“I read once, passingly, about a man named Shakespeare. I only read about him passingly, but I remember one thing he wrote that kind of moved me. He put it in the mouth of Hamlet, I think, it was, who said, ‘To be or not to be.’ He was in doubt about something — whether it was nobler in the mind of man to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune — moderation — or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. And I go for that. If you take up arms, you’ll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who’s in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time. And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built, and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone — I don’t care what color you are — as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”
–Malcolm X, speaking at Oxford University on December 3, 1964
eighty days before his death
nb—I’m not trying to advocate violence, here, OK? I think we’ve got more in our armory than just bullets. As the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya have shown in recent weeks: we have our hearts, we have our minds, and we have our words. An amazing champion who has rocked my Twittersin the last week, @AboriginalOz, is the perfect example of this. Go check out his blog.
[cross-posted @ groupthink.com.au]
As the flashy pics in our shiny new Multiculturalism Policy shows, we truly live in a Salt’n’Pepa nation. And I’m talking pepper with all the fancy green, pink, etc corns as seen on Masterchef. Look at all the colours! Pretty!
But with the debacles and nasty verbiage surrounding last week’s funerals for the victims of the asylum seeker boat tragedy off Christmas Island, it seems that in addition to celebrating the good things that may be, there are a lot of bad things about our approach to race, cultural differences, and discussion of ‘the other’ that we really need to address.
And one of the really bad things is major newspapers who take it upon themselves to blow the dog vuvuzela whenever they get the slightest sniff of a story about immigrants. And escaped immigrants who were supposed to be detained at the pleasure of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, at that.
The simmering cultural melting pot is truly on the verge of boiling over, and, gosh, rightly so. The outrage that humans who are detained not for committing a crime but because they are about to get shipped off for not having the proper authorization to be in this country get taxpayer-funded trips to bowling alleys and aquariums is clearly a palable tension in our community that must be addressed at THE HIGHEST LEVELS. And WHAT DOES QUENTIN BRYCE HAVE TO SAY about the all expenses cross-country sight-seeing holiday we gifted that little Iranian kid (who, let’s not forget, arrived here on a pleasure cruise!) who’s parents died or were lost at sea or something. </sarcasm>
As Teh Hon Scott Morrison MP, Member for Cock and Opposition Spokesperson for Anti-Immigration pointed out last week:
…because these people, who tried to get into the country, and were allegedly asylum seekers – allegedly asylum seekers – we‘ve got to pay for that?
Scott Morrison MP, Squire of Teh Shire, allegedly a wanker (allegedly!), would probably get more ‘Whatta Man’ accolades if he started making sure his buddies at the papers (especially the Daily Tele’s Chief Political Reporter, Simon Benson) start using the word ‘allegedly’ a bit more liberally in their work.
I refer specifically to the yarn over the weekend about how many ‘detainees’ have escaped from detention centres, which was unabashedly splashed with the terms ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’.
The Tele’s editorial that same day on the need to ‘balance strength with compassion‘ on the refugee issue also made mention that DIAC is:
tracking down dozens of asylum seekers who have been strolling around the country for months. One of them had been on a bowling trip.
Luckily, the Benson’s article made the very decent effort to reassure readers that:
There was no evidence that any of those asylum seekers who had escaped had engaged in any criminal activity subsequent to their escape.
Here’s the thing, right: there was also NO EVIDENCE that ANY of those ‘detainees’ who had escaped WERE ACTUALLY ASYLUM SEEKERS.
And yet, Benson’s article about the Refugees On The Run And Off The Radar (let’s give the subs top marks for alliteration, shall we?) went gung-ho painting the subjects of the story as the very people that everyday Aussies worry have come here to (allegedly) take advantage of us and our respect for humanity and decency.
DIAC’s National Communications Manager Sandi Logan confirmed to me via Teh Twitters that none of the immigration escapees are or were asylum seekers.
