talking #refugees

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Zonta Club of Perth‘s Cultural Awareness Day. The day was aimed to ‘foster empathy, friendship and an enhanced understanding of the lives of women that come to Australia as refugees’ but I was there to talk about stories from CASE for Refugees. The stories from the other ladies, though: WOW.

I gasped and bawled.

Catrina Hoang showed us photos from her amazing book Boat People: Personal Stories From the Vietnamese Exodus 1975-1996

She made a pretty important point which is rather relevant to the current issues we’re having here, and that was that asylum seekers do not get into rickety boats and risk death on the high seas for a better life. They are doing it for life. Just life. They risk it all for life. Full stop.

Pretty powerful stuff.

One of things I think is really important in the whole debate about refugees is the fact that so few people really understand why asylum seekers leave their countries. This problem is only magnified but the offshore-processing system where asylum seekers are ‘out of sight & out of mind’ in remote locales around Australia, most often behind razor wire.

All these programs and policies that keep these incredibly vulnerable people isolated from our community (and away from services that they often desperately need) are aimed at appeasing sections of the electorate who are (allegedly) anxious about boat arrivals.

The thing is: people who understand the issues and the stories and the reasons why they have left their homeland are not anxious about the small percentage of asylum seekers that arrive here by boat. Just as no-one (at all!) fears the majority of applicants for protection visas that come here on tourist visas or as students or workers.

That’s why the event today sharing stories and discussing the issues was so heartening.

Speaking of debates and discussions – the Law Society of WA’s Young Lawyers Committee are holding a panel on the asylum seeker debate during Law Week featuring:

  • Senator Michaelia Cash, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration;
  • Robert Lindsay, Barrister-at-Law, Sir Lawrence Jackson Chambers;
  • Paul Murray, Radio Host, 6PR and former Editor, The West Australian; and
  • me!

O_o

The Young Lawyers Committee asked CASE, who were like “Oh. Well Sunili’s a Young Lawyer. Done.”

The deets are:

Date: Thursday, 19 May 2011
Time: 6pm to 7.30pm
Venue: The Law Society of Western Australia
Level 4, 89 St Georges Terrace, Perth
Cost: Free (bookings essential)
RSVP: Email younglawyers@lawsocietywa.asn.au by Wednesday, 18 May 2011

[PDF flyer]

I promise I will try not to get too shouty / ranty at Sentatorer Cash and P-Muz.

This event will foster empathy, friendship and an enhanced understanding of the lives of women that come to Australia as refugees

Let’s Talk About Refs

[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.

Whew. #thanksGetUp.

Here’s the thing, right: there was also NO EVIDENCE that ANY of those ‘detainees’ who had escaped WERE ACTUALLY ASYLUM SEEKERS.

O_o

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.

I am. You are. We are.

Australian.

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!

Can’t see the jobs for the Forrest…

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.

The one about reconciliation [indigenous affairs]

There are lots of serious things going on right now.  Like the economy crumbling and @TurnbullMalcolm threatening to take away my Rudd-given right to buy shoes and makeup with my $950 stimulus payment.

But I just wanted to take everyone back to that whole indigenous affairs thing — you know, the blackfellas you avoid at the train station because you don’t want to have to give them $2 if they ask for it.  I know, I know: when shoe-shopping is at stake, there’s less impetus to think about things like human rights and sad chapters in Australian history.  But the current crises doesn’t make these other ones less important.

I don’t know why I feel so strongly about this country’s reconciliation with its indigenous people.  I am not one, and I have barely known any (I grew up in the leafy Western Suburbs of Perth, how could I have known any??).  And I might be an immigrant, but there is no common factor here other than that I’m not white.

I suppose it makes me a bit of a patronising snob that all I’ve ever had to do with this area was through the academic or legal side — stuff about representation in literature and whether the whole “Stolen Generation” was genocide and stuff. Although my mum did work with the Aboriginal Medical Service for a while.  And when we were little my dad used to tell us he was Ernie Dingo’s brother (they do both kinda look alike. Like, you know, they’re both brown).

But I really think that people don’t think enough about what happened to indigenous Australians in the past and how that might affect the way things are these days.  Maybe it’s a remnant of the Howard/Windshuttle black-armband backlash.

As much as I hoped that last year’s Sorry would change everything, I guess I always knew it wouldn’t be that easy… I guess I thought there’d be more concrete stuff happening.

Last week, Professor Mick Dodson was awarded Australian of the Year for his work to “promote  justice and reconciliation through a process of education, awareness and inclusive dialogue with all Australians.”  I hope that honour is not another empty, shallow guesture, but I certainly agree that Professor Dodson deserves the accolade (the issue, I guess, is whether the accolate is worthy of Professor Dodson).

I honestly believe that that approach is the most important aspect of the whole debate.  Ignorance breeds hate and laziness and I reckon the only way to counter hate and allow empathy and compassion (the key to solving it all) to flourish is understanding.

The December 08 – Febuary 09 issue of The Monthly, my new favourite magazine, featured an utterly amazing essay by indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu entitled “Tradition, Truth & Tomorrow” that I beg all of you to read and pass on to others.  I can’t do justice in trying to summarise or explain it (or even copy-paste a few quotes) because it must be absorbed and appreciated in its entirety.  It’s long, but please take the time to read it.  And I’d love to hear how you felt when you finished it.

If you felt anything like I did when I’d finished the last paragraph of that epic piece of writing, there might be a crazy mix of emotions — shock, sadness, anger, helplessness, humor, joy, hope… or maybe I’m just weird for feeling so strongly about the issue?

