Here’s to a subject which is annoying me of late, and doubtless annoying the piss & pick-handles out of a lot of others as well.It’s an old chestnut, in fact goes back as far as Paul Keating’s time in the Prime Minister’s chair, perhaps as far back as Malcolm Fraser. That vexed question of how to handle people who roll up on our now totally excised shores seeking protection from their miserable lives in their country of origin. Now, we here in Australia seem to operandi on a very flexible modus. We like to claim that we, as a culture, believe in the ‘fair go’, believe in egalitarianism and welcome new-comers to our collective social gathering we call citizenship. Yet, we’re also generally xenophobic even in regard to our own predecessors, the very first Australians who came here as part of the great homo migration more than 40,000 years ago. There are some who will go so far as to claim than unless new-comers are white-skinned, anglo-celtic, christian believers, perhaps they should look elsewhere for a life more suited to their particular race/skin colour/religious creed.
‘Beware the little brown man! He’ll come again’, as my father used to tell me in relation to the Japanese. My own mother is vehemently opposed to multi-culturalism on the basis of skin-colour alone. I wouldn’t so much regard these attitudes as racism because race, per se, doesn’t enter into the issue. It’s because these new-comers are different. Their skin colour makes them different. They don’t speak English in the main and those who do struggle with what is arguably one of the world’s most difficult languages from a textual, conversational and grammatical perspective. But that’s all okay because WE all speak it and we’re ALL white skinned anglo-celtic christian believers……..aren’t we?
That’s the Australia I grew up in. Sadly, it still exists although it’s slowly atrophying as people drop off their perches. I’m not an advocate for multi-culturalism purely from the perspective that I don’t think the concept has met it’s time yet. I guess it’s like the Darryl Somers ad for the Northern Territory, “if you never-never go, you’ll never-never know” so we have to engage in cross-cultural social fertilisation some time. I just don’t think that time is now. When will that time come? Probably when politicians stop playing the xenophobia card. When people like Chris Bowen, who ardently supports multi-culturalism, don’t have to play the political game his party forces upon him as Minister for Immigration, and make sotto voce apologies for the actions he’s forced to put into place.
Anyway, all that aside, and of course some out there will call ‘RACISM!!’ which seems to have become the catch-all disclaimer for those unwilling to state their own real positions, how should we as a society be dealing with asylum seekers who come by boat from across the Indian Ocean & Timor Sea? Should we filter them off to Nauru and Papua-New Guinea for as long as it takes to process someone applying for immigration out of a Sudanese refugee camp? I don’t think so. Reason being those third country places fill up real quick & then where else do we put the people who will simply continue to come. There is no grand solution, at least no grand humane solution. Of course, all the bleeding hearts will say “let ‘em in!” and yes that has credence as well, but who is going to pay to “let ‘em in!”? You & I dear fellow taxpayer, you & I. Yes, that’s fine too, but stop for a moment and consider the consequences of simply saying, ‘Hey, gate’s open, come on down’. All manner of social, cultural and ideological consequences this nation simply isn’t ready for. Hell, we’re only now coming to terms with the fact that vast swathes of Western Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne have become enclaves of south-east Asian peoples as a result of opening the gates in the late seventies. We weren’t ready for that wave then and we’re not ready for the current tide now. Perhaps it’s time to start considering that we ought to be?
There is definitely a case for expediting re-settlement processes in light of our international obligations. Families, women & children taking priority. Those coming via the usual sources for immigration should always take precedence. For instance, if we’re taking an additional 20,000 people from East African refugee camps or South East Asian refugee camps then those people must have the priority. But what do we do with the tide who will continue to come on boats? I say detain them on-shore. Why pay to have them detained in a foreign country when we can detain them in a less costly manner right here. We’re better able to see to their physical and mental health which are all important. Yes, most will conform to the designation of ‘Refugee’, however the no-advantage test must be applied, as onerous as that may seem.
Do we stop them from seeking work? If we do, how do they survive? Do we pay them a pittance to stave off the wails and gnashing of teeth from the bleeding hearts, all the while knowing that $220/week goes absolutely no-where in this so-called lucky country of ours? Do we really want to wind up with a disgruntled, disconnected underclass of refugees to whom we have obligations, but who we keep penned into defined areas of this big brown land? Do we really want to wind up like Germany?
There is an answer to these issues and that answer lies in much better international diplomacy in regard to displaced persons and refugees from across the globe. If the world was governed by a central council the issue would probably be better managed or may not even exist, but I fear we’re centuries away from such a nirvana. We cannot turn back boats, we certainly cannot allow any re-occurrence of the Tampa Affair, SIEVX or worse, the MS St.Louis. Neither can we simply ‘open the gates’ thereby encouraging people under the current regional geo-political influence to continue paying people smugglers for passage on leaky Indonesian fishing boats. We can’t, for reasons of rationality and logistics, build a floating barrier across the entirety of north-western Australia’s coastline. We don’t have the resources to have the Australian Navy running constant intersecting patrol routes like trained Dobermans between Darwin and Exmouth. Our borders are not under threat and honestly, these pathetic souls are no threat to our sovereignty. They want our help, that’s all they want. A chance at a better life. Accept them as they come, don’t encourage them, but if, as & when they arrive, accept them. Process them to filter out the economic opportunists, do it as swiftly and efficiently as possible then encourage them to integrate into our society. If they’ve taken the ultimate risk they deserve some small recognition, as stupid and as annoying as we may find their chosen method of transport.
As a final word on this matter, at least in this somewhat long and disjointed post, a message to our politicians. Those who we elect as representatives of our society, our culture and our values. Drop the xenophobia for fuck sake! be circumspect in your deliberations. Be logical, be rational and above all else apply that all too uncommon of human conditions……sense. The little brown man, woman and child IS coming again, and will keep on coming. We need to recognise that reality, manage it and accept it.