Despite what the evening news, or your morning newspaper may say, not everyone living in this big, isolated country is racist. Those of us with a heart implore the rest of the world not tarnish all Australians with the same brush. I am both saddened and ashamed to see Australia appearing in international news for all the wrong reasons. The Australian Government’s current policy on Asylum Seekers and border control has recently come under criticism from the UN Human Rights Council, suggesting Australia is violating international law obligations toward people seeking Asylum in our country.
Yes, I will admit that to an international reader the obvious statements would be “Well didn’t you vote for the Government?” “Isn’t your Government supposed to represent the population?” In theory, yes that is true, but there are only two major parties in this country, and since both campaigned with a revolting mixture of fear mongering, propaganda and racism, we were pretty much buggered. Even though The Greens had nicer things to say, they’ve barely the numbers to form government on their own, so if it meant a seat on the bench, they’d buddy up with the big boys. So what’s an Aussie with a heart to do? Well, despite being quite a passive aggressive stand, there was a rise of invalid votes (voting is compulsory in Australia) in last years Federal Election, showing many would rather vote for none of the candidates with their parties currrent policies. There was also a record number of votes for minor parties, (take that you major parties, I’d rather give my vote to the kooky guy no one has ever heard of!). Beyond that, many naively hoped and prayed that whoever took Government wouldn’t actually see out all of their horrible promises.
Sadly though, they have. And now the rest of the world is noticing the cruel measures that Australia is taking to ‘control our borders’. With great shame, I can confirm that yes, from what we are being told, Asylum Seekers attempting the dangerous crossing from South East Asia by boat are being turned back, or taken to offshore detention facilities where the conditions have been reported to be inhumane and a violation of Human Rights. For those Asylum Seekers already on the mainland, many are denied the right to work, and a freeze on Protection Visa’s has been implemented. As a result thousands (see we’re not all assholes) are peacefully demonstrating for a better way.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on border control. I don’t know what would happen if we just open our hearts , and the gates. But here’s some things I feel in my gut. Treating people this way just doesn’t feel right. Detaining people who are seeking our help, on an island in Papua New Guinea , feels like we are shirking our international responsibility. Long-drawn out detention, in disgusting tent facilities (whilst Refugee Claims are supposed to be being processed), feels like we’re letting people down. Detaining children and pregnant women without adequate access to medical care feels barbaric. There has to be a better way.
If our politicians have found a way to ignore gut instinct, then I can only wonder how sheltered their lives have been living in Australia, because here’s some things that traveling has taught me. Muslim is not synonymous with terrorist. If it were, then Catholic would be synonymous with terrorist as well. Also, a mother is a mother, no matter what the colour of her skin is, or the way she dresses. Only a truly desperate mother would risk the lives of her children by fleeing. She’d have to believe that the alternative, staying, was far worse. And, for those that would criticise the fathers who use all the family savings to pay a people smuggler and travel ahead without their wives and children, these men are brave, strong and motivated. Surely qualities that would be welcome assets to our small population. And to anyone who believes that ‘paying’ your way to Australia is ‘queue jumping’ where is the magical queue of which you speak? I’ve certainly not noticed an orderly line for Asylum Seekers at international airports. For the Australian’s ignorant enough to believe only poor people without the means to ‘pay’ their way to our shores should be granted Legal Asylum, have they ever considered that the worlds poorest have even less opportunity to flee? If Australia were torn apart by civil war tomorrow, wouldn’t it be those of us with money in the bank, houses, cars and professions that would flee first and fastest with our children?
Every day in Australia, I hear statements all around me from strangers, newsreaders, politicians and and even friends and family that are, well, quite frankly, racist. Often I need to remind myself that not all Australian’s are racist assholes. Some are, but some just believe the rubbish they’ve been told. As parents, we hope that by traveling with our children they will learn first hand that the world is a very small place, and everyone is connected. It’s full of different cultures that should be celebrated and embraced, not feared or treated unfairly. The world will be our classroom in lessons of kindness and generosity, so that our children will understand and follow their gut instincts on how people should be treated.
I can’t help but recall a significant event that happened in my life on September 12, 2001. Everybody knows what happened on September 11th that year, but on September 12th I learnt a big truth. That morning, I went to visit the staff at a Primary School where I’d been teaching up until the Summer prior. The Primary School was made up of children from the surrounding council housing flats, and over 90% were from Muslim Bengali Families. To assist in the classrooms, the majority of the support staff where also Bengali Muslim women. When I went into the staff-room that morning the mood was very sombre, and some of the teachers and support staff were teary. One of the assistants who I’d worked most closely with the year before, hugged me when she saw that I’d come to visit, and her tears began to flow. At first, I was confused, I asked her if she’d known someone who was inside the towers in New York the day before. “No,” she replied, “but nothing will ever be the same now. Everybody will hate Muslims because of what those bad men did. People will think that we all wanted this to happen, and that we are all bad.”
Just like I’m asking you today, not to let few bad Australian apples spoil the whole barrel, my friend was asking me to do the same back in 2001. Sadly 13 years on, she was spot on. I wonder what people will say about Australian’s 13 years from now?