18 May Punching Down: Australia’s Political Class and Asylum Seekers.
Right now, in Australia, an election is taking place. It is said to be one of Australia’s longest campaigns, coming in at a whole eight weeks. My girlfriend, who is American, thinks that is quite cute of Australia, to have such a ‘long’ campaign, but regardless, this post is about that. If you have no interest, it’s okay to leave.
I told myself that I would stay out of politics. I said I wouldn’t make posts. I wouldn’t get angry. I have a book to sell, so I thought, I’d be nice and polite. No one likes author’s who are mouthy about their politics. But this morning, the Immigration Minister for Australia, Peter Dutton, another in a successive line of pitiless suits who oversee off-shore detention centres, said that asylum seekers were not, ‘numerate or literate in their own language let alone English.’ He went on to actually say the words, ‘These people would be taking Australian jobs,’ as if he were one of the Rednecks off South Park.
It was said for naked political gain, to be perfectly honest. Both major parties – The Liberal/National Coalition, and Labor – have engaged in the race baiting of asylum seekers in elections past and present. Indeed, at the last election, the then Labor Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, claimed that asylum seekers weren’t really true refugees, but rather middle class economic migrants. He claimed that refugees were fleeing to make a better life for themselves not because they had problems back home, but because they saw an opportunity to have a better life. It was an amazing claim. Of course refugees are seeking asylum to make a better life – but you don’t pay a bunch of cash to someone to smuggle you in a boat across the ocean when you can buy a plane ticket and just overstay like thousands of others. In fact, as the Conversation’s fact check of the statement at the time reveals it was wrong, but not because of what Peter Dutton said today. It was wrong because people seeking asylum in Australia were, in 90% of cases, genuine refugees, fleeing persecution in their homes. How much they earned meant absolutely nothing to if they were, or weren’t, a refugee.
But it was Labor, in a desperate attempt to hold not onto power, but Opposition, in the 2013 Election, that saw the Detention Camps open on Naura and Manus Island again. Run by a private company, it cost the Australian people over $1 billion dollars in 2014/15 to run, and saw the new Coalition Government, under the then Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison, campaign to have Non-Profit organisations like Save the Children removed from providing care to these people by continually accusing the staff of inciting riots, self harm, and what ever other piece of shit he could find. They were accusations that, only a few weeks ago, were shown to be false. In fact, the environment on Nauru and Manus is so toxic, that when Spanish company Ferrovial took over Broadspectrum (which used to be called Transfield), it announced that it would not be continuing on with that contract. And why would it? In the three and a bit years since the offshore detention centres were re-opened – they were operated during the Howard Government, closed during Rudd, then re-opened during Gillard/Rudd – people have died, been raped, suffered mental anguish, and, most recently, set themselves on fire.
The picture above is by Cathy Wilcox, who drew it after the first man to set himself on fire, Omid Masoulmali, was reported. He died in hospital, later. The reference to drowning comes from the Government’s line that they were, in fact, being humane by keeping these people imprisoned to stop deaths at sea. There are, you see, evil people smugglers. They take advantage of refugees in all kinds of way. Even those economic ones that aren’t really refugees, you see.
You might find it strange that a First World Country like Australia would be held at ransom by an ill defined force of people smugglers, using old, leaking boats to help people flee terrible situations. You might think that such a country would not be cowed into acts that contravene the human rights of individuals, but clearly, you would be wrong.
But why is it done? Why, election after election, is it done?
The answer is simple: because refugees have no voice.
Without a voice, you cannot be defined. Without a voice, you can’t give humanity to your experiences. Without a voice, you can be anything that a 70% Murdoch controlled print media wants you to be. Without a voice, you can be shunted and abused, and you can fill whatever scared, poorly education hole that generates fear in the population. Without a voice, you can be used to hide a lack of vision, economic discipline, and unpopular measures such as cutting health care, schools, and ignoring the environment.
Without a voice, you are, simply, nothing. Not until someone in power makes you something, regardless of what you truly are.
This was shown last week, in a different context, when Duncan Storrar, a poor, working class white man with a history of mental illness, and a lack of education, asked a question of the Assistant Treasurer, Kelly O’Dwyer. He asked her why the budget didn’t help him and she, in a failure she brought upon herself, came across as someone who didn’t give a shit about the poor. In the following days, the Murdoch press went to town on Storrar, ripping into his personal life with such gusto that you might have thought he was a politician accused of illegal donations, or an Attorney General accused of misusing his power. But no. He was just a part time truck driver with a history of drug use and mental abuse who, with benefits, lived at home with his parents. He was also a guy who asked a simple question on a TV show and ended up on suicide watch. He was just a guy who, until that moment O’Dwyer couldn’t answer his question, had no voice in the Australian landscape.
He was torn down to remind everyone of that.
He was torn down in the same way refugees are framed as villains and are sacrificed so that political parties of the day can use racism to get themselves elected.