Philip Ruddock – An Honorary Sri Lankan?

Philip Ruddock – An Honorary Sri Lankan?

By William de Silva
Co-ordinator of Sri Lankan Over 55 Community Homes

Philip Ruddock with William de Silva

Sri Lankan Senior’s Day 2019: Over 250 Sri Lankans have come to celebrate at the Thornleigh Education and Leisure Centre, and the venue is packed. Out of the corner of my eye I can see a grey haired, fair skinned man joyfully tucking into a rather spicy Sri Lankan curry. I look a little closer and realise it’s Philip Ruddock, our guest of honour.

Naturally, there’s a steady stream of seniors waiting to meet him. I wait for an appropriate time to introduce myself to Philip Ruddock. Seeing so many fans of Mr Ruddock, I leaned in and said, “Once upon a time you wouldn’t have been very popular with our people.” He looked a little surprised. “Oh, why?” he responded matter-of-factly.

Ruddock was one of the generals of the John Howard Government who played a pivotal role in “turning back the boats,” including the Norwegian freighter Tampa.

If you’re not familiar with the Tampa boat crisis, it was August 2001 when the Australian Government took a firm stance and refused the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa carrying 433 refugees to enter Australia. Those who recall the events of the day may remember some of the headlines like, ”that boat will never land in our waters – never!” You may also recall that the headlines were all about the refugees throwing children overboard.

With regards to the Tampa crisis, I completely disagreed with Ruddock’s stance. As I sit among my Sri Lankan community, it is so clear that we are all migrants in this country. And, many of us have had to jump through the proverbial hoops to be granted the privilege of calling Australia home.

So, it begs the question; how does a government go about managing immigration?

To even begin to understand the most uncompromising government rulings, you need to understand their inner workings. During my conversation with Ruddock, he highlighted a few points that are worth considering.

“To put it in perspective, we get applications from more than a million people around the world every year, and we can’t take them all.” Ruddock wanted to make the point of noting the challenge of such requests, and how any government could manage receiving such a large volume of new arrivals. “If it’s badly managed, the people will say “enough is enough.”

Today, Australia is a melting pot of diverse cultures and nationalities. Ruddock posed the question to me; “How do you balance it, so that it’s fair to Australian people as well as new migrants?” This is a great question from the ex-minister.

As a Sri Lankan community, what solutions are we bringing to the table? And, how do we want to approach the issues of people smuggling and illegal immigrants? Rather than waiting for the government, what are our responsibilities as citizens of Australia?

“My view” Ruddock stressed, “We need to determine who needs help the most for the limited number of places we have.” He continued, “We want to be fair when it comes to what’s in Australia’s best interest and, has the support of the public.”

As Philip Ruddock emphasised, there is a difference between skilled migrants, asylum seekers, refugees and illegal immigrants. Australia needs skilled immigrants. Sri Lankan’s excel in providing the skills that the Australia labour market requires. We are fully supported by the Australian government in bringing families over here.

My insight into Phillip Ruddock was this; he was a tough, unwavering and uncompromising Minister. Yet, beneath this exterior, is kindness and generosity. I felt I’d misjudged this man based on what I’d seen in the media. Given his experience, Phillip Ruddock can make massive contributions to our country by having skilled migrants excel in Australia.

Keen to learn more about Mr Ruddock, we talked about the times he visited Sri Lanka. “Three or four times” he says. Polonnaruwa and Kandy had been a distinct highlight.

During our conversation, his genuine love for Sri Lanka was evident. Most politicians who attend our functions stay the obligatory hour or so, and excuse themselves saying “I have another function to attend to.” There was no rush with Ruddock. He wasn’t grand standing.

After a few hours I made my way out. As I glanced back, I noticed Philip Ruddock was still there – chatting with fellow Sri Lankans. He was at ease with our Sri Lankan community. Just happy to chat and be part of the crowd. I could see his appreciation for new Australians, and their journey.

By William de Silva
Co-ordinator of Sri Lankan Over 55 Community Homes
M: 0414 834 733

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