When standing on the right-hand side of the political spectrum with both of our major parties discussing the nuances of a boatpeople initiative, it should be remembered that most of us are, or are descended from, boatpeople. Any offshore processing centre is 220 years too late. So, bringing the debate into the present I’m left wondering what is it that we, as an Australian people, are afraid of.
On 21 October, 2001 a little man filled with his own self-importance and pushing for a khaki election stood to launch his government’s election campaign. To compensate for the lack of true policy and direction the then Prime Minster, John Howard, got carried away with his own spin, spitting the vitriol ‘we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’. With dramatic US style sensationalist overtones, Howard prodded at the fears of the general public in a post 9/11 miasma.
In a masterful scheme, the Liberal spin-doctors had managed to overshadow the utter embarrassment of the Tampa Affair by rolling it in with concerns for national security. This is obviously ridiculous; it is known that most Al Qaeda sympathisers are university-educated, high-income earners who would not risk a mission on the fate of a distressed fishing vessel. However, as the majority of the voting public do not have time to pursue the accurate facts and have to rely on sound bites from the right-wing mass media, this falsity was not probed.
Nine years and almost three governments later, how far have we come? The same scare campaigns are back, but this time both sides are on the same side with only minor differences and there is barely a whisper in defence of the real victims – the people forced to leave their homelands, risking their lives and the lives of their families to flee an oppressive regime.
Neither political party appears cognisant of the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, the breaches of which we are committing are too numerous to list.
These are not scary people; rather, scared people. This thinking led me to write my poem ‘boat people’. I wondered what it was that we were afraid of. Are we afraid that these people might take our land, slaughter our families and steal our children? Boat people already did this in 1788. Are we afraid that these people might be criminals (because a former convict colony is no place for criminals)? Are we afraid that the asylum seekers might bring their social diseases with them, afraid that this might affect our rising rates of alcoholism and drug abuse? Maybe we’re afraid of overcrowding, given that at the moment we have 2.6 people per square kilometre.