Australian politics

Jun 18, 2010

Happy Refugee Week

This Sunday 20 June marks World Refugee Day, and the start of Refugee Week which seeks to highlight and celebrate the many p

This Sunday 20 June marks World Refugee Day, and the start of Refugee Week which seeks to highlight and celebrate the many positive contributions refugees continue to make to Australian society. Given the pending election, it might be tougher than usual for this message to get through amongst the din of fear-mongering about asylum seekers.

In Brisbane, the Liberal National Party are marking the lead up to Refugee Week in their own special way, distributing a leaflet in Wayne Swan’s electorate accusing him of putting a “secret detention centre for illegal immigrants in our suburbs”.


As has been reported in the Courier-Mail, this so-called ‘secret’ detention centre which Mr Swan has purportedly “allowed to open” is actually the long established Virginia Palms Motel, which sits in Swan’s electorate of Lilley.  The LNP’s desire to do a bit of good old fashioned grassroots hate-mongering is such that their leaflet kindly relabels this well known local business as the “Virginia Palms Detention Centre”, which I’m sure the motel’s owners and employees are very thrilled about.

The Liberals have made it very obvious in recent months that they have clearly decided to label asylum seekers and refugees as “illegal immigrants” at every possible opportunity, despite undoubtedly knowing this is a false description. I suppose there’s no point letting a minor thing like accuracy get in the way when there may be an extra vote or two to be won by inciting some hatred.

The leaflet clearly isn’t just some off the cuff thing whipped together by an over-enthusiastic campaign volunteer, or even one of those fake race-baiting election leaflets that Jackie Kelly liked to think of as just a “Chaser style prank”. It repeats the same phrases used by the LNP’s local Lilley candidate, Rod McGarvie, when he spoke to the Northern Chronicle, the suburban paper which covers the area.

That story makes it crystal clear that asylum seekers and refugees are people who should be feared, emphasising that the “boat people hideout” was “in the middle of a residential area and across the road from a school.”

The school in question is actually Nudgee College, one of Brisbane’s two most prestigious Catholic schools. Knowing how much support many Catholic institutions have given to refugees in Brisbane over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised if the main thing that annoys them about having the asylum seekers over the road is that they aren’t given the chance to properly welcome them, as the federal government is not making it overly easy for people to visit.

Funnily enough, the LNP seem to be completely silent about the fact that asylum seeker families were kept in motels and the like at various times under the Howard government. And about the fact that the only reason this occurred then or now is because both Labor and Liberal are so bloody minded about maintaining a policy of  mandatory detention.

What makes this sort of local level fear-mongering even more unfortunate is that the immediately surrounding suburbs contain quite a number of recently arrived refugee families who are in the process of trying to acclimatise and settle into Australian society as permanent residents. Some of them arrived through Australia’s off-shore resettlement program and some have come from Christmas Island after their refugee claims were assessed and recognised. Rather obviously, the process that was followed in their being granted Australian residency has no impact on their appearance.

Regardless of your views on what our laws and policies relating to asylum seekers should be, it should be blindingly obvious that whipping up fear and antagonism about asylum seekers at local level can seriously impair the ability of refugees to settle smoothly and start contributing to and become part of our community.

It increases anxiety and insecurity amongst recent arrivals (and many not so recent arrivals), and increases the prospect that they will be met with hostility and antagonism rather than welcome.

It is a fairly sure bet that during this Refugee Week, there will be some LNP politicians participating in public functions celebrating the wonderful contributions refugees have made and continue to make to Australian society, culture and economy. It is a good thing that they do this.

It would be an even better thing if they could then get those in their party who think it is acceptable to whip up fear and hatred against asylum seekers to realise that their actions are directly undermining and impeding the ability of refugees to make that contribution, and that is far too big a price for Australia to pay just because there might be a few votes in it.

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29 thoughts on “Happy Refugee Week

  1. shepherdmarilyn

    Actually Syd we aren’t assisting, we are jailing them.

  2. Syd Walker

    @ rovan2

    You wrote: “What’s wrong with letting Labour or Coalition voters express their views without being harrassed by the pack!”

    Not sure if your comment is directed at me.

    If so, I have been posting quite regularly at Crikey for a month or so; before that not for many months. I don’t object to Labour or Coalition voters expressing their views. I do find blatant furphies irritating, especially if they concern an important issue, appear often and often in an OT context (as was the case in this instance).

