Not in my Backyard

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Not in my Backyard

What do planning and politics have in common? Apparently a lot more than meets the eye. I recently attended the UDIA (Urban Development Institute of Australia) National Conference in which a number of notable speakers presented. It was the last presentation on one of the days in particular that got my attention... And probably not for the right reasons. 

Not In My Backyard or NIMBY as it is more affectionately known is a viewpoint of residents who are generally opposed to development of some or any form in their 'backyard.' Much to the angst of developers, they often have more of a say than is ideal. Add to this a DINKY (Double Income No Kids) couple who tend to generally be associated with YUPPIES (Young Urban Professionals) and you have a real situation on your hands. But I digress.

For anyone reading the news of late, the topic of 457 visas (i.e. for skilled workers) is grabbing some of the headlines, and the debate as to the make up of our immigration populous is one being fought out between the two major political parties in Australia. The Shadow Minister for Productivity and Population emphatically outlined the stance of the Liberal Party arguing that 457 entries should make up a larger proportion of migrants on the basis that 'these migrants are immediately in the workforce, paying taxes, contributing to society in the order of their average wage of $82,900.'

Now don't get me wrong, I agree that 457 workers are an important contribution to Australian society, but are we just going to set stringent controls on immigration on the basis that we don't want others in our collective backyard? And let's not forget a proposal to inform police and neighbours about new residents on bridging visas (see here). As the child of migrant myself - one whom I'd sure wouldn't qualify for the said visa, I would argue that no less contribution has been made to society. A sibling of four children who have been through tertiary education, pay taxes and make no less a contribution to society than the next, who are we to say "no" the potential that lies within every migrant? What sort of example are we setting as a nation by making the apparently lesser skilled someone else's problem? What happened to the Australian notion of a 'fair go?'

The argument by the minister was that those migrants not on 457 visas are people just living off social welfare (as a general rule). Really; is this true? Or could it be attributed to another phenomena? Perhaps the problem is how we, as a nation look to integrate people into our communities. Perhaps from the very outset the fact that we view them as somehow less of an Australian does little to empower. And the idea of placing further restrictions as to where and how people should be able to work (who enter on 457 visas) is a further testament to that. Maybe the lack of support and pathways for these communities is what is lacking in getting them on their feet.

From the point of their arrival, these communities tend to be marginalised; locating on the outskirts of city's - where land is more affordable. Where access to community infrastructure is generally lacking as governments struggle to keep up with growth. And hence we have a 'ghettoisation' of areas; enclaves of communities at the city fringes. While there have been efforts made for a 'salt and pepper' approach of sprinkling affordable housing within inner urban areas through initiatives such as Kelvin Grove Urban Village (KGUV) and the recent Nicholson project by Places Victoria, this has been met with arguable levels of success in the case of KGUV with residents complaining of social issues and those in lower socio-economic groups bringing down the area. And we come full circle back to NIMBY.

So how do we overcome this? I don't purport to have all the answers, but perhaps a starting point is the idea of education, tolerance and mutual understanding. As Billy Kelty said earlier the same day, growing up in Brunswick, one of the biggest life lessons learnt was that of tolerance and understanding of other cultures. And it is this diversity that makes up the very fabric of Australia as we know it.

And so how do we as communities - be it of other faith or cultural backgrounds foster this? It is in large part becoming open ourselves. Open to the idea of engagement with the communities around us, open to constructive criticism and working together for mutual benefit in a more progressive society.

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