January 31st 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: More surprises likely in Queensland poll

EDITORIAL: The dark side of the Internet

TRANSPORT: Waterfall crash report indicts NSW State Rail Authority

CANBERRA OBSERVED : Vultures circle wounded Democrats

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Paper children / The peripatetics / The serious people we are losing

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: Mixed outcome on same-sex bill

ECONOMY: Amend Trade Practices Act to protect small business

Super rethink needed (letter)

Population: quality, not quantity (letter)

Upgrade our rail system (letter)

FAMILY: Fatherhood and marriage - a vital connection

COMMENT: Castro's legacy: the New Left

TAIWAN: March election a key issue in China

TRADE: NAFTA - lessons for Australia

BOOKS: DIGNIFIED AND EFFICIENT: The British Monarchy in the Twentieth Century

BOOKS: A NEW CITY: Photographs of Melbourne's Land Boom, edited by Ian Morrison

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Paper children / The peripatetics / The serious people we are losing

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, January 31, 2004
Paper children

There is an old Yiddish song called "Paper Children" - sung by some old Polish parents (doubtless Jewish) - about their children who have migrated to distant lands to seek their fortunes. Almost certainly never to return. Too far. Too costly. The parents too old, too unadaptable to move. So all the parents have of their children are their letters: and please God that the children keep writing. That was really the situation of the majority of the world's migrants and their families back home until not very long ago. And the psychic wounds and scar tissue of the separated ones, remained.

This incidentally is not a call for carers, counsellors, grief therapists and tubs of taxpayers' money. People migrate for many reasons: persecution or war being only two of the most publicised. A better life economically or status wise; wider, richer emotional experiences; and the rite of passage when the birds grow up and wished to let go and make the parents let go - and only a safe distance would suffice.

Incidentally, I have only ever been able to find a few psychoanalysts - women all - who have written with understanding of the secret wounds and the sense of incomplete reality and identity of some migrants. But their work is light years removed from the practised bathos of the migration touts, the counselling armies and, nowadays, the powerful and intensively-active people smuggling criminal networks who would like to add Australia to their disaster areas and who have powerful friends in high places here.

I speak from some experience of all this: living continuously for nine years in England - and loving it - and becoming closely identified with the people ... but always with the feeling of a secret exile. Yet, returning home to stay, I encountered a strange gap, for a ruptured attachment had appeared, one that has never really disappeared.

Living and bonding in another society can have hazards, especially when the time for leaving was not freely chosen - as was my case. And then my father, hating and then leaving Germany, remained a stranger in a strange land. But multiculturalism, etc, is no answer to any of this.

Many things have changed since then. A million Australians now live overseas - permanently. No, not just old Italians and Greeks enjoying their Oz pensions among their friends - God bless them - but Australian born. They are the majority of the emigres and two-thirds of them are professionals. I know that this last is an elastic term, but there aren't too many plumbers, farmers and electricians among them.

Eighty per cent of them still call Australia "home" - but show no desire to live here. We have a new problem, certainly, when occurring on this scale.

Why do so many Australians - mainly young, well educated by contemporary standards - not want to live here? Quite belatedly, the Government has ordered a large scale inquiry to discover why. After all, the number of expatriates has risen by 146 per cent in a decade.

A million people virtually lost to Australia is equivalent to seven or eight years of immigration. Add to that 100,000 abortions a year - another million in a decade - and the need for more migrants becomes more and more situational - fortuitous so to speak.

Then add the rising number of people who are not having children or very few - for a mixture of social and economic reasons - and you start to see how many blows are being struck against the original polity, the traditional society. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, perhaps when the traditional society disappears, what follows may not be a society.

Why presume that the progressive dismantling of the original society will always be succeeded by another type of society? Historical determinism? You may just be producing a mass or structured chaos.

One reason why the population is "ageing" - i.e., the proportion of over 65s as against the others - is rising is not simply longevity, but that there are fewer and fewer of the others: fewer born. Then, when these young grow up, fewer and fewer are remaining. They are leaving. Leaving more and more paper parents.

The peripatetics

But before looking at who are leaving and why, there is a second group of peripatetic Australians meriting our attention - and hopefully that of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Reference Committee Inquiry. These Australians move backwards and forwards working the various visa and work permit systems so as to spend as much time away from their homeland and their pre-loved ones ... as possible. Mostly young, and I suspect the majority female. Though this is speculation not computation.

Critics of this lifestyle see them more as gypsies, or well-heeled nomads who can't really settle anywhere for very long. Don't stay in the same job very long or, often, the same relationship for very long. The last things on their minds are marriage or a family. They exalt in not living in Australia. Feel they don't have to take any difficult life decisions, i.e., grow up ... just yet.

Employers of casual labour love them, and hundreds of "education", medical and business fly-by-night rackets appreciate them for they're here today, gone tomorrow. Globalisation ... maybe.

The serious people we are losing

But talking to those who have settled in another country - and Britain, the USA and New Zealand are the main resting places - one encounters many who, although already qualified, found it difficult to get an appropriate job in Australia.

There are more opportunities elsewhere. Or, they find in other countries higher pay and greater freedom from the obstacles which are now built in to Australian society: old boy and old girl networks - using whatever formula is current to exclude other people from appointments based on merit or desert, e.g., political correctness. The dead hand of corrupt unionism; or inbuilt gerontocracy ... at the top.

Although they would be unlikely to be able to articulate it, the experience of living in what is now a closed society - Australia - makes for dull and uninspired living, as it does in other closed societies. Many of our emigres when quizzed say they want to upgrade their skills and obviously, if they wanted to study at one of the best universities in the world, they would be more or less obliged to study elsewhere. A similar situation prevails, I understand, in our corporate and bureaucratic world.

This state of affairs is not an inevitable result of globalisation, but rather the ossification of more and more of our cultural, economic, intellectual and political life.

These are the fruits of a long culture war against excellence and rewards, not for merit or grounds of equity but for conformity. For being one of the pack in the patronage system. And the populist insistence on not merely equality of opportunity, but of outcome. Perhaps more and more Australians seeking to determine their own outcomes, think they have a better chance elsewhere.

Australia since the war built up a web of social services and safety nets - not as extravagant as some in Europe - but far superior to many others.

It also held out the prospect of young people owning their own homes. And this aspiration did not mean in an apartment block or flat somewhere. A house, and some land for a family and their pets. This has now been made impossible for hosts of young people, while at the same time, core social services - such as free or cheap health - are being eaten up.

If young Australians are expected to accept flats, apartments, crowding, etc - they might prefer to be in London or the USA. The remedies lie in our politicians' hands, but they are seeking to dodge all this with plans for mass indiscriminate migration. Whereas the real problem is about quality and social coherence: not quantity and faces in a crowd.

It is true that eighty per cent of our emigres still call Australia home - but then all emigres always have. But each time they return for a visit - often a reconnaissance to see if they could live here again - they find more and more of the familiar "home": the buildings, the parks, the localities - changed, disappeared or trashed by developers, bent politicians, know all architects.

No longer "home" as they remember it. And, the constant denigration of Australia, its institutions, its authentic history, and its original values has had its effect.

If an object, or a person, or a society has been devalued ever since you can remember, you can discard it without much grief or difficulty. What is there to lose? Thank the schools, thank the media, thank the left.

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