Australia—the Lucky Country [Racist or Xenophobic haven]
Thoughts on the recent Boat People Disaster.
James WF Roberts
NB: this is a very complex issue. And in the efforts to make a well researched and well argued article, this post may be longer than a normal blog post should be. But, this is an issue that is far more important than a quick grab here and there.
Some times, there are things that happen in the avenue of world and national affairs that are hard to stomach. Whether it be the Coalition of the Willing’s degrading and disgusting invasion of Iraq, the September 11th attacks on the US; the Tampa incident, Children overboard…or worse still; pontificating politicians masturbating in public over the great displaced, the pathetic wretches; casting all thoughts of safety to the wind, in love, intoxicated with idea of Australia—the lucky country; only to be incarcerated in detention centres, with barb wire and guards.
Or worse still what has happened only this week, a handful of asylum seeker boats sinking not far from the mainland; and over 90 people, men, women and children drowning…
What has been going inCanberra, in the lead up to the six week winter break, is nothing short of perverse. Whether you are pro-immigration, or against it, feel sorry and want to help ‘boat people’ or don’t. I can’t believe that there are Australians, or people anywhere; that are happy to see Politicians scoring cheap and disgusting political points over the dead bodies of nearly 100 people, within Australian territorial waters.
The normal business of Parliament was suspended. MP’s openly wept, it’s not an election year, but I am sure that will make a good sound-bite, or fodder for either side, in the next election cycle. There was a benedicted silence, running over the usual bellicose opposition and consternations, over the smallest of wording and view points, like normal. Members on both sides of the House, many of whom are known to be virulent atheists; were positively Evangelical; in their speeches, in their protestations and their support for change to the way in which Refugees are treated, rather processed on their way to becoming a citizens.
Processing Refugees…a bit Solent green isn’t it? I can see them all being led into a factory with the promise of work, money, hot food and soft bed; only to be gobbled up by a Leviathan of social security, red tape, xenophobia and misplaced hostility.
I must say, I have never agreed with the Socialist Alternative group, more than I do on this day, “In the wake of two boat disasters in less than a week that has seen as many as 90 asylum seekers drown, politicians from all sides of parliament have been feigning concern for the lives of refugees. With breathtaking hypocrisy, these people, who are responsible for the soul-destroying patchwork of detention centres that scar the Australian landscape, have been cynically parading around Canberra as if they give a damn about people seeking protection and a future. Their crocodile tears are sickening”.
The issue at hand, may seem like it’s only a flash in the pan issue, it may seem unimportant to most of us on the street, for most of us doing it tough, with unemployment high, yet the figures say it’s low; with full time work now considered fulltime if you are doing it for 3 hours a week for social security payments, our education system is laughable at best. And our uneasiness with the world, both around us and far flung, is at an all time high.
So what does it matter if Refugees…refuges, not convicts sent from mother England, for the rest of their natural lives for stealing bread, or poaching animals at will…they tried that already.
No, these downtrodden people are on the run from Religious and Secular extremism, from poverty, starvation and restriction of liberties. They are running from their own countries which, to a rather large extent, Australian, American, European, Asian and African allies are all entrenched in total-war hegemony; because of the lack of viable resources available to us in other areas.
Some of the other extraordinary things we saw were the strange congregations of politicians, in very small clusters, showering each other with love and support; embracing, reformers and the stagnate supporters of the status-quo alike.
The Green’s Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young sat in the distinguished visitors’ gallery behind the Coalition, joined at various stages by even stranger bed-fellows, necessity does make strange-bedfellows it seems; colleague Adam Brandt, Andrew Wilkie, Mal Washer and Julie Bishop, all weeping and boisterous, sentimental and proud.
Parliament had been shamed into this frantic activity, of out and out overkill, by news of yet another boat sinking. The shame, however, didn’t extend to an actual agreement. That most precious, most desired outcome of all tragedy, propelled political activity, viable solution. Celebrity, and credibility hungry Independent Rob Oakshott, was a feature in the Government’s hat, trying to engineer his bill through the house, with the support of Andrew Wilike, once a sunset clause was added.
