the great wall of australia

It looks as though Australia’s newest Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is moving to the Right on the issue of Asylum Seekers.

Nothing is certain at this point, but Ms. Gillard has given a deadline of July 8 for Labor to announce their new asylum seeker policy. In the meantime Gillard has encouraged Australians to express their opinions and vent their fears to open up frank national debate about the issue;

“For people to say they’re anxious about border security doesn’t make them intolerant, it certainly doesn’t make them a racist, it means that they’re expressing a genuine view that they’re anxious about border security.” (Article here)

Unfortunately such a comment is implicitly directed at those who have been conned by fear-mongering rhetoric, such as the insidiously deceitful use of the phrase “border protection” (Protection from whom, may I ask? From the most oppressed and persecuted kinds of people in the world? Given that over 97% of asylum seekers are granted asylum status, such rhetoric is utterly senseless). Such debate is, of course, necessary and a part of democratic freedom of speech. The problem comes, though, when freedom of speech is used to say things like;

“Take the lead from Singapore – fine them, flog them and send them home. End of problem…” (Posted by “John” at 8:08am on July 5th here)

The issue is not helped by the Right’s continual bombarding of the Australian public with their inhumane policy;

“The Coalition has a policy. It’s a policy that has worked in the past. It will work again in the future and I would invite her (Gillard) to adopt our policy immediately.” (Tony Abbott, Opposition Leader, Sun-Herald, July 4)

“If Julia Gillard is serious about border protection, then she needs to restore the Coalition’s policies that were proven in Government and the Coalition stands ready to introduce today” (Scott Morrison, Shadow Minister for Immigration, article here)

I take issue with the Coalition’s statement of the fact that their policy “works.” What does it mean for them to say that their policy “works?” That it has been proven to “work?” Does “working” mean that asylum seekers are shut out and left to suffer while Australians enjoy prosperity that all-too-often exploits the people they are shutting out? How is that the definition of a policy that “works?”

Some will no doubt argue that the issue is that boat people are “jumping the queue.” Indeed, it is true that thousands wait for asylum while living in refugee camps overseas. But let’s not be naive and assume that the “queue” is a perfect system for justice either. Lindy Edwards, a political scientist at UNSW and a research fellow with the Australian Prime Minister’s Centre, writes;

“The international community has limited and inadequate systems to cope with this humanitarian disaster. Many refugees have no choice but to try and make their way to safe havens under their own steam.” (Article here)

It is true that though there may be a queue, it is not able to help all refugees. Moreover in Afghanistan and Iraq Australia has no diplomatic representation, and thus there are no queues at all! What then do we expect such forgotten refugees to do?

In addition to all of this is the policy being pushed by the Coalition in which they promise to turn boats around – how is a policy which encourages the turning around of boats back to their place of origin just, humane or good? The Coalition’s case in which they claim to want to stop boats coming for the safety of the “illegal” refugees is utterly contradicted by the notion of turning those same people around, forcing them to cross the sea again!

The issue of open national discussion mentioned above is also clouded by the claims (lies?) of the Right. Here I quote Julian Burnside, who summarises it well when he says Tony Abbott has been;

“…lying to the public, creating an utterly false impression about the number of people who come by boat seeking asylum and the reasons that they come seeking asylum … He talks about a flood coming: the arrival rate, although higher than it’s been for a while, is still incredibly low … We haven’t got a flood, we’ve moved from a drip to a trickle.” (Article here)

In regards to Christians in Australia I will state briefly my disgust at some of the comments that have come from people who claim to follow Jesus (himself a refugee). A comment on The Age website will suffice to summarise my own thought on the issue;

“Apparently every single refugee is either a “terror suspect”, someone who will steal our jobs or steal our women.

I especially love seeing “Christian” groups rant against refugees. I guess none of them feel very charitable on the topic.” (Posted by “RobbieM” at 8:48am on July 5th here)

At the end of the day, it looks as though both of the major political parties in Australia are playing with the lives of real people fleeing real oppression just for the sake of political gains. It is this kind of Machiavellian game-playing that causes us swing voters to shift our support. While I can never support the Coalition and their policies on issues like asylum seekers, I’m afraid that I can neither support this new-sounding Labor government. I was truly excited by the prospect of having a female Prime Minister. However if Labor continues to move in the direction they seem to be going on asylum seekers, attempting to put a wall around Australia, then come July 8 Ms. Gillard will lose my support along with those like me.