    If you’d prefer that porkies go unchecked for the sake of good etiquette, we may have a different view about the value of rational debate.

    The subject discussed by the author of this thread – Australia’s refugee policy – strikes me as a classic illustration of shocking policy initially introduced on the basis of deliberate distortions and outright lies by the Government of the day. In the manic post-911 atmosphere, those furphies were inadequately scrutinized. They have now been with us now for nigh on a whole decade – as long-lived as the illegal wars that were sold in a similar manner (with lies and deception).

    One can only speculate how different things might be now had those lies been successfully nipped in the bud at the outset – and the responsible for peddling the lies held properly to account.

    Needless to say, if Australia hadn’t helped turn two sovereign nations into a living hell, we’d be less involved now in assisting with refugee resettlement from those very same countries.

  3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)


    If you want to read a Labor love in, just look at today’s (Saturday) Poll Bludger. No-one is upsetting their world view today, yet they still have plenty to say 🙂

    Of course the comments here can only have a diversity of views if such views are posted. And I’ve found that on Crikey the Labor and Liberal tragics tend to avoid articles such as this and in Rooted.

  4. rovan2

    Is anyone else getting tired of reading the same comments from the resident green politician wannabees who pop up to hijack debate on almost every Crikey blog I visit? I rarely read the comments (and only once or twice a week have time to catch up with articles that look interesting, but every time there are four names that appear not just once but over and over again. I started reading the comments in the hope that I’d become familiar with a diversity of views…not just the views of these four. So please guys…a little more respect for diversity of views. I’m happy to read your views, just not the same thing over and over ad nauseam. What’s wrong with letting Labour or Coalition voters express their views without being harrassed by the pack!

    And on the topic of this article, thank you Andrew. Examples of blatant racist hatred, like those you described, make me sad and discouraged about the possibility of a better future for Australia.

  5. Venise Alstergren

    John Howard was indeed the most reprehensible leader in Australia’s history.

    Of course there are clods in the Labor Party who are racist..The late Arthur Caldwell being a prime example.

    But, overwhelmingly, the wellspring of racial hatred, intolerance, and ignorant bloody-mindedness has always been the Coalition. Especially the Nationals/Country Party.

    And Queensland has worn the tattered racist and fascist crown to perfection.

    This was why I suggested the voters of QLD should stop rummaging through Great Grand-Dad’s trunk looking at his press clippings of the days he was a paid-up member of the Klu-Klux-Klan.

  6. Iain Hall

    Every time I see the citation of the UN convention I am moved to ask just where does it oblige this country to offer permanent residency to anyone seeking asylum, or that any country is obliged to subsequently accept family members of claimants as immigrants?

  7. CML

    Andrew – I agree with almost everything you say here, but you are all missing the point. For any contentious policy to work in this country, you must have bipartisan agreement between the two major political parties. You may not like this, but that is the reality of who we are.
    Until the coming of Howard that is what we had on the issue of immigration and refugees. Of course there was racism under the surface, but to a large degree it didn’t surface very often and it was mostly accepted that only “rednecks” were openly hostile to newcomers, and they were largely written off as Queenlanders touched by the sun! At least that view prevailed “down south”. I remember it all, as a child in the 1940’s onwards. Wiser people than myself would say, “Give them a generation or two and the kids will be fair dinkum Aussies” – and largely that is what happened.
    Although Howard was well known to have racist views (Vietnamese boat people anyone?), he was largely kept under control by the Liberal party (when it was truly “liberal”), until Hanson came on the scene and stirred up a hornet’s nest. Ordinarily, Hanson would have been seen as one of the aforementioned Queenslanders!! But Howard saw an opportunity to benefit from the support Pauline had garnered, and by adopting her stance on immigration/refugees largely took over her voters when One Nation collapsed. By now he was PM and thought he had the power to “change the nation’s views” on these issues, remake Australia in his image and do so without consequence. Suddenly it was okay to be openly racist. Howard is without doubt the most divisive leader in Australian history, and we are now seeing the aftermath of his folly in the demonisation of refugees who have sought to come to our country over the last 15 years. It might be fashionable to blame the Labor Party for their not quite perfect policies in this area, but the truth is found, as always, in history.
    How do you put the genie back in the bottle? I will take a generation or two, and quiet persistent education of the masses. All this anger, yelling and screaming at people will only reinforce their views. We have to start with the children – teach them about the Refugee Convention and all that means for the world. Before I retired a few years ago, I had spent 50 years nursing in 3 countries, caring for all kinds of people with all kinds of problems. Now, whether they are black, brown, yellow, white or brindle, they all have the same bits and pieces. And, would you believe it, they all have the same colour fluid in their innards – Red Blood!! End of story.