Oakeshott’s compromise bill on offshore processing was defeated in the Senate, 39 votes to 29.
Before the vote, the government’s Senate leader Chris Evans pleaded with his Senate colleagues to support the bill, which would allow for offshore processing inMalaysiaandNauru.
“It’s about whether we do something or do nothing,” he said. “And I fear the Senate is about to do nothing.”
Only a few hours before, Mr Oakeshott’s “Bali Process” bill was passed by the House of Representatives 74 – 72, following hours of passionate debate.
Despite similar levels of emotion in the Senate, the bill was not expected to pass the upper house, because it did not win the support of both the Coalition and the Greens.
After the vote Prime Minister Julia Gillard moved to try and break the impasse, announcing an expert independent group to advise the government.
Ms Gillard said that the government has invited former chief of the defence force Angus Houston to lead the group and provide a report within weeks.
Refugee expert Paris Aristotle will also be on the group. A third member will also be appointed.
Along with the government, the bill was also supported in the Senate by independent Nick Xenophon (who voted from his hospital bed inAdelaide, where he’s being treated for an inner ear condition) and DLP senator John Madigan.
Ms Gillard said that despite the government’s efforts with the compromise bill, it was “very prepared” to see “fresh eyes” on the issue.
Ms Gillard said that Mr Abbott had “not moved one millimetre” in the asylum seeker debate.
However, she said, there had also been a lot of goodwill generated in the parliament this week, especially at the backbench level.
Ms Gillard said she would invite leaders from across parliament to nominate MPs to a reference group that would support the panel lead by Air Chief Marshal Houston.
“We need effective action,” she said of the asylum seeker issue.
“This is a complex problem.”
Greens leader Christine Milne welcomed the Prime Minister’s approach, noting it was similar to an earlier Greens proposal to have a multi-party committee supported by experts. Senator Milne said it would enable people to take politics out of the asylum seeker debate.
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said “it was disappointing that the Greens amendments had been voted down today, as they would have provided direct action that could have saved people”.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told reporters inCanberrathat Ms Gillard was going to the six-week parliamentary winter break without an “effective policy” on asylum seekers.
“We have not a solution but a stalemate,” he said.
Mr Abbott said that the Coalition had tried to break the deadlock today by negotiating with the Greens to support legislation that would only permit offshore processing in countries that were signatories to the UN Refugee Convention. The Greens rejected the offer as they do not support offshore processing.
Mr Abbott said that Ms Gillard should “pick up the phone” to the President of Nauru to reinstate offshore processing on the island nation.
“The Coalition will never support Malaysia”, Mr Abbott said in reference to the Malaysia people swap deal.
Only a short time ago, the Greens moved amendments in the Senate that included increasing Australia’s refugee intake from about 14,000 to 20,000 people per year and boosting funding to the UNHCR in Indonesia and Malaysia – but these were also defeated.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said that parliament had missed an opportunity to stop people risking their lives.
“The opposition voted that down,” he said. “That is not a sustainable or tenable position.”
Yet, there was something that we have all seemed to have missed, except for the gang at Crikey.com; Former Opposition Leader, and the man, touted in all likelihood as being our next Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, offered Gillard away out of this slapdash policy of “declare compromise and go home”; he basically said, “Turnbull’s intriguing semi-offer on Wednesday, when he (rather than, peculiarly, Tony Abbott; the leader of the Opposition) said the Prime Minister would have grounds to return to Parliament and argue for Malaysia if she tried Nauru first”.
The argument the Opposition has is that Malaysia has never signed the Refugee convention; therefore are not legally bound to treat refugees in a legal, or humanitarian way. And re-opening the processing facilities on the island of Nauru, what they did when in government actually worked.
