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Money Isn't Everything, Australia

Money Isn't Everything, Australia

November 21, 2011

With one NRI dead and another traumatised for life, Australia's bottom-line attitude has to change.

The Murder and the Wrong Man

On 3 January 2010, Nitin Garg was murdered in Melbourne's Cruickshank Park. He had come to Australia to study accounting at the Central Queensland University's Melbourne campus and was on his way to a part-time job – at fast food outlet Hungry Jack's – when two teenagers attacked him and stole his belongings, stabbing him fatally in the process. Garg, aged 21, staggered as far as the restaurant where he collapsed in front of his colleagues. He died 90 minutes later in hospital.

On 23 October 2011, Prashant Cherkupalli was awarded AU$597,000 (an amount which, at the time of writing, had apparently not been either paid or challenged) for his illegal detention in the Villawood detention centre in Sydney between November 2004 and April 2006. He had come to Australia to study engineering at Sydney University and was, for the first time, filling in at a friend's part-time job – at a patisserie in West Sydney – when immigration officials raided the shop and took him into custody. Cherkupalli, now 31, spent 509 days in custody and several more years fighting the case before the Australian courts agreed that he had been detained unlawfully.

Meanwhile, a debate rages on over whether asylum seekers to Australia should be processed overseas, in onshore detention centres or in the community. Recent reports indicate that conditions in asylum seeker detention centres are leading to widespread mental illness, self-harm and an unsettling number of suicides. Just a few weeks ago, a Tamil Sri Lankan man took his own life in Villawood – the same centre that held Cherkupalli – and was the fifth suicide in the past year. Cherkupalli, too, suffers depression as a result of his experiences.

But let's look closer at the cases of Garg and Cherkupalli, between which there are superficial similarities. Both were Indian. Both were international students in Australia. Both were working simple retail jobs when their lives changed forever. It could be argued that both were the victims of racial profiling – in Garg's case, his vulnerability as a foreign national alone in a park at night, and in Cherkupalli's, his potential as an Indian national to abscond from the stipulations of his visa and take up work in Australia. Certainly, both appear to have been very unlucky.

Looking deeper, however, the similarities extend beyond the superficial and hint at a deep and far-reaching attitudinal ill in Australian society – one which has little or nothing to do with racial profiling or bigotry.

Australia's Narrow Focus

It begins and ends with the bottom line. Australian universities, as in many other affluent countries around the world, have developed something of a reliance on more than 200,000 international students every year – at least 80,000 from India – to keep them in business. Figures from a study by Access Economics in 2009 also show that international students also represent a valuable source of income to Australia's national economy. Apart from the huge costs of their education, around $13 billion a year in 2007-2008, international students also contribute in the form of sightseeing tours and the expenditure made by visiting friends and relatives.

Compare these numbers to those of the United States and it quickly becomes apparent that Australia's education sector is performing at world-class standards. The US raked in just under $19 billion from international students in 2009-2010. Australia is remarkably close behind – with one-tenth the population of the US and roughly one-hundredth the number of universities. It's big business.

At the same time, Australia is in the midst of a housing price boom. For the average immigrant student who cannot afford on-campus accommodation, this means the rent costs in general society aren't a whole lot better – and people like Garg have to commute to university from outer suburbs where rent is cheaper. They also have to take part-time work in order to cover their expenses, often working and returning home at the most dangerous hours of the night.

However, the welfare of international students is not a great concern to most universities at present. It certainly pales in comparison to the money that they bring.

As evidenced by recent debates surrounding asylum seeker processing, this bottom-line attitude extends to Australia's major ruling parties. Labor's aim to shift processing offshore to Malaysia was blocked by the Liberal-led Coalition – not because the Coalition wanted to keep operations in Australia but because they saw Nauru, a tiny island nation east of Papua New Guinea, as a better option. Neither could have guaranteed adequate rights for refugees according to the terms of the UN Refugee Convention. Both offshore solutions were mooted as low-cost alternatives to the present onshore detention centre system. Put simply, keeping asylum seekers out of Australia is thought to be cheaper.

According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, a not-for-profit organisation aimed at facilitating the assimilation of refugees into Australian society, community processing is both a more humane and cheaper method than the detention of asylum seekers in centres like Villawood. Chris Bowen, Australia's current Immigration Minister, has since stated that the Labor government is now looking to move more asylum seekers into the community for processing, rather than leaving them languishing behind bars. Bowen's statement came on ABC's Four Corners programme as part of an investigative report that illustrated the deteriorating mental health and increasing hopelessness of many asylum-seeking detainees.

