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Lock up your borders

Racist business cardOne apparently innocuous morning two weeks ago – 6 April, I believe – I received in my letterbox what at first glance seemed to be a small, harmless piece of white paper. Closer inspection revealed the sinister truth.

It appears to be striving towards business card presentation but in reality falls into the category of cut up paper. The meagre funding behind the xenophobic propaganda is perhaps one of the few positives to come from this experience. (Though I did also derive amusement from the graph in the bottom right corner that conveniently illustrates the devastating problem without having to take the trouble to spell out more confusing statistics.)

My suburb is Oatley, which is in southern Sydney on the north side of the Georges River. Just above the fabled Shire – fabled for being home to Cronulla, not hobbits, and the 2005 race riots, which this obnoxious oblong appears to take perverse pride in. Though the absence of an organisation or party of origin is conspicuous, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to deduce from the two events mentioned the authors’ alignment as Pauline Hanson-supporting Cronulla riot participants. Perhaps One Nation or the Australia First Party. The latter is fairly operative in my area and their founder Graeme Campbell’s claim that ‘Australia must remain predominantly white’ is central to their policies.

A friend of mine regularly insists our suburb is one thriving with racists, but I had never thought it much of an issue until now. It is a predominantly white middle-class suburb but by no means strictly so; it is as multicultural as your average, suburban, middle-class neighbourhood.

This racist titbit came only days before the Labor Party’s announcement on 9 April that they were suspending the processing of Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers. The Labor government is swinging back to Howard-era hardline policies: tough not only on people smugglers, but asylum seekers too. Yet these illegal policies are not enough for many. The Opposition repeatedly calls for stronger border protection measures and many in the public agree. A poll at the end of a Sydney Morning Herald article reporting the new immigration clampdown shows seventy-one percent of 7690 readers support the policy. Hardly reliable but it nonetheless illustrates general public opinion.

A Roy Morgan poll on 8 April asked 670 members of the public:

Sixty-four percent said asylum seekers arriving by boat should be returned compared to only twenty-six percent who are happy with the current system and five percent saying there should be another system.

The home delivery I received is not the kind of grassroots community action that warms the cockles. Hopefully the letterbox drop is the end not the beginning. Then again, it’s an election year and immigration tensions are high. The topic looks once again to be a deciding issue in the upcoming election. The Labor Party’s latest move shows that the major parties will be pushing each other for more and more hardline policies in an effort to win over a frightened electorate.

As long as politicians and such anonymous groups as the one that delivered my unwanted mail keep up the inflammatory hysteria, immigration will be a contentious subject where discrimination becomes acceptable for the sake of protecting our borders and our jobs. If the debate continues to be framed in the same terms, where ‘boat people’ are an object of fear, racist policies and rhetoric will be defendable.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Peter Francis is a student at UTS undertaking a Communications degree and majoring in Writing and Cultural Studies. This in no way prepares him for life outside university.

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  1. Thanks for your post, Peter. I was left wondering how effective this propaganda is as a recruiting device [for white supremacists]. Do you have any idea how popular the Australia First Party is around there?

    The Guardian ran an article yesterday about a UK study that found that the BNP is basically not appealing to those communities where there has been little or no immigration (despite the fear mongering): ‘the more immigration an area has experienced, the lower its support for the far right’.

    However, in response to the idea that Australia is not racist, I offer you Invasion Day 2010 courtesy of Fear of a Brown Planet:

    Just to reiterate:

    We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances under which they come

    I make no apology whatsoever for working as closely as I need with our [fill in the blank] friends and partners to get the results we all need in terms of illegal immigration

    Indistinguishable.

    I don’t know if you caught Maxine Clarke’s excellent post about the discourse and language surrounding refugees in Australia (btb: it incenses me that the dispassionate and legalistic term ‘asylum seeker’ has replaced the concept of ‘refugee’ in our media and language) and the current Overland also has an excellent article by Mungo MacCallum about Labor policies and ‘boat people’.

    Actually, another FoaBrownPlanet clip on the Cronulla riots, which I am inclined to share:

    We need to critically examine and challenge the mythology of Australia as a largely white, middle-class, non-racist neighbourhood whenever we encounter it because this is not the Australia in which we live.