P.S. You can find a previous post on the issue of asylum seekers here.

Posted on July 5, 2010, in Advocacy, Current Events, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Greg Attwells

    Great post zlow.

    The problem with political leaders is their job is to represent the people… Not to lead them. The status quo is conservative in nature and politicians are only ever voted in by reinforcing a national mindset….even if it’s wrong. I’m getting tired of pollies and lack of courage and leadership…. It seems the one guy we have had in a long time that looked as though he was working for change just got knifed in the back…. & now we expect the ones that knifed him are going to do better. The whole system is messed up if you ask me….

  2. I’m quite disappointed with Mrs Gillard.
    She lost me the moment she came to power through the same means as Lyndon Baines Johnson – curiously sworn into the American presidency mid flight as the exchange of power took place – although, of course, with less murder involved.
    The move was nonetheless likewise unjust and treacherous.
    To me however this policy shift seems so totally predictable.
    Just as Kennedy was supplanted because of the direction of his policies as President – and when replaced, those policies, such as their response to Vietnam, were subverted by the new leadership [certainly something to take into account when assassinating a world superpower’s president] – to me it would be sensible to expect history to repeat itself.
    Powerful stakeholders have literally staged a political coup of the Australian governments’ leadership, and supplanted the Prime Minister with a new one.
    It makes sense to me that his [Kevin Rudd’s] policies and perspectives on such issues will now, likewise, be changed – sadly, to quite possibly another negative outcome for many; except this time, instead of the suffering incurred from a war with Vietnam, it may well be international refugees and asylum seekers who encounter the negative consequences of policical coup.

  3. I totally agree with you Matt,
    Does this country not promote helping those who help themselves, well thats exactly what assylum seekers do, take an active role in finding a better life….
    Would any of us be so brave, take such a risk, no because we are blessed to live in freedom, we will never experience what most the assylum seekers have and nor would we want to, given a chance to wear their shoes even for a day we would snub our noses and with good reason, who woud want to suffer such hardships, fear, control, terror, illness, poverty etc
    We seem to be a selfish nation that does not look after their own let alone anyone else.. I often hear people say there are people starving in our own backyard why should we help anyone else, but I would ask why is there people starving in our own backyard? why do we have homeless people when we live in a land of plenty?Why don’t we help those we complain need our ‘first”! We have enough resources to help not only those who live in Australia now but also those who seek refuge…
    I find it disgusting the way this country handles poverty both here and over sea’s , and how we treat those less fortunate than ourselves.
    We ought to show ‘boat people’ love and understanding and do whatever it takes for their humanity and dignity to be restored, we speak about these people as if they are the scum of society and desrve what has happened to them, as if some how it is their own fault.

    Perhaps the real reason the govt’ and the public are calling for border protection is so the rest of the world doesn’t find out what a truly greedy selfish unneighbourly nation we really are..

    A little judgemental I know and of course there are exceptions and I pray that those who are an exception grow in number, grow in voice and grow in action.. however that looks

    love your heart Matt!!!

  4. Most of my descendants arrived here as Irish-Catholic immigrants to face persecution, suspicion, racism and bigotry. They formed enclaves in Dubbo, Windsor and Parramatta. They stuck to their own communities and Parishes.
    Then something happened. By the mid 1900’s they became Australians, and I heard them start to say things like ‘Parramatta is being taken over by Charlie Chans and Susie Wongs’. How quickly we assimilate into Xenophobic thinking when we were so recently persecuted ourselves.
    Read ‘Jesus wants to save Christians‘ for a helpful perspective on how to treat exiles and how the slaves often become the new slave masters.

  5. Definitely see your point Baz – we are so quick to forget about our own ancestory. I also agree with your book recommendation – Bell and Golden are brilliant in that book!