The assumptions portrayed by the Tele in choosing to highlight refugees and asylum seekers breaking out of detention and being ‘on the run’ are hateful and vile. In addition to showing poor journalism in jumping to conclusions without bothering to check the facts, the way they took every opportunity to magnify the beat up of such a sensitive issue (and this week, of all weeks!) is just disgusting.
With deliberate trolling like that in the mainstream media, there is little hope that we can move beyond the ignorance and fear that leads to hate and intolerance.
There are some excellent warm & fuzzy ideas in the the People Of Australia policy document. But in addition to also querying the bureaucratic efficacy (sic) of a National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy, there it may be very difficult to get people to understand they actually have the wrong idea about this situation while they being fed shit like this down their throats.
On Australia Day this year I made a crass joke on the Twitters about how brown boat people under the age of 18 get locked up in detention while white boat people under the age of 18 get Young Australian of The Year. Most people got that I was being facetious and tongue-in-cheek, but there was some feedback that I was being racist.
(There was also a suggestion that I was a Tamil Terrorist working for the Socialist Alliance via a hologram, or something, but I assume that guy was kidding too.)
If I caused any offence, I apologise.
Aside from my misgivings about whether Jess Watson was the most deserving recipient of the YAOTY* award, it was probably a bit harsh of me to use the brown/white dichotomy so flippantly.
In a country that draws its true wealth from its people, those who, as set out in the 2nd verse of our national anthem, have come across the seas and are of all the colours of the rainbow, it is important that we don’t create false divisions and invent tribes.
Obviously, I make lots of jokes about being brown, and I am very proud of my heritage (except when folks in the motherland are committing war-crimes, murdering journalists and establishing dictatorial monarchies, but that’s another story), but I am & always will be far more “Australian” than I ever was “Lankan”.
Despite the fact that I still remember quite clearly a day in Year 1 when a group of girls wouldn’t let me play with them because I had black hair (Yeah. Ouch.), my best friends since forever have been a pack of Skittles. (The men in my life have all been WHITE-white, though. I am totes sexually racist.)
And one of my mentors actually helped frame the multicultural policies of the 1980s mentioned by Chris Uhlmann that convinced my parents that this would be a wonderful country in which to raise their children.
So in the heart-breaking week when an orphan refugee was nearly forced back into detention a couple of days after his dad’s funeral (thankfully he’ll be with his family soon) and when we heard that the Opposition’s Immigration Dicktwat Spokesperson might have maybe suggested we should put religious considerations on our immigration criteria (allegedly), it was good to hear that the ALP has released a new ‘multiculturalism’ policy that aimed at ‘maintaining a socially cohesive and harmonious society’.
I look forward to seeking the initiatives that will be rolled out as part of the process. I hope they are genuine attempts to address the problems we have been seeing, but equally, I hope they are no patronisingly didactic ads or fridge magnets.
The thing is, right—as much as I hope and wish that this works, I have to admit that I’m not holding my breath.
But let’s just cross all our fingers and toes.
* Wait. Did they give it to her because the acronym for the award looks kinda like “YACHT” if you squint? In that case, it totes makes sense now!
I finished up at The Firm just before Christmas and commenced my ‘career break’, in which I go off to do fun and magical things, and the #summerofsunili has been rather epic.
A few things to mention:
- I wrote an article for ABC’s ‘Unleashed’ about the United Nation’s review of Australia’s human rights record (and will writing a follow up for New Matilda about the outcome of the review).
- Last weekend I got a little offended that someone said on newsdotboodoau that Gen Y women have no ‘female skills’ and sent off a missive to ‘Unleashed’ about how Gen Y women are actually, like, totally awesome – which received some interesting feedback.
- The WA Chapter of Australian Lawyers for Human Rights is getting off the ground and I’m helping to set up all the interwebs stuff.
- My work on the board at CASE for Refugees is going well, but it’s nowhere as interesting as the volunteer work I’m still doing with them.
- I was selected to be in the ‘recruitment pool’ for Legal Aid WA, which means they’ll call me when they get funding for a position.
