In the past fortnight, the Turnbull Coalition government announced proposed legislation to ensure that each person on Manus Island or Nauru sentenced to the cruel and unusual punishment for no legal or moral reason since an arbitrary date in 2013, will never come to Australia. That’s never ever; doesn’t matter if they want to visit the Great Barrier Reef before government lack of policy on climate change kills it off; doesn’t matter if the person is a famous actor, musician or movie star in their future life; doesn’t matter if the person is representing a country at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast; and it even doesn’t matter if a current refugee on Manus Island or Nauru is a head of state in the future — they won’t be allowed to visit Australia (or only allowed to visit at the absolute discretion of the minister for immigration at the time).
Blatantly unfair, unreasonable and un-called for? — certainly. Unfortunately, we should be used to the Abbott/Turnbull government doubling down on the nastiness and sheer hate defined by their policy on refugees. The Abbott/Turnbull government will tell you that they are stopping the people smugglers from sending people on dangerous open sea voyages using equipment that is clearly not designed for the purpose. Immigration Minister Dutton claims:
What we don’t want is if someone is to go to a third country, that they apply for a tourist visa or some other way to circumvent what the government’s policy intent is by coming back to Australia from that third country.
The Abbott/Turnbull government has a problem. After being given a lesson in humanity by the Papua New Guinea High Court when it ruled that the detention camp on Manus Island breached PNG law, Turnbull has to find a place to house the 1200 or so people we as Australians have illegally imprisoned by various governments going back to the Rudd ALP government. Politically, the government can’t let these people come to Australia as the neo-conservative right wing of the Liberal and National Parties will head further towards the divisive policies of the ultra-right wing parties such as One Nation. As well as that, if the refugees were housed in (say) New Zealand or other countries in the South Pacific, the argument could be made that refugees could simply board a plane to Australia after they had residency in the third country. Logically you would have to ask why anyone that had been treated so poorly by others would ever want to ‘darken the door’ of their oppressors, but according to Dutton it is a concern. While yes, that is a hole in the current arrangements if those on Manus Island or Nauru are successfully integrated into a third country’s society, they might want to come to Australia at a later date, has anyone stopped to think what we are potentially losing by not standing up to the vindictive and xenophobic policies of successive Australian governments?
The Political Sword looked at the contributions made to our society by refugees in March 2014. We looked at Michael Gawenda, the ‘ten pound poms’ (which include Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, the Gibb Brothers (aka The Bee Gees), Noni Hazlehurst, Alan Bond, Frank Tyson, Harold Larwood, and the parents of people such as Kylie Minogue, Al Grassby and Hugh Jackman), Tony Le Nguyen and Munjed Al Muderis. All the people listed in this paragraph have made a wonderful contribution to this country, and if the governments that supported and encouraged the immigration of these Australians had the same racist policies of the current government, we would live in a much poorer place.
This isn’t solely the view of this admittedly left of centre political blog, this letter was shared around on social media in the few days after Turnbull and Dutton announced their draconian policy.
Clearly, Dr Al Muderis makes a significant contribution to Australia and the world — as people fly to Australia from around the world just to see Dr Al Muderis.
Noni Hazelhurst, the Bee Gees and even Gillard and Abbott have also made a contribution to this country in their own sphere of influence. So why are we persecuting those that are attempting to become refugees in Australia in the twenty teens? While many were ridiculing (probably with some justification) ex-Prime Minister Rudd’s contribution to the debate at the beginning of the month, Rudd does have a few points that are worth considering. Rudd claims:
This is both bad policy and bad politics: on policy, the far right in Australia represent the worst of the xenophobic, nationalist and protectionist wave that we now see raging across Europe and America; while on politics, appeasement of political thugs like Abbott, Dutton, Abetz, Andrews and, depending on which way the wind is blowing, Morrison, only embolden the far right to demand more, not less.
This measure is about the politics of symbols, designed to throw red meat at the right, including the Hansonite insurgency, and to grovel to the broad politics of xenophobia. Turnbull, once an intelligent, global citizen, knows better.
Rudd claims that Gillard (his successor and predecessor) changed his policy.
It sought to negotiate offshore processing arrangements with East Timor and later Malaysia. These failed. Then in August 2012, the government announced the reopening of offshore processing in Manus and Nauru. The government also increased the number of refugees we would take from the UNHCR “global pool” of refugees from 13,000 to 20,000. Nonetheless, in the first half of 2013, the UNHCR delivered reports criticising the treatment of refugees, which the government sought to respond to.
It is also claimed that when Rudd regained power he made significant changes to the agreement around refugees that Australia had signed with PNG, including a clause that the Manus Island camp would only operate for one year. Rudd’s opinion article concludes by stating:
I have kept silent on Australian domestic policy debates for the past three years. But this one sinks to new lows. It is pure politics designed to appease the xenophobes. It is without any policy merit in dealing with the real policy challenges all countries face today in what is now a global refugees crisis. And it does nothing to help those refugees left to rot for more than three years, who should be resettled now.
While a lot of the article by Rudd is an attempt to justify his own past deeds, he is correct to suggest that refugees are not solely an Australian ‘problem’ and, to be realistic, Australia’s ‘problem’ is insignificant on a global scale. Rudd is also correct that far right political groups around the world are attracting votes using issues such as protectionism, isolationism and blatant racism. The Guardian runs a series called ‘The Long Read’. Co-incidentally, on 1 November, it published an article in the series titled ‘The ruthlessly effective branding of Europe’s far right’.
