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  Issue No 110 Official Organ of LaborNet 07 September 2001  

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.  LaborNET

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Interview

Cast Adrift


Ethnic Communities Council chair Salvatore Scevola gives his take on the Tampa saga and the underlying attitudes driving the debate.

 
 

Salvatore Scevola

What is your organisation's reaction to the handling of the Tampa crisis?

We are absolutely appalled that the Government has taken the course of action that it has. It is in breach of United Nations conventions. I think that all migrant groups, as well as the broader community prescribe to a sense of decency and a fair go, and I think these people haven't been given a fair go.

So these arguments about queue jumping don't wash with the people that actually stood in the queues?

There are no queues. I am afraid that that is a misnomer, that there are queues out there somewhere in the desert. That refugees are lining up. Refugees don't form queues because they are asylum seekers. They are fleeing oppression and tyranny to save their lives. Australia has an obligation to see that under humanitarian grounds asylum seekers are given asylum.

Should there be an open border policy on asylum seekers?

No. Absolutely there needs to be some control as to how many Australia can accommodate, but with the current numbers I think that the Government is creating a storm in a teacup, because really as compared to the rest of the world and the actual refugee numbers around the world, Australia's contribution is really miniscule.

A lot of this debate tends to be tapping into an anti-Arab sentiment that seems to be somewhere out there in the community. What is your take on that?

I have no doubt that certain sections of the media are running a racist agenda. I, like many Australians, just last night watching the 60 Minutes program of the girls who were raped, was absolutely appalled, but what sort of message are we sending out here? That they alone are the perpetrators of gang rapes? There would have been 10 other gang rapes on the same night, or in the same court, but not of it got air space because there was no ethnicity involved. Suddenly where there is ethnicity involved in any way, shape or form, they are doing their level best to stereotype the whole community.

What is the current make up of the population in terms of how many Arab people there are in Australia?

In NSW there would be about 350,000 that identify with Lebanese culture - according to the last census. Now, we have just conducted another census so that would be very important information that we will need to draw upon, but anywhere between half a million and 750,000 all around Australia I would say, that identify with Arab culture.

The vast majority of those are integrated into the community and play an active role I take it?

Absolutely. The great bulk of them are law abiding, tax paying citizens and absolutely abhor any suggestion that their community by culture is part of any business of crime.

So what is it that is being tapped into in the Australian community?

I think it is just the fear. It is the politics of fear that is being wedged between the community. I am pretty cynical of the Federal Government, and it is because I have watched them over the past year and a half, and how they have conducted themselves. If the Prime Minister wants to make a national announcement he will go to Channel 9 to make that announcement. Isn't it ironic how Channel 9 is just pushing this barrow continuously. I mean it is almost as if they have planned this over the last 12 months: calling asylum seekers queue jumpers and illegals and all these sorts of terms, which Channel 9 and others and the Telegraph have actually picked up on and repeated in the community. That just means that there is no moral leadership in this country, because these people are placed into a category for which they do not belong.

What would a progressive, compassionate government be doing at the moment with the whole issue?

It would be taking them onshore, assessing their rights to asylum under United Nations Conventions, and it would either be determining whether they should be out in the community with temporary protection visas, or sending them back to their country or origin if they are not deemed to be genuine asylum seekers.

In fact, neither major political party seems to be embracing that view. Does that leave your constituents wondering who is actually standing up for them?

Absolutely, it has created a real vacuum in Federal Parliament - in Federal Government. And Opposition - the alternative government - have been silent on this and therefore complacent with what the government has done.

I just think they are playing with the politics of the community and the community expresses its views on the information that it gets. If the information is incorrect - In fact I have gone as far as saying that the community has been lied to consistently, particularly with this issue of the queue. Australia has 12,000 humanitarian visas annually for humanitarian grounds. In 1999 - 2000 they filled 9,960 of those places. In other words, there was a shortfall of 2,040 places which were carried over to this financial year.

What does it tell you? It tells you that the government couldn't even get the other 2,000 from the refugee camps that they tell us are so deplorable around the world. That's an absolute lie, and the Australian people need to be woken up to this.

Do you think if we were handling Zimbabwe farmers or Eastern European refugees there would be a slightly different attitude?

This goes to the heart of those that are expressing concern that the government is engaging in racism. Because it is prepared to introduce a completely new visa category for two or three thousand Zimbabwean white farmers to come to Australia and have a direct route and it won't take 430 asylum seekers. Because why? Why the white farmers get one thing and because you come from a war-torn country you are not allowed to come in - I mean, that really smacks of racism actually.

But broadening it out for a second -there was a period where Australia had basically an assimilation policy for its immigrants and then we moved into an era of multiculturalism - probably the 70s and 80s. Where are we up to now, and how does what is happening now fit with our current philosophy on immigration?

We had a policy of integration. The assimilation went to integration, where the government saw that it was much better for the communities to maintain their culture and their religions and their languages and enmesh that into the Australian society and create what is known as Australian multi-culturalism.

