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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

here we go again « Previous | |Next »
July 6, 2010

So we are back to the Pacific Solution to asylum seekers with the Gillard Government, only it is not a Pacific Solution ---it is a regional processing centre in East Timor. From where I stand the effect is the same-- to send asylum claimants to a handy and none-too-appealing offshore destination to await processing.

The appeal to the xenophobic voters in marginal seats in western Sydney and elsewhere, who are demanding a hard line on those asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat, is the same as Howard's. Apparently the public or political debate on asylum seekers is somehow being constrained by political correctness that is equated with self-censorship. Isn't that what Howard used to say?

Agtet on cliffs.jpg Gary Sauer-Thompson, watching for the boat people, Victor Harbor, 2010

Victor Harbor is definitely John Howard's One Nation conservative territory. It's Anglo-Saxon, white and very Christian in a fundamentalist sense--in the sense that the evangelical Christians believe that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs, talk a lot about Intelligent Design, are anti-science and want their creationism taught in classrooms. They are frightened by economic insecurity, threats to moral purity and the gradual disappearance of a national white Christian culture. They want to restoring the nation to some moment when the country was white and safe and to protect the family from “worldly dangers.”

The poodles and I have been doing our bit each morning for the nation since we've been down at Victor Harbor this week.We are out before dawn walking along the cliff tops checking for the boats that the press say are coming. I have to report that we ain't seen no boat people. We've seen the fishing men in their boats, but no patrol boats protecting us from the nasty people whom the Murdoch Press constantly tell us are out to destroy all that we hold dear and true. But we do hear the many dog whistles and they are loud and clear in the still morning air. There are so many, its kinda confusing.

Labor is definitely rattled, even though it is going to take a long time (20 years) to fill the MCG with asylum seekers at present rates of arrival. They are less than 1.5 per cent of new migrants. That's not the point though is it. It's the spectre of the White Australia policy that haunts us.

The asylum seekers arriving by boat are the Other. They threaten us because they are not like us. They--the Hazaras---are from Afghanistan while the others--- the Tamil Tigers---are from Sri Lanka. They don't adjust into the Australian way of life. We've lost control of our borders. We need to close the borders by whatever means are necessary. This Islamophobic narrative in western Sydney says that Australia needs to close the borders to the Islam invasion and to defend the Judao-Christian heritage that is the sturdy foundation of our constitution.

The bottom line of the two ''solutions'' is the same: install a deterrent by taking all boat arrivals to another country. The irony is that the return to Fortress Australia is coming from a Labor party that once condemned John Howard's Pacific solution.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:26 AM | | Comments (28)


No signs of leadership here. It's pandering to the pathetic, trembling xenophobes. Plain and simple.

Of course the asylum seekers are the Other... that's because the self-serving politicians keep on reminding us!

At the moment, lots of refugees get stuck for long periods in camps in Indonesia. Now we propose to transfer them to camps in ... East Timor, which until recently was part of Indonesia. I fail to see how this is helping the refugees, although I have a feeling their interests didn't figure very largely in our new PM's calculations.

Jordan, Iran, Pakistan and other not-terribly-wealthy countries have millions of refugees inside their borders. The USA has upwards of 11 million illegal immigrants. And Australians shriek like scared children about a few thousand, turn them into a major political issue and demand 'solutions'. It defies rational explanation.

The NSW Right are convinced that Gillard needs to neutralise asylum seekers as an issue before the election campaign begins. Gillard acts.

Victor Harbor is home ground for the Hasonites-- a Christian heartland of the Howard battlers. One Nation still gets more votes than The Greens. "We don't want no coloured folk or towel heads here in Mayo." The values of the 1950s are the right values. They are God -given.

What is highly valued in God's country is homogeneity and sameness. Not many migrants, refugees or otherwise end up in Victor Harbor. They are all in Adelaide's CBD.