It’s a laughable and highly dubious decision to be made on both sides of the political divide, to quibble about jurisdiction and human rights records—when people in glass houses shouldn’t really throw stones. ***cough cough*** Australia was charged with human rights violations and genocide, in the Nuremburg trials, for our behaviour with Indigenous Australians (don’t believe me look it up! It’s not hard to find the records but I posted the findings here, this would be the world’s largest blog post).
My opinion isn’t worth much, it’s just my opinion but it really makes you think, it wasn’t that that long ago Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister, and even before hand, when the meteoric euphoria was still sadly to say, palatable; Rudd said that the Carbon Emissions, and Climate Change Issues were the two great moral issues of our age—if that was the case then and we know how bad that went balls up; what do we call people dying, basically drowning, on our front door step.
And politicians squabbling about who and what policy is too blame?
The Greens also maintain that the Malaysia deal is inconsistent with our UN Treaty obligations, that Australia’s priority should be to meet its treaty obligations, increase its humanitarian intake and that we should focus on a “real” regional solution, the nature of which isn’t exactly clear. Unlike the Coalition, the Greens aren’t latecomers to the idea of the importance of the UN Refugee Convention. But bear in mind the Greens’ membership is intensely hostile to anything other than onshore processing, meaning any decision to not oppose the bill would cause severe ructions within the party.
My own feeling with onshore or offshore processing; they are both repugnant, Western superiority ideals. Why can’t w go to the refugee camps, it should be the hard to find out where the biggest influx of asylum seekers are from; fly them on a military plane back to Australia. I know people are going to go on and on about tax payer expenses blah, blah, blah! We are already paying for the staffing, the maintaining of Concentration Camps…sorry I mean Detention Centres, is that a Freudian slip or what?
We spend so many billion of dollars on Detention Centres; that create dietary and health problems, increase and sometimes create mental illness issues, make assimilation into the greater Australian community harder; and breeds immorality.
We have a skills shortage in this country. Trade schools have pretty much bitten the dust. Regional TAFE colleges and University Campuses are shutting down more and more courses ( I know this from first hand experience with La Trobe University and Bendigo Regional Institute of Tafe); with in the more affluent areas we have a declining birth-rate…in ten, fifteen years time, if not sooner we will be calling for skilled migrant workers.
What are we really afraid of? Come on Australia believe in something else other than Sport and Television…come on please stand up and known for some sort of morality.
I know a moral path seems old fashioned and repugnant to the latest social trends. But, I firmly believe, not from any religious standpoint, but from a basic human view, that all people are entitled to help and basic human rights and respect.
The ink isn’t even dry on most of the issues, that haven’t been signed off on yet, and already the skulduggery, the rumour-mongering; and the pettiness has already hit the mainstream press.
It was reported this afternoon, (Friday 29th June) on Ninemsn.com; that “Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young had endorsed the coalition’s compromise position on asylum seekers for “an hour” before the minor party voted against the amendment.
During the parliament sitting on Wednesday, the Greens negotiated with the independents and moderate Liberal MP Judi Moylan on backing an amendment proposed by opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison”. Independent
MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor claim.
The amendment would have paved the way for the Nauru processing centre to be reopened as well as deals struck with other countries that had signed the United Nations refugee convention.
So who was crying Crocodile Tears? I don’t know, I have the natural propensity to dry vomit every time I see a Politician open their mouth. So me making any claims about their truthfulness seems a bit disingenuous. Although, I don’t doubt their sincerity to their own beliefs and their own convictions, I don’t doubt their willingness to resolve this situation.
Which is absurdly one of the most important areas of legislation that has ever been discussed in Canberra, since I can remember? Sorry, guys and girls but I think this is a more important issue than same sex marriage, or the marriage equality act—first world problems versus life and death…you gotta go with life and death.
But why is this all such an issue? Does any one actually understand the laws that these poor wretches are actually breaking? According to international maritime law if there is a boat load of people trying to seek asylum in your country you are bound to collect them. You are bound to save their lives. Some of the issues with this practice in recent years has been about national security and sovereignty; I guess illegal invasions of countries in different continents don’t apply to Australia and America.