  6. Matty,

    If you were PM what would your policy be?

    • Great question! First of all I would start by saying I would never be PM – I am too bloody unlikeable!

      That said, what I would be pushing for is;

      1) Better education of the Australian public on the issues involved. A paper entitled “Let them stay or send them away? Predictors of negative attitudes toward asylum seekers” from Murdoch Uni in Perth found that people with higher levels of education had far less negative attitudes toward asylum seekers. Thus I think education of our population is important.

      2) I would like to see diplomatic relations between Australia and countries with large emigration rates to Australia heightened. I made a comment in my post about queues, and though I think “queue jumpers” (as they are called) should be shown compassion, improving the queues is still an important aim. In relation to this is also the need to find smoother ways of utilising the refugee camp system. They are like slums in many places, and we need to work to improving them (I can understand why people would want to “jump the queue” as it is commonly said).

      3) I would like to see an end to mandatory detention. Some of our detention centres are like concentration camps. One refugee I have read about, Abbas al-Khafaji, was originally from Iraq but lived in Syria and came to Australia by boat from Indonesia in 1999. He spent nearly three years in Woomera and Curtin, and recently told a refugee policy forum that he would rather have been in Syria than in the detention centres (obviously a very strong and telling comment). In 2003 Burnside reported that “The United Nations Human Rights Commission has described conditions in Australia’s detention centres as “offensive to human dignity”.”
      I think there are alternatives to mandatory detention. Indeed, Australia is the only Western country that mandatorily detains asylum seekers! I believe community based systems would work better, comparable with parole etc. Even from a fiscal point of view detention costs over $100 a head per day, but parole only about $5-6 a day. Moreover refugees create demand for goods and services, and thus they stimulate the economy (A recent UCLA study has shown that unauthorised immigration boosts the US economy by $800 billion per year).

      4) I would ensure processing under such a system whereby those who are not deemed asylum seekers be sent home. Such a system would need to be well-researched, however, as sending someone home to an oppressive environment is out of the question. A bad example is the current dialogue about sending Hazaris and Tamils back to Afghanistan where they will suffer oppression and possible death.

      5) I would promote a softening/loosening of so-called “border protection” policies. As much as the Coalition would say we are getting too many asylum seekers, the truth is we get one of the lowest numbers amongst developed nations. Sweden receives as many asylum seekers as we do, though they have half our population. Britain receives about three times more asylum seekers per capita than Australia. Moreover Australia received far more asylum seekers in the early 1980’s than now, though our population then was much lower.

      6) I would certainly ban the possibility of turning boats around to face a second dangerous journey across the sea.

      That’s all I can think of off the top of my head. I could maybe say more when I get home later if you like.


  7. Ah Matt, you seem to be able to think the same thoughts as I do, but then express them better than I could! I really do enjoy reading your posts.

    I too share your disappointment with the rhetoric coming from the Gillard Government. I’m still holding on to a small ray of hope that she is just cynical enough to believe that, by allowing a bunch of morons to vomit their bile everywhere over this issue, somehow they will end up thinking she’s alright and now ‘tough on border protection’ and she won’t actually have to make policy decisions that see her end up nearer Howard (or, God forbid, “turn ’em around” Abbott!).

    While I’m the first to admit that the issue is a complex one (and that the whole idea of people jumping into rickety boats to cross the sea for a chance at a decent life is not an ideal situation at all), I’m constantly shocked at the hatred levelled against these people by Australians.

    I don’t even know why this issue has become an election issue!!!

    What is perhaps most disappointing, though, as Greg has noted above; this is quite possibly what the majority of Australians want. While I can’t fathom how it’s possible, it wouldn’t actually surprise me now if there was a clear majority of the Australian population wanting to get ‘tougher’ on this issue.

    And that has caused me to contemplate modifying some of my beliefs.

    While I desire to work against the concentration of power in all its forms and to empower people, primarily through education, to make decisions for themselves, I’m almost convinced that some people are just too stupid to be able to make THESE decisions for themselves. In fact, I’m almost convinced that the whole idea of making this an election issue should disqualify certain people from voting: if you’re willing to vote for a government over this issue then you shouldn’t be able to vote!

