tip off

Australians well-trained to inaccurately fear “boat people”

Amnesty releases the results of a poll on the subject of asylum seekers, which reveal that:

  • a clear majority of Australians think asylum seekers should be treated equally regardless of the method of their arrival; and

  • Australians are stunningly poorly-informed on the subject of “boat people” and massively overestimate their impact:

    On average, Australians believe that about 60 per cent of asylum seekers come to Australia by boat. More than a third of Australians believe that over 80 per cent of asylum seekers arrive by boat. In fact, only 3.4 per cent of people who sought asylum in Australia in 2008 arrived by boat – the other 96.6 per cent arrived by plane.

While the first point is good to hear, the second is a massive tick for the effectiveness of the anti-refugee campaign run by various newspaper and radio polemicists. Clearly, they’ve done a spectacular job in training Australians to think they’re being “invaded” by shabby hordes from the north, and inducing us to support government policies that both discriminate against the most desperate refugees and which disproportionately cost the community far more than it would support if it really understood the issue. What help they’ve given hard-hearted politicians. What harm they’ve done the victims of those policies.

So – a tick for the hacks’ influence and ability, but a massive indictment on their honesty. I hope they can temper their pride at this confirmation of the power they wield with at least a little shame at what they’ve chosen to do with it.

26
  • 1
    Jon Hunt
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I note you haven’t mentioned politicians as being a cause for this misinformation.

  • 2
    RobJ
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Yes Jon, John Howard worked tirelessly to vilify a ‘boat people’ tried to tell us they could be terrorists (riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight, as if a terrorist would jeopardise the mission by riding in a leaky tub) Thing is whilst he was telling these porkies, you know, that they could be terrorists and they threw their children overboard, there was an election campaign on, he even locked up children indefinitley and still wonn the election? What does that say about the electorate? The right wing media backed Howard giving weight to his vindictive bullshit!

    Some may say that with hindsight John Howard was wrong, I didn’t need hindsight I knew he was lying at the time.

  • 3
    baldrick
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Does immigration publish the numbers who arrive by other means?? And what is wrong with establishing who someone is before allowing them into the community? Putting them effectively into jail is not the answer, but you have to establish who someone is before allowing them to wander around Australia – whatever the means of their arrival.

  • 4
    confessions
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Some may say that with hindsight John Howard was wrong,

    what would be appropriate is if John Howard himself could admit that with hindsight. A mark of a politician acting genuinely in good faith is their ability to own up to mistakes in hindsight and admit they could’ve been handled better. So far all we’ve seen from howard is his preparedness to admit mistakes in order to curry votes (saying he handled the aboriginals badly in 07 campaign to appear ‘softer’), or to gloss over his lies and dog whistling in order to preserve his legacy. Signs of a very deceitful individual IMO. very pleased that we don’t have to have him, Downer, Ruddock and that awful man (who tried to paint Hanneef as a terrorist), handling the asylum seekers anymore.

  • 5
    Ian Bryant
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Robj it wasn’t just the right wing – Labour supported the Libs., Out of fear, I know, but stil…

  • 6
    confessions
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    Just on the polling, I wonder if those figures have roughly always been like that? I ask with the vietnamese refugees in mind, and because i have not heard anyone who was around in that era saying that the fraser government deliberately demonised them like howard did to middle east refugees.

    I’m sure like Jon Hunt implies, the media picks up on what the government of the day is saying: we’ve had a decade of dog whistling from howard over refugees with the media obediently following suit. Numbers are increasing again, so instictively the media returns to what it did for 10 years and bashes asylum seekers, even though there’s been no divisive or wedge rhetoric from the new govt. When you are trained to always look for the wedge, maybe it can be a hard habit to break.

  • 7
    Posted July 30, 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    baldrick :

    And what is wrong with establishing who someone is before allowing them into the community? Putting them effectively into jail is not the answer, but you have to establish who someone is before allowing them to wander around Australia – whatever the means of their arrival.

    There’s nothing wrong with trying to correctly identify someone prior to granting them entry into Australia, and I don’t know any critics of the Howard approach to asylum seekers who have argued that we shouldn’t. Asylum seeker advocates recognise the importance of health and background checks and, contrary to the mantra of those who support Howard-esque immigration policies, do not argue for an ‘open door’ approach. What they do support is a system where asylum seekers who arrive by boat are treated in the same way as those who arrive by air. They reject this notion of ‘good’ refugees and ‘bad’ refugees.

  • 8
    baldrick
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    The notion of treating people who arrive by boat, and directing millions of dollars of border protection towards preventing them, is abohorent to me. But I do approve the rigorous checking of the credentials of those who do arrive. There are no ‘good or bad’ refugees – only those who should be assessed no matter how they arrive. But I do not support people arriving in our country (by whatever means) being directly released into the community. We need to know who we are allowing into our country. That is not an unreasonable requirement.

  • 9
    RobJ
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    “But I do approve the rigorous checking of the credentials of those who do arrive.”

    Everyone does but I don’t see why this should entail locking up children indefinitely. Basically our Department of Immigration has an appalling record, this is improving thanks to a change of government.