Having, said that though, statistically illegal immigrants who come to this country are by and large white, on tourist visas that lapse, go fruit picking and back packing around the country for a year or so…not that I have a problem with that, if they can find a way to buck the system, good luck to them, hell don’t we do that every chance we get, when it comes to speeding, illegal parking, illegal drugs, tax fraud etc.
In preparation for this article I came across a paper by Commander Stephanie Moles, RAN; in her paper, The Law of the Sea Convention 1982 and the Refugee Convention 1951 provisions: How they might impact on extant Australian Government policy concerning illegal immigration, she states; ‘“There has been growing international concern since the late 1990s, particularly in Western democratic countries, over the frequency with which asylum seekers use people smuggler services in order to immigrate illegally. Indeed, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), people smuggling has emerged as a successful global industry involving the illegal movement of around four million people for USD 7–10 billion per year. The people smuggling network has, over the years, become more sophisticated. Many countries feel that their national sovereignty has been compromised by the escalating numbers of asylum seekers attempting to gain entry across their borders. This concern has grown particularly THE LAW OF THE SEA CONVENTION 1982 AND THE REFUGEE CONVENTION 1951 PROVISIONS since September 11 and the Bali bombings. A climate of suspicion and vulnerability has developed. Countries want control over who enters their territory, a task made more difficult when the numbers of asylum seekers grow and the people smugglers become more organised.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) states that poverty, economic disparities, labour market opportunities, limited scope for legal migration and conflict act will continue to motivate people to use people smugglers in the future.9 Indeed the pressure from illegal immigration is expected to increase over the next 25 years—the only real solution being the long-term aim of improving living standards,
Political stability and democratic institutions in countries of origin.10 Hence people smuggling in the short to medium term will continue as a global problem that requires the coordinated efforts of governments around the world to resolve. Examples of recent regional and international efforts to address this problem include two Regional Ministerial Conferences on People Smuggling and the signing of ‘The People Smuggling Protocol’ by 95 countries in December 2001.Australia’s current level of concern with regard to this problem is encapsulated by former immigration minister Philip Ruddock’s comment that ‘people smuggling must first be recognised for what it is: a profitable and direct attack on a state’s sovereign right to determine who may enter and remain in its territory’.
Australia’s policy response
The government maintains that current illegal immigration policies are consistent with obligations under international law and asserts that Australia, as a sovereign country, can decide who can and who cannot enter and stay in its territory.15 Various Migration Act 1958 amendments and other related legislation provide convenient signposts to track the government’s policy development with respect to illegal immigration. The Migration Act 1989 reduced discretion by departmental officers and tightened control of the immigration program by the introduction of mandatory deportation of illegal entrants. The Migration Reform Act 1992 introduced mandatory detention for all unlawful non-citizens while status determination processes were conducted.16 In 1999 further amendments of the Migration Act created provisions for people smuggling offences and a three year temporary protection visa for unauthorised arrivals in lieu of a permanent protection visa.Border protection legislation was also passed in 1999 which gave the Australian Defence Force substantial new powers exercisable without a warrant.
So why don’t we want boat people in this country? What are we so scared of? It wasn’t that long ago that the richest woman in the world, Gina Rinehart, wanted to important nearly 2000 migrant workers to her mines in Western Australia…the Prime Minister supported it, but yet Gillard finds it almost repugnant to endorse, to help people who will move heaven and hell to come here to live, to work, to contribute to our society…yet, of course that is not the view of so many of us why is that?
Why are we so terrified in this country of the floating hordes? Why are we so very afraid of immigration? It used to be the Yellow Peril now it’s the Islam Extremists…
But, really if you were a terrorist or you were a dangerous criminal wouldn’t you just fly here and pretend to work at 7 Eleven and poison the average Australian slowly with cold Hotdogs and out of date Meat Pies, when we come in at 3am, rude, obnoxious, drunk, possibly high or stoned and itching to have a fight with someone….