  8. shepherdmarilyn

    Strangely it was Susan Boyce and Barnaby Joyce who defended refugees before now and Boyce who voted for the ETS.

  9. Laocoon


    [one of those fake race-baiting election leaflets that Jackie Kelly liked to think of as just a “Chaser style prank”.]

    It aint just Qld…now to go back down memory lane with the audio of that radio interview, so cringeworthy – and I still wonder if it decided Bennelong’s fate (I suspect it did)

  10. Venise Alstergren

    What is it about QLD that encourages hatred, xenophobia and so called nationalism?
    Have our rural relations in that state nothing better to do with their time than sit around, going through Great-Grandad’s trunk sorting out his paper-clippings telling of his days-oh so, so long ago- as a fiery, lynching, sheet- wearing member of the Klu-Klux-Klan? ❓ ❗ 😈

    What is it about these people, who are always moaning about flood-relief, droughts, crooked-cops (think Palm Island) and working productively to over-use the land in time for the next calamity to hit them?

    How do they have the time to whip up their Pauline Hansons, Joh Bjelke Petersens and this splendid racist, anti-refugee, anti-human being stunt in the Courier Mail?

    Short of indicting Queenslanders as being the Deep North-which I do-I can only imagine it is something to do with Daylight Saving ❓

    Come on Barnaby Joyce, let go of your anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia crusade long enough to teach the citizens of QLD the virtues of mature and decent human beingness.

  11. shepherdmarilyn

    Actually the ALP have changed the DIC’s site that used to claim asylum seekers are illegal immigrants when Howard was still PM.

    Part of the problem is useless media morons screaming out about “gangs of evil people smugglers”, when the refugee convention makes it clear that this is not people smuggling and never has been, as does the people smuggling protocol the cowards are using to justify being harsh to anyone who helps refugees escape.

    Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program offers protection to asylum seekers who have entered Australia, either without a visa or as temporary entrants, and who are found to be owed Australia’s protection under the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugees Convention) and relevant Australian laws.
    Protection visa
    Asylum seekers who are found to be owed Australia’s protection under the Refugees Convention, and who satisfy health, character and security requirements, are granted a permanent Protection visa.”

    I fail to see anything remotely ambiguous about this statement.

    Overview of the Offshore Humanitarian Program
    The offshore Humanitarian Program has two categories.
    • The Refugee category for people subject to persecution in their home country.
    • The Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) category for people who, while not being refugees, are subject to substantial discrimination amounting to a gross violation of their human rights in their home country.
    o People who wish to be considered for an SHP visa must be living outside their home country and be proposed for entry by an Australian citizen, permanent resident, eligible New Zealand citizen, or an organisation operating in Australia.
    These categories go beyond our international obligations and have been introduced to enhance our assistance to those in need.

    Or this. Re-settlement is a voluntary scheme that is not connected to the refugee convention.

    If the frigging brainwashed media would stop prattling and read it they would discover it speaks for itself.

  12. Syd Walker

    Hmmm. typo in last line (‘us’ should be ‘off’) 🙂

  13. Syd Walker

    The entire thrust of your exscellent article, Andrew, was directed against the Libs under Abbott’s extreme leadership.

    It was kind to Labor, IMO, by not mentioning it.

    CliffG, clearly an ALP supporter, understandably wished to point out the difference between the ALP and the Coalition (under Howard and Abbott) on the refugees issue.

    Unfortunately, the opportunity for a mutual appreciation moment was squandered by his silly, off-topic side-swipe on the ETS. My observation is that this is far from an isolated occurence. ALP spin HQ seems to have decided to push this nonsense hard, anywhere they can. There are spinners aplenty doing it.

    It won’t work and they need to pack it in.

    My advice to the ALP, FWIW: focus on the good news you can sell; stop telling porkies about the Greens. You need support from Greens such as Andrew Bartlett to help authenticate the difference between yourselves and the Coalition on topics such as refugee policy. Stop telling lies that piss us anyone with a brain and distract from issues where you do stand a chance of winning the debate, often with Greens support.

  14. joe

    Rudd has a lot to answer for with all the deaths of asylum seekers on his watch. He was all talk before the lat election.