    • Hi Peter, Jacinda;

      The change from use of ‘refugee’ to ‘asylum seeker’ bothers me too. But – here’s the thing – it is technically correct. A refugee isn’t officially a refugee until they’re granted that status by the UN; up until then they are asylum seekers, and unfortunately afforded far fewer protections than those awarded refugee status. Hence us keeping people in camps for as long as possible. I dislike the use of the term – I think ‘unconfirmed refugees” or a similar term would be more helpful – but it is correct.

      What shits me to tears is the reference to asylum seekers as illegal immigrants. NO, they’re NOT. The right to seek asylum is granted by UN agreements which WE HAVE SIGNED. There is no such THING as an illegal immigrant – the correct term is irregular immigrant. Catch a newspaper or politican calling them that, though.

      And while politicans do have a lot more control over actual policy, I think the media has a lot to answer for in their sensationalist descriptions of refugees as illegal and as unstoppable waves of people. They’re the ones who want to make it a big deal, and I want to kick them in the pants every time I see it. It’s part of the reason I never wanted to be a journalist.

      The real thing, though? Australia accepts around 300 000 immigrants a year. Around twelve thousands refugees are accepted. Someone do that math, and tell the fucking media and all the racists in southern sydney, and maybe we’ll start getting somewhere.

  2. I think the Australia First Party has an office in Rockdale which is a bit closer to the city than where I live but I don’t see anything from them really. However, I’m told they’re quite active in the Shire. I’m not sure how much support they have there but it’s probably more than is comfortable.

    That’s a good point about ‘asylum seekers’ replacing ‘refugees’. You hardly ever hear refugee anymore and asylum seeker is somehow softer and more intangible.

  3. We found these horrible little leaflets in our letterboxes for a while — always left at night. They stopped after a while, but that might be because we live in Balmain, home of the latte-sipping, basket-weaving chattering classes. Talk about the stupidity of racists! Not just because of the hysterical nonsense of their “arguments” about immigration (while demonising a few hundred genuine refugees, the Howard Government tripled immigration, not counting exploitative student or 456 visas, with most permanent residents and immigrants overwhelmingly white, from the UK and NZ), but the fact they’d target doctors’ wives central! Weird also how most Australian racist politicians — Jack van Tongeren, Graeme Campbell, Jim Saleam — are immigrants, or the children of immigrants… but then, so was Hitler, wasn’t he?

  4. I was sitting here at my computer, Mrs white herself – born in Liverpool for goodness’ sake – and thinking of being in Mooroolbark this evening looking for an ATM and hearing a TV rant from someone about young Chinese drivers on ‘our’ streets and saying out loud, ‘whose streets?’ and wondering about ownership and materialism and fear and then I read this article and the responses and watched the youtubes and feel like I did in Uganda a couple of years ago, wondering about the legacy of race. While I could appreciate the cleverness of the stand up comedian’s comedy, it didn’t make me laugh (very much), it made me sad. Sad and burdened and sorry and despairing because ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexual persuasion and all those things that divide us from one another through fear and misinformation and greed, make me long for a compassionate world, where each individual is taken on their merit and it is understood that we spring from a common striving – to be to experience human being … ah, but what about those I consider too damaged? The violent, the ruthless, those without concept of the sanctity of childhood … ? Am I capable of unconditional love for all humanity? And what have these rambling thoughts to do with the common sense acceptance of diverse expression of human-beingness and it’s sad lack in our ‘lucky’ country?

    My eyes fall on this poem, written out when I was a young mother, as a blessing for our house. Now my daughter is 17 and heinous ideas like those of the ‘white paper slip’ enter her world – she’ll tell you she’s an anti-racist but bought an Australian flag on ‘Australia day’ because ‘everybody has one’. She is just as likely to argue against racist ideas and leap into the fray to defend any injustice as spout rubbish she has heard from those she is rebelling with (against me) about ‘they’.

    Measureless the starry heights
    Measureless the depths of earth
    And about us everywhere
    Light-receiving, warmed by wonder
    Spirits weave human destiny.
    May the shelter of this house
    Be a place of wakening
    Peace within us
    Peace among us

  5. I too live in Oatley and also received one of these. I was rather hoping for some contact information so that I could confront the arsehole that delivered it – oh well. Agree with your post in general and the assessment of Oatley too. I often joke with people that I live in the bit of the Shire that crossed the Georges river – mail such as this kind of confirms it.

  6. Interesting post at Lenin’s Tomb on the BNP article. He warns that reducing the BNP’s appeal to ‘social exclusion’ negates the need to fight racism now, particularly for politicians. Appears to be the media and the government cultivating the racist climate over there – what a surprise.

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