Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

We've Changed


It might be interesting to compare how refugee boat arrivals were reported back in the eighties and how this has changed since the Tampa incident in 2001.

The picture is from a collection in the State Library of South Australia. It shows a headline from The News reporting on a possible influx of people on boats from Vietnam. Imagine the headlines if the major dailies got wind of 40 boats on the way these days. There'd be more than "Govt Concern". We'd have macho posturing, opinion pieces about terror threats and the words "hard" and "soft" would be used often and with intent.

There's a strong contrast between the tone and language of reports from this era with what we are seeing now. In the seventies and eighties the emphasis is on the plight of the refugees, and the perils they faced on their journey. Most of the reporting is sympathetic and there is very little of it that gives the impression that they were seen as a threat. The concern was more about Australia’s capacity to manage them.

Of course, back then the approach was essentially bi-partisan, which is particularly interesting, given the state of the relationship between the two sides of politics after the Dismissal.

Obviously, there has been a major change in perceptions.

I’d venture to suggest that it may have a lot to do with the actions of John Howard at the time of the rescue of a boatload of refugees by the MV Tampa in August 2001.

Howard very skilfully harnessed fear of terrorists as a political weapon, and the timing of the 9/11 attacks, shortly after this incident drove the issue to a point where it had a major influence of the 2001 federal poll. Howard quite cynically used the issue to present his government as protecting Australians from unspecified threats from the North.

This cut deeply into the Australian psyche, and left scars that will take a long time to heal.

It’s sad, really, because part of what makes us Australian is our easy-going tolerance of people, especially those in need, and our capacity, demonstrated over the years to welcome and assimilate new arrivals.

Howard created a monster back in 2001.I hope I live long enough to see it consigned to history.

3 comments:

Boy on a bike said...

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/deakin/stories/s295948.htm#_ftnref6

Whitlam was not very nice to Vietnamese refugees - he refused to have them point blank.

1735099 said...

BOAB
I wouldn't argue with you about Whitlam's view of Vietnamese refugees (although the fact is that 1133 came to Australia in the last days of his government).
My point is simply that Howard created a perception that has removed any rationality and honesty from the debate, and this has persisted. Whitlam never used it as a means to wedge his opposition - Howard did.
Your response reinforces my contention - like most interested Australians these days you see it as a bipartisan political issue rather than a humanitarian concern, which it was prior to Tampa, and in any enlightened democracy, always should be.
Best information on Whitlam's attitude can be found here - http://www.thesydneyinstitute.com.au/downloads/SIQ19.pdf (P12)
It's far from as black and white as the myth would have us believe.

1735099 said...

BOAB
I've now read the lecture you referred me to by Marion Le. Two extracts -
"In reality, there are no queues where these people come from – only the endless nightmare of years spent in limbo, in camps, in despair; there are no quotas – they are always full; there are no illegals because the term has no meaning in international law".

And

"Sadly, as a country, we have become reactive, rather than proactive, in a world which desperately needs sound, compassionate, moral leadership on the issues of human rights and free speech in order to cope with the overwhelming abuses perpetuated on so many people in the world today".

These are exactly the points I was trying to make. She's said it more eloquently than I could. Thanks.

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