As The Guardian suggests:
They have effectively claimed the progressive causes of the left — from gay rights to women’s equality and protecting Jews from antisemitism — as their own, by depicting Muslim immigrants as the primary threat to all three groups. As fear of Islam has spread, with their encouragement, they have presented themselves as the only true defenders of western identity and western liberties — the last bulwark protecting a besieged Judeo-Christian civilisation from the barbarians at the gates.
These parties have steadily filled an electoral vacuum left open by social democratic and centre-right parties, who ignored voters’ growing anger over immigration – some of it legitimate, some of it bigoted – or simply waited too long to address it.
The move to the far right is not just a problem in Europe or arguably part of the reason for Donald Trump’s nomination as President by the Republican Party in the USA. The New Yorker recently published a stinging takedown of Trump and the ultra-conservatives noting:
Trumpism does not seek simply to make a point and pass on its genes to more politically palatable heirs, nor is it readily apparent why he would need to settle for this. When George Will announced his departure from the G.O.P., last summer, he offered a modified version of Ronald Reagan’s quote about leaving the Democrats—“I didn’t leave the Party; the Party left me.” But a kind of converse narrative applies to Trump; he didn’t join the Republican Party so much as its most febrile elements joined him. Trump is partly a product of forces that the G.O.P. created by pandering to a base whose dilated pupils the Party mistook for gullibility, not abject, irrational fear that would send those voters scurrying to the nearest authoritarian savior they could find. The error was in thinking that this populace, mainlining Glenn Beck and Alex Jones theories and pondering how the Minutemen would have fought Sharia law, could be controlled. (For evidence to the contrary, the Party needed look no further than the premature political demise of Eric Cantor.) The old adage warns that one should beware of puppets that begin pulling their own strings.
Australia too has its extreme right wing claiming far more influence than they deserve.
Pauline Hanson stood as the Liberal Party candidate for the seat of Oxley in Queensland at the 1996 election and was dis-endorsed two weeks prior to the election due to some extremely ill-advised remarks made in the campaign on Aboriginal welfare. In her 1996 maiden speech in the House of Representatives, Hanson claimed that Australia was being ‘swamped’ by Asians. On the morning of Hanson’s maiden Senate speech last September, the ABC looked at her claim from 20 years ago and looked at the immigration figures from the 2011 census. It found:
By 2011, the proportion of people in Australia who were born in Asia had almost doubled to 8.08 per cent.
The proportion of people born in Australia fell from 73.93 per cent to 69.83 per cent — more than eight times the proportion of people born in Asia.
In addition, the ABC reported that:
James Raymer, head of the School of Demography at the Australian National University, said the incidence of Asian migration to Australia was hardly surprising, given our geographical location in the region and the sheer size of the world’s Asian population.
“The whole Asian population represents 60 per cent of the world’s population … Europe only represents 10 per cent of the world’s population,” he said.
“There’s a lot of Asians in Europe, there’s a lot of Asians in North America, a lot of Asians in Canada, and they’ve all been increasing.”
Undeterred by her previous prediction falling somewhat short of the mark, when Hanson made her maiden speech in the Senate in September 2016, she warned Australia was at risk of being “swamped” by Muslims.
As far back as 2011, Fairfax media was questioning the racism of politicians such as Cory Bernardi:
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie should be applauded for his stand against racism in the Liberal Party and, in particular, the recent comments by Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, singling out Muslims for denigration.
Does Bernardi think that by demonising Islam he will win votes, and is Opposition Leader Tony Abbott tacitly approving this latest attempt to play the politics of hate so he can watch where it goes?
This is a disturbing insight into the thinking of some senior Liberal figures. It comes from a party that has, in turn, used fear of Muslim extremism to lead us into two wars and then used that fear to prevent the victims of those same wars coming to Australia.
The current hatred of refugees isn’t logical, moral or ethical — it is a part of a political race to the bottom of the ocean. Ultra-conservatives such as Hanson, Bernardi, Trump, Le Pen in France and so on are using the misery of fellow humans to improve the prospects of a political career and are manipulating the vulnerable and hard done by to do so.
In the 1970’s, Coalition Prime Minister Fraser and the ALP both supported the arrival of hundreds of thousands of South East Asian refugees who came to settle in Australia. While the policy at the time was not universally popular, the benefits to Australia in the long term have clearly outweighed any problems. On a logical basis, the policy was fair enough — we had been part of a coalition of armies that had bombed much of South East Asia in an attempt to stop the expansion of communism. It is now history that the Vietnam War was unsuccessful, communism didn’t expand and the refugees that came here have largely integrated into our society. So why the difference with those from the middle east? We are a part of coalition of armies that are bombing that area of the world to stop the rise of ISIS. Don’t we owe something to those that are the unintended victims of having their homes bombed back to the stone age?
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, successive Coalition Australian governments, with support from the ALP, supported the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Europeans who were displaced before or during World War 2. The photos at the top of this article are not recent, they are from social media and portray Europeans using whatever they can to emigrate to North Africa prior to Hitler’s Germany taking over parts of Southern Europe. What goes around comes around apparently. And as The Political Sword observed in September 2014, Jesus was a refugee.
This article was originally published on The Political Sword
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