The whole psychology of an island nation, of fortress Australia really fascinates me. I just don’t understand, I think I am pretty intelligent guy when it all comes down to it, but our attitudes towards things in this country really baffles me. One thing has been asking myself a lot lately, is Australia racist or just xenophobic—are we selfish, small minded and short-sighted or are we just highly manipulated by special interest groups, politicians and the mainstream media; all wanting to control us.
That is a bit of food for thought as by now you are on your second or third coffee while reading this, or bourbon or beer, it is Friday after all.
While this entirely ugly affair was going on, the Socialist alternative, was writing some pretty good stuff on their website, ““The entire political establishment has responded to this tragedy by shifting further to the right, arguing that to “prevent more deaths” we must seal off the country and trash what little remains of refugee rights. That is, we must go further down the road that has got us to this point.
“All of the so-called “solutions” put forward to respond to the boat disaster start with the need to stop asylum seekers from attempting to get to
Australia by boat by instituting various offshore processing regimes. They all are premised on deterrence, on attempting to so demoralise and punish people trying to find a safe place to live that they will give up. This bill attempts to resurrect the Malaysia deal after the High Court struck it down last year because it breaches Australia’s international obligations to give refugees that arrive on our shores protection.
“Oakeshott’s bill gives the government the power to legislate to pluck refugees from the sea and dump them on any country that is a party to the Bali process. Both Malaysia and Indonesia are party to the Bali process. But neither country has made any commitment to offer refugees protection. Neither Malaysia nor Indonesia is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention.
“The government wants asylum seekers to wait in the mythical queue in transit countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. But the so-called ‘queue’ for refugees awaiting resettlement never moves because the Australian government’s humanitarian intake is appallingly low. Indeed Australia, the country with the greatest capacity to give protection to refugees in the region, often fails to even fulfil its promised humanitarian quota, which is miserly”.
So it’s now back to the problems at hand…are Australians racist?
Maybe yes, maybe no…it’s a very hard question to ask, earlier this year, this debate was raised again.
Dr Charles Teo, the son of Chinese immigrants, who prolonged the life of Jane McGrath, the late wife of Cricketer Glen McGrath, and has saved the lives of hundreds of Australians, said it was wrong to deny there was racism in Australia.
At a launch of Australia Day Council function in January of this year, Dr Teo said that racism was still “very much alive in Australia”.
“I don’t quite like it when I hear politicians reassuring the Indians that there’s no racism in Australia. That’s bull—–,” he said.
A Herald Sun poll on the issue has drawn an emphatic response from readers, with more that 83 per cent of 8257 respondents thus far agreeing that racism is still prevalent.
Former premier Jeff Kennett, former Australian Medical Association president Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, singer Kamahl and ex-police commissioner Christine Nixon have all said that racism exists.
Dr Teo said his daughter had been a victim of racism.
“My daughter was just saying to me the other day, very sadly, she doesn’t like Australia Day because she has in the past dressed up, got into the spirit of things, put a sticker on her face, worn the green and gold and been told by drunk Australians to go home because she looks Chinese,” he said.
“That’s so sad, because you can’t get more Australian than my daughter.
“He knew of an Indian neurosurgeon who had come to Australia to study for three months who was spat on in the street and told to “go home”.
But Dr Teo, who holds the Order of Australia, said migrants also had a responsibility to integrate into Australian society.
Mr Kennett said that racism occurred among children, but he taught his own grandchildren to be tolerant of other races.
“I think there always will be elements of racism and it is often manifest itself in different ways,” he said.
Kamahl, who came to Australia from Sri Lanka in 1953, said: “Of course there are bad apples; people who are racist … Educated minds and educated hearts are required to stop racism.”
Melbourne was gripped by a wave of racist assaults on Indian students in 2009, which has been blamed for a drop in the number of students from that country enrolling here this year.
Dr Haikerwal, victim of a vicious bashing in 2008, said Australia was overall a welcoming society, but racism did exist.
He was in “the wrong place at the wrong time” when he was attacked, but Indian students were racist targets.
“Attacks shouldn’t happen against guests of our nation,” he said.
