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We need to go beyond Australians First thinking

  • 28 April 2020
We have done a lot right as a nation during the pandemic, but on the whole we have not treated foreigners as well as we might have. The inequality of treatment has been in evidence during the twin health and economic crises brought on by COVID-19.

Foreigners who have found themselves stuck in Australia and, strangely, Australians stuck overseas have been among those who have been largely forgotten. Responsibility for these omissions has largely rested with the federal government.

Through its generous JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs, the government has attempted to support the economic circumstances of Australian citizens and industries. Simultaneously, the health emergency has been addressed effectively through closure of all but essential businesses, international and domestic border controls and enforced social distancing. This health response has largely caused the economic crisis.

There are many categories of foreigners in Australia holding a variety of visas, some specific to categories such as New Zealanders. These include workers, students, refugees and tourists. Old and young, they come from virtually every country in the world. Some are on their own, while others are with some other family members. Most are a long way from home. Those in work are found in just about every sector of the economy. Their economic circumstances vary from the relatively comfortable to the absolutely desperate.

Looking after their welfare is undoubtedly a moral obligation, given that we share a common humanity of greater value than any national citizenship. Welcoming strangers is a deeply held humanist and religious value.

Welcome also should be seen as a reciprocal social obligation given that at any time, and certainly during this pandemic, in just about every category bar refugees there are Australian citizens in similar situations spread around the world.


'Lying behind these policies has been an attitude of exclusion and off-handedness. It has been an Australians First policy by Team Australia.'  

In various ways caring for these strangers in our midst is also in our national self-interest. Our economy needs the continued participation of foreign workers. International travel restrictions preventing crucial immigration over the next twelve months means that it is in our national economic self-interest for them to remain in Australia, with adequate income support, if they wish to do so.

Yet during the crisis their needs have been largely neglected and their welfare has often been treated as of secondary importance at best. This general point can be illustrated in various ways.

Those directly in the Australian