The White Australia Policy in Drag

For as long as anyone can remember Australia has been obsessed with having tight control over its immigration policy. On one hand this may seem like a noble cause of ensuring sustainable population growth and ensures that the country grows through immigrants providing skills that are needed. However, on the other hand, and more so the reality, the immigration policies over the decades have focused on race than anything else. First with the blatantly racist White Australia Policy and more recently with the various versions of the Pacific Solution.

If you believe the government spin about the Pacific Solution it is all about saving people from risking their lives at sea and stopping the terrible queue jumpers in refugee boats coming from South East Asia. However, cut through the spin about people smuggling and queue jumping and what you get is a series of governments who are obsessed with only allowing the right people from the right races into the country. Despite all the rhetoric about humanitarian efforts in war torn countries and saving the poor etc. When it comes down to really caring for those who need it most Australia is the fat bully who doesn’t want to share. Put simply the Pacific Solution is nothing more than the White Australia Policy in drag.

A tweet a few weeks ago summed up the whole silliness of stopping that boasts:

Could Australia’s treatment of refugees ever be worse than the Taliban? Currently refugees are detained indefinitely in prison camps detention centres on islands in the pacific, where refugees have been abused and mistreated again and again and again – to the point where the few brave ones are winning high court cases against the government. And just this week, it was decided that if any boat physically landed in Australia it wouldn’t legally be in the migration zone for Australia – this sort of logic of “being in a country but not being in a country” belongs in a Orwell novel, not Australian law. Furthermore, if the Liberal Party becomes government has vowed to physically tow the boats back to where they came from and reintroduce temporary protection visas – that is whenever the government decides to it can ship you back to where you came – once a refugee there is never a permanent home for you.

An opinion piece by Waleed Aly in today’s Sydney Morning Herald also highlights just messed up the system has become:

Now the Gillard government has left the satirists with nothing to say. It’s excising the whole damn country. For boat people, Australia will effectively no longer exist. Howard’s logic has been taken to its most absurd extreme – an extreme that was too much even for Howard’s own cabinet. It allows us to maintain all sorts of hollow fictions. Like the fiction that we’re good international citizens upholding the UNHCR Refugee Convention. How can you breach a convention that instructs you on how to deal with people who arrive in your country if no one ever makes it in the first place?

… We’re only interested in saving lives if it involves punitive forms of deterrence. We’re not interested in doing it through increased generosity, for example, by seriously increasing our humanitarian intake and significantly speeding up our processing times. What we really want is for asylum seekers to stop being our problem.

That’s why we’re so selective about the lives we want to save. That’s why there’s no crying in Parliament, no hand-wringing, and no cross-party soul searching when an asylum seeker is killed because we sent them back to the country they were fleeing. Those deaths don’t matter. We don’t count them. We don’t ask tough questions about the quality of the information we’re using to decide their home country is safe. And we certainly don’t go through absurd policy contortions to prevent it happening again. Why not? Are those asylum seekers any less dead?

The point is that they’re out of our system. They aren’t ours any more. No care. No responsibility. Our desperate concern for the wellbeing of asylum seekers begins only when they board boats and ends when we intercept them. It’s like we’re excising the rest of their lives from our humanitarian concern. And here the artifice becomes clear: the studied, confected compassion of our discourse is as much a convenient fiction as the one that pretends Australia doesn’t exist.

A few weeks back the government voted to reopen the immigration detention centres on Nauru. The vote in parliament to support this action was supported by both the Labor and Liberal parties with only the Greens and Andrew Wilkie opposing it. And this sums up the who political game around refugees, it doesn’t matter if you vote Liberal or Labor because both have been shown to exploit the world’s most vulnerable for political points. Ultimately, the only way that Australia will change the way it treats refugees is if the people of the country to stand up and demand it. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen as the majority are too obsessed with pokies, the carbon tax, and who is going to win Big Brother.

Labor and Liberal Parties voting to reopen the Nauru detention centre
Labor and Liberal Parties voting to reopen the Nauru detention centre