This is a great article that I would love you to read from The Daily Telegraph
MY FATHER dug up a photo from the family archives last week of my late Great Aunt Rita, his father’s sister. She is standing aboard a boat that had just arrived in Port Melbourne in the late 1940s. Staring at her across the deck is a crowd of well-dressed, young smiling faces.
You’d have to wonder why they were smiling. They had just travelled six weeks across the ocean from southern Europe after fleeing the ravages of World War II.
Many were alone, many had lost entire families.
Perhaps it was because they knew that interest rates in Australia were then controlled by the government.
Rita was this country’s first welfare officer, having served as immigration minister Arthur Calwell’s secretary.
Her job was to ensure safe passage of post-war displaced people to this country under the government’s policy of Populate Or Perish.
I’m told she would often get on the boat herself and sail to Europe to collect the lost and bewildered, travel back with them, many with little or no English, and help them resettle as the New Australians.
She was a pioneer in a program that eventually transformed the mono-cultural character of Australia. Most would say for the better.
Looking at these pictures, it struck me, as odd as it may sound, that the big four banks have done the political debate on asylum seekers a service this past week, by making too much money and charging people more to have some of it.
They have put the issue in context. And in doing so they have exposed the great lie of the recent election campaign and the moral perversion that accompanied it.
Today, unless you live in Inverbrackie, the only thing in your hand would be a calculator and the last thing on your mind would be the threat of a population explosion or cultural dilution. One of the burdens of living in Australia is that you have to invent horrors to be outraged by.
In the past week, as people recalculate their monthly mortgage payments, hundreds of asylum seekers have quietly arrived at our shores.
A daily missile from the Government heralds the arrival of yet another boat from unknown destination.
But you wouldn’t know it unless you’re on Brendan O’Connor’s email list. And what of the new Paul Erlich-inspired population bomb? But barely a word mentioned.
It simply goes to prove, in a stark demonstration of electoral caprice, that the recent federal election was fought, largely, around a big fat lie - that Australia was at risk of being swamped by boat people. Again.
It’s no wonder that there is some deep soul searching going on in the Labor Party at present. Much of it is about how it approached this issue during the election in response to the Coalition’s well-worn dog whistle. Greg Combet called it for what it is last week when he suggested the values of compassion, equity and social justice had been abandoned in favour of focus groups and polling.
And so it is with this deliberately confused debate around immigration, population and illegal entrants and the push polling of fear that has driven it.
Its effect has been a wilful distortion which encourages the issue of illegal entrants to be confused and demonised in the community as an excuse for failures to deal with the broader discussion on immigration levels and population numbers, which neither side of politics has an answer for.
The fact is that the number of boat arrivals in the past year numbered 5237, which is 3.15 per cent of the total immigration program of 168,623. If you take it as a percentage of the 2009 net overseas migration figures or population growth which was 320,400, the percentage is down under 1 per cent.
Here’s another figure. In 2008, there were an estimated 42 million displaced people in the world, 15.2 million refugees and almost one million asylum seekers.
Australia is abou tNo. 22 in the world in the ranking of countries most likely to have people lining up at the border to get in. More people actually apply to get into Cyprus and Malta than they do Australia.
YESTERDAY, the Sunday papers warned that we have hit record high numbers of people arriving by boat, although the figure is only marginally higher than it was in 2001.
Julia Gillard was right when she said it would take 20 years to fill the MCG with asylum seekers as they arrive at their current rate to Australia.
More backpackers are in this country illegally than people who arrive by boat.
But what she failed to do - and still fails to do - is clearly articulate the issue as not one about a bigger Australia and immigration levels but one that has distinct and separate obligations, which we as a country have signed up to.
With every wave of migration to Australia - whether forced or encouraged, and largely in reaction to war - there have been accompanying campaigns of fear that white European heritage and culture would be further diluted.
Whether it was the Greeks and Italians, Eastern Europeans, Russians or Turkish, or the Indochinese that followed, the same fears were raised in the community and fostered for political advantage.
How ironic that there is probably not an Australian alive today who hasn’t eaten at a Vietnamese or Chinese restaurant. Beer companies now even make ads about kebabs. We all eat Greek salads and spaghetti bolognese.
Hell, there is even a North African diner in Neutral Bay that is permanently booked out.
Sadly, the current hysteria is a case of history repeating itself under a different racial and religious banner. This time the fear being cultivated is that we are to be swamped by Muslims.
Again, the notion is an absurdity. Not just because many fail, sometimes deliberately, to make distinctions between Islam and extremism, but because the numbers simply don’t stack up.
For a start, of the three main groups currently dominating illegal entrants to the country, the Tamils from Sri Lanka are predominantly Catholic or Hindu. They are not Muslim.
Of the Afghan refugees, the majority are Hazara. And while they are Muslim, the reason most are fleeing their country is because the Taliban are terrorising them for not being Muslim enough.
On both sides of politics, there are decent men and women who privately see this issue through a prism of compassion, humanity and reason.
But the politics of fear that has been allowed to fester in the community has swamped the judgment of those whose responsibility it is to lead by example and principle, and not by misguided populism. Populism should be reserved for bashing banks and a bit more humanity put back into the debate about asylum seekers
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