Tradition, Truth & Tomorrow
by Galarrwuy Yunupingu, The Monthly #44.

The one about Australia Day [oi! oi! oi!]

John Saffron made an interesting observation about the attire of the crown in front of him during the broadcast of Triple J’s Hottest 100 Countdown — something about the flag-capes being one thing, but the “love it or leave it” t-shirts being a little creepy.

Now, I love Australia. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I’ve had since my family moved here when I was four.  So I have nothing to fear from the wearers of those t-shirts.  But the flags have been totally pissing me off.

And as a friend of mine pointed out this morning, all the Aussie flags on the cars about town are rather reminiscent of the old General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard that was painted with the Confederate flag: “because we all know that celebrating American slavery’s courageous last stand is a grand idea. ”

Similarly, idolising the flag that symbolises nothing much other than colonisation in honour of the day a bunch of Europe’s least-wanted were planted here, seems kinda lame to me.

It was only tongue-in-cheek when I asked if The West was giving the little car-flags away, but, as it turned out, people actually had to make the effort to cut out the voucher from the paper and pay $2 each for the things.

Which were probably made in the same factory as the Toohey’s New bucket hats the boys picked up at the bottle-shop yesterday.

I really think it’s time for a new flag and, honestly, a new Australia Day. But meh, who listens to me?

Update — better posts on the subject with like, Actual Arguments(™) and stuff:

making us look bad

I have disliked The [not-so] Hon Julie Bishop for quite some time. Firstly, the wall outside her Subiaco office makes me want to gag every time I drive up Rokeby Rd. Then there’s the whole Liberal Woman oxymoron thing where she, like Gov Sarah Palin, takes the cause of women 50-bajillion steps back every time she steps out in her Linney’s.

As if her policies and incompetence weren’t bad horrible atrocious enough, she goes and does THIS during question time:

OH. MY. EFFING. GOODNESS.

And then —– and then her “justification” for this lameness (which will surely give me nightmares tonight; sorry for posting it, actually)???

“When people are carrying on in question time and getting really personal and vicious, it’s just a little thing that I do,” she said.

“It’s sort of suggesting that the girls should put the claws away.” [News]

It’s “A LITTLE THING” you do for “THE GIRLS”????????????

GREAT WORK, you pretentious brat, now everyone’s just going to say that female politicians can never rise above the petty squabbles they have across the leafy courtyards in their obnoxious private schools!!!!!  (The day I vowed never, ever, to enter politics was the day we had a fake election in Year 10 Social Studies. Oh, the humanity.)

There was a comment on the news article going “oh, right, so can guys punch each other in Parliament now”? And seriously, that’s what this takes us to. Redicularity.

I am so embarrassed I share the same two types of chromosomes with this person. SO EFFING ASHAMED.

Can anyone confirm that she’s actually a she? I still have hope. No honest woman would use that much hairspray and fanny about like THAT much of a queen, right??? Please? I’m begging.

war crimes

During lunch this afternoon I listened to the podcast of Julian Burnside (he’s a “top human rights barrister”!) and Gerry Simpson (professor of international law at the London School of Economics) talk about war crimes and international law at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival.  You can watch/listen online via to the ABC Fora TV site, which I totally recommend you do because I can’t be bothered writing out all the interesting discussion about the history of international law and victors’ justice and such.

However, I wanted to post a link to this article from Harper’s (the awesome American one, not the snooty Australian Bazzar one) if we might soon see a Ticket to The Hague for Dick Cheney? Most amusing was the reference to the report that the PBS network

found that it had no network space for [the documentary] Torturing Democracy until January 20, 2009—the day the Bush Administration decamps from Washington.

I wish our dollar wasn’t so shit so that I could subscribe to Harper’s and read this month’s cover story ‘JUSTICE AFTER BUSH: Prosecuting an Outlaw Administration’, but I’ll have to wait til Borders gets that issue in in June 😛

the new poltwittical frontier

A little while ago Malcolm Turnbull jumped on the Twitter bandwagon (although not before a tech-savvy satirist got in first) and now, with the launch of the re-branded Kevin07 for 2008, www.KevinPM.com.au, old Uncle Kevin has joined in on the fun.

Within hours, of course, @FakeKevinRudd was on board too.

twitstamp.com

And Norg boss Bronwen even did up a new avatar for the Real Kev Ruddy (please stand up) along the lines of the No Clean Feed protest piccies:

kev-pola

Bless! Things move quickly in the Twittscape!

It’ll be interesting to see how Kevs interacts with his “followers”.  Turnbull’s actually replied to people here and there, although you wonder how much they take on board.

Anyway. I’ll sure be watching. Will you?

Seriously, you guys, Twitter is the new Facebook. Sign up already!

a few notecards

Dear America

THANK YOU!

♥ you guys!

— Sunili ×ο×ο

Dear News Ltd

You are such fucktards.

Having “FIRST BLACK PRESIDENT” as
your giant fucking headline completely
misses the fucking point, you fucking
morons. America has grown up. You
should too.

Very sincerely
Sunili

cc Janet Albrechtsen
cc Malcolm Turnbull

Dear Janet

“Plenty [of this]” and “plenty [of that]”
and “many many” means squat.  If it
was close, I would agree that there is
racism. But it wasn’t. You must be
a bleeding-heart little-l liberal if
you think Americans voted for him
JUST BECAUSE he is black.

However, since I’m feeling generous
this evening, I’ll pay you on your
Post-Racism thing.

Regards
Sunili

Dear California

ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME????

That you voted yes on 8 totes puts
a dampener on this.

Sunili (sad face)