13 January 2010

More havoc wrought by the bean counters

If 2009 was the year when all the contradictions of the visa (sorry, education) export industry bubbled to the surface, 2010 looks like being the year of inept attempts to [make it look like the government has a plan to] do something to fix it.

Reading this article in the Australian, I noticed the following piece of bean-counter-speak from a DIAC spokesperson: "migration policy is responsive to economic conditions and labour market needs". The thinking is reactive, short-term, spin-driven. The resulting policy "responses" have been predictably chaotic and, as we are gradually coming to realise, damaging to the country's image internationally. Some examples can be found in a petition being launched one by one migration agency.

I don't want to enter into the debate on whether the brutal murder of Mr Garg and the other attacks on Indian students were motivated by racism or opportunism, though I don't see why the two would be mutually exclusive. I have suggested in the past, however, that there is more to the anger and frustration being shown by overseas students in their response to these events. We are constantly reminded of the $15 billion or so that the industry is worth to the Australian economy, to the point where if I were an overseas student I would be thinking that Australia only sees me as a cash cow, not a person. This is where the responses of the government to the attacks and the way they have implemented the recent policy changes come together.

In both cases, there is a distinct lack of empathy -- if not a blaming of the victims then at least an attitude that they have no right to expect anything better. The murder rate is higher in India, one commentator points out, and the Immigration Minister's attitude to the complaints of people disadvantaged by policy changes has been commented on previously in this blog. "Beggars can't be choosers", a former PM once said about asylum seekers. A similar philosophy underlies the disingenuous claims of the present government that they have never fostered expectations of a "pathway" from student visas to permanent residence. In the recently-stated view of the Senate Education, Employment Workplace Relations Committee, it is all the fault of "some education agents and advisers" that such a perception should exist at all. Before the same Committee, DIAC referred to its Visa Wizard website as a source of information for prospective visa applicants. Try it: tell it that you are interested in a student visa and your intention is to remain in Australia permanently, and you will get a whole list of ways to go about it.

When it comes to the reason for the anger over both the attacks and the policy changes, Senator Evans, Julia Gilliard and the government as a whole just don't get it.

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