  15. Andrew Bartlett

    I agree with the comments countering the OT (and wrong) portrayal by Cliff G of the Greens’ stance on the CPRS.

    However, I do agree with Cliff that – whilst there are many aspects of the Rudd government’s approach to asylum seekers I strongly disagree with – he is right to emphasise that the ALP’s policies in this area are not the same as the Coalition’s.

    I certainly haven’t said that they are. They certainly both support the flawed, harmful and expensive policy of mandatory detention. However, the scrapping of Temporary Protection Visas and the abolition of charging people for the costs of being mandatorily detained are major advances which have significantly reduced human harm and social and economic costs to the wider community.

    The backsliding in both policy and rhetoric by Mr Rudd is deeply disappointing, and there is always the fear that more weakenings is possible, but sadly – as the example I highlight above shows – there is little chance of the ALP catching up to the LNP when it comes to any competition as to which party is the worst in this area.

  16. Syd Walker

    Hi Michael. If I’d known you had it covered already when I began that, I might have walked the dog instead 🙂

    Keep up the good work.

  17. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Well said Syd!

  18. Syd Walker

    Excellent article Andrew.

    @ CliffG

    You wrote: “you know the party [The Greens] that blocked the ETS and then accused Rudd of lacking courage”

    It is getting mightily tiresome correcting this deliberate distortion on every single thread where it pops up.

    If ALP supporters want to believe piffle like that, there’s nothing to stop you. But don’t then be surprised when you lose the debate – and quite likely lose government too.

    I know of no-one in the Greens who was devastated when the Krudd-Ferguson-Wong ETS scheme was dropped by the Government. Without fundamental revision, it was a worse-than-useless policy for curtailing Australia’s greenhouse emissions. What’s more, had it gone through the Australian Parliament before the Copenhagen Conference, it might have given added momentum at a global level to an intrinsically flawed approach to tackling this crucial issue.

    Environmentalists in this country are pissed off, on the climate change issue, because of the overall lack of progress in tackling the probem, by this and all previous Australian governments. We want action – but it has to be an appropriate package of measures, not cosmtiic flim-flam such as the K-F-Wong ETS.

    The mass of the public is not well informed on the complexities of the issue, but a significant proportion of the public is concerned about inaction too. Mostly they hoped the ETS would be a good thing, but do not specifically mourn its demise.

    This attempt to elevate the K-F-Wong ETS – as it had been developed and corrupted – to the status of the-greatest-thing-since-sliced-bread-that-the-Greens-fecklessly-stopped-us-all-from-having is pathetic.

    The ALP needs a new mindset on environmental issues. Perhaps it’s incapable of developing it? The new mindset to stop treating environmental issues as though cosmetic action is sufficient. It never was – but on global issues such as climate change, the opportunity for pulling off successful rorts is far more limited than in the past. Too many people are watching and paying attention, not only in this country.

    If the ALP had wanted Greens votes in the Senate, it had the opportunity to negotiate with The Greens Senators on the content of the legislation. It chose not to do that. The Greens Senators wanted an EFFECTIVE scheme, with targets somewhat better than world’s worst practice. Labor made one offer – take it or leave it. That’s not what Governments do when they really want legislation passed.

    The more Labor people repeat the lie that action on climate change has stalled because of the Greens, the more Greens will be forced to point out the truth. Ultimately, Labor will lose that debate, because it’s position is irrational. The more attention Labor gives to this false argument, the more chances Labor gives to The Greens to expose it as a complete furfy.

    That’s the best way to get everyone hating Labor on the climate change issue – not just the TAbbottites and Andrew Boltheads with their glib ‘scepticism’ – but everyone who actually cares about progress on climate change policy as well.

    There is in fact a lot at stake for environmentalists on this. If Labor wins the next election with the attitude that it got actually things right on climate change policy this time round, we all face another three wasted years of inaction and obfuscation.

    (with apologies to Andrew Bartlett; I know this is essentially OT)

  19. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)


    The last time I recall the death penalty being an issue was during the 2007 election campaign. A sign of what was to come from Rudd was that before the election he refused to condemn the death penalty for the Bali bombers. And the Labor candidates were all told that they were not allowed to talk about this issue.

    If you want compassion for asylum seekers and a defender of human rights, then Rudd is NOT your man.

    And on climate change it is my view that Rudd never ever intended to take real action. One only has to look at the three Rudd budgets to see that it is business as usual.