This is fine, but no concrete moves to instigate more community processing have come to light thus far. Given the Labor government's preference for offshore processing in Malaysia, it's difficult to believe Bowen's promise will be followed through with any great intent. In the background, Tony Abbott's Coalition leads the polls and waits for the next election, after which it will seek to implement its Nauru solution. The future for asylum seekers to Australia – who continue to arrive by boat virtually every week – remains uncertain.

Connecting the Dots

So on the one hand you have Nitin Garg, drawn to Australia by promises of high-quality education in a safe, attractive environment (such as this special coverage in the Times of India). On the other, thousands of refugees wait years for freedom, which is far from guaranteed, while Australia's leaders debate which offshore processing centre offers the cheapest way of dealing with them.

And in the middle you have Prashant Cherkupalli, wrenched from one camp into the other. He came as one of Australian universities' foreign hopes, bringing with him a sizeable economic contribution that the country valued and indeed relied upon, and ended up effectively abandoned behind bars for almost two years. He is both the success of one system and the dramatic, embarrassing failure of another.

Cherkupalli represents the link between Garg and the asylum seekers. He has been subject to the Australian government's bottom-line attitude twice over: first expected to aid the state financially, then forgotten as an unwanted financial burden. While he has been released and offered over half a million dollars in compensation, his initial goal – to make a life in Australia – is, he believes, impossible as the time he spent in detention meant he became too old to apply for permanent residency after graduation.

A Different Attitude, Or None At All

This attitude of putting financial profit before immigrants' quality of life must be addressed before the Australian government can find an adequate method of handling foreigners hoping to settle on its shores. I liken it to my (albeit far tamer) experience in India, where my presence was effectively reduced to the amount of money I earned – and, for this reason, ultimately rejected. Immigrants offer different cultural attitudes, arts and identities in addition to their monetary value, contributing to cross-cultural understanding. They have the ability to build upon a nation's existing identity. The attitude from the receiving country, if positive and holistic, can demonstrate how much they themselves have grown. If negative, however, it can instead show how much of that positive national identity has been lost.

It is a noble thing to open one's borders to foreign nationals seeking a better life in some way or another, especially when they are escaping lives ruled by hardship and danger. However, the mental health problems piling up in detention centres in Australia – as well as the preferred solution of shifting those centres offshore, further away from 'the real Australia' – demonstrate that it is possible to make the life of an immigrant worse.

It shows, too, in the case of Nitin Garg, a high-paying university student who perhaps needed more assistance in assimilating into Australian culture than he was offered. It would be unfair to say that any lack of assimilation was entirely responsible for his murder, which was at bottom an act of random violence. However, Garg was just one of thousands of international students who come to Australia, more and more each year, and are accepted more for the dollar signs they represent than the social contribution they might make.

Prashant Cherkupalli, meanwhile, started out as a fiscal opportunity and ended up a drain on the nation's resources, with few social factors to add shades of grey in the government's eyes.

That nobility in accepting immigrants in the first place needs to be balanced with the economic advantages they offer. An adequate immigration policy would ensure that each immigrant's case is treated with the respect it deserves. Asylum seekers would be processed within a short timeframe of fixed maximum duration – especially those placed in detention centres – and, if accepted, be given the necessary tools to integrate into Australian society. International students, meanwhile, would be assisted in the same way during their assimilation.

At that point, half of the responsibility lies with the individual immigrants. Some people just won't be able to assimilate well or easily, either because of a vast cultural gap or a lack of desire on their own part. That's fine. The Australian government, however, should not be held to account for any less than their 50%. It must be able to say, in the case of each immigrant, that it has put forth its best effort in providing adequate services and support.

If this means Australia has to drastically reduce the number of immigrants it accepts, so be it. Charity should be offered in a rounded and caring manner, or it should not be offered at all.

Thanks to Kathleen McLeod for assistance in contributing resources and clarifications.

Amendment 22 Nov 2011: The original article indicated that refugee boat arrivals to Australia were unlawful. The word 'illegally' has been removed to reflect the terms in Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention.

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  • Flavian Hardcastle
    Flavian Hardcastle
    29.12.11 06:16 AM
    Ok, seeing as you're interested......

