Graham Gorrel's Friday On My Mind | OPINION, September 15, 2017

IN LES Murray’s obituary written by my former Dubbo Daily Liberal colleague, Malcolm Brown, and published in The SMH just six weeks ago, Malcolm wrote: “It is often said of migrants that, regardless of what passions they may provoke in their host country, they often bring something that changes and enriches the community that takes them in”.

That’s true, be they migrants or refugees. So it was with Murray, previously Laszlo Orge of Hungary. We who grew up in Australia post-WWII appreciate just what the thousands of migrants and refugees contributed.

The great Snowy Mountains Scheme aside, which launched thousands of those people into Australia, many - like the Yazidis people who are among the refugees now being assimilated into Riverina communities and who endured persecution from their religious opponents on a scale just as bad as those from Eastern Europe much earlier - are following suit.

Brown quotes Murray: “As a refugee who came here with nothing, I am very grateful to this country for the opportunities I have had. Refugees, perhaps more than any other immigrants, are more likely to make a positive contribution to their new country, driven by a need to give something in return for being given a chance to start again after a terrible experience”.

One of my favourite Australians, Harold Mitchell, last month in one of his Fairfax columns, upon his arrival back after an overseas trip, wrote that “travel is a good reminder that we are a nation of immigrants” reminding us of another fellow journalist George Megalogenis’s message: “Australia has been built on immigration and we must maintain our openness if we want to continue to build a great nation”.

Mitchell, too, jogged memories: “Immigration is first and foremost a nation-building exercise and not a security issue. We seem (these days) intent on emphasising threats, including ones that are minor by international standards, rather than (our) opportunities.”

Mitchell argued that while America was also built on immigration it was now fuelling xenophobia, “Donald Trump doesn’t get it”. As individuals, members of service and community organisations, teachers and other professionals (especially the retired), ex-service personnel - the list is endless - we do have, if not a duty, then an obligation to help the immigration ethos.      

Mitchell is adamant: “Immigration works. Our response of creating a mega department of homeland security (of black-shirt enforcers, the column’s insert) sends exactly the wrong message.”

Another successful migrant is Joseph Assaf and subsequent great Australian who amongst other successes founded the Ethnic Business Awards; from his homeland, Lebanon, he arrived at Mascot in borrowed shoes to build his life here. His biography which is a good read was called, In Someone Else’s Shoes. At the EBA in 2014, Assaf said: “We must not be complacent. We must continue to make use of our greatest natural resource - our people - to be light-bearers to a world of leaders struggling to find ways to strengthen and secure the global economy and thereby secure the very future of our planet.” Those thoughts still apply today.

The late Tony Benn, former British cabinet minister, had a thought on this vital issue of immigration: “The way a government treats refugees is very instructive because it shows you how they would treat the rest of us if they thought they could get away with it.” How true!