AUSTRALIA’S level of urban and regional cultural tolerance is arguably comparable with the level of enthusiasm a refugee child has after playing eye-spy at sea for a week: faint-hearted.
With the issue of refugees and asylum seekers dominating the headlines, the merits of utilising refugees in rural and regional areas to assist in the well publicised shortage of 100,000 jobs is also being debated.
Back in 2007, the National Farmers' Federation predicted that by this year we’d be short across our top seven occupations by 2000 shearers, 21,000 farm hands, 4000 machinery operators and 3000 bookkeepers.
With the government spending upwards of $250,000 per person per year on indefinite detention - and now God knows how much to Papua New Guinea to receive the diverted arrivals under the proposed new Regional Settlement Arrangement - it’s been suggested we spend that money on building up skills in regional areas , training refugees in an industry that needs people.
This would fill jobs and stimulate local economies, not to mention adding some spice to the local cuisine.
Whatever your thoughts, such a discussion is based on the assumption we’re actually good at processing, nurturing and integrating these people anyway, and I’m not sure we are.
We’re a country that is seen to give more compassion and resources to how our cattle are handled and processed overseas than working with people and families that are exercising their primeval instinct to survive, "queue jumpers" or not.
If you were to travel to PNG, the Australian Government advises to “exercise a high degree of caution” and notes that Port Moresby is considered one of the most dangerous ports in the world.
A recent study done on Kurdish and Afghani refugees settled in Australia between 1991 to 2002 suggests we have some issues. They were Muslim, spoke English, and were generally well-educated, with 88 per cent having secondary or tertiary education.
Currently this group still show levels of stress around unemployment and struggle with social isolation: a sense of never really "fitting in". Although they’re truly grateful for the re-settlement and value their safe new quality of life, their separation from family, possible discrimination and loss of social and career status long-term made their life very overwhelming some 20 years later.
In WA a study of ex-Yugoslavs, black Africans and people from the Middle East saw us allocate them to secondary labour market jobs regardless of their previous occupations.
That includes jobs us locals might avoid, from cleaners and taxi driving to meat processing and security. Again, after years of work, their morale and self worth was affected in that loss of importance or occupational status.
Those surveyed showed a segmented labour market, where racial and cultural visibility played a part in denying them and ourselves of their existing skill sets.
For example, if a refugee who used to be a shepherd in his home country is allocated to a job on the line in an abattoir, we'll never know if he has some “you beaut” sheep handling technique to share.
From this you can see how and why people congregate and form their own communities. We get pissed off, slam them with “when in Rome”, and then don’t make an effort. But on the other hand, some don’t seem to make an effort in return either. So the split goes on.
Boats or no boats, Labor or Liberal, acceptance or denial: it takes more than “tolerance” to ensure we get immigrants adding value to their new country, for all of our benefit.
We seem to still be a long way from patting a Muslim shearer on the back after cutting out a shed and then both tucking into a steak and chips at the pub.
What do you reckon?