    “It could be argued that both were the victims of racial profiling – in Garg’s case, his vulnerability as a foreign national alone in a park at night ……”

    That is not true. There is no evidence that Garg was *profiled* by anybody.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    28.12.11 04:28 AM
    Thanks for your comment, Flavian. Yes, in the case of Nitin Garg, there is no wider implication that Australians are either racist or given to violence that is solely racially motivated. I fear you have zeroed in on a brief diversion from my larger argument and misunderstood it, both in and out of context.

    I stand by what I wrote there. I am aware that the judge sentencing Garg's killer drew no racial connection and am very pleased with this ruling. My point was to acknowledge the possibility that racial profiling, at least on a superficial level, was involved in both Garg's and Cherkupalli's misfortune - backed by opportunism in Garg's case, not hate. Please read that paragraph again; I'd be interested to know where exactly you think my words are untrue.

    Meanwhile, the 'deep and far-reaching attitudinal ill' I spoke of in Australia relates specifically to the fiscally motivated decisions being made in the houses of Parliament, in immigration detention centres and in universities. That was the point of this piece, which the vast majority of it directly confronts (with no further mention of racial profiling).

    Finally, I have no intention of being partisan in any measure. The article has an Indian focus because this is a website for Indians and non-resident Indians; beyond that, I simply wish to see a better system of thought in place in Australia.

    Hope that clarifies my stance.
  • Flavian Hardcastle
    Flavian Hardcastle
    28.12.11 02:20 AM
    "It could be argued that both were the victims of racial profiling – in Garg’s case, his vulnerability as a foreign national alone in a park at night ......"

    Now be honest,you don't actually have any evidence that racial profiling had anything to do with his death, do you? Because nobody else has been able to find such evidence, not even the judge at his trial.

    But if you must take it as read that he was killed because of his race anyway, then why not mention that far more Australians have been killed by Indians in recent years than the other way round?

    In 2008, we had the rapes and murders of both Dawn Griggs and Lila Salter. John Kallee was beaten to death by a group of three men in a bar in Goa. Back in 1999, Graham Staines was burned alive with his two sons by a mob of Hindu extremists in Orissa, and his family is still waiting for justice.

    In Australia itself, you've had the killing of Dean Hoftsee by Puneet Puneet, who then fled the country on a false passport and is still at large in India. You also have the three killings officially attributed to the fake doctor, Jayant Patel.

    And against all this, we have the murder of Nitin Garg, the one and only incident in which an Indian national *may* have been killed by an Australian. I emphasised that word, because we don't really know that the killer is Australian, as his identity has been suppressed. It is, however, worth remembering that there have been five other highly publicised cases of Indians being murdered or killed in Australia, and all have turned out to be committed by other Indians. These cases are that of the toddler Gurshan Singh in Melbourne, the brothers Navdeep and Kawaldip Singh Dhaliwal in Perth, Randjodh Singh and Tosha Thakkar in New South Wales. All of these killings turned out to be perpetrated by Indians, but all were (at least initially) reported as "racist attacks" in the Indian media.

    Now given that there has only been one case of an Indian being murdered by (someone who may be) an Australian, and some 15 cases of Indians murdering Australians and each other, what "deep and far-reaching attitudinal ill" does this suggest about Indian society?

    I'm not trying to be an apologist Garg's killer. I'm just saying that if you're going to join in with the Indian gutter press in making mountains out of molehills, you should do it both ways - unless you want to be partisan (which you may well do, for all I know).
  • sharell
    22.11.11 11:35 AM
    Hi Harry,

    No problems at all. It's good that some debate has started on Barn's thought provoking piece of writing (just trying to contribute my bit!). :-)

    Regarding foreign students working in India, it's all relative. Students from lesser rich nations who come to study in India probably would like to work, as they may need the money (just as many Indian students need it coming to Australia).

    This whole topic is a complicated matter!
  • Andrea
    22.11.11 11:05 AM
    Just some random points related to comments above.

    Harry: Many Australians do work in fast food joints, infact Australian students in both high school and university usually hold down part time jobs in fast food places, supermarkets, restaurants, stores etc. It's also a fallacy that there are no well paying jobs in India that a foreign student would not want to undertake.

    Sharell: Personally I'm not a fan of either Liberal or Labour, Liberal's immigration policies were even more harsh. Australia really does not take that many refugees as a chunk of our immigration policy, and certainly not that many compared to other developed nations (even considered population wise).

