Welcome to Australia. A nation of contrasting landscapes, people and politics. Where we perform welcome to country at most major events, yet the traditional owners struggle for legitimacy and recognition on their land. Where almost everyone you meet has a migrant story, yet the current government is in a race to the bottom of common decency. Where you can Walk Together and celebrate cultural diversity one week and mourn the horrific murder of an Indian-born bus-driver, the next.
We are indeed a place of contrast and divide. In politics, the press and on social media an angry and divisive debate is raging around immigration and multiculturalism. Loud and increasingly amplified voices speaking of nationalism and calling us to look after ourselves and our backyards not only to the exclusion of everyone else but actually to their detriment. This rhetoric of fear, loathing and misinformation is increasingly creating a binary of us and them.
The narrative is driven, in part, by the enormity and complexity of challenges in our communities, nation and world. Climate change. Large movements of people fleeing war, violence, torture and trauma. Increasing costs of living. Underemployment. An ageing population. A shifting workforce across declining and rising industries marked by excess labour in some sectors and skills shortages in others. The rapid growth of new and emerging communities in some centres and population decline in others.
Faced with such stress and uncertainty, we are wont to blame someone or something. Increasingly that blame is directed at the other, the visible but often broadly defined minority. Not me. Not us. Them. More than grandstanding, political point-scoring, and simply being unhelpful, directing blame and pointing fingers at specific cultural groups creates more problems and undermines our collective future. The narrative of fear presents a vision of a shrinking future, not a better one.
We need a counter-narrative. We need to tell a different story.
1. We need to agree not to fight fire with fire
The angry, scared, noisy fear-mongers feed off angry, loud, fearful responses. The consequence is amplification, not dissipation. We need to stop rebutting every deliberately ignorant and divisive statement. The limited time, energy and resource that we have needs to be directed at change-making, welcoming and inclusion rather than continually justifying a principled approach.
2. We need to be relentlessly positive
The alternative to fighting like with like is to offer a more generous response. When someone spouts fear, share courage. When someone spews hate, communicate good news. When someone advocates division and exclusion, promote inclusion. When someone is ignorant due to lack of understanding and experience, build relationships. Positivity and hope are not about ignoring or glossing over injustice. However, fear is birthed from a deficit and focusses almost exclusively on what is lacking or wrong. Fear looks at everything from the worst possible scenario. A strengths-based approach considers what we have to work with, the value that people can bring to a problem and how we might work together to resolve it.
3. We need to know the facts, but we need to share the stories
The facts overwhelmingly tell us that migrants and multiculturalism are part of the solution, not the problem. The Regional Australia Institute in a recent study titled, Missing Migrants, identified more than 100 regional communities and Local Government areas that are facing population and economic decline. The study clearly presented migration as a solution to this problem; stating that “International migrants are missing from our vision of a successful regional Australia and that often international migrants are seen as an option of last resort for regional communities that need more people. Instead, in many parts of regional Australia, it should be the top priority.”
The study highlighted that people migrating to Australia:
- Help to fill workforce shortages such as those in rural industries and health-care
- Create new jobs as employers through entrepreneurial endeavour
- Are a significant source of population stability and growth
- Revitalise local communities and add to the vibrancy of our culture
Research from the Migration Council of Australia highlights that migrants to Australia increase our GDP, contribute trillions of dollars to the economy, improve workforce engagement and markedly increase the education standards of our country. However, facts rarely change anyone’s mind when they’re afraid. When faced with fear and uncertainty people are often closed to change. Their instinct is fight or flight. We need an evidence base but that evidence must be more than data. Our evidence base should also be people, communities and their lived experience. Continue to share the stories. Build relationships. Introduce humanity and real people to the conversation.
4. We need to create opportunities for the ‘voiceless’ to have a voice
For people who hold power and privilege any call to share that power and privilege can feel like inequality and discrimination. Similarly, giving greater focus to those who have less access to, or less representation in, media and broadcast platforms can feel threatening to the dominant culture. People who are part of the dominant culture are not voiceless. The voiceless are mostly the visible minority. The other. Where possible, we need to avoid speaking on behalf of people and privilege their voices rather than our own.
5. We need to communicate and work towards an expansive and inclusive vision
Globally, people are looking to Canada and New Zealand because they are casting a clear vision of an inclusive, diverse and unified nation. When we have something meaningful to strive for, it can make us better. Let’s lead the collective conversation rather than bowing to voices of fear and division.
6. We need to be even more deliberate in welcoming efforts
People will make a positive and active contribution to the community when they have a sense of belonging. Fear, distrust, exclusion, finger-pointing doesn’t make anyone feel included or worthwhile. Be deliberately welcoming. Welcoming, works. Welcoming is about people having a sense of value, access and inclusion so they can and will actively participate in and contribute to the communities they live in.
Cities, municipalities, communities working towards becoming and openly announcing that they are welcoming, is the counter-narrative. It will attract people to your communities. It will grow business opportunities. It’s proven to work. This is our narrative and mandate at Welcoming Cities.
We need to lead conversations. We need to build relationships. We need to work even harder and more deliberately for the success, both social and economic, that we know multiculturalism is and can continue to be for the belonging and participation of all people.
Image: © Guardian News & Media Ltd 2016. Photographer: Will Whipple.