Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 9 December 2018

What has Changed?

Pic courtesy Canberra Times

I have a subscription to the Vietnam Veterans' Museum on Phillip Island, and they send me newsletters from time to time.

The most recent edition has an article on Vietnamese boat people, and I'll post it here in its entirety -

On 26 April 1976, the first boatload of refugees fleeing from Vietnam sailed into Darwin Harbour, heralding a series of arrivals over the next few years.

The vast majority of refugees from Vietnam, however, arrived in Australia by plane after selection officials in refugee camps established throughout South East Asia. Since 1976, Australia
has become home to a thriving Vietnamese community. In 2011, the national census showed that 185,000 people in Australia were born in Vietnam. By early 1975, it was apparent that the North Vietnamese forces would soon overrun the south.

Just before the fall of Saigon, the U.S. and other foreign forces evacuated the first wave of people seeking to escape. The second wave of refugees emerged as the Communist government began to dismantle the old regime. Those associated with the former government were sent for re-education, others lost their jobs or were moved to work on rural reconstruction projects.

The very first Vietnamese refugees to reach Australia were orphan infants evacuated by Operation Babylift in the weeks before Saigon fell in April 1975. Amid fears for their safety, more than 3000 infants were flown out of Vietnam, mostly to the U.S. but also UK, Canada and Australia. The Australian public was supportive of Operation Babylift, for example, the Women’s Weekly ran a two-page article that emphasised the impact of the war on Vietnamese children. The first adult refugees arrived in the 20m Kien Giang, which sailed into Darwin Harbour on 26 April 1976. 

The 20-year-old captain, Lam Binh, with his younger brother and three friends, made the 3500 km journey to find refuge. Lam was not a sailor by trade, but taught himself navigation as part of his escape plan. His original map was nothing more than a page torn from a school atlas, and while getting better charts later, it extended no further than Timor. The rest of the journey was done by dead reckoning.
The exodus of refugees from South Vietnam continued in 1977, boats carrying 21,267 people arrived in neighbouring Asian countries including Hong Kong. In 1978, 106,489 arrived, and before
June in 1979 another 166,604. These people encountered dangerous sea, overcrowded vessels and attacks by pirates and we only know about the ones that survived, countless others were probably lost at sea. 

Australia has benefitted by the arrival of these people and with their hard work ethic, they have proved to be an asset to Australia. Very often when we get Vietnamese visitors at the Museum, we sometimes give them a little badge of the crossed fags of Australia and South Vietnam.

It's a pretty fair summary of the history, gentle reader.
Recently, (in August) a boat load of Vietnamese asylum-seekers was refouled (sent back to the place they were escaping), after they managed to elude border patrol vessels.
I can't help noting the contrast between what happened forty years ago, and what happens now.
It tells us a great deal about what has become of our national psyche as a consequence of the politics of fear and loathing. Back in the seventies, asylum seekers arriving on boats were never used as a political wedge. The potential was always there when it came to the Vietnamese.
I witnessed an incident in 1978 which made it obvious that there was always a rich vein of xenophobia simmering below the surface which could have been used.

At the time, I was Teacher-in-Charge of a Special Education Unit at a High School in Brisbane's western suburbs. There was also a migrant unit located in the same school at the time, catering almost exclusively for students who were Vietnamese refugees.

I had access to a wheelchair accessible bus, and a licence to drive it. Occasionally, the Teacher-in-Charge of the migrant unit and myself would get our heads together to solve the problem of getting the Vietnamese kids out and about in the community to access a range of valuable experiences.

I would drive a combination of the Vietnamese kids and my own cohort of students with disabilities. It worked well, because the wheelchair bound kids were helped by the able-bodied migrant kids in terms of mobility and access.

There was a screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at a small cinema at Enoggera. The book was on the curriculum of the English as a Second Language programme at the migrant unit, and it was also part of the Year 10 English curriculum for some of the kids with disabilities, so we organised a joint excursion.

Upon arriving at the cinema, and just as the Vietnamese kids were helping the students with disabilities into the theatre, a bloke turned up and started abusing the migrant kids in the foulest terms. There was an army base at Enoggera and this character, out of uniform but identified by his haircut, was obviously army. He used the same jargon that I had occasionally heard in Vietnam.

I got the kids out of the way into the theatre (and out of earshot) and used two words (one with four letters) to tell him to take himself somewhere else immediately. He got the message, and jumped into a car and drove off. Fortunately the Vietnamese kids didn't really understand what he was saying - their English wasn't up to it - but the kids with disabilities did. They were indignant.