    Of course I can’t actually support that position, but I do believe that something drastic needs to happen in order to change popular opinion on this issue.

    It’s easier said than done, though…

  8. James Castle


    From my experience with many who call themselves evangelical and fly the flag, I will say that fear does play a part.

    Many of the churches that are involved in political/social issues to the point of pushing for fundamental change are perceived to be liberal congregations/denominations that have dropped their gospel message in a desperate attempte to be the ‘socially conscious’ church.

    Mainstream denominations are generally afraid to unite with these groups/churches because of the likely association and assumed doctrinal integration.

    I can personally testify to this anxiety and fear. When I found out that a Christian friend of mine was actively supporting the policies and running of the The Australian Greens, I was shocked. He was a passionate SRE (scripture) teacher who was supporting a party that would love to see that volunteer work expire. Contradiction much?

    My bet is that it is boiling down to one group of people wanting to unite with another on an issue, but being afraid of being lumped in with that group on issues and at times when they very deeply disagree.

    This is and has been the strategy of [much of] protestantism since it’s divide from Roman Catholicism and the ensuing five hundred years of that same protest: “We’re not with those guys!”

    Christians often are inclined to define themselves not in terms of what they’re for, but who and what they’re against. This issue runs so deep and is so widespread that it needs more than a hand-holding session with candles.

    Oh and did I mention apathy, general laziness and an under-realised eschatology?

    Good on you for posting what you did.


  9. Shane Clifton

    For the first time in my voting life, I suspect i am heading toward the donkey vote. Cannot have one’s vote used to support the line, “I have a mandate from the Australian people …. “

  10. One area of concern about assylum seekers is where they are culturally inserted into another culture that they don’t understand or respect.

    Take what is happening with many Suddanese boys who are coming into the country at the moment. In NSW there is a high percentage of these boys in our Juvienielle Justice centers at the moment for committing violent crimes. I personally know a few people who work directly with these boys whom many / most have been boy soldiers.

    One of the safeguards that I believe is needed is that a certificate of residency isn’t permanant if a persons behavior is detrimental to the well being of the Australian way of life. Take the issue of the Melbourne Sheik whom a past government allowed to take up residency against departmental advice and this same person stirs the young people of victoria to take up a radical way of islam.

    In any discussions about immigration we have to admit that there is a percentage of immigrants who have a different agenda for coming into this country…I believe if the government was seen to tackle this small percentage then it would allieviate the general populations fear about what is happening in regards to immigration.

    • Thanks for posting Craig.

      I would respond in two ways. First I would argue that in the long run it is the incoming cultures that suffer and are diminished by the larger prevailing culture. This prevailing culture is usually only affected extremely marginally. Australia’s only real danger of being flooded by another culture is American culture which rules our media. For some reason we don’t complain about the American refusal to “assimilate.”

      Secondly I would argue that there should be no difference in perception between troublesome immigrants and troublesome nationals. Do we believe that nationals have more of a right to misbehave? Keep in mind the vast majority of crime is committed by nationals, yet when an immigrant does the same we jump on them. Is that justice and fairness?

  11. Hi Matt.

    The problem with the example I have given is that the boys who are coming over here already have a voilent way of life ingrained into them that this is their way of life.

    So the question to ask you back is about whether we should accept people as a immigrant whose way of life is already based on extreme voilence? If we do, the ethical question needs to be asked about what then is the rights of those who already live here in regards tohave to living a safe life according to the standards our society accepts as the social norm?

    Can you back up your percentages with official figures about nationals / immigrants and crime? If we base your statement on sheer numbers you might be right because of the sheer numbers of nationals that out weigh immigrants. I would however be interested to see % a study done and I think we might be surprised which one has a higher % base.

    From a personal perspective having much knowledge of what goes on in the Juvinille prisons, there is a huge problem with newer immigrants commiting many gang related horrific crimes and who also are scornful of any so called authority.

    I’m happy to discuss those sources with you personally, but not publically.

