Australian tech leaders speak out against Trump’s immigration restrictions

- January 30, 2017 4 MIN READ
Mike Cannon-Brookes

Tech leaders across the US have spoken out against Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, put in place over the weekend to temporarily bar citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the US, regardless of whether they hold a valid visa or green card.

Announcing Airbnb would offer free accommodation to those affected by the ban, cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky said, “Not allowing countries or refugees into America is not right and we must stand with those who are affected.”

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, stated in a letter to employees that the company did not support Trump’s order and said it had reached out to the White House to explain the negative effect of the order on the company and its employees.

Social media users welcomed tech leaders voicing their opposition to the order and criticised those who did not join in – chiefly, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

While agreeing in a statement that the ban will affect many innocent people and outlining Uber’s plans to assist drivers affected, Kalanick, a member of Trump’s economic advisory group, stated he was taking “a seat at the table” to work with Trump.

“I understand that many people internally and externally may not agree with that decision, and that’s OK. It’s the magic of living in America that people are free to disagree,” he said.

His statement, combined with Uber continuing its service in New York while the city’s taxi drivers went on strike to protest the ban, led to the rise of the #DeleteUber hashtag, with Twitter users deleting their Uber accounts and uploading a screenshot of the message they were sending to the company of the reason for closing their accounts.

As more figures speak out, Australians have added their voices to the mix, with founders from TechSydney calling on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to condemn Trump’s restrictions.

A media statement released by TechSydney this morning read, “We have learned there are a number of Sydney tech community members who are impacted by these changes, including some who are dual-citizens currently working in and visiting the US.

“TechSydney calls on the Australian Government to do everything it can to ensure their wellbeing and condemn the restrictions.”

Dean McEvoy, CEO of TechSydney, said, “Sydney’s tech community is diverse and includes people who have fled terror in other countries to find sanctuary in Sydney and set up businesses that employ people locally and all over the world.

“We’re concerned about the impacts of these new US immigration restrictions on the lives of everyone, including members of our community.”

Highlighting the building of Atlassian’s core values on openness and inclusion, Mike Cannon-Brookes said, “I am shocked and saddened by the impact these restrictions could have on, not only Atlassian employees and their families, but all citizens whose dignity is being trampled.”

He told Startup Daily, “It’s a very important issue for the tech industry as a whole – it’s important for humanity – but for the tech industry especially it’s important to say what’s okay and what’s not okay…tech is an industry of the future, constantly creating the future, so we think about the issue of immigration a lot.”

Also speaking out is Hichame Assi, CEO of HotelsCombined. A dual British-Syrian citizen who moved to Australia in 2008, Assi has been affected by the ban and is unable to travel to the US over the next 90 days.

“We employ people of all nationalities, including dual-nationality Australians. We’re grateful to be based in Sydney, which has provided an inclusive, welcoming environment for me and for the diverse HotelsCombined team,” Assi said.

“These developments in the US are not only disruptive to our business and our people, they’re very troubling and are creating more tensions at a time when empathy is required.”

Despite these calls to condemn Trump’s measures, figures within the Australian Government have so far refused to do so.

Speaking in Los Angeles, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said, Australia would support Trump’s “strong immigration and border protection policies”.

Of course, calling on our Government to criticise Trump’s policies means turning the tables back on Australia’s own, chief among them offshore processing of asylum seekers.

Treasurer Scott Morrison, who implemented many of Australia’s current border protection policies during his time as Immigration Minister, this morning refused to criticise the measures and instead compared them to Australia’s.

Morrison told 2GB, “We are the envy of the world when it comes to strong border protection policies. The rest of the world would love to have our borders and the way they are secured and the immigration arrangements we have put in place, particularly most recently, over the last three or four years.”

He added, “We’ve got a good history around this. Really, the rest of the world is catching up to Australia.”

Turnbull, meanwhile, said this afternoon that it is not his job as Australian Prime Minister to “run a commentary on the domestic policies of other countries”.

He said, “If others wish to emulate what we’re doing, they’re welcome to do so.”

It comes after reports over the weekend that Trump told Turnbull he would honour a deal agreed with President Obama to have the US take refugees from Nauru and Manus Island.

In looking to assist any Atlassian staff that may be affected by Trump’s restrictions, Cannon-Brookes said the company is “being very careful” about any travel to and from the US, extending assistance to staff and their families.

Atlassian will also be putting out corporate communications signalling its opposition of Trump’s policies.

McEvoy encouraged anyone concerned, whether they are in the startup community or otherwise, to reach out to TechSydney, who he said will look to act as a voice and a connector, speaking out and connecting anyone with issues to the relevant government contacts or person who can help within the wider TechSydney network.

The Australian startup ecosystem has long championed the work of immigrants in the community and lobbied the Government for the likes of dedicated entrepreneur visas. However, given our own politicians’ admissions that Trump’s policies have taken from the more controversial of ours, it will be interesting to see whether founders speak out against border protection policies closer to home.

Image: Mike Cannon-Brookes