Mark Latham’s Tuesday Column:
Refugee policy has become the ultimate form of virtue signaling. Left-wing elites think they can display their compassion and moral superiority by advocating for open borders. They gather at candle-lit vigils, urging our governments to take in an unlimited number of asylum seekers. Under the Rudd and Gillard Governments, this ended in the tragedy of 2,000 drowned at sea – the greatest humanitarian disaster in Australian history.
I remember a shouting match with my Labor colleague Anthony Albanese after the Tampa incident in 2001. He accused me of representing a racist electorate in Western Sydney that wanted to close our borders to people in need. I told him it had nothing to do with race and everything to do with the rule of law: how suburban Labor voters simply wanted an orderly, merit-based migration system, with no queue jumping.
In government, Albanese got his way. The boats flowed and it ended as I had predicted: in tragic failure. The financial interests of people-smugglers triumphed over commonsense and compassion. For every one refugee Albanese successfully settled in his inner-Sydney electorate during the Rudd/Gillard years, 30 drowned at sea. How does he sleep at night? Even worse, why is he still advocating a policy that caused so much grief last time?
While the fate of the boatpeople is well known, less analysis had been given to outcomes under Australia’s official refugee settlement program. Again, there has been a massive failure of public policy.
In September 2015 the NSW Premier, Mike Baird, urged the Federal Government to accept a “generous number” of Syrian refugees, pledging to settle the bulk of them in his state. Ultimately, Australia took 12,000, with the Baird Government accepting 7,000 for NSW. Big promises were made about their positive economic impact on country towns.
Baird appointed the former head of the Prime Minister’s Department, Peter Shergold, as the ‘NSW Coordinator-General for Refugee Settlement’. In November 2015 Shergold told the ABC, “We’ve got towns that have already played an important role with refugees, like Newcastle, Albury, Wagga, Coffs Harbour and so on, and I’d imagine over time we’ll also have these new (Syrian) refugees go to those places.” Baird also hosted a ‘Refugee Job Placement Summit’, promising employment in the NSW Public Service, Harvey Norman, Accor Hotels, Lendlease and Australia Post.
Two-and-a-half years later, where did the Syrians end up? More than 6,000 settled in just one local government area, Fairfield in Western Sydney. There was no dispersal to NSW country towns. Nor is there any evidence of significant job placement.
Fairfield has become Australia’s refugee capital. As Mayor Frank Carbone said, “They stopped the boats and put them on buses instead”. The local impact has been devastating, with housing rents rising by 35 percent and Fairfield High School facing new enrolments four times higher than previously planned.
The district already had the highest unemployment rate in Sydney, at over 9 percent. Less than one in five of the new arrivals have found paid-work, adding to problems of welfare dependency and ethnic enclaves. Twice last year I tried to interview people in the Fairfield town centre for Mark Latham’s Outsiders, but only 10 percent could speak English. The local State Labor MP, Guy Zangari, told me to learn Assyrian instead.
How has Shergold, now serving as Chancellor of Western Sydney University, responded to this policy failure? In an interview last month with the Public Health Research and Practice Journal, he said, “I believe the results speak for themselves”. Indeed they do. But in an amazing display of self-delusion, Shergold thinks the results have been positive, or as he calls them, “intrinsically satisfying”.
He claims to have “reimagined the governance” of refugee settlement. Please read the article (see link below). It represents everything people have come to hate about government. This out-of-touch fool speaks in acronyms and managerial buzzwords, each of them meaningless. Shergold has so much complicated yet empty verbiage he makes Kevin Rudd sound like a Trappist monk.
For the Syrian intake, he claims, “The sum is greater than the parts.” He doesn’t even mention Fairfield, seemingly blind to the havoc his work has created. As incredible as it seems, Shergold wants policy-makers to apply his model to other parts of the public sector.
“To find new forms of collaborative governance, to design, deliver and evaluate programs and services adds purpose to the exercise”, he says, “What we learn in helping to achieve better outcomes for refugees can be applied in many other areas of government policy.” It is frightening to think that people like Shergold have any ongoing influence on Australia’s future.
When he resigned as NSW Premier 15 months ago, Mike Baird left behind a dismal legacy, especially in for greyhound industry, Sydney light-rail, council amalgamations and stadiums policy. But perhaps his greatest failure was in refugee settlement.
In the five years 2009-14, Baird’s seat of Manly took just 12 refugees. That’s right, a dozen. Yet he was willing to dump more than 6,000 displaced Syrians in Fairfield, with access to jobs, transport and other services far inferior to what they would have enjoyed in Manly. How is this compassion? To claim you are helping people you never get to meet or see? To add to an ethnic enclave with further welfare dependency and social problems?
The amazing thing about refugee policy in Australia is not that mistakes are made. It’s that the mistakes are repeated, oblivious to the evidence of previous failures. Labor in government watched 2,000 boatpeople drown, but seems willing to repeat the experience. Shergold promised a dispersed pattern of refugee settlement in NSW, yet seems ignorant of what actually happened, talking about the experience as if it were successful.
When commentators write about public disillusionment with Australian politics, they point the finger at Labor and Liberal. In truth, the problem runs deeper. All parts of the political establishment – the major parties, journalists, bureaucrats, academics, business leaders, celebrities and other hangers-on – have lost touch with reality, with normal people living in the vast suburbs and regions of our nation.
Around the world, Outsider movements are trying to “drain the swamp”. In Australia we need to do something similar, to up-end the establishment and start afresh in most areas of public policy.
The Peter Shergold article can be found at: http://www.phrp.com.au/…/helping-refugees-build-new-lives-…/