- Today Geordie Guy said he reckons I should be on Q&A #insteadofdevany, and put me on the same suggestion-list as Prof Larissa Behrendt, who was nominated for Australian of The Year, as well as a whole bunch of amazing people, which is an absolutely delightful compliment.
- And I had a reeeeeeeally interesting request from someone asking if I’d done much public speaking and if any was recorded and if I could please send them something , so I sent them a link to a video I am in speaking about depression in the legal profession, so they’re going to get back to me next week (#vaguebulletpointisvague).
Also on a fun-factor I did Raw Comedy again and followed it up with some open-mic stuff which was super-fun and I’m going to do it again. Hoorays!
Whew. Maybe I might get some sleep now?
I’m having too much fun!
I haven’t been able to fully comprehend the tragedy that happened on Christmas Island this month because I’ve quarantined myself (hah! geddit! Oh dear) from the news and the political vitriol that followed. I just couldn’t do it.
But next year Imma have lots of time on my hands and Imma get them dirty (with Andrew Bolt’s blood if need be…) on this. There’s been far too much of this BS going on for far too long.
As Ben Eltham has put it so well in The Drum today, this is the agenda for next year:
What Australia needs most is a new policy to change the attitudes of Australians, not the practices of people smugglers. We need a national effort to stop the fear, not the boats. A sustained campaign by government, the media and informed citizens to demystify the issues around refugees and to allay the fears of ordinary Australians might help change the debate. Rather than mounting a hysterical reaction as boat after boat reaches our shores, we might instead reflect on the opportunities we are offering desperate people to start a new life. Ironically, the increase in asylum seeker inflows might assist this practice, as Australians come to realise that migration inflows are a regular and predictable fact of international affairs, not an unprecedented assault on the integrity of our national borders.
Who’s in with me?
I was having a tanty the other day when I heard a news-anchor* refer to the asylum seekers who are going to be housed in Northam as ‘illegal immigrants’ that turned into a rather heated debate.
The debate ended with me throwing up my hands in frustration and us agreeing to disagree. I was pretty pissed off.
Mostly, I was unhappy with myself for not having the actual answer — even though I knew I was right, that asylum seekers are not illegal, the best I could do wasn’t much short of going, “YOUR MAMMA IS ILLEGAL”.
So much for 6 years of law school and reading lots of stuff. [Peter Garrett must resign &c]
I thought I was going pretty well by arguing that there is no law that says “if you come to Australia without a visa you commit an offence and are a detestable criminal”, and there is totally a difference between being ‘illegal’ and being ‘unauthorised’.
My opposition countered that if you need to have a visa to be ‘authorised’, and come here without the visa, you are unauthorised and that’s basically illegal. Cause that’s not legal.
[Me: Your face isn’t legal].
The Libs continue to use “illegal boat arrival[z]” and I think that’s one of the most damaging things in the debate about asylum seekers at the moment: of course people [let’s not call them rednecks, &c] are going to worry that people we lock up behind razor wire are scary if every day they are insidiously referenced as being tantamount to criminals.
Please don’t get me started on when our Dear Leaders as well as saying it out say horrible, incorrect, mean-nasties out loud (you know, it’s so scary to have 1500 single men in one place. Like in a mining camp).
So I got on the path to truth and wisdom as soon as I could and reminded myself the following things, which I encourage you to remember and share with your friends and bring up when you’re having your own debates in your communities about this issue:
Asylum seekers are not migrants, who leave their country voluntarily (often a choice they make to seek economic gain on yonder shores). Asylum seekers leave because they are forced to flee from their homeland for fear of persecution and cannot return due to that fear [ASRC];
- Asylum seekers – regardless of how they arrive in Australia – are permitted under Australian and international law to enter Australia for the purpose of seeking asylum, therefore asylum seekers have not broken any law [RCOA];
- All people have a fundamental human right to seek asylum from persecution [AHRC]; and
- Australia is a signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, but successive governments have continually failed to fulfill Australia’s obligations under international law [AIA].
