Earlier this year, reports from Australia proudly declared that tourism’s contribution to the economy has exceeded that from coal exports. For a country that is known for the predominance of its mining sector, this is indeed a unique distinction. This news, of course, does not help Adani group’s Carmichael coal project that has received the approval of the Australian government and the disapproval of several environmentalists who are protesting. ‘It’s good for the economy’ will not be a strong supporting argument any more for projects that have a sorry impact on the environment since alternatives exist.

We, as a society, do need the oil, coal, chemicals and other products since while we dislike their damaging effects on the environment on the one hand, on the other hand, we continue to buy and use the products and services that those sectors make possible. A similar contradiction arises when we consider tourism. As large numbers of people who ‘look’ different walk about our streets, how do we distinguish between those who are here for tourism, as compared to those who are here to settle, take away our jobs and introduce alien cultural practices that we dislike?

I was recently at the Gold Coast, on the western coast of Australia, that seems to be attracting its share tourists as people warm up to the beautiful beaches. Visitors from Asia are a growing segment of tourists in Australia. Gold Coast also has its share of Thai massage parlours, and Indian restaurants, who employ ‘different’ looking people. It was not too long ago when Australian newspapers reported that a Chinese ‘looking’ woman was attacked by a Caucasian ‘looking’ man in Sydney who yelled ’Get out of my country!”

Residents have a point when they look unfavourably at immigrants. We have seen the migration from Syria and other troubled regions of MENA to Europe cause political upheavals in Turkey, Greece, Germany, France and Scandinavia. Anti-immigration as an election platform has helped many fringe parties in Europe expand their base over the years and nationalists resent the drain on their welfare services when immigrants are helped to settle in.

A letter to the editor published in the Gold Coast Bulletin makes a parody of the Australian national anthem. The original verse includes such welcoming and generous phrases such as, ‘Our land abounds in nature’s gifts’ and ‘For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share.’ The letter writer instead suggests ‘Our lands abound in welfare gifts, To migrants from elsewhere’ and ‘For those who’ve come across the seas, We’ve boundless plains to share, But we expect some due respect, To advance Australia fair.’

The storefronts of real estate agents in the Gold Coast have posters announcing property details in English and Mandarin, making it clear where some of the business is coming from. When you walk down the streets, how do you make out if this person who talks, walks, and dresses differently is here as a migrant soaking up benefits or is here to invest and create jobs?

This is the problem that arises in the interstices between national policies and the reality on the streets. This space is occupied by both the kindly letter writer and the disgruntled local who sees his job opportunities undercut.

The writer is a professor at Suffolk University, Boston

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