Australia is not a loyalty points reward program

Dear Mr Jones, Regarding your ABC Lateline interview. Considering our very own vulnerable and homeless are at critical levels and our social services too scant to cope with financially troubled families, all contributors to the national suicide rate of over 2000 a year and steadily rising, I see your work with immigrants as somewhat mind boggling, also unfair and quite ignorant to the struggles many of your fellow Australians are now facing. I’ll spare you the rant but I’d just like to ask one thing of you, for every Muslim you help into business, equal it with a homeless Australian. We are not happy being leap-frogged because of simple prejudice and financial backing provided by a fellow citizen whom appears to have more money then sense. There should be no more immigration until we all (including you) concentrate our efforts on ending homelessness and unemployment in Australia. Dean, Ceduna SA.

Hi Dean, thanks for your opinion, even if it doesn’t really feel like you spared me much of the rant. Here’s where I agree with you: homelessness, unemployment and suicide are serious and growing problems in Australia.

Here’s where I disagree with you: migrants and refugees aren’t less Australian than you or I, and aren’t less deserving of my help even if they were. Migrants are new Australians, the day the arrive. Refugees are also new Australians once their resident status is approved.

Being an Australian longer than other people does not make you more Australian, or a better Australian. Australia is not a loyalty points reward program.

Being Australian is not like being with the same insurance company for years and qualifying for a discount, or like flying with the same airline or shopping at the same supermarket retailer to save up loyalty points.

If it were, a new born Australian would be less-Australian than its parents, who would be less-Australian than the baby’s grandparents, and so on and so forth, until ultimately, the most Australians of all would be indigenous Australians. It’s OK by me but I don’t think that’s what you had in mind.

You and I and every other Australian is lucky to live here but we also need to be honest enough to admit that we’re here largely because we, or our parents, or our grandparents were lucky enough to make it here as migrants or refugees.

We might have worked hard, been good members of our community and raised a happy, healthy family here but so what? That’s the minimum requirement, that’s the least we should all do. The fact that you and I were born here and not somewhere else is largely a matter of a lucky decision our ancestors made.

Let’s also be honest enough to admit that we might both be good citizens, but neither of us have actually significantly contributed to the economic, social, political and cultural forces that make Australia a good place to live.

I’m sure we both work hard, obey the law, are good to our neighbours and support a footy team but that’s not making a major contribution, that’s actually the bare minimum. So how much would you have to do to actually make a measurable difference here and now?

Bad news: you and I could both be billionaires and spend your billion dollars and my billion dollars on trying to make Australia a better place to live and we wouldn’t succeed in any lasting, significant way. The Australian economy turns over about $1.5 trillion dollars each year, so our two billion dollars would make less than one five-hundredth of a difference to a single year of life in Australia. (And just to be clear, I don’t have a billion dollars, so you’re on your own here.)

But there is a better way. Most of the money contributed towards making Australia a better place to live is paid in taxes. It is taxes which pay for the healthcare, education, social security, enforcement of law and other services which make Australia such a great place to live. Taxes even pay for Australia Day.

As you probably know, it’s Australia’s billionaires who pay the least tax of all of us, as a percentage of what we’re individually worth. But it’s not only billionaires who like to pay less tax – tax minimisation and tax avoidance are a national sport, played by nearly everybody earning an income. We pay the minimum necessary by law, and often a little less if we think we can get away with it. The tax we collectively don’t pay has a very big effect, making Australia less great than it should be.

If nobody likes paying tax, how else can we help make Australia great? Well, helping people find employment is a good start, because employment leads to income, which is then taxed, and spent on roads, schools, hospitals, and Australia Day fireworks.

Helping people create new businesses is an even better way to make Australia a great place to live, because most businesses employ people. Help someone find a job and you’ve created one taxpayer, but help someone start a business and you might create three, or five, or fifty taxpayers.

I have a lot of experience helping people start new businesses, and I’m good at it, so I think one way I can help Australia is by helping other people start new businesses. That’s my way of helping create jobs for unemployed people.

If I have to choose, I’ll work with someone who has the skills, experience and motivation it takes to create a successful business. I don’t care about their age, where they were born or even what religious faith they believe in.

The research actually clearly shows that new businesses started by migrants and refugees in Australia are statistically more likely to succeed than businesses started by entrepreneurs born in Australia.

Why that might be is open to debate but I like to think it’s because they’re starting with nothing, they’ve risked a lot to get here, they know they can’t afford to fail, and they don’t think Australia owes them something just because they were born here.

Quick summary: by helping refugees and migrants start new businesses with my money, time and advice, I create jobs, which reduce unemployment, generate tax revenue, improve the quality of life in Australia for everyone, including you. Good on me.

The other problems you want me to work on are homelessness and suicide.

I have no experience in helping people experiencing homelessness or considering suicide but it seems like there are many causes. Homelessness and suicide both seem to be a symptom of many other problems, including unemployment or under-employment but also physical and mental health issues, substance and gambling addiction, family violence and rising housing costs.

Although I have no experience in working on those problems, I’m prepared to help. If you’re working on a project to reduce homelessness or the suicide rate, tell me about it. Let’s talk about how I might be able to help.

If you’re not working on a project to reduce homelessness or the suicide rate and you’d like me to recommend a great organisation you could go volunteer at, let me know. I know plenty who’ll be glad to have your help.

If you’re working and paying taxes on your income, you’re already helping a little. But you’re really only doing the bare minimum required by law in paying your taxes, so don’t let that stop you volunteering some of your time or making a donation.

One last suggestion: go up and say hello the next time you see someone you think might be a refugee or migrant. They might be working on starting a business which might create your next job, or a job for your kids, or your grandkids. I hope they succeed. They’re Australians too, and we all want Australia to be better for Australians.

Update: Dean sends me a reply!

I’m Alan Jones, an EiR for startup accelerators, GP at M8 Ventures. Previously investor, founder, and early Yahoo PM. Opinions mine (but should also be yours).

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