If the government in power at the time had decided to take political advantage of the kind of paranoia exhibited by my mate at the cinema, the flow of refugees would have been stopped cold. There are sufficient idiots in the community to make this strategy work in a close election.

Howard used fear of asylum seekers in 2001 to win what had looked like an election the Coalition was bound to lose. We're hearing the same rhetoric again, of course.

Contrast the behaviour of the Fraser government in 1978, with what we're observing now, particularly from the hard Right of the Coalition, and the nutters in PHON, and you can see how far we have fallen as a nation.

Once we were a proud and compassionate people. Now we have a government that panders to paranoia, fear and loathing to cling to power. Perhaps the "base" that the Conservatives are always referring to describes pretty clearly the instincts to which they appeal.

After the result in the recent by-election in Turnbull's old seat, perhaps the old technique has passed its use-by date.

We can hope....


cav said...

G'Day mate

I disagree with you.

I never held a grudge against the Vietnamese, whether they were North or South, commos or no commo.

But I do object to illegal immigration and the support that seems to come from 'globalists' (we label everyone now). Many European countries are suffering from the 'let them all in' mentality.

Such a situation can lead to cultural suicide.

Whereas the Vietnamese for example assimilated pretty well into their new countries, the same cannot be said about the current influx into Europe.

I also disagree with your 'conservative' bashing.

What about Whitlam?

This is from the SMH

An examination of the departmental files for 1975 reveals that Whitlam practised the message that Australia will determine who comes to this country some decades before Howard preached it. Also, the recently released material demonstrates that Whitlam completely ran the policy on this issue, at times rejecting the somewhat softer line proposed by his foreign minister, Don Willesee, and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The evidence from the files released by the National Archives of Australia (some material has been withheld for security and other reasons) reveals the following.

First, Whitlam's opposition to accepting asylum seekers from South Vietnam was motivated by a policy not to upset the communist regime in Hanoi. For example, a message from Canberra to the embassy in Hanoi instructed it to advise the North Vietnamese government that Australia "would be very sorry to see the refugee question affect" relations between the two nations.

Hanoi was also to be told that "Australia has not been engaged in mass evacuations from Vietnam; indeed, apart from the special case of the orphans, fewer than 80 Vietnamese were flown out of Vietnam by Australia". In fact, Australia boasted to Hanoi about its hard line on asylum seekers.

Another cable, sent to Australia's embassy in Saigon shortly before the fall of South Vietnam, had an empathetic message: "Locally engaged embassy staff are not to be regarded as endangered by their Australian embassy associations and therefore should not, repeat not, be granted entry to Australia." In other words, the Whitlam government directed its diplomats to deny asylum to South Vietnamese employed at the embassy even if they had a well-founded fear of persecution.

Some of the few South Vietnamese who made it to Australia were required to sign an undertaking as a condition of their entry that they would not engage in political activity in Australia. Again, the prime policy consideration was not to upset the regime from which the asylum seekers were fleeing.

Second, Whitlam did not want anti-communists to settle in Australia, irrespective of whether they were genuine asylum seekers. Here his stance differed from the position he took following the overthrow of Salvador Allende's left-wing government in Chile in 1973. Departmental files reveal that in 1975, a senior foreign affairs official reminded the government that "the prime minister directed in November 1973, during the right-wing military coup in Santiago, that the Australian embassy should grant diplomatic asylum to all who sought it".

Whitlam's attitude to Asian anticommunists was different. His office file contains a handwritten note: "Do not accept that a person claiming to be a refugee … is entitled to claim residence in Australia. War criminals from Baltic States + Yugoslavia, not from Vietnam". Here Whitlam was running the line that Australia had accepted war criminals from Eastern Europe after 1945 and would not do so again. Yet there was no evidence that any Vietnamese seeking refuge in Australia in 1975 was a war criminal. Whitlam just did not like anti-communists.



Anonymous said...

At a guess, Robert, I imagine you have a three or four bedroom home and more than adequate income. How many "refugees " of any persuasion have you taken in over the last forty years, either temporarily or permanently? I know you have children, so let us consider the last twenty years.

If the answer is nil then your words are as empty as a shed snake skin. You have to have the courage of your convictions to gain credibility. if you wish to talk the talk but not walk the walk you are another empty vessel hoping to make a lot of noise.

So what is your reply, how many have you invited into your dwelling?

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