Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decision this week to reinstate the Howard-era “Pacific solution” by processing asylum seekers offshore in whatever country she can bully into agreeing is incredibly disappointing. I can interpret it as nothing other than an attempt to grab at votes by appealing to some of humanity’s most base emotions – feelings of fear of anyone different, feelings we as a society should be long past, and perhaps would be if it weren’t for self serving politicians repeatedly trying to stir them up.
Politicians in both major parties are saying people are “anxious” about the number of refugees arriving by boat, but this article by Crikey.com shows very well what people are supposedly anxious about.
Not that I’ve met anyone who is actually anxious about it. The only anxiety that I’ve encountered in people in relation to refugees is their very serious concerns about the appalling way that these people have been treated by successive Liberal and Labor governments.
The xenophobic underpinnings of the near identical policies being trotted out by both Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott become clear when one considers the fact that, while in the last year Australia has allowed in under 2000 refugee boat arrivals, over 50 000 people from overseas also illegally overstayed their visas in that time (while seeking asylum is perfectly legal).
Neither major party is trying to sound tough on visa overstayers, because these are generally people wealthy enough to arrive by plane. On the other hand refugees who arrive by boat are often amongst the poorest people in the world, having given everything they own to flee persecution, hardship and danger that most of us in Australia are lucky enough to not even be able to comprehend. The fact that they almost all come from non-English speaking backgrounds also makes them a very easy target for unscrupulous politicians who want to capitalise on fear of “the other”.
The Government’s decision to automatically deny asylum to Afghanis is another example of xenophobic hypocrisy. They claim Afghanistan is so safe that no one should need to leave it and seek asylum. Yet if the country is so safe why are Australian troops still there, fighting a bloody war with no end in sight that has raged on for nine years?
When John Howard was thrown out of office in 2007 many Australians thought we were entering a new age in which the rights of the worlds most disadvantaged people would be respected, where climate change would be treated with the seriousness and urgency it deserved and where apologies meant a moving forward and a change of action. What a disappointment.
In the interest of not sounding purely negative, I’d invite anyone interested in an alternative viewpoint to the one trotted out by the major parties to check out the Greens policy on refugees.