November 27, 2012
Sri Lankan asylum seekers sit on the deck of their boat stranded on the waters inIndonesia. The boat ran out of fuel while trying to reach Australia to seek asylum. PIC: Hardimansyah/AP Source: AP
DON’T stop the boats. Stop the hypocrisy. It is not the trickle of barely seaworthy fishing vessels and their desperate human cargo that poses a threat to Australia. It is the rank dissembling, crocodile tears and dog whistle bigotry that presents far more danger to our social fabric.
Inconvenient and unpleasant truth time: Would both sides of politics be tripping over each other to introduce ever harsher and more inhumane “border protection” measures if the asylum seekers arriving on our shores were white-skinned Christians?
If those fleeing war zones and persecution and seeking refugee status here had blond hair, brandished Bibles and spoke the Queen’s English, would Tony Abbott still be talking of “invasion”? Would Chris Bowen still be so keen to ship them off to Manus Island or Nauru and let them rot – mentally and physically – for years without hope?
The answer is no. No, because let’s face it, there are far more votes to be had in whipping up fear and resentment about dark-skinned people who speak “funny”, than there are in taking a reasoned, humanitarian approach to the issue.
Be honest. Forget all the rank BS about stopping the boats to save lives, to end the litany of maritime tragedy we have seen in recent years.
If there had not been a single death at sea, we would still be trying to stop the damn boats and the Coalition would still be running election advertising depicting giant red arrows thrusting from the northwest right into Australia’s heartland.
It is the Yellow Peril nonsense all over again, just with a darker tinge and driven here by tawdry domestic politics where both sides are trying to outbid each other in a race to the bottom.
The latest Labor proposal to process asylum seekers in the community but deny them the right to work, contribute to society and support themselves is a travesty.
For starters, much of the animosity towards refugees in this country is driven by (usually patently wrong) resentment about the welfare benefits and assistance they receive. Condemning them to poverty-level welfare will not only fuel this divide, it risks creating an underclass and all the socioeconomic troubles that brings with it.
Even worse is Abbott’s cynical work-for-the-dole scheme, which just reinforces the misconception that refugees are seeking something for nothing – rather than, as generations before them have proven, looking for an opportunity to work like blazes and build a better life for their family.
Both he and Bowen fail to heed the lessons learned in countries such as Germany (which in the early ’90s had to deal with more than a million asylum seekers) where such punitive measures have demonstrably failed – not only as a deterrent, but also socially and economically.
Add into this poisonous mix Abbott’s renewed push for Temporary Protection Visas and we are basically punishing people for having been unfortunate enough to want to flee danger and persecution.
As the Refugee Council puts it: “The return to Temporary Protection Visas amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment of people who have no other options for refugee protection.”
The tragic (and I don’t use that word lightly) thing in all this is that any pretence at humanity and compassion has been abandoned in an effort to demonise an easy, vulnerable target.
How else do you explain Abbott’s continued unashamed misuse of the word “illegal” even when challenged on the point?
How else do you explain his vow to reduce the humanitarian refugee intake by 6000 places, despite a previous promise to lift the quota?
This is not a deterrent to the so-called people smugglers – it is a red rag to those considering unauthorised travel.
What reducing the quota means is slashing the places available to those people awaiting resettlement through UNHCR programs; those people who are in the “queue” and want to come in Abbott’s preferred front door.
Carve those places back and the only thing you achieve is raising the incentive for asylum seekers to chance their hand on a boat instead. It is a breathtakingly counterproductive policy.
One of the few rays of light in recent days has been retiring Liberal backbencher Judi Moylan who, while blasting (justifiably) the maladministration of the Government, also urged people to reject her party’s “rubbish rhetoric” on this issue.
“We should not talk about queue jumpers, we should certainly not talk about illegals, we should not pretend these people are idle; they want to work and be part of our society, we just seem to spin rubbish rhetoric and get people whipped up over it, it’s an appalling low level of debate,” she said. “We can’t think this will go away just with sloganeering, there is no quick slogan that can fix this, it is not about turning back boats, it is not about punishing people.”
Hear hear, Judi. A shame both sides of politics don’t take your common sense and humanity on board, instead of chasing the votes of the sort of dropkick demographic that yells racist abuse at tourists on Melbourne buses.
Labor has lost my vote and I’d urge any progressive voter with a sense of social justice to think twice about giving their first preference to a party that is channelling Howard-era xenophobia as a lame excuse for policy.