Underarm stink also underhand

SMH National Times
Waleed Aly
January 13, 2012

Opinion

Ranting racist

Illustration: Andrew Dyson.

Teresa Gambaro’s wrong-headed remarks about migrants are symbolic of a wider problem with Coalition attitudes.

How did Teresa Gambaro’s father smell? Let us survey the evidence. His first Australian job was as a farmhand in the hot, sweaty climes of north Queensland. It’s unclear how long he stuck at this, but it must have been quite some time because it gave him enough savings to buy a small fish store, which rapidly grew into an impressive seafood business.

From this, I am apparently to deduce that he stank. Not simply because of his obviously stench-filled path from farm labourer to fishmonger. Mainly because he migrated to Australia from a war-ravaged Italy. This indicates his personal hygiene was not up to Australian standards, and more specifically, that he was insufficiently acquainted with the virtues of deodorant. On this I cite no less pertinent an authority than his own daughter, Teresa, who so infamously declared this week that migrants need to be taught such things if they are to integrate. You smell! What began as a schoolyard insult suddenly became public policy formulation.

Public outrage was swift and loud, and Gambaro’s apology inevitable and ”unreserved”. She regrets ”any offence that may have been taken”. So, that’s that, then. Case closed. ”Let’s move on,” pleads acting Opposition Leader Warren Truss.

Not so fast. Certainly, there is little point expounding further on the myriad ways in which Gambaro’s remarks were wrong-headed. So plain is the error, and so pervasive the retorts that further substantive analysis is now redundant. But this doesn’t mean we should simply press on as though nothing has happened. Something has happened. Something that keeps happening. Something telling about the Coalition’s approach to the politics of culture.

You’ll remember that patch from around 2005 when Coalition MPs, then in government, seemed to be competing with each other to demonstrate belligerence on the issue of migration and integration. Mostly (and predictably given world events) this was directed towards Muslims. Bronwyn Bishop demanded that we ban headscarves in schools because they made women subservient, then when confronted with the fact that many headscarved women felt perfectly free, said they were like Nazis who felt free in Nazi Germany. Brendan Nelson told Muslims who didn’t know the story of Simpson and his donkey to ”clear off”. More recently Cory Bernardi declared that ”Islam itself is the problem”, describing it as ”an ideology that is mired in 6th-century brutality”.

But this invective is not confined to Muslims. Recall Kevin Andrews’ pledge to cut the immigration intake from Africa in 2007 because Africans fail to integrate. And this in response to the murder of a young Sudanese refugee by young white men; an impressive victim-blaming manoeuvre.

Such outbursts may not be Coalition policy, but they express a certain political logic that Coalition policy does express, just in more moderated tones. The individual who goes too far (like Gambaro) is transgressing only in degree, not in essence.

A day before Gambaro opined about stench, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison attacked the government’s multiculturalism policies as mere ”symbolism”. This is a familiar Coalition theme. It is the reason John Howard gave for refusing to apologise to the stolen generations. In its own narrative, the Coalition doesn’t do gestures. It does commonsense, practical things. None of that ”mushy, misguided multiculturalism” Peter Costello so abhorred.

Just tell migrants how to act, what to value and what to spray on their armpits; it’s direct action for wogs.

But there’s a deceit here. Far from being baldly practical, the Coalition’s cultural politics are every bit as symbolic as Labor’s. To see this, we need only recall the citizenship test initiative of 2006. The headline message was clear: tougher citizenship requirements to make sure only the worthy get admitted. But the practical effects of the policy were far less hairy-chested. The test was hardly taxing, and for most categories of migrant, the changes meant they could become citizens sooner – after four years’ residence rather than five.

Meanwhile, government literature banged on with slogans such as ”Australian citizenship is a privilege, not a right” and sample questions emerged evoking Bradman and Phar Lap. This was naked iconography. And the government was sure to announce the policy several times: first in the form of a discussion paper, then as a confirmed policy position, then as a budget item deserving of its own specific press release.

This was clearly something the Howard government wanted to talk about. Much as it liked to talk about the importance of migrants learning English while it was cheerfully slashing funding for English-language tuition. Clearly, the rhetoric demanding integration mattered more than the resources that might encourage it.

What little I know of Mr Gambaro’s work history I learned from his daughter’s maiden speech to Parliament. In the present context it makes particularly interesting reading because of the warmth it expresses towards Italian migrants and the way it celebrates Chinatown (located in Gambaro’s seat of Brisbane) and doesn’t once complain about the smell. But the symbolic order of a party is rarely set by maiden speeches. And here we must recognise the symbolism that pretends to be practical. To refuse to apologise to the stolen generations is a symbolic gesture in its own right. To declare that migrants disproportionately have a deodorant problem, citing no more evidence than ”you hear reports” of these things, is deeply symbolic. Symbolism is not confined to feel-good politics. Prejudice needs its symbols, too.

Waleed Aly is a broadcaster and a politics lecturer at Monash University.

Source

High Court Decision: opportunity not disaster

justice

The Government, the Opposition and the media punditocracy are out in force analysing and dissecting the High Court decision made on 31st August in the case of

PLAINTIFF M70/2011 v MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP PLAINTIFF M106 OF 2011 BY HIS LITIGATION GUARDIAN, PLAINTIFF M70/2011 v MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP[2011] HCA 32

In summary the principles established in the High Court’s judgement are:

1. Malaysia cannot be used as a country where asylum seekers arriving in Australia can be processed. Nor is it the case that Malaysia is legally bound to provide the access and protections the Migration Act requires for a valid declaration. Malaysia is not a party to the Refugees Convention or its Protocol. The Arrangement which the Minister signed with the Malaysian Minister for Home Affairs on 25 July 2011 said expressly that it was not legally binding.

