|Issue No 110||07 September 2001|
Arthur Rorris - The Lowest Card in the Deck
When the Federal Government manufactured a 'crisis' involving the Norwegian vessel, The MV Tampa in waters to the north of Australia, even blind Freddy could see that an election was around the corner.
It had all the ingredients of a well-known recipe passed down from generation to generation. Just add Muslims, foreign vessels 'threatening' our territorial waters, Aussie commandos and stir.
For John Howard, this was the crisis we had to have, the lucky break he was looking for. After all, kicking people when they are down comes naturally to him and here was an opportunity where mum, dad and the kids around the country could join in and where the victims can't be seen or heard, let alone vote.
If opinion polls are to be believed, the vast majority of Australians support Prime Minister Howard's actions. Exactly what they are supporting, however, is less clear and it seems that the tide of public opinion might be turning as the real issues are starting to surface.
The problem is that Howard, aided by sections of the media, has deceptively portrayed the issue as one of stopping illegal migrants, queue jumpers and recalcitrant ship captains from entering our shores. Nothing could be further from the truth. The issue, if we cast our minds back a fortnight, began as a written distress call or alert from Australian authorities to vessels in the vicinity of the sinking ferry carrying the asylum seekers. As per international maritime convention, the Tampa, being the closest vessel, responded to Australia's call and rescued the passengers.
Put yourself in the Captain's shoes. You rescue hundreds of people at sea at the request of another country and then that same country and its neighbours refuse your vessel passage into their ports. To make matters worse your ship is only equipped and licensed to carry 40 people. No wonder our international image is sinking at the rate of knots.
Now you would think that the decent thing to have done is to relieve the Tampa of their unexpected passengers, thank the Captain for responding to our call for help, let the Tampa continue with the rest of its journey and then sort out the problem with Indonesia and the UN. Resolving the problems of international people smuggling and resettling genuine refugees is the responsibility of governments in the region and the United Nations, not the captains of commercial vessels, even if they do show more humanity than our Prime Minister.
This brings me to the question of the asylum seekers on the Tampa and the unsupported allegations that they are feigning illness, that they are queue jumpers and rorting the humanitarian program. If this is the case, why doesn't the Federal Government allow the media to interview these people and expose the scam?
Is it because pregnant women stranded in the tropical heat and crying traumatised children might not look pretty on the evening news?
Lets make this easy, lets assume for one moment that they are not genuine refugees. No one is saying that these people should remain in Australia. All that is required under international law and convention is that Australia assess requests for asylum and determines their status. If asylum is not granted and they are not given refugee status, they may be deported.
That is the difference between seeking asylum as a refugee and jumping the queue as an illegal migrant. You cannot be an illegal asylum seeker but you can have your claim rejected. Unfortunately, many Australians seem to confuse the terms 'migrant' and 'refugee', a confusion that Howard and Ruddock appear to be exploiting for their own political purposes.
This highlights the most concerning aspect of this affair. When national governments declare 'they will not surrender' to the foreigners, when the military rolls in and when the Prime Minister warns of threats to our sovereignty and 'national security', our ability to have a rational debate becomes very difficult. Perhaps that is the intention, to muddy the waters by resurrecting deep seated feelings of xenophobia in our society.
The question is, are the waters so muddy that most Australians can't see the extraordinary contradictions and hypocrisy on the part of the Federal Government that this incident has exposed?
First, lets start with the Talliban regime in Afghanistan from which the refugees are fleeing. It is the same one that the Western powers assisted to take over after the fall of the Soviet backed regime twenty years ago. Remember the Moscow Olympics? Now that's progress.
Second, I seem to recall that two Australian aid workers are on trial in Afghanistan for the crime of spreading Christianity. If found guilty they could hang. Amnesty International must have thousands of people on their books in a similar position around the world. Question. When Foreign Minister Alexander Downer tries to assist the Australians by seeking the support of the UN to broker a deal, will Kofi say, "see the queue, man?"
Third, if Australians are really concerned about illegal migrants then they should send the commandos to our international airports. Statistics show that the vast majority of "illegals" come from the UK, New Zealand and the United States and overstay their visas.
Fourth, it's funny how 450 Afghanis in a boat have caused a crisis in national security and border protection requiring half the Navy and the introduction of a draconian bill into parliament when the sale of the second largest Telco in Australia to a foreign power, Singapore, got the Government's tick of approval.
This illustrates the ridiculous notion of fortifying our physical borders to stop a few hundred desperate people who really want to live here when our economic borders have been 'opened up' and our economy is, to a great extent controlled by multinational and for all intensive purposes foreign capital. The motto is, you can buy the place but you can't live here.
Finally, All Australians, need to ask themselves whether saving John Howard's face, and not allowing the Tampa on our shores was worth the damage he has caused to our international reputation and integrity. A reputation as a humanitarian nation that prides itself on its openess, compassion and respect for international law and convention lies in tatters.
Interview: Cast Adrift
Ethnic Communities Council chair Salvatore Scevola gives his take on the Tampa saga and the underlying attitudes driving the debate.
Workplace: Coming to Australia
Jagath Banderra recounts his own experience as a new arrival in Australia entering the workforce.
Human Rights: Long Road to Nowhere
Iraqi refugees travel the same tortuous road as Afghans. The refugees on the Tampa have almost certainly endured a similar ordeal.
Immigration: Experience Required
Veronica Apap looks at the many difficulties migrants face in having their skills recognised in Australia.
International: Why Economic Rationalism Isn't
The CFMEUs Phil Davey surveys the wreckage after 10 years of Brazil's Government doing what the free marketeers want.
History: Johnny's Naruan Wet Dream
Rowan Cahill looks at how Australia's preferred refugee dumping ground's history is indelibly linked with our own.
Unions: Getting the Message Out
Caroline Alcorso argues the integration of immigrant workers into the trade union movement has been a central issue in Australia’s post-war labor history.
Work/Time/Life: Driven To The Edge
In the ACTU’S groundbreaking Fifty Families report there is one particularly sobering story. Frank tells how the modern workplace is driving some people to the fatal edge.
Review: Whose Party?
NSW Labor’s century of successes began in 1910, as did the “middle classing” of Labor policy.
Satire: Ethnic Wog Gangs Rape Everyone
People who are white in colour are being raped by people who are not white, an exclusive Chaser investigation found last week.
View entire latest issue
© 1999-2000 Labor Council of NSW
LaborNET is a resource for the labour movement provided by the Labor Council of NSWURL: http://workers.labor.net.au/110/a_guestreporter_rorris.html
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005