There was a poll on ninemsm (which is the homepage when you are chatting on windows live/hotmail) It is a younger persons place to hang. The question was Should we get tougher on asylum seekers? 70,000ish had said Yes 7,000ish said No. Then the poll disappeared for some unknown reason. That tells me that the angst out there in the community on the issue isnt just in the older age groups. So it is an across the generics vote winner.

The only thing that I can add is that in my opinion by looking at the standard of boats that turn up overloaded I would say that if 143 boats have made it here maybe 143 didnt and sunk enroute. They need to be stopped for that reason alone.

Oh... and simply pointing out that a big slab of the electorate objects to asylum seekers simply on racist grounds is now... uh... PC. Because, apparently, it's preventing people from saying what they REALLY feel about the subject!!!

Huh? What the f&@k is THAT about??? Less than two weeks into her run, and Gillard already shits me more than Rudd could ever HOPE to! Jellyback and beyond...

There was some truth in what Gillard said--her criticisms of Abbott's policy of 'turning the boats back.'

Turning the boats back, she says, is a shallow slogan. She says Tony Abbott's claim is that this is what he would do. The asylum seekers would simply sabotage their boats and Australian authorities would have to rescue them.

No matter what she says she is now in John Howard's territory and is prepared to occupy it.

Michell Grattan in The Age says:

Julia Gillard is devilishly clever. Her asylum seeker policy is a masterstroke of improvisation. And she's tapping into community hostility to boat people with an empathy driven by Labor's focus groups, while keeping her tone oh-so reasonable, scolding Tony Abbott on the way through.

I love that word community. It suggests everybody, when it's only Howard's Battlers that are being wooed with dog whistles.

re your comment:

"The only thing that I can add is that in my opinion by looking at the standard of boats that turn up overloaded I would say that if 143 boats have made it here maybe 143 didnt and sunk enroute."

That is supposition, which tries to give credibility to the fiction of an invasion---the ''flood'' of asylum seekers arriving on our shores. Talk of invasion or flood is paranoia, given that its only a few boats. As the Prime Minister pointed out a there is really nothing to fear from the current rate of boat arrivals.

Gillard doesn't really have much choice. The current high rate of immigration that business and economists want has been disturbing for people living in the cheaper suburbs where migrants settle. Rather than talking about immigration, the Howard mob went "Look over there, boat people". And Abbott is doing the same thing.

Whether it's about populism or Islamophobia or racism or xenophobia or unreasonable fear and ignorance is beside the bigger point. Whatever they do with boat people won't change the uneven distribution of migrant settlement.

Re your comment--"Gillard doesn't have much choice". Sure. Concerns over asylum-seekers are hurting Labor in key marginal seats and these anxiety ridden voters will probably determine the election. The fix is in. It is what the faction bosses of the NSW Right wanted. Gillard has no choice.

Janet Albrechtson in The Australian develops your point by referring to the Labor wedge. She says:

It's hard walking the line between the inner-city white-collar Labor voters who favour soft borders because they don't have to deal with the consequences of immigration and the battlers in the outer suburban seats who favour stronger borders because they do.

Albrechtson should say "and the white battlers in the outer suburban seats." The colour coding is a key to understanding what "dealing with the consequences of immigration" means.

Of course Albrechtson cannot resist a swipe at the inner-city sophisticates who are so disconnected from the rest of Australia. The irony is, judging from her fashionable appearance on Q+ A, that Albrechtson is one of the urban elite.

According to her though, she is not disconnected from the rest of Australia (is that middle Australia? Or the conservative base? Or populist right wing ressentiment?) because she is not one of those human rights activists and misnamed progressives with their empty moral posturing and political correctness.

what are the consequences of high immigration that are disturbing for people living in the cheaper suburbs where migrants settle?

Hasn't urban congestion in Sydney turned the public against high immigration in Sydney's suburbs?

re your:'huh? What the f&@k is THAT about??? Less than two weeks into her run, and Gillard already shits me more than Rudd could ever HOPE to! Jellyback and beyond...

