

We’ve always been able to get it, so we take it for granted, which makes us forget. We have all of this and so much more, because of immigration and it’s as much a part of us now as the humble meat pie. The more layers we can add to our cultural pavlova, the stronger it becomes.

Not to mention the immeasurable upside it represents to those that want to come here. Beyond the basic desire for survival, they are seeking what we were simply gifted by fate – a fair go. Wanting to a new start in life where there is the opportunity for betterment, for yourself and your family. The same opportunity that many of our parents or grandparents were given the last time we were dealing with a crisis of this scale; an opportunity they grabbed with both hands.

It won’t be without its challenges for them and they know that.

Such is the promise of opportunity in a country such as ours that they are prepared to leave everything they know and move half way around the globe with absolutely no idea of whether they will be embraced or shunned. Yet so often we focus on how it will impact us, rather than how we can help them, and us, better our country together. Like all things, we have to be practical, but the first place to start in that journey is to remove the negativity, which the events of the last week have gone a long way towards achieving.

We aren’t a country of drongos or bogans cooking shrimp on the barbie; we aren’t a country of blonde haired, blue eyed surfers; we are a country that is made up of everyone, from everywhere. A country that could, if it chose to, be the blueprint for the future of global multiculturalism. We have had integration issues, but compared to the rest of the world, we’ve handled it better than most. Hopefully with the change of Leadership, this change in thinking will continue to grow, for we are in the best possible position to do so.


Rob Idol

Rob is an aspiring writer who balances his time between a “real” job and his passion for politics, social justice and all things creative. He has an MBA, an unhealthy obsession with current events, an even unhealthier obsession with pop culture and has been known to offer favourable food reviews in exchange for free meals.

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