It is over 50 years since Donald Horne first wrote “The Lucky Country”. Since then the phrase has lost much of its intended irony and is even used as a term of affection. In fact, Horne meant it as a warning: “Australia is a lucky country, run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck.” Nonetheless, for many—especially those on the outside looking in—Australia remains something of an oasis. It certainly was for my father, who in 1975—not long after the abolition of the White Australia Policy— moved to Australia from Hong Kong. As it was for my husband’s family, who fled the Lebanese civil war in the mid 1980s. My children’s heritage directly reflects the waves of migration to Australia during the past forty years. This is, I think, a rather wonderful thing. In our household we celebrate Christmas, Easter, Chinese New Year, Ramadan and the Eid. Barely a month goes by when we are not at some family event or gathering. My children’s childcare centre willingly educates its children about these, and other, festivals. In the local supermarket my husband and I can buy all the ingredients we need to recreate our childhood meals. We are spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants specialising in once “exotic” but now just plain delicious food.
It saddens me, then, to listen to our government’s xenophobic rhetoric. Slogans like stop the boats: a simplistic and dehumanising solution to a complex, multi-faceted problem. The traditional Australian values of “mateship” and a “fair go” do not appear to be at the essence of such a policy.
More than four million refugees have now fled the conflict in Syria, making it the world’s single largest refugee crisis for almost a quarter of a century. Whilst Germany is expected to receive up to eight hundred thousand migrants this year—with no predetermined upper limit—our Prime Minister remains hesitant to commit to an increase in overall refugee numbers.
My children wouldn’t exist if Australia hadn’t welcomed a young Chinese man in search of adventure and a Lebanese family fleeing a civil war. My family owes much to the generosity of this country we now call home. But we have reciprocated. My husband and I pay tax, we engage with our community, we contribute to society through our work as doctors in the public health system. It is this point, which, sadly, seems to be missing from the conversation. Perhaps this is because politics is so short sighted nowadays. Surely, if history has taught us anything, it is that migrants have plenty to give. And maybe this was Donald Horne’s point all along: if we’re clever about it, we can make the luck go both ways.