Conservatives all at sea over human rights

agendaTracker

AT LARGE:
By Chris Graham, September 25, 2011

Asylum seekers

Asylum seekers arrive by boat on Christmas Island, July 8, 2011. (AAP Image/Josh Jerga)

NATIONAL: The greatest threat to our nation is not boat people – it’s been living here for the past 200 years, writes CHRIS GRAHAM*.

Australia, at least for me, is a paradox. As Dorothy McKellar famously wrote, ‘I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of rugged mountain ranges and droughts and flooding rains.’

The extremes in our landscape and our weather seem to have been etched into our national psyche as well, which is something I’ve never quite understood.

As a nation, we are capable of extraordinary acts of generosity. Australians donated more than $100 million to the victims of the Boxing Day tsunami that devastated Indonesia. John Howard, in one of his few genuinely decent acts while Prime Minister, topped up that individual largesse with a $1 billion government aide package.

And yet we don’t actually like Indonesia. In particular, we don’t like Indonesians, especially after what they did in Timor-Leste.

When Indonesian military backed a suppression of the East Timorese in the late 90s, Australians felt genuine outrage and demanded intervention. Howard, quite rightly, pointed out that sending troops into Indonesia uninvited could also be described as ‘an invasion’.

Pressure mounted, and Howard – to his administration’s great credit – got Australian troops in via the United Nations.

It is a matter of enduring national pride that Australia played such an active and important role in helping the East Timorese secure independence.

And having done so, we promptly set about trying to screw them out of their oil and gas reserves.

Timor-Leste, it’s worth noting is one of the poorest nations on the planet, ranking 120 out of 169 countries in the United Nation’s Human Development Index.

Australia is ranked third.

Of course, our national contradictions are not just international in nature. We have plenty of homegrown ones as well. We’ve built a multicultural utopia, a system where people of all races and creeds live together harmoniously.

I work in Parramatta, Sydney. Walk down the street of the CBD any given day and in the space of a few minutes you’ll have passed people from dozens of different countries and cultures.

There’s no suicide bombings. There’s no rampant violence. Everybody goes about their business. It just works.

Yet at the same time, the level of overt racism and hostility towards these very same immigrants can be staggering.

We hate the ‘curry munchers who drive our cabs’ because they smell funny… and are prepared to work harder than we are. We hate the ‘slopeheads who take all the best spots at university’ because they look funny… and are prepared to work harder than we are.

This white angst has its roots in one ugly personality trait: greed. We want it all, and we want it now. We want to be seen to be a sharing nation, without actually having to share it too much.

People talk about kids these days being part of the ‘Me generation’. I think the argument is horseshit. Children today are smarter, more educated and more compassionate than we ever were.

The fact is, the ‘Me generation’ is not a generation at all – it’s a nation of people. Australian people.

We spend our days worrying that someone else might get more than we do. I believe I know the cause.
Conservatives.

I’m not talking about  all ‘conservatives’ – the capital ‘L’ Liberal, for example, who believes in small government and modest change, but also human rights.

I’m talking about the nutter , the loony right-wingers who populate both our major political parties (and beyond), and who dominate the airwaves and the pages of our mainstream papers.

I call them ‘Big C’ conservatives.

They live miserable lives, and they’re determined that you should as well.

Big C conservatives are the scowlers of our society. If they’re not whipping people into a frenzy on some radio station about ‘some PC nonsense’, then they’re the ones phoning in to some radio station to complain about ‘some PC nonsense’.

But if you really want to get to know the Big C conservative, it helps to look at the sorts of social issues that get their knickers in a knot.

They’re the people who predicted native title would threaten the backyards of all Australians. Never happened.

They’re the people who suggested in 2006, when the Single Noongar Claim was handed down, that access to our beaches might be under threat. Never happened.

When land rights was introduced in NSW in 1983, the Big C conservatives howled and screamed that it would be the ruination of a nation. Never happened.

The Big C’s railed against a national apology for the better part of a decade, claiming it would lead to a flood of compensation claims. Never happened.

These are the same people who told you that Italians wouldn’t assimilate; that the Greeks would overrun the country; that the Vietnamese would form ghettos and never assimilate.

They hate Muslims, want to ban the burqa and believe Islam is a threat, as though Christianity is free from extremism. And they’re the same ranters who oppose things like a treaty with our First Nations, or a Bill of Rights, both of which are mechanisms designed – shock horror – to protect basic human rights for all.