There is a narrative emerging that the power brokers of the NSW right who elevated Gillard are little attached to principle. It's all about political fixes to win an election.

Gillard's performance so far suggests a degree of policy timidity that actions thr NSW Right's mandate. When Gillard
gets an election win under her belt this year, then she will have her mandate to action policy reform.

What do you think of that? Gives you hope?

I clearly stated in my comment that it was my opinion.
You have misrepresented my opinion to try to make a point that I wasn't making.

Gary, Nan,

I did my honours research on this stuff and there is some truth to Albrechtsen's politically motivated twaddle about leftist elites.

Two of the things that surprised me were that migrants were more hostile to refugees and boat people than your white suburban battler types, and the concerns over migrants were not what you'd expect given the redneck stereotypes about economic and cultural insecurity, although cultural insecurity is a big part of it.

the story that sticks in my mind was a stay at home mum with little kids wanting to get to know the Sudanese young mums in her neighbourhood. On top of the language barriers there were cultural barriers, only not what you might expect. If you're at a park or playground and somebody else's kid falls over and hurts themselves, is it ok for a white woman on her own to help that kid, or does that violate some Sudanese cultural value? It was small, day to day stuff like that that bothered people. Not knowing how to go about common courtesies like whether to take a welcoming cake over to the new neighbour's house.

There was also the standard political/media rhetoric about being swamped, but the on the ground concerns were more about how to accommodate people appropriately rather than the 'taking our jobs and our women' stuff you usually hear.

On the issue of Gillard's Timor solution, Possum has an excellent post taking a more constructive approach than anything else I've seen so far.

I knew about migrants being more hostile to refugees and boat people than your white suburban battler types. Guess its the queue/legal thing?

How do we get to the redneck stereotypes about economic and cultural insecurity if the concerns are not about being swamped and migrants not 'taking our jobs and our women' stuff.

It has be something more than Murdoch's tabloid and the talk back radio beatup.

I agree with Possum re the idea of

the creation of a well resourced, properly administered regional refugee processing centre that has UNHCR participation, regional government cooperation, a fair, efficient and and consistent refugee status determination process, clearly defined legal rights for appeal and, most importantly, a well functioning resettlement program.

It's a great idea. However, Gillard only gestured to that kind of policy reform. The Gillard Government hasn't even gained the approval of the East Timor government for a regional refugee processing centre on its territory!

What was forefront in her speech was the political fix for the battlers in western Sydney. As it stands it is cloaking the Howard Government's 'Pacific Solution' in a new East Timor regional centre.

I would have thought that some of Labor's inner city seats are marginal.

People like Albrechtson sneer at 'elites' for being out of touch. I suggest she and other pundits who sit behind a keyboard urging governments to wage the war on terror are the one who are truly out of touch.

Australia is part of a coalition that unleashes terror from the air and facilitates ethnic cleansing on the ground. Thanks partly to our efforts, a large part of the globe is in a state of constant turmoil. The imperial USA and hangers-on like us continue to meddle where we have absolutely no business. One reason our governments can get away with it is that our citizens don't suffer any inconvenience as a result. I mean who can object to blowing up terrorists with missiles from pilot-less aircraft?

The refugees who make it here are a tiny inconvenience compared to the chaos that has engulfed many other countries, but the Albrechtsons of this world never take that into account in their smug commentaries. In their alternative realities, we are nobly bringing freedom and democracy to the heathen. Refugees are uncomfortable reminders of the human consequences of their contemptible policies; it's understandable that they can't bear the sight of them and want the problem swept under some overseas carpet.

If Gillard had courage and principle, she would tell the Australian people what is happening in the Middle East and why we have a moral obligation to take our share of refugees - which is a damn sight more than we take now. If a few more Australians have to endure the acute discomfort of having some weird foreigners living in the neighbourhood, maybe they'll be more inclined in future to punish governments that send our troops off to participate in misguided overseas adventures.