    While some refugees, particularly those who have grown up in conflict situations or refugee camps, with no rule of law or education, have trouble adjusting (this has been a case with some refugees from Sudan in particular), that certainly doesn't mean we should shut down the refugee programme, in fact I feel we would be a much poorer society if we did so. It is a small minority of refugees who end up as mentioned, the vast majority go on to significantly contribute to society, economically and culturally. If there is a response needed then it is one of greater support for refugees entering the community for the first time, particularly for those being directly relocated from conflict situations. After growing up surrounded by violence, there will be residual problems with a great deal of counselling often needed.

    As for the issue of Indian students (which is a very different matter), I believe that many are not adequately prepared before departing for Australia. I have no idea whose responsibility it should be but there certainly needs to be more preparation on safety issues as well as work/study legal issues that they may face here. There are a lot of issues surrounding students who go through unscrupulous agents and arrive completely unprepared for life in Australia.

    In all I don't think assimilation is needed, it's quite a negative word that I would associate with the White Australia Policy. Assimilation is boring. We are a multicultural society, what we really need is a little more understanding and respect on all sides.
  • Bronwyn
    22.11.11 09:58 AM
    Hey Barnaby,

    Thank you for this view, and for drawing the similarities between Nitin and Prashant. I have never been to Australia, but I believe that we face some similar issues in British Columbia, Canada: we have so many Indian immigrants and Indian students, mostly Punjabis, that assimilation doesn't have to happen at all... which in the long term seems to create challenges.
    Thanks for bringing this issue to the surface.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    22.11.11 08:59 AM
    Thanks everyone for your comments. I've had some really interesting responses on Twitter as well; hopefully some of them will post their thoughts here.

    There are so many factors at play in this that it's impossible to profess complete understanding and broad sympathy for all, let alone make a sweeping judgment on how best to move forward. The words of another friend on Twitter keep ringing in my ears though, which were along the following lines:

    'It doesn't seem right that something so primal to human civilisation - movement - is so restricted.'

    Here's another loosely connected thought, from" rel="nofollow">this excellent piece in The Economist:

    'Rich countries are [...] likely to benefit from looser immigration policy; and fears that poor countries will suffer as a result of a “brain drain” are overblown. The prospect of working abroad spurs more people to acquire valuable skills, and not all subsequently emigrate. Skilled migrants send money home, and they often return to set up new businesses. One study found that unless they lose more than 20% of their university graduates, the brain drain makes poor countries richer."

    My feeling is that it's in everyone's best interests to encourage a properly integrated global community, with the necessary social attitudes underpinning it. I get the feeling that in a country like Australia, this change in attitude really needs to start with the nation's leaders. The language they use sets the tone for the general population to follow.
  • hotboy
    22.11.11 02:47 AM
    I think and now feel first hand that immigration or more generally free movement of labour-skilled or not-so- skilled is a bilateral issue. Unfortunately on this account India's foreign policy and relationship with other countries is of no consequence to anyone incl. India. As Sharell pointed out India doesnt openly invite foreign workers even if it means getting cheap, compliant and talented labour from poor countries in Africa to fill the shortage of labour for building infrastucture or even giving tourist visas on arrival. In other words India still continues to act as a protectionist economy even though free movement of skilled labour has a lot of offer to India. So why should developed nations bother about citizens abandoned to their fate by their own Governments.

    Another counter argument is why is it that chinese immigrants have been accepted well in several countries but not Indian immigrants. I dont think it is because of the colour of the skin alone. Here in Melbourne, the chinese are successful business community and well absorbed into australian culture but Indians though more educated don't assimilate well even after having lived and worked here for decades.

    While I beg to deviate from the topic, I condone the attacks. These attacks should be treated as a crime like any other crime as such incidents could happen to anybody in any country. No one is safe moving at odd times in odd places incl. in cities like NY, Rio, Paris, London or Rome. Most often incidents of lesser seriousness are not even reported by the immigrants. They prefer to keep mum. There is all kinds of exploitation going on in Europe, UK, US, Oz and else where. Anyone heard of south korea. They pay 50% lesser wages to Indian skilled IT engineers almost as if its their right to exploit cheap labour and the Govt. supports such corporations.
    22.11.11 02:35 AM
    Dear Sharell

    I am not going to argue with you. What I said is in general, and a kind of truth every where in western civilisation not just in Australia.

