Fiddling While It Burns

Australians Not Racist; just don’t like people of different ethnicities | 16/04/2009

Cartoon: The Age.

Cartoon: The Age.

From The Australian:

Rising tide of boatpeople: another vessel lands as Indonesia says it is powerless to help

Paul Maley and Stephen Fitzpatrick | April 16, 2009
YET another group of asylum seekers has reached Australian waters – the fourth in a fortnight – as Indonesian police yesterday admitted they were powerless to stop a rising tide of boatpeople heading for our shores.
Navy patrol boat HMAS Albany intercepted 49 suspected asylum seekers – thought to be mostly Afghan men – two nautical miles off Ashmore Reef, 610km north of Broome at about midday yesterday.
It was the sixth boat to arrive this year, and the 13th since September, when the Rudd Government announced measures aimed at softening Australia’s treatment of refugees from the hardline approach adopted by the Howard government.

This story was followed in a matter of hours by news that the boat had exploded, killing at least 5 refugees, and West Australian Premier Colin Barnett accused the refugees of deliberately pouring petrol over the deck of the boat. It is unknown at this stage whether he did this specifically to give me a sickening sense of déjà vu.

Note the tone of the article. A “rising tide”; “boatpeople”; arriving because of the “softening” of policies. See here for photos from the website with some very loaded captioning. The Australian has decided it’s time to bring White Australia back, despite its only having been gone eighteen months. The Coalition agrees; they’ve already launched an attack on the government which is prefigured on their own policies in government not being evil.

The smuggling of refugees to first-world nations is habitually framed as a national security issue. That, however, is complete and utter rubbish. There have been no terrorist attacks by refugees. If a terrorist organisation wants to get someone into a Western nation, putting them in the hands of people smugglers is about the least efficient and least reliable way to do it. It’s not worthy of discussion. It is to racists what the Jack Bauer argument is to authoritarians – a pathetic smokescreen.

Racism in Australian society is a reality, and a powerful social force. For years racism has been a driving force in Sydney whites fleeing to Brisbane and Perth. We had race riots in Cronulla, and every Australia Day vibrates with ugly undertones.

The king tide of Australian racial fear, however, was in November 2001. A string of rapes by Lebanese attackers had been spun into a siege mentality by extreme right-wing talkback radio host Alan Jones the previous year, never mind the vast numbers of rapes committed by white offenders. Refugees arriving by boat, always a fact of life for a wealthy nation at the end of a long, impoverished island chain, suddenly seemed like a vast, terrifying threat. The Tampa election went to John Howard in appreciation of his barbaric and outlandlishly expensive anti-refugee policies, while Australia’s international prestige sank to new lows.

Things have calmed down since then, and refugee stories are now usually covered within a humanitarian frame rather than an ugly xenophobic one. Before the 2007 election, the vile policies of Phillip Ruddock’s Department of Immigration, Multiculturalism and Indigenous Affairs (John Howard thought all brown people should come under the same minister) had been quietly neutered, and the ridiculous Pacific Solution abandoned.

Hopefully, we won’t have to fight the whole stupid thing out again.


Photo: Helena Janson


1 Comment »

  1. Anyone following this story will have noticed that it’s getting bigger. Right-wingers are now in round-the-clock efforts to reinvigorate the refugee debate, and therefore the race debate.

    I don’t think they’re doing it out of racism; I certainly don’t think they’re doing it because they seriously think a few hundred asylum seekers are some kind of threat to Australia. I think Malcolm Turnbull is running scared of Kevin Rudd’s seemingly unassailable lead in the polls, and has traded in his integrity for a chance at a wedge issue that might make the same difference for him it did for Howard.

    It’s a disappointment – I thought Turnbull might make a good Opposition Leader, and a great Prime Minister, when he was first agitating for the job. Sadly he traded in whatever credibility he might have had quite early, proving himself to be an opportunist incapable of putting the communal good above his own ambitions. It’s the brutal truth about opposition that you aren’t there to help the process, you’re there to gum it up enough that the electorate wants a change. When it comes to social dynamite like this, however, this normal behaviour of a politician is a good deal more immoral.

    Comment by Andrew Riddle — 20/04/2009 @ 2:29 pm

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