"On top of the language barriers there were cultural barriers..."

Seems to me that the "cultural" barriers thing could be real or assumed.

I understand that some people might be unsure about taking a welcoming cake over to the new neighbour's house. I'd have to think about such a gesture no matter what race the newcomers were. Some people just like their privacy.

But it's funny how much consideration goes into it just because the new people aren't Anglo or Christian. Is it just assumed that taking a cake across the street could start a blood feud or cause them to go jihadi on your arse? Is it generally accepted that these dark folks are unreasonable and quick to anger? Is it expected that any hint of a social faux-pas will be greeted with violence? Why all this tension? Why prejudge these people as being irrational and anti-social?

It seems to me that there is some sort of ingrained notion that these people the core.. dangerous. Risky.

I wonder where they'd get such an idea?

I am the Aussie-born and educated son of migrants. No way would I be mistaken for an Anglo. And I can tell you from bitter experience that prejudice is still trucking along.

My older, dark-skinned, teen daughter would tell you the same thing. Whereas my fair-skinned, light-eyed daughter (who takes after her mum) has no such experience. My older daughter can also tell you that many of her friend's parents have me tagged as a stern, humourless, overprotective, dour control freak. In short... the stereotype non-white "new Australian" male. In the same way that my mother-in-law viewed me for many years... before she let her guard down.

So yeah, maybe there are some "cultural barriers"... but they don't always go in the one direction.

Grog at his blog [I couldn't resist] has some good analysis and comment, but I particularly like his graphic which shows pictorially how trivial the numbers of boat people are in the general context.

'Boat people' constitute:
-only 1 in 7 of visas granted for humanitarian reasons.
-only 1 in 40 of net permanent immigration
- only 1 in 80 compared to net increase [births minus deaths]
-and only in 120 of total population increase.

'Boat people' is a media beat up generated by xenophobes. That includes the COALition.


The taking our jobs and women stuff is there, but it's the same as with any other social attitude, it's not necessarily representative. Any more than Albrechtsen's characterisations of inner city latte sippers is.

And here's something ELSE which boggles my mind....

I'm gobsmacked that the various party pollster and number-crunchers believe that this media beat-up is IMPORTANT enough to cause (enough) people to move their votes one way or the other.

What on earth is going on here???? Are there really that many frightened, angry, disgruntled voters out there who see asylum seekers as a life-altering issue??? An issue serious enough to make them redirect their vote???

Pete Brown in Boats and Votes at Inside Story reckons it is not THE Big Issue that makes or breaks elections. We are dealing with a myth--albeit one that is deeply entrenched and helps to give some people some meaning in a strange and alien world being formed by the processes of globalization.

"...give some people some meaning in a strange and alien world being formed by the processes of globalization."

Let's not forget that it's also a world being formed by lazy, short-sighted, self-serving politicians.

re the comment "It's Anglo-Saxon, white and very Christian in a fundamentalist sense."

They are right-wing Christians who promote fundamentalist views on, abortion, sexuality and homosexuality. They stand for traditional values.

Many white evangelical Christians feel besieged and the women, for their part, feel they must publicly protect their families from the rapid and potentially dangerous changes. They as the PM , put it, have a set of concerns about the dark side of the new technology.

Right wing populism is a politics of fear, anger and resentment. Redneck central is paranoid. Their unconscious desire is to set nation on a path to a right-wing government even more restrictive and regressive than that of the Howard decade.

The conservatives and corporations behind the right wing populism want their power back and they want more of it. They aim to move both the civic discourse and the Liberal/National Parties further to the right.

Gillard is in retreat on the East Timor solution to asylum seekers already. Redneck Central won't be overjoyed by that.

They will love Abbott's talk of asylum seekers mounting a a peaceful invasion of Australia.

In Victor Harbor you can hear the cadences of the old "Australia for Australians" of the White Australia policy as well as Pauline Hanson's "we are in danger of being swamped by Asians".