  • 10
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    So, in summary, you would vote for a party that reduced the ludicrous disparity between the way we treat asylum seekers who arrive by boat and those who arrive by plane? Shutting down the vastly more expensive Christmas Island facility and dealing with the tiny percentage who arrive by boat here just as we deal with those who arrive by plane?

  • 11
    GavinM
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Hi confessions,

    “I ask with the vietnamese refugees in mind, and because i have not heard anyone who was around in that era saying that the fraser government deliberately demonised them like howard did to middle east refugees….”

    I have somewhat faded memories of the arrival of the first Vietnamese ‘boat people’ , and yes I do seem to recall there being some degree of public hostility towards them being allowed in, but certainly I can’t recall any government demonisation of them — on the other hand, the world environment was a little different then, and they weren’t coming from a region that was known for producing international terrorists…

  • 12
    confessions
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    thanks Gavin. Nice to hear the liberal party weren’t always the culture warriors wedge politics playing people they are now.

    Vietnam had the whole communism thing happening though, and communists were regarded in much the same way terrorists are now weren’t they? I would imagine the public hostility could of been bound up in the fear of communism that was around then? Kind of like “OMG!!1! COMMUNISTS ARE COMING TO OUR COUNTRY!”

  • 13
    GavinM
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Ooops, I should have added to that last paragraph in #11 — so there was possibly less public paranoia about refugees for the government back then to play on than there is today……I also suspect that Malcolm Fraser wouldn’t have done so anyway.

    Sorry for that omission.

  • 14
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Confessions – surely the one thing they could be certain of was that the Vietnamese people who were fleeing Vietnam were not the communists!

  • 15
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Like a rational person might assume that people fleeing an oppressive fundamentalist Islamic regime aren’t radical Islamic terrorists?

  • 16
    confessions
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Gavin: no, i got what you meant. What i’m trying to say (not very well) is that just like anyone on fishing boat sailing to australia today who looks vaguely Muslim is automatically regarded by some idiots to be a terrorist. I can’t believe that australians were so thoughtful 30 yrs ago as to not jump to the same conclusion about a vietnamese person on a fishing boat sailing to Australia – esp given the vietnam war and any lingering mccarthyist sentiment?

    Jeremy: what toby said.

  • 17
    zoot
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I remember some antipathy towards Vietnamese boat people but there was no official campaign to demonise them. If the stories I’ve heard are true, the treasurer at the time (one John Winston Howard) was quite eager to whip up the negative feelings but Fraser overruled him.

  • 18
    GavinM
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi confessions,

    Bearing in mind that I was only 12 when the Vietnam war ended and refugees started arriving here, I do recall there were some people saying those things about them — i.e. Communists, we’ve just finished fighting a war against them, etc — but I have no recollection of them being demonised by either party to score political points, that is, I can’t remember any ministers from either side referring to them as potential Commie infiltrators or something…I could be wrong in that though.

    It is however true that Gough Whitlam referred to them as “Yellow Balts” and refused to allow them entry in 1975, interestingly his reasoning was that they were anti-Communist and likely to be politically prejudiced against the Labor Party — but I don’t think he used them to get votes in the cynical way Howard did.

  • 19
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Quite, Tobias!

  • 20
    Bloods05
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Gosh you’re even-handed Gavin.

  • 21
    kym f durance
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    sadly the figures regarding the % of asylum seekers coming by boat is old news – very old news – I thought it was pretty well known must come by plane – whether via some orderly queue or otherwise – most are those who overstay visas. Those facts have been out there for a while but they get no traction at all, or so it seems

    our problem ( if it is indeed it is a problem) is bugger all compared to the vast numbers moving across borders into Europe or those running North up into the USA – it is a non event in the larger scheme of things

  • 22
    notallright
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Here’s Bolt’s take (2 line response to something that upsets him) on a history course on Howard’s years. Which does mention asylum seekers (relevence!).

    http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/for_your_ba_in_howard_hating_learn_this/#commentsmore

  • 23
    Bloods05
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    But Kym, what the scaremongers want you to believe is that our “problem” is bugger-all because of the way we treat them, and if we treated them with justice and compassion we’d have the problems the USA and Europe have. So we have to be complete bastards for purely pragmatic reasons, not because we actually are complete bastards.

  • 24
    GavinM
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I try to be Bloods — but as I said, I was only 12 in 1975 so my memory of comments being made or not made about them could well be wrong.

    I’m really only going by what I can recall from my parents’ political discussions and I can’t remember them referring to any comments from politicians that could be seen as trying to use refugees to gain votes. (My father was a staunch Labor man, mother more of a swinging voter, they had arguments about politics just about every night at the dinner table).

  • 25
    GavinM
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    “Here’s Bolt’s take (2 line response to something that upsets him) on a history course on Howard’s years…”

    Hmm, I thought school history courses were supposed to be objective studies of the events of the times, not the political opinions of the teachers being foisted upon students.

  • 26
    AR
    Posted August 2, 2009 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    The initial Vietnamese boat people could NOT have been dubbed communists because they were almost entirely catholic, francophile Quislings of the colonial regime. Far more were amerikan collaborators, the equivalent of the post WWII Germany’s “Persil Papieren”.

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