    When you say Australia has a skilled immigration program, I agree with you, but for example if say on you emmigration form you are beyond certain age by fraction or you have a kind of illness then you will be rejecteted regardless of your skills, and I know it is on point based.

    The system is not based on human level but it's based on corporate level, where every thing is based on money. I have only agreed with Barns on this, because this is not only about indian students but it's truth in general, what he says in the article.

    The other point you made is where you said foreign students are not allowed to work in India, I also agree but the question is would you want to ? the wage and the condition and the way things are. I wouldn't but then I am choosy in what I do.

    When I made this point I wasn't thinking about indian student but I was talking about a hard working individual who comes with all the expectation to work and do his best in life for him self and his family and on way fullfill his duty to his adopted nation.

    The other thing I was going to say is no body likes working in fastfood Joint. If given chance Brit or Ausie will not, but a foreign skint (poor) student will swallow his pride and will do the jobs that you and I the citizen of the nation will refuse to do.

    When you said no loss to Australian government if student don't work in unskilled roles, you are right but the individual I am talking about is not only student but also a refugee too. Like I said he has no choice but to do what he has to do. This is the slavery I am talking about not any other, having to do any thing and every thing that you and I refuse to do, because we have earned the right of citezenship.

    This is not only about indian but all who came with a hope in life to better them self's

    We are a slave to the nation, and our family in general, because we do thing sometimes that we dont like, but we will have to do because we have to do our duty in paying tax and earnig wage for the family we love and this is fact.

    PS I had no intetion in insulting your fine nation.

  • sharell
    22.11.11 12:59 AM
    Harry, Australia doesn't want slaves -- that's why it has a skilled immigration program. The government specifies what professional skills they want (based on vacancies) and issues visas accordingly, and it is based on a points system.

    Students are generously given the right to work to support themselves while studying in Australia, and should be thankful for that (the Indian government certainly doesn't allow foreign students to work in India). No loss to the Australian government if the students don't work in unskilled roles. There are plenty of refugees who need jobs!
    21.11.11 11:12 PM
    BARNS The best article I have ever read from you so far. The sad truth about the way Australian government sees the international student only as a cash cow is absolutly out of order. This is same in UK as well, and also most of the european coutries too.

    Like you said in your article that they are only seen as $ (dollers) not as people. This is all about what they can get from them, then what they can offer.

    What one thing I can't understand is why is everything measured in terms of money, when you said it your self that it's not always about money.

    If you are an individual, who is willing to work any where on the face the planet, and also willing to do any thing, then why do you have to beg a nation to give you this chance and opportunity to work. To my understanding there is nothing free in the world any where. So why should you be subjected to this misery of immigrationa and a nation. This is the normality for all the hard working people.

    Is there a free living in Australia I don't think so. To my understanding, they want people who are young and healthy, who will work and pay taxes and don't ask any thing in return. Why don't they just say on emmigration papers that they want modern day slaves not people who can contribute to the nation. This would be more easier fact to digest then all the other bullshit.

    One thing I have came to undrestand is, we have reinvented the diffrent term for slavery and found a way to make it legal and acceptable by modern society.

  • CooperPatel
    21.11.11 06:33 PM
    Good article on problems faced by Indians abroad.
  • sharell
    21.11.11 12:14 PM
    Hmmm, what can I say. I haven't lived in Australia for nearly six years but I go back there often enough. In my view, and it's a common one, the country is plagued by poor government. Since the Labor party was elected there has been lack of stability and poor decision making. It has reached crisis proportions.

    My view (although I have no idea how feasible it is):

    Australia needs to take a hard line and stop accepting refugees. There's a saying: "you can't help anyone properly until you help yourself first" -- and Australia really needs to help itself!

    The amount of refugees is such that the government cannot support them properly. Just look at the area where Nitin Garg was unfortunately murdered -- it's a suburb dominated by refugees and poor immigrants who have not been able to assimilate well. It's full of Sudanese gangs. These people have little hope for a decent future in Australia and are committing opportunistic crimes.

    Anyone who wants to see pictures of the area, I have featured it on my blog previously:

    That said, Nitin could have easily avoided being murdered by not walking through the park at night. As a white Australian, there is no way I would've done what he did. It was very foolish. Indian students (and in fact anyone at all) coming to Australia need to be a little street smart, particularly if they choose to live in unsafe areas, and not put themselves at risk.

    I really hope that Australia manages to sort its problems out, but right now the future is admittedly looking rather grim under the current government.

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