Basically, it is under threat. It is definitely under threat. The reason the current government has taken this line with this particular boat issue, has much to do with the sorts of sentiments that are echoed by Hansen and her cohorts, who say that multiculturalism is not the place for Australia. So, what we are seeing is a Prime Minister that can't even say the word multi-culturalism. He certainly doesn't promote it, and whether it be State or Federal, nobody is talking it up. But you and I that live in the community and mix with so many different cultures know that there is nothing really nothing wrong, and it is probably a strength that Australia has this diversity. But our political leaders at the top aren't really leaders.

The other change in the Howard stewardship of immigration has been a shift in emphasis from family reunions to skilled migrant places. How has that impacted on the communities within Australia?

Severely because the ethos of most culturally diverse communities that come from the Middle East or Europe or South East Asia under the family reunion - it is a fact that they work and they leave their siblings with their parents and the parents play a very big role in the family unit as a whole. By reducing the number so drastically, which is what the Federal Government has done, I think they are undermining the very fabric of the nation and that is that we have to maintain a family unit, and if that means family reunion ... For instance, somebody from Lebanon can't even get a relative here for a wedding or the birth of a child, because they are not on the ETA list that gives them automatic visa entry, such as America and some of the other European countries. So, it is all that discrimination, and I am not sure what the government is trying to do. I mean, it is very hard to gauge.

The other issue I guess that does emerge if you are having a skills based scheme, is skills recognition when you get here. Have they got that in order?

No, not at all. It is ironic that you mention that because here they are saying, we will let them all in with skills - on the other hand when they do come here with their skills, they are not even recognized by the various different departments that are responsible for giving recognition to foreign qualifications. So, it is a paradox, and I think it is an immigration policy that is really in a mess. What they have shown through the Immigration Minister and the Federal Government is that they don't have very good ideas of leading this country and what they want to do is try and move away from what they fear will become welfare dependency on the Australian people, and there is just no evidence of that.

How important is the trade union movement to people from new communities in terms of feeling that they are not on their own?

The union movements have been very supportive of the ethnic communities throughout all our times and dealings with government. It is nice to know that the union movement in general has come to the aid of the various communities that have issues of common concern, and it is based around access and equity, which is basically where the unions come from. They want to see the best equity to their constituents - the workers - then they are always supported, and there is a good reciprocal relationship I believe between ethnic communities and the trade union movement.

Part of our research is showing that a large number of people that come to Australia are scared to join a union in that first two year period because of their concern that it would count against them in terms of getting permanent citizenship. Do you think there is a role for the Federal Government in maybe making it clear to people that they are free to join a union and it is not a criminal activity?

Yes. That is something that I have often heard in my travels and in my dealings with the various communities, and yes, the government has an obligation to see that if individuals wish to be part of a union, then that will not work to their detriment in any way, shape or form when determining their application for residency.

Looking at the upcoming Federal Election. There has been a tendency for many community groups to support Labor. Do you think that is going to flow through this time around?

That is very hard to guage. Labor has been inconspicuously silent on a number of key issues, and I am not sure that washes terribly well with the various communities that we engage with. I would send a very strong message to Labor that they have always been a catalyst with regard to moral leadership in this country and this particular era and this particular election is no different.


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*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 110 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: Cast Adrift
Ethnic Communities Council chair Salvatore Scevola gives his take on the Tampa saga and the underlying attitudes driving the debate.
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*  Workplace: Coming to Australia
Jagath Banderra recounts his own experience as a new arrival in Australia entering the workforce.
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*  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.
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*  Immigration: Experience Required
Veronica Apap looks at the many difficulties migrants face in having their skills recognised in Australia.
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*  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.
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*  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.
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*  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.
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*  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.
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*  Review: Whose Party?
NSW Labor’s century of successes began in 1910, as did the “middle classing” of Labor policy.
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*  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.
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News
»  Unions Rescue Afghan Worker
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»  Revealed: Migrants Face Hidden Unions Barriers
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»  FOI Seeks Royal Commission Papers
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»  Long Hours Corrode Family Life Says Study
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»  Medibank Workers 'Feel Bitter Now'
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»  Chronic Stress in Child Care
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»  It's a Steal! Workers Underpaid Since 1991
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»  WorkCover: Bell Rings for Round Two
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»  Transfield Fire Sale Threatens Entitlements
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»  Foot-And-Mouth Heroes Face The Boot
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»  Superannuation Warning to Labor
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»  Bully Casino Locks Out Workers
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»  Bra Wars: US Giant Quit Burma
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»  Sydney's Salsa for Saharawis
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»  Labor Council Revamps Online
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»  Get Ready to Wobble
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»  Activists' Notebook
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Columns
»  The Soapbox
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»  The Locker Room
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»  Trades Hall
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»  Tool Shed
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Letters to the editor
»  Tampa Feedback
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»  Battling the Bullies
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»  Searching for John McNeill, Labor MP
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»  Tom Seeks Family Leave
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»  Spell Check
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»  Injured and Ripped Off
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