2. An unaccompanied asylum seeker under the age of 18 cannot be removed from Australia without the written consent of the Minister for Immigration.

3. Under s 198A of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth), the Minister cannot validly declare a country as a country to which asylum seekers can be taken for processing unless the country is bound either by domestic or international law to provide proper assessment of claims, proper protection while awaiting assessment and provide protection for persons given refugee status pending their voluntary return to their country of origin or their resettlement in another country.

4. The Court also held that the Minister has no other power under the Migration Act to remove from Australia asylum seekers whose claims for protection have not been determined unless the country fulfils the requirements outlined in (3).

In effect, the decision has also thrown the whole of the contentious Section 198 of the Migration Act into doubt. This section among other things enabled both the notion of off-shore processing of asylum seekers and specifically the so-called “Pacific Solution” used by the Howard Government.

Further, s198C (7)already states that decisions of the Refugee Review Tribunal are subject to potential challenges under Section 75 under the Constitution.

Ron Merkel, QC, in an opinion sought by the advocacy organisation GetUp! said there would be ”reasonably good prospects”of a successful legal challenge to any new attempt to use Nauru and Manus Island as third country processors

That such a fundamentally flawed section of an Act should have withstood challenge for so long has its origins in the elections of 1996, 1998 and 2001.

Howard set out to appeal to the millions of poor Australians whose futures had been
thrown into turmoil by the economic restructuring of the Hawke and Keating Governments… He and other conservatives supported that restructuring, but sought to mobilise the anger and resentment into racist nationalism and hostility towards welfare. Liberal Party pollster, Mark Textor, assiduously studied the racial outlook of Australian voters. His polling formed the basis for Howard’s notorious 2001 election campaign. In this way, some working class people were turned against their own interests. In 2000, when Labor politician Anthony Albanese, campaigned against the GST in northern NSW amongst some of the poorest people in Australia—those living in caravan parks—he found far more concern about the supposed threat of boat people, than about a tax that would make them even poorer.

However Labor was not free of responsibility either. Labor long had the White Australia Policy as a centrepiece of its own platform.

Since the Vietnam war, Labor has been identified with anti-racism. But Labor’s ability to fight the racism of Coalition governments has been compromised by its own history and ideology.

In a response to what at the time were changing and more enlightened community attitudes, by 1973 Labor had been confident enough to declare the end of the White Australia Policy.

The Liberals, firstly under Fraser then under Peacock and Hewson, had also moved away from the party’s former rabid bigotry and for a while there was effectively a bi-partisan approach to dealing with asylum seekers arriving in boats from conflicts in South-East Asia and later, East Timor. But then

It was an ALP government that began the cruel business of locking up asylum seekers in the late 1980s. Finally, Labor’s electoralism makes it hesitant about confronting racist hysteria. This cowardice saw the ALP back the Tampa kidnapping, the ‘Pacific solution’ of dumping refugees in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, the detention centres and then the draconian ‘security’ laws passed as part of the ‘war on terror’. Labor’s leader from late 2003, Mark Latham, shared most of the Coalition’s economic liberalism and much of John Howard’s hostility to welfare and refugees.

Hard on the heels of the mandatory detention decision came the Pauline Hanson “phenomenon”. The main driver of the Hanson campaign was the channelling of the focusless xenophobia of sections of the Australian electorate, never far from the surface when economic woes hit. The main pre-occupation of a resurgent Liberal Party was to maximise the damage to its own brand caused by the overwhelming popularity of Bob Hawke and the adoption by Paul Keating of what were effectively neo-liberal financial reforms. Howard’s strategy was to woo the “battlers”, often traditionally Labor voters, by parading a convenient scapegoat for the economic hardships brought about by both the transition to economic reform in this country and by the state of the world economy at the time.

So it seems that if either the Government or the Opposition want to revisit dumping asylum seekers in any third country in the name of chasing the votes of a noisy minority of Australians, that option is now blocked.

There is an opportunity here for both parties, along with the Greens and independents, to take the resettlement and processing of refugees out of the political sphere completely. At various times the idea of having an independent commission looking after the needs of refugees and asylum seekers has been proposed. This would effectively defuse the issue as an opportunistic occasion for the promotion of xenophobia. At the moment, extremist groups are using the race to the bottom of the two major parties as a signal that racism and bigotry are now “respectable” components of political discourse, while the leadership of major parties, whatever their personal views, have not hesitated to amplify these groundless fears in the name of clinging to marginal seats.

There is an opportunity too for major parties to take back the disillusioned voters who used to be the backbone of their organisations, but who will not involve themselves in parties which remain silent in the face of resurgent xenophobia – a resurgence which not only demonises new arrivals, but also older immigrant groups, Indigenous Australians and religious minorities.

Prime Minister Gillard needs to tough things out and to use the asylum seeker decision to revisit Labor policy on the issue, thus taking it out of the political arena. Trying to pander to the lowest of the low does not work in either Labor or the Coalition’s best interests.

Phil Griffiths: Racism: whitewashing the class divide

The High Court Decision

A view from Skeptic Lawyer

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