The period leading up to the, yet to be announced, Federal election is emerging as an international shame for Australia. Never in my 37 years in Australia have I witnessed the two largest political parties ramping up the aggression towards the most vulnerable of people as they are both doing now with regards to asylum seekers. It escalated when Labor announced “NO asylum seeker will be allowed into Australia”, Tony Abbott shot back…. “we will use the military to keep them out”.
It is time for a democratic caring nation to take a long hard look at itself, when the Fijian Foreign Minister, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola takes the moral high ground advising Australia on asylum seeker issues, and, in so-doing makes perfect sense. Remember, Fiji is run by a military dictatorship. Kubuabola said “The Australian Government has used its economic muscle to persuade one of our Melanesian Governments to accept thousands of people who are not Pacific Islanders”-”This was done to solve a domestic political problem (for Australia)..“. He is right, our current Federal Government is using foreign aid to buy an electoral edge.
In the same period Fremantle was welcoming some very special refugees in the form of the Tibetan Monks of Gyuto. The monks teach respect, loving kindness and compassion, qualities that are sadly missing from Australia’s current debate on asylum seekers. What we are instead seeing is a resurgence of the Politics of Fear (Fear and Politics; Carmen Lawrence 2006) played out by identifying a perceived threat and then raising people’s concerns about it way above the reality. Once it is at a fever pitch they announce a way they, and only they can save us all from that threat. Day after day the news bulletins I hear all include a segment on Australia’s boat people problem, the ultimate testament (for me) is that I am including this issue in an EarthCare, because people are part of the earth and have to receive care. Central to the politics of fear are the words used to describe people. Asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants, it is perfectly legal to seek asylum under the United Nations Convention, to which Australia is a signatory. There are in fact far more illegal immigrants in Australia than asylum seekers, they are people who arrived here on planes with valid passports and visas, but illegally overstay their visas.
I am not downplaying the urgent need for resolutions to the risks asylum seekers are subjected to as they try to get here, but let’s be clear, this is a ‘wicked’ problem that will never be solved by simplistic ‘dog whistle’ solutions as currently proposed. Real solutions lie with the global community working together to accommodate and support existing refugees and in addressing the problems that make them want to abandon their homes in the first place. We have to reduce or eradicate violent conflict such as seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, both sponsored by the western world; and not stand-by while civil wars tear countries apart such as we are witnessing in the Arab Spring, all in the name of ‘democracy’ – a democracy that serves the winning side best. Solving disputes with weapons will always generate refugees, let us work together to block the international trade in weapons.
If you feel swamped by refugees now (even though I have never knowingly seen any), consider the situation as global warming increases. The Global Communities reticence to address Global Warming will result in an inevitable 1 metre sea level rise flooding the Nile Delta displacing about 6.1 million people (Davis 2007) and wiping out 17% of Bangladesh (UK Royal Society), meanwhile many Pacific Islands will become uninhabitable. You cannot turn the boats back when they have come from places that are now under water.
My vote in the soon to be announced Federal Election will go to the candidate who puts forward a comprehensive long term plan to start to address this complex (wicked) problem across many fronts and with compassion.
This piece was not published in the Fremantle Herald on the grounds it was too political