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Take back your poor, your huddled masses -ABC

[MISC, Monday, 27 September 2010 11:00 No Comment]

detainees_m1924604 It has been said that slavery was the Original Sin of the United States, and whatever is wrong with that country now can be traced back to that primal, eldest cause. It must likewise seem that what might be called the Hanson-Ruddock-Tampa Syndrome is our Original Sin and we will never cease to suffer for it.

This week, a man jumped off a roof because he did not wish to go back to a dictatorship, and so died. Others are threatening to do likewise. They think Afghanistan, Iraq and ethnically-cleansed Sri Lanka are not good places to be any more and Australia is a better place to be; and this preference is a capital offence now. You can want to come to Australia, but if Karzai or Bainimarama wants you not to leave him, you must return to his dictatorship, or his guided democracy, and risk getting killed there, and you must raise your children there. Or kill yourself here to avoid it.

This is because Australia is getting overcrowded. We have too many people. Though Bob Katter’s electorate is twice as big as the United Kingdom, all of it fertile, and able to support, oh, 80 million people, Australia is getting overcrowded. And though Victoria is the size of the United Kingdom, all of it fertile, and the UK has 80 million people in it, Australia is getting overcrowded. And though Tasmania is the size of Ireland, all of it fertile, and Ireland has 4.5 million people, Australia is overcrowded. And we’re driving to madness and suicide those who flee dictatorships to come here, to this overcrowded place.

How does this look, I wonder, to Asians living in thronged slums or on filthy boats lifelong in the Philippines, this idea that we’re overcrowded? Racist, I would say, and pretty unfriendly to other cultures. It might seem to some Asians lately that the ‘Coalition’ in Tomorrow When The War Began have the right idea, Australia should be invaded, there’s so much room here to settle in.

How shaming all this is. What, in Bainimarama’s Fiji, is worth going back to? Yet we drove a man aged 36 to jump to his death, avoiding mattresses, because we thought he’d be better off there. He offered to stay in prison for the rest of his life here, but no, we said, you have to go back. Adding ‘Jump, you bastard, jump!’ when he wouldn’t.

How shaming all this is. It’s not as if ‘these people’ make bad citizens. Please name one Afghan who has gone to gaol in the last nine years. Or one Fijian above the national average. One Palestinian. One Iraqi. One Sri Lankan. What then are we afraid of? Being overcrowded, I guess. Though Tony Crook’s electorate is the size of Scandinavia, much of it fertile, Australia is overcrowded. Scandinavia has 20 million people, but O’Connor, with 90,000, is overcrowded.

The rate at which we kill ‘these people’ for coming here is pretty shaming too. More have died – by firing squad, assassination, death in dirty surgeries, honour killings, pogroms, suicide – than Australian soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds more have attempted suicide. An old man burnt himself to death on Parliament steps because we wouldn’t let his disabled grand-daughter come here with her parents. My friend Akram al-Masri was sent back to Palestine where his mother and brother had been killed and was killed there himself by Hamas for collaborating with, they said, the Israelis. He showed me photos of his children when I met him in Woomera, one he hadn’t seen in the flesh. He would have seen her, I guess, before he was killed, some comfort perhaps. His widow wants to come here now, and we won’t let her.

There was a Chinese woman sent back in the ninth month of her pregnancy to be compulsorily aborted there, who begged us to let her stay here until her child was born. But we sent her back, we sent her back, of course we did. She got there just in time. That was a close one. She nearly had her baby here. And that would never have done.

How shaming all this is. It’s like the Jews who tried to get to England in 1937 and 1938 and were sent back to Germany. It’s like the 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis we did not help. Queue-jumpers, the lot of them. They should form an orderly queue. Hack them to death if they don’t.

It’s not as if the Hanson-Ruddock-Tampa Syndrome vote is politically significant. None of the western suburbs ‘boat people’ seats were lost by Labor. Not Lindsay, not Chifley, not Greenway, not Parramatta. Not even, in the Anglo-Celtic Alf Garnett Central Coast, Dobell or Robertson. Only Bennelong was, where the Chinese and Koreans thought Gillard unfriendly to them. Or unfriendlier than Rudd, who spoke an Asian language. And Melbourne and Denison too, of course, were lost by Labor, lost to adversaries who were pro-boat people. Funny, that.

And even if it was politically significant, should we turn away people, any sort of people at all, and send them back to assassination, or persecution, or lack of adequate female education or health care, merely because they came here in frenzy, in panic, seeking a better life than the Taliban provided, and the Shi-ite militias, and the ludicrous, blustering, press-controlling martinet Bainimarama? A better life for their kids?

Are the ballot-riggers of Kabul good people, I wonder? Good rulers? Good guides to the new democracy there? Will they treat Hazara women better than, say, Tasmanians, or Wodongans, or the people of Young, or Longreach, who would quite like them to settle there?

How shaming all this is. And how ill-reasoned. Boat people had no effect on the elections of 1998 and 2004. They had no effect in 1977 and 1980 though Fraser let a quarter of a million of them in, the initial few thousand and then their relatives. They had some effect in 2001 because we were then in a war and they were said by Ruddock to be enemy spies. We’re still in that war now, but they had no effect in 2007 and 2010. Or nowhere near as much as poor, sacked, sobbing Kevin Rudd and his political future. Now that was really an issue.

It’s time we pulled up our socks and did something about all this. It’s time we did some television ads informing Australians where ‘these people’ come from, and the conditions they are fleeing. It’s time we did an Australian Story in Villawood or Curtin or Christmas Island. It’s time we tracked down my friends the Bakhtiyaris and see how they’re doing this week as Hazaras in Kabul. Suicide bombers, are they? English translators are they, risking their lives among careless journalists? Street beggars, are they? Who’s to know?

They did well at school here for a while. And we sent them back to where, this month, the Taliban shot up some polling booths and the votes were rigged, and IEDs blow up Australians once a month now; once a fortnight in the ‘fighting season’.

I liked Alamdar and Montezar. I gave them toys our authorities confiscated before they sent them back. I tried to get them to New Zealand but the Shadow Immigration Minister, Julia Gillard, wouldn’t help. ‘Save your money, Bob,’ she said to me, famously, at the time.

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