    And many of those who have looked into the detail of the CPRS think that the CPRS is so bad that we are better off without it. That is why the Greens voted against it.

    This is not a post in support of Abbott. I’m saying that Rudd is not much different from Howard, and thus does not deserve praise.

  20. CliffG

    Isn’t it about time Kevin Rudd stood up (an address to the nation perhaps, like Obama’s in the US since he is being squeezed out by media trivia and vicious personal attack) to make some of these endlessly repeated myths and lies OLD NEWS! That sort of leadership is what has been needed all along. There is a lot of support for asylum seekers and a dread of a return to the Howard years, which I believe could amount to a silent majority. If it’s possible for a government to make a stand on on issues like capital punishment, why not on this one? It would reignite some hope that many Australians had for a more humane national psyche, when Kevin Rudd came to power.
    At least he has said he will not stoop to the gutter tactics and the recent past horror years of the Coalition, which was reassuring. Although the numbers of asylum seekers means former “detention centres” re-opening, there is no razor wire, no electrified fences and no water cannon. And no children beind razor wire. And no conscious design to cause pain and suffering to deter others.
    In spite of an aggressive Greens (you know the party that blocked the ETS and then accused Rudd of lacking courage) campaign to try to persuade the nation that the ALP policies on refugees are the same as the Coalition’s, people shouldn’t be duped. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum of human suffering. Abbott’s (Ruddock’s) “stopping them coming” can only be achieved at the cost of vast human suffering and pain, administered as a deterrent (against all of the rules of the UNHCR and Refugee Convention). It is as cynical as it is ruthless, cold-blooded and inhuman.
    While Kevin Rudd’s record isn’t perfect it is vastly better than Abbott’s. A vote against Rudd could see a return to hell for asylum seekers if it means a return to Ruddock policies via Abbott. He hasn’t learnt a thing from the past decade or so.

  21. Jack Smit

    While I abhor the Lib / Nats fearmongering with a passion (as some of the readers well know), the blame for them being able to market this hate-peddling must rest with every government admistration since 1954 when we signed on to the UN Refugee Convention under Menzies. Not one government or Prime Minister, from Menzies to Fraser to Hawke to Keating, Howard and Rudd has had the guts to tell the Australian people without any ambiguity that, especially asylum seekers arriving by boats, without prior appointment, have the backing of esp. Article 31 of the Convention as well as International Law, for their journey to our shores. There is nothing “illegal” about them arriving here. The Immigration Department since 1954, Prime Ministers – also Fraser (!) – have refused to bite the bullet in a National UN Conventions education campaign.

    Within that context sheeting all the blame on the bile of the Liberals and National party is not enough of an assessment to me.

  22. ggm

    Lets hear it for agencies like who help to show Brisbane isn’t stuck in an LNP reactionary mindset!

  23. maccas

    I was a bit scared at first about the refugee’s but when I actually sat down and thought about it I saw where I wrong. You would have to be desperate to sail on those terrible , so called Boat’s. They are assessed and if deemed to be legal end of section.

  24. Michem

    I am more disgusted every day by this issue and the MSM are complicit in encouraging this xenophobia, yet simultaneously chastising football players and coaches for their racist comments – HELLO?!? The hypocrisy permeates every page, both written and cyber. I have never had time for the terror or the oz but I am now boycotting the herald as well (with the exception of Ross Gittens) and frankly am disappointed by the failure of this government to tackle the misinformation pouring out of the Murdoch orifices. God help us all if the Libs get back in. Without wanting to go off topic too much, the major damage being done is not due to the mining tax. Reading the reader contributions on the SMH/Age website shows that the real reason people won’t vote this govt in again is for the internet filter, I’d scrap that and the dog whistling and hold firm on all other humanitarian and environmental issues if I were them. Just saying………..

  25. Cuppa

    Will their hatemongering rebound on them?

  26. Elan

    Both major Parties are guilty.

    They will pander to the voting public- the majority (sadly), who hold intolerant/racist/and downright erroneous views.

    There are few politicians who give one damn about their electorates otherwise;-but when to comes to their vote….

  27. ParnassusMD

    Hard to pick who are more contemptible, the politicians who initiate this crap or the journos who knowingly perpetuate it?

    Scum one and all.

  28. William Conroy

    It is going to be a dirty election campaign and as you state why let the facts get in the way of a good beat up. Unfortunately it goes right to the top of the Coalition parties heavies and is not a good look.

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