    • Craig,

      I would continue the dialogue by raising a few points. The first is that as a Christian how can one deny people safety from violent backgrounds based on the possibility that they themselves may be violent? Can we blame a young Sudanese boy because all he has ever known is violence? I understand the national concern, of course, that inviting violence is not ideal. I understand that people want a safe society, and that we cannot allow violence to overrun our cities. Surely though there has to be a way to help people in such circumstances rather than shoving them back into their violent corner of the world – the cycle of violence has to be broken somewhere!

      You’re right, I was talking about sheer numbers in regard to my statement about immigrant vs. native crime. It is certainly true that some immigrant groups have youth that are generally over-represented in criminal justice settings (J. Collins, 2003). However, I would strongly argue that such a raised crime rate is not the result of ethnicity, but of aspects of social marginalisation (which may well stem from ethnicity but is not the fault of the migrant themselves).

      I have some documents on my computer somewhere that I can track down which are Bureau of Crime and Research (and related organisation) studies (admittedly quite old now, maybe a decade or so) arguing that ethnicity is not a factor in criminal offences. Rather it tends to be socio-economic disadvantage and disorganised communities – these are both disadvantages that immigrants tend to inherit when they reach Australia.

      How then does immigrant crime reflect on Australia? Keep in mind that the highest rated ethnicity in Australia are Aboriginals – it is not only immigrants, but also other marginalised groups who suffer lack of economic security and education and as a result have a higher rate of crime. What does that say about our education and economic systems in regard to marginalised people???

      In regards to what I said in my earlier comment about fairness and justice – I will use an example to illustrate that we pounce on ethnic people when they commit a crime, even when they are the minority offenders. In the case of rape, Middle Eastern offenders are assumed to be the majority by many people. In fact there is probably a stereotype around that a large portion of sexual assaults are committed by such ethnic men.

      However the Bureau of Crime and Research found that last year (in accordance with every previous year) the vast majority of NSW sexual assaults were committed in country NSW, not the major cities. The population of such places is vast majority Anglo. I would simply point this out to reflect the ethnically based prejudices of many Australians and the baseless logic of such attitudes. I think we need to seek out the actual causes of ethnic crimes in Australia, and be more honest about the statistics.

      We really do have a long way to go in my view.


  12. Oh, you’re still here?
    Its ok, didn’t you hear?
    We’ll just send them to East Timor and won’t have to fear!
    All praise to Mrs Gillard and her glorious new career!

    (I felt a poem was nescessary for this discussion post)

  13. You’re a funny boy Tom.

    Gillard’s policy could have been much worse I guess. She was looking like she was heading in a far more Right-wing direction in the lead up to the announcement of the policy. I’m not content with it, but it’s better than Liberal by far.

  14. Sorry I’m late to the party ( I won’t say ‘political party’, though it’s very tempting). No new insights to add, I think it’s all been said well already. I truly believe that God judges a nation on the way they treat the ‘least of these’ — by that criterion we’re doing very badly. And, as far as the E. Timor solution — I’m just stunned by the breathtaking arrogance of assuming that we could just dump our ‘problem’ onto the soil of another sovereign nation. Are we the bullies of the South pacific now?

  15. Agreed Lynne. It was interesting that the policy announced before discussion with the East Timorese PM commenced…

  16. Hi Matt. I agree that most rape is committed in rural areas or goes unreported within urban. I didn’t mention rape though in my comment. The crimes I’m talking about are gang related as in stand over, random senseless bashings, intimidation etc

    As for JG I’m wondering who her advisors are…. I think she is being set up for a fall from some very expert manipulators………ooops I mean experienced advisors.

    On another note, I had David Bradbury knock on my door the other day and we had a fairly good conversation about other issues. As a pollie I actually like him, but I don’t think I will be voting him because of party lines.

  17. I’m not sure about the stats of such crimes myself. I don’t know that immigrants would be higher necessarily. Indeed, I live near Cronulla – it’s all white crime! Haha.

    I am very disappointed with where JG is headed, and Labor generally. I agree with you in that I won’t be voting Labor as first preference. I like the Greens’ policies (available on their website), and Senator Brown makes a lot of sense to me, so I think I’ll go with them.


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