Former Victorian police commissioner Christine Nixon said all Australians had come from other countries.
“There is racism particularly against our own Aboriginal people and it always surprises me since we’ve all come from other places”. Source the Herald Sun.
I find the last point to be quite accurate, nearly a decade ago I worked briefly on an Indigenous Community in Far North Queensland, and I didn’t know what Racism was until I came home and Victorians asked me the most disgusting questions. A former lecturer of mine recently told me he didn’t think Australians were on the whole racist, but definitely xenophobic, but strangely hateful towards Indigenous Australians. Though I did hear a cab-driver recently say to me that Young Australians had an Aboriginal Sense of Entitlement…
I am still trying to figure out what he meant by that? How many young Anglo-Aussies have had their family traditions destroyed, family members raped and killed, their traditional lands taken from them, just because they were seen as being evolutionary inferior and ‘needed to be taught White ways’; though of course that is the nice way of putting…barbarism is the actuality of it.
Yet, I still don’t understand why this is going on. If we are supposed to be the lucky country why are we being so selfish and not allowing other people to share in our good fortune are we terrified they will steal it from us, or they will make us all Muslim and we won’t be able to drink or gamble anymore? Maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
I keep asking myself; if those poor bastards on those boats were European, Italian, and Greek etc would our attitudes be different?
Of late I have been rather more sceptical of Gillard than I usually am of politicians, especially leaders who knife their so-called ‘golden-ray of hope’ in the back for bad polls, yet Gillard has never had polls anywhere near as high as Rudd pretty much maintained. This is an issue that if treated correctly might resurrect not only the current Government’s position in the next election, but this could be a real turning point in the Australian political landscape…it won’t though. It will drag on and on and on, until more people die.
There was time in this country, where situations like this would have been dealt with condemnation, protests in the streets, egging of politicians, people standing up to be countered and running for office themselves, but no, not anymore. Not this country. As long as we have our distractions, both sides of the divide seem not to worry that we are accessories to negligent homicide.
So why do they want to come here? Are we free? Yes. Do we enjoy a far better lifestyle than almost anyone on the planet? Yes. Are they only coming here because they want to get on centrelink for the rest of their lives and have several generations doing the same thing…? I doubt it. Islamic and Hindu traditions, pretty much dictate that people do their proper work, and work hard in the society that they chose to live in.
Politicians can cry all they like, at the dispatch box, and in the chamber. This is a gut wrenching issue, for voters, for journalists, for Australia’s standing in the international community and most of all for the politicians. But, like it or not our representatives in Canberra are the only ones who can make a decision on this. They have the power to change this horror for the better. The government has chosen to set up a Governmental Committee to look into it all, which any fan of Yes, Minister will know you don’t set one of those up unless you know the result already, and the Coalition and the Greens have elected not to do anything about it.
This is not a new issue. It’s older than Gillard’s government, Rudd’s government and even John Howard’s 11 year Reign, mandatory detention of asylum seekers began with Paul Keating…even those this isn’t directly about mandatory detention, it is still a part of the problem.
This is a moral issue. And I say it’s time to stand up and fight. No matter what you believe, whether it is no immigration, no refugees or you are like me and want more diversity and want real action in government. Tell the politicians that one death is too many! How many has it been over the last few years?
If we wanna stop the boats maybe we have to offer an alternative for the boats. Or maybe we have to bring our democracy (if that’s what we actually have) to the rest of the world.
So in closing are Australians racist or just xenophobic? I don’t know. I don’t really know how accurately either question could be answered…I hope not. I sincerely hope we are not racist or as vile as that, but there is evidence that is rather compelling on either side. This is a serious issue and I hope that I have made an adequate showing of it. This is not a criticism of the average Australian on the street, this is purely an opinion piece about the devastation of the national spirit of Australia. We are fun-loving, mostly good-nature and sympathetic community and things like this are just heartbreaking.
Please feel free to comment this post but please try to be respectful to other people’s opinions. I don’t like the idea of deleting or unapproving comments.