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has an excellent Fact Sheet out that I also recommend that you read and share.
For those of you interested in something heavier about the debate between sovereignty (ie, deciding ‘who comes into our country and blah blah blah’) and the human right to seek asylum, there’s a great paper in the Australian Year Book of International Law entitled ‘Sovereignty and the Right to Seek Asylum: The Case of Cambodian Asylum-Seekers in Australia’ (written in 1994 – the laws have changed a bit but the debate hasn’t at all) that is available on AustLII.
*It was 7 Perth on Sunday 7 Nov 2010. Boo-hiss.
I was on Q&A last night. I sent three questions in — on refugees, sustainability and Twiggy’s 50,000 jobs– and was lucky enough to have one of them chosen to be read out to the panel (specifically our hero-in-Hi-Vis, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest):
Two years ago you announced with great fanfare that you would get 50,000 indigenous Australians in jobs within two years. So how’s that going? And have you thought of taking a few steps back and looking at ways of getting kids to finish high school or addressing literacy, homelessness, domestic violence and substance abuse in Aboriginal communities?
Someone on the Q&A online forum made a comment that FMG isn’t responsible for social services at stuff and that parents should be sending their kids to school. Yes. . . of course.
My question was aimed at pointing out at that the issue at hand isn’t one that’ll be solved by banging on about 50k theoretical jobs.
Saying you’re committed to making 50,000 jobs available doesn’t do anything to address over two centuries of racism, dispossession and structural discrimination… which is the real point of ‘closing the gap’.
Turned out the timing was great for that one because the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research @ ANU released its report into the Australian Employment Covenant yesterday (I think I sent the question in on Thursday).
As pointed out by Dr Kirrily Jordan from Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research in today’s Crikey (paywalled):
So what, exactly, did the AEC set out to achieve? Some recent reports suggest that the aim of the AEC has only been to secure 50,000 job pledges from employers. But the formal agreement between the AEC and the Commonwealth government says that the original aim included an aspiration to “secure 50,000 sustainable jobs filled by indigenous Australians”, and the AEC website lists the scheme’s first goal as the “placement of 50,000 indigenous people into work”. If the goal of the AEC related only to job pledges, then these statements are confusing at best.
On job pledges, the AEC has been very effective in securing employer commitments. To date, more than 170 employers have promised a combined total of almost 26,000 “Covenant Jobs” under the scheme. Employers are asked to informally guarantee these jobs to indigenous applicants who complete appropriate training. This could be an important contribution: it not only creates an incentive for indigenous job seekers to undertake training but also seeks to challenge the well-established pitfall in which training is offered simply for training’s sake.
I think the AEC is really great, and that Twiggy’s a tops guy for putting so much passion and energy and money behind the initiative.
The thing is… as lovely as warm & fuzzy ‘awareness’ campaigns like GenerationOne and the AEC are, aren’t we all bloody well AWARE of the problems of indigenous disadvantage in Australia?
There’s a lot more that needs to be looked at below the surface of the slick ads and shiny websites before anyone can even say they’re going to ‘close the gap’ and that message risks being drowned out by the schmick PR stuff around covenants and commitments and promises and pledges.
I currently have 220 unplayed podcast episodes in my iTunes. Even though I’ve subscribed to a bunch of them, there’s only one podcast that I listen to every week, without fail: This American Life.
There are just so many awesome stories, and they’re all so different. Listening to each new episode is the highlight of my week.
And I just got spam from the host Ira Glass, on whom I totally have a voice crush, asking for donations because the radio station that produces it is struggling to cope with the GFC. Actually, I already donated at the start of the year, which is how they got my email, and the asking was actually whether I would pitch in again.
So I will, because I’m a sucker for donating things, and also cause I’m not a cheapskate.
I have an exam to study for, which is why I’m online again, hah hah, but I just wanted to suggest to people to listen to TAL and, if you like it as much as I do, please think about donating 10 bucks or something to them.