And it’s not only helpful to look at what the Big C conservatives oppose. It’s also about what they support.

The Northern Territory intervention has been a disastrous policy for the Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments. And yet it still draws widespread support among the Big C’s today.

They wail ‘Who will think of the children’, having sat and done precisely nothing for decades while the adults of today – once also children – grew up in third world poverty in a first world nation.

Aboriginal affairs is littered with the policy corpses of bone stupid ideas from bone stupid Big C conservatives.

They’re the creators of the odious ‘Shared Responsibility Agreements’ and welfare quarantining. Remember the COAG trials. Run by Big C’s. Hindmarsh Island affair. Big C’s again.

If they had a marketing phrase to promote membership to their ranks, it would be this: ‘The Big C’s: exploiting Australian ignorance since Federation’.

Aboriginal people, more than any other group, have been the targets of these misinformation campaigns. But the most spectacular recent example of Big C conservatives getting it wrong on an important social issue lies in the debate around asylum seekers, one of the few groups of people on earth who could seriously compete with the Australian blackfella for the mantle of ‘world’s most disadvantaged’.

If you’ve never seen the SBS series Go Back Where You Came From, you must. It should be required viewing for all Australians.

It is the most impacting television series I’ve ever watched. You can watch it online for no cost at http://www.sbs.com.au/shows/goback.

At the risk of spoiling the ending, six Australians embarked on a 25-day journey to challenge their preconceived notions about refugees and asylum seekers.

“Tracing in reverse the journeys that refugees have taken to reach Australia, they travel to some of the most dangerous and desperate corners of the world,” said the show’s creators.

Each of the participants was chosen not because they were rednecks, but because they were ordinary Australians.

They just happened to have (with one exception) very extreme views. That, I’d argue, is what makes them ordinary Australians in the first place. With emphasis on the ‘ordinary’.

One of the women from the show, Raye Colby, expressed the view at the start of the series that it was a good thing refugees died en-masse at Christmas Island last year.

“Serves them bloody right,” she sneered.

Colby’s primary objection? That asylum seekers get fed and cared for by the Australian taxpayer, and – wait for it – have access to big screen TVs while in detention. But the capitulation of Colby and the others as the show unfolds is stunning.

The most startling turnaround for me was from Adam Hartup, a Cronulla lifeguard who admits to being present during the Cronulla race riots. Hartup began the show referring to asylum seekers as “these criminals” who come to Australia illegally.

Later in the series there’s footage of Hartup in an Iraqi hospital, dancing with men and boys missing arms and other body parts, the inevitable result of an illegal and immoral war in which Australia was an active participant.

It makes for gut-wrenching viewing.

Unsurprisingly, confronted with the reasons why people get on boats to come to Australia, Hartup completely reverses his view. But he hadn’t even left the country before he began questioning the popular Australian narrative – the Big C conservative spin – on asylum seekers.

What got Hartup thinking was a trip just 30 kilometres from his home, to the Villawood Detention Centre.

There, after just two hours talking to detainees, Hartup and his ‘average Australian’ view of the world was knocked for six.

“It shook me up a bit. Bit of a reality check actually,” said Hartup immediately after the meeting.

He quickly came to the view that getting on a leaky boat to Australia was an entirely reasonable response to the circumstances facing many asylum seekers.

Now here’s the rub. On issues like native title and land rights, it can sometimes take a decade or more for the scare campaigns of the Big C’s to be exposed for what they are. Unadulterated rubbish.

But for Adam Hartup, it took just two hours for the whole Big C conservative story that he’d swallowed hook, line and sinker to collapse.

Which brings me to the central point of this column: If the Big C conservatives always get this stuff wrong – and the passage of time shows they do – then why do we continue to allow them space in public discussion on key social issues?

Why do we listen when they play politics with the lives of asylum seekers and Aboriginal people?

And why do average Australians keep looking to Big C conservatives for their policy revelations on Aboriginal affairs? Why does media promote them?

Why do we believe that the people who always get it wrong, might one day get it right? Isn’t that the very definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different outcome?

The fact is, it’s time to shut these people down, to ignore their shrieking on key social issues in public debate.

Dorothy McKellar’s poem about Australia is entitled ‘My Country’. It’s high time we took it back from the Big C’s.

* Chris Graham is the Managing Editor of Tracker magazine. He is a Walkley Award and Human Rights award winning journalist.

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

Blog at WordPress.com.