By TONY FOSTER
THE Brighton community has a proud history of welcoming new settlers and people seeking to escape from trouble spots around the world to our municipality.
From the migrants who came here immediately after the Second World War, to those escaping Kosovo and more recently the troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan, Brighton has provided a safe haven for many displaced people.
I know that many Brighton residents fondly remember the Kosovars and their involvement in our community. And while it may have taken some a little time to embrace those arriving from Afghanistan and Iraq as they were initially restricted to the camp confines, our visitors were welcomed and again contributed to our community.
Indeed, the most recent experience prompted the production of the award-winning documentary “Mary meets Mohammad” which brought great credit to those involved with the refugees and to our community in general.
Unfortunately for Brighton and Tasmania, the cultural, social and economic benefits associated with these people living within out community are soon lost as once granted resident status, they tend to move to the bigger centres such as Sydney or Melbourne where they can become part of larger ethnic communities.
I have long believed that Tasmania would benefit from an influx of new citizens. They would add to our cultural diversity and importantly, they would bring economic benefits that would be shared by all Tasmanians.
Premier Will Hodgman has recently announced a strategy aimed at increasing Tasmania’s population from the current 515,000 to 650,000 by 2050. The State Government rightly contends that increasing Tasmania’s population will help generate jobs and grow the economy, as well as improve the standard of living for all Tasmanians.
One of the key planks of Premier Hodgman’s strategy is to encourage people from overseas to come and live in Tasmania, and the first part of the solution could be close at hand.
Currently Australia is spending upwards of $2 billion each year to house and process asylum seekers offshore. History shows that in time, the vast majority of these people will be deemed to be genuine refugees and will be allowed to settle in Australia or other like countries willing to accept them. In the meantime, Australian taxpayers will continue to pay the more than $2 billion annual bill to care for them.
Surely it is more compassionate and makes more economic sense to process these people in Australia and spend the money in this country, particularly in regional areas. The former Pontville Immigration Detention Centre is now disused and is about to be put up for sale. This could be brought back into service and many of those now enduring the hardship of offshore processing could become the first wave of international new settlers in Tasmania. If this were to happen, Tasmania could also receive a significant share of the current Commonwealth funding already provided for in the budget. This injection would go a long way towards relieving pressures on the state health, education, infrastructure and development. It would significantly increase consumer spending and boost the size of the state economy.
In line with this, asylum seekers looking for a better life and who have arrived here without going through the proper immigration processes, on being granted residency, could be required to live for a minimum of say eight or 10 years in regional areas, such as Tasmania, so as not to compound the population stresses on Sydney, Melbourne and the other capital cities
It is just an idea, but it is one I think worthy of consideration.
The supported relocation of refugees into places like Brighton that demonstrated a readiness to accept them would assist the revitalisation of regional areas and this is particularly important for Tasmania. As well, Tasmania is the least ethnically diverse state of Australia, and this initiative would redress that and importantly, would add to our cultural diversity.
By grasping this opportunity it would not only demonstrate our community’s compassion, but also strategically increase our population and advance our State’s economic growth and development.