Opinion

Migrants vital to our economy

by
March 06, 2018

According to the 2016 Census, Shepparton has people from 134 different ethnic groups.

Steve Hutcheson

It was somewhat ironic reading recent headlines about former prime minister and vocal backbencher Tony Abbott being critical of migration, arguing it is a source of much of the economic woes the country is apparently experiencing.

It was ironic in the sense that Mr Abbott was originally British and a migrant to this country.

However, wiser voices within the Federal Government dispel that opinion.

Australia has changed and we need to be working with that change to continually improve, not just the lives of people who have recently migrated or the people who have been here for some time.

They are, in fact, the backbone of the economy in many respects.

I recall growing up in Stanhope during the 1950s. In the population of that town, and many more like it in the region, almost all the children in the school, were thoroughly Australian like me, with parents and grandparents having served in the previous two world wars.

But with time, we started to see new people moving in.

I remember Jimmy, the Greek man who grew tomatoes for my Dad’s shop, then there was the German boy who started at the school and did not understand that the small snake he had picked up in the school ground was in fact quite deadly.

Now looking at the profile of the region, it has changed to become much more cosmopolitan and multi-racial.

According to the 2016 Census, Shepparton, for instance, has people from 134 different ethnic groups while those who identified as Australian only make up about 26 per cent of the population.

We are a multi-ethnic community.

I have only recently returned to live in Australia, having lived and worked overseas for many years and on our return my Japanese wife commented on how ethnically diverse Shepparton appeared to be.

While certainly there are some difficulties for some groups to make the cultural adjustments, all in all, they are taking their place in our society and making the country what it is, a harmonious multi-ethnic society and we are all the better for it.

So while a divisive migration debate occurs among some elements that hanker for a return to the 1950s, the country as a whole has moved on.

What is needed, of course, is an increased support system for various groups to make the adjustments, to fit into the new mould that our great country is becoming.

Shepparton perhaps stands out from many regional towns with a high proportion of migrant population, about 75 per cent, and as such, obviously needs more resources for them to develop and become Australians.

Even Stanhope, the place of my childhood, has moved on and while it still has a majority that identify as Australian, there are people from 19 different countries living there, making Australia their home.

So perhaps Mr Abbot is wrong.

We do not need to curb our migrant population, what we need to do is make that journey more fruitful for them and for the country as a whole.

Steve Hutcheson is a retired engineer and former UN aid worker who lives near Rushworth.

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