(Meme by Sandi Keane | @jarrapin)

PM Malcolm Turnbull continues to kowtow to the racists and RWNJs in his party by granting George Christensen the right to refuse resettlement of Syrian refugees in the Mackay region. Mark Hipgrave reports.

QUEENSLANDERS HAVE long been accustomed to colourful and polarizing politicians like 'Red’ Ted Theodore, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Bob Katter, Clive Palmer and Peter Dutton.

The National’s Dawson representative, George Christensen, is another, but not so well known.

On Monday 9 May, Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer struggled on ABC’s Q&A, trying to explain to audience member Duncan Storrar how the “trickle-down effect” would eventually benefit him. The Australian Industry Group's chief, Innes Willox, tried to help but just made things worse, and I’m sure they both wished that Malcolm Turnbull was there to malsplain the whole thing for everyone. Whatever, George must have been busy and missed the broadcast for he still remains “off message”.

On Wednesday this week, he asked the Labor candidate in his electorate to back Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Craig Laundy’s promise to him that no Syrian refugees will be settled in the Mackay region.

Yesterday, Malcolm Turnbull sadly failed to slap him down, thereby legitimising the refugee NIMBY excuse (or should that be NRIMBY?) for anyone else who wanted to use it.  (Asked for a comment, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said, in typical fashion, that the fate of the Syrian refugees was not his problem or concern.)

George’s woolly thinking seems to be that Mackay has a lot of unemployment. Refugees coming there will take whatever jobs that might become available ahead of unemployed locals. Ergo, refugees are “bad” for the community.

George is certainly correct in that his electorate, encompassing Mackay, has suffered badly from the mining downturn, measured by any indicator you like. The real estate market is in the toilet (but perhaps starting to improve), unemployment is currently 6.8 per cent(but would otherwise be much worse — most of those who have lost their jobs have left) and population growth is flatlining.

George is proud of the fact that he is the child of two disability pensioners and prior to the dissolution of parliament, was chair of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs so one might expect that these experiences would give him a modicum of empathy for those who, well, like the refugees, need a bit of help. 

One might also hope that George would proactively embrace any opportunity that might boost his electorate, rather than just ask for handouts.

The “tirckle down effect”, in terms of giving tax breaks to the rich in order to help the poor, has been largely discredited, (although nobody has told this to Scott Morrison).  However, when it comes to using it to help struggling communities, relevant evidence shows that it does work.

Kelly O’Dwyer needs to take George round the back of the LNP bike shed and explain to him that:

  • Every refugee family that comes to town will need a house to live in, which will be great news for the negative gearers whose investments are now a long way under water.
  • They will all need food to eat, which will help local produce growers, supermarkets and small businesses.
  • Their children will need schools to attend and teachers to teach them, which will help fill empty classrooms and the employment of teachers
  • They will need clothes to wear, furniture and household goods - (more help for small businesses)
  • They will all consume electricity, and as everybody knows, coal is good for humanity.
  • And so on, and so on

All this will be paid for by the support services that will be provided to the refugee families wherever they go to.  Eventually (perhaps with George’s support), some will start local businesses and become successful and respected members of the community, just like migrant and refugee families from past intakes.[Editor’s note: Christensen’s family originally emigrated from Denmark.]

This isn’t fanciful thinking.  A year ago, Business Insider reported that:

 A study into 170 Burmese refugees who went to live in a Victorian regional town found they’ve added $40 million to the local economy.

The report “Small towns, big returns – Economic and social impact of the Karen resettlement in Nhill” is a textbook study on how transplanting people into regional areas can resuscitate a flagging town.

Produced pro-bono by Deloitte Access Economics … the report found that resettling 170 Karen refugees who fled Burma in Nhill, population 2300, and half-way between Adelaide and Melbourne, created 70 jobs over five years and added more than $41.5 million to the local economy.

The ABC and Guardian also covered the report, which George can read in full here.

A few years earlier, a La Trobe University news article similarly commented that:

'the positive impact of refugees has been particularly felt in rural Australia.  True, there have been enormous exoduses in population resulting in skills losses, businesses, social capital and services.  Yet the positive impact of refugees has supplied much-needed labour and stimulated economic growth and services, contributing to the revitalization of country towns.'

If George pays attention to all this, he might just change from being another larger than life Queensland buffoon (hello Clive!) to a useful community representative.

Or maybe he’d rather just wait for the Adani mine to revive his community?

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