Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Australia's xenophobic Big Lies


Today's ALP capitulation to populist refugee-bashing is wrong on so many levels that it's hard to know where to begin.

The underlying rationale is patently false. The Age reports:
In a major backdown from her earlier insistence on the Malaysia ''people swap'', Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared: ''If people want to put up banners that this is a compromise from the government: dead right - in order to start saving lives.''
How will this save lives? Is this "deterrence" really going to work? The mainstream media appear to have swallowed this shallow line hook, line and sinker.


What is it that drives refugees into boats anyway? Surely it would be easier to get on a plane? Well, it would probably be much cheaper than trying to buy a passage on a boat, as the Global Mail's Mike Steketee points out, but then you'd need a visa - and you could be turned around at the airport anyway, as seems to happen all too often.

As if that wasn't all bad enough, asylum seekers who land here still face being deported back to their persecutors if not found to be "genuine" refugees. Take Dayan Anthony, a Tamil deported back to Sri Lanka. On arrival he was whisked away for 16 hours straight of interrogation, then as Green Left's Ash Pemberton puts it,
His subsequent government-arranged press conference appeared to be staged for the benefit of the Sri Lankan and Australian governments.

After 14 hours in custody and flanked by government officials, Anthony said: “Sri Lanka has become the safest place on the Earth after the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] was wiped out from the country. I did not face any type of harassment at the hands of Sri Lankan authorities after I returned to the country.”
To turn tragedy into farce, the Australian media appeared to take this stage-managed appearance at face value. We can only hope that Anthony continues to live free of "any type of harassment at the hands of Sri Lankan authorities".

And then, even if found to be a "genuine" refugee, the Kafkaesque operations of Australia's secret police could see asylum seekers locked up indefinitely, without even knowing why. Julian Burnside succinctly explains the legal rulings that make this police-state terror tactic possible.

Writing in Independent Australia, The ALP's loose-cannon writer Bob Ellis accurately calls this episode "a vile stain on our name." But on the other hand he gives a back-handed racist jab at another group of immigrants: "It should now be explained why incompetent Chinese waitresses are let in and persecuted Hazara peasant farmers fleeing decapitation by the Taliban kept out."

As well as singling out Chinese people, in what looks like a sordid return to cheap White Australia jibes he would have grown up with, Ellis just perpetuates once again the notion of deserving and undeserving immigrants.

The refugee debate has been going on for decades. The ALP instituted the shameful policy of detaining and deporting asylum seekers in the 1990s. But since 2001's events (the "Tampa affair") the debate has been driven by so many Big Lies that it rivals Goebbels for inhuman dishonesty.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”  (Joseph Goebbels)

Picking on the most vulnerable people in the world is shameful.

Over at Left Flank, Tad Tietze has explained a different way of looking at migration: open borders which is radical - but the radically inhuman terms of the mainstream debate deserve a most radically humane and internationalist response.

I am with the Greens in opposing offshore processing, but like many of the ‘burning issues’ during these interminable disputes (detention v community processing, children in or out of detention, push v pull factors, refugees v skilled migrants, international obligations v border security, the effectiveness of deterrents, how to deal with people smugglers, etc) even if the policy is stalled it leaves unchallenged the reasons the refugee debate proceeds in the first place.

Those reasons are defined primarily by the political needs of elites to create scapegoats and distractions for their failure to provide security to ordinary people already living here – not of borders, but of a social kind. That is, they seek to displace social insecurity into a defence of national integrity, here in the form of ‘border security’, in the process shifting blame for social ills onto an external ‘other’ that is threatening to invade and disrupt our livelihoods and cohesion. While previously the natural territory of the Right, the mainstream Left has been drawn into playing this game the more it has abandoned its traditional support base in favour of pro-corporate neoliberal policies.
There is much more that has been and could be said on the details, background, and history of Australia's xenophobic border hysteria. Let's just note that it's not inevitable, but driven by cynical agendas coming from the top of our "political class". It can be overturned. Like all inhumanities dressed in great lies, history will not look on it or its supporters kindly.


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