I'm posting this piece from today's Toowoomba Chronicle, as it is a breath of fresh air given the polemic that the MSM spreads on this issue.
It's also written by someone who puts his money where his mouth is. Mark works daily with refugees in Toowoomba, and he has a much better idea of what he's on about than the excuses for columnists who use the issue to sell papers and inprove ratings.
And what is most remarkable, it was published in the Toowoomba Chronicle.
The current editor must have been asleep at his desk.
An extract -
Reducing the number of lives lost, risks taken by border protection
personnel and trauma suffered by those taking these dangerous journeys
is a goal most Australians would agree with.
A return to the harsh regime of temporary protection visas and years of
detention in offshore locations costs millions of dollars and damages
lives in the process.
The moral problem with such measures is that we are using one group of
vulnerable people to send a message to another group of vulnerable
A cartoon created by the advocacy group chil-out (Children Out of Detention) depicted a child behind the razor wire.
The child wore a t-shirt with the message, "I want to be a deterrent when I grow up".
He sums up -
It's time to collectively take a breath.
Boat people are not a huge threat to our way of life.
The debate around asylum seekers is crying out for some real leadership.
A compassionate response is not beyond us.
It will not be simple.
It will not be easy.
But let's not lose our humanity along the way.
I’ve been watching, with increasing dismay, the performance
of our parliamentarians and their camp followers (the mainstream media) on the
Recently a couple of boats have foundered, and many people
have drowned. This is intolerable, and the endless loops of body bags and floating
corpses in life jackets have driven home the point.
I’m a little confused by the current hype, given that the
greatest death toll involving asylum seekers, that of SIEV X on October 22, 2001 drew very little attention
in the local media at the time.
It was reported, but
there was nowhere near the saturation coverage we’re seeing now.
Best estimates had
353 people, including 146 children, 142 women and 65 men drowning in that
incident, which occurred incidentally in the days of offshore processing and
I don’t recall tears
in parliament over that. Come to think of it, I don’t recall tears in
parliament over the more than 400 diggers killed in Vietnam. But that’s another
This is not to
dismiss the tragic nature of these most recent drownings, but simply to point
out the confected nature of the media coverage. It is every bit as contrived as
the posturing on the floor of both houses today.
At least the Greens,
despite all the crap directed at them, have a set of principles on this issue
which don’t change to suit the current media meme.
This is a complex
and vexatious problem, but I wonder whether stripping it down to its basics
might shed some light.
The basic facts are
There are thousands
of refugees holed up in Indonesia and Malaysia. If they were to follow the
UNCHR processes they could expect to wait up to seventy years or more to get to
Australia using officially sanctioned means. Arrivals coming this way using
official channels have been averaging 60 per year from each country. I doubt
too many are prepared to wait for this process to reach its conclusion.
They want to come to Australia, of course. Why wouldn’t they?
We are a country that respects human rights as indicated by our support of UNHCR
There is a well-organised cohort of people smugglers who,
for a price, will offer them passage to Australia on dodgy boats. Some don’t make it, and drown on the way. They’re
desperate, and will continue to take the risk whilst ever this trade continues.
We have international obligations under the UNHCR
conventions. All our major political parties recognise these conventions, and
use them (when it suits) to justify their policies.
Put simply, the refugees are stuck in countries not too far
to our North. They have a right under conventions we recognise to seek asylum
here. We could take this population out of the official camps, process them in
the host countries, and fly them to Australia more or less overnight.
They would have no need to pay people smugglers. The
so-called business model would fall in a heap.
This assumes, of course, that we really do welcome refugees.
A quick read of any of the right wing blogs reveals of course, a rich vein of
racist xenophobia which continues to hold our politicians in thrall since wee Johnny
used it to help him win an election.
The same xenophobia existed in the days of the Vietnamese boat people, but back then we had politicians with backbone who offered
leadership, so we processed them and brought them here anyway.
I witnessed this xenophobia first hand when driving a
busload of Vietnamese kids to a cinema in Enoggera in 1976. A driver pulled up
whilst they were getting out of the bus at the cinema and proceeded to call
them “dirty Noggie c**ts”. Fortunately, their English wasn’t good enough to get
the full gist, but they knew he was hostile.
The point of this story is that a proportion of these
cretins will always exist, but they’re best ignored. You don’t (as Howard did)
exploit their ignorance for political advantage.
On the whole, the Vietnamese have become great citizens.
Have you looked at the national registrar of medicos lately and seen how many Dr
Nguyens are listed?
So we could solve the “problem” of boat people drowning
quickly and easily. But I wonder if the “problem” has more to do with our
attitude towards refugees than it has to do with lives at risk.
We take a tiny proportion of international refugees in this
country. We rank 91st (per 1USD per capita) on the list. The Yanks
take more refugees (border hoppers) in a weekend than we do in a year.
There is an issue of newly-arrived refugees concentrating in
ghettos, usually in the poorer sectors of our major cities, particularly Sydney
and Melbourne. This is unfortunate, and it works against assimilation, and
scares the bejesus out of the locals.
There is a solution to this. Remember the Australia Card? Ignore the bleatings of the Libertarians, introduce it, make it compulsory for everyone to carry, and pass legislation
that sets up immigration zones. Acceptance of citizenship could be made
conditional on residence in one of these zones.
Sounds a bit “big-brother”? Perhaps, but I doubt it’s any
more totalitarian than offshore processing.