I joined thousands of others around Australia last night at vigils organised by GetUp in memory of slain asylum-seeker Reza Berati. In Melbourne, we lit candles and listened to speeches from Tim Cosetto, Father Bob Maguire, and another former asylum-seeker called Reza whose journey to Australia had had a happier ending.
We listened, we lit our candles, and Scott Morrison lay awake all night trembling in fear at the thought of us.
That is not to discount the value of the rally. Shit, I attended just as I’ve attended so many rallies over the past however depressingly long it has been, and just as I’ll attend the next one, and the one after that, and the one after that – because for all that we held our candles steady, there is no light at the end of this tunnel yet.
We have demanded too little over the years – in order to maintain consensus within the movement, in order to focus on outcomes that policy-makers might consider to be achievable, in order not to look like starry-eyed idealists or scary extremists. And look where it has gotten us.
Nothing short of a moral revolution is going to reverse Australian politics’ race to the bottom on this issue, and don’t-scare-the-horses suggestions are not the building blocks of revolutions. Ending mandatory detention – onshore and offshore – is not enough. There is no ethical basis for denying safe passage to the millions of refugees living in unsafe conditions around the world beyond the practical issue (always cited in debates about increasing Australia’s intake by even the slightest fraction) of we-can’t-take-them-all.
But if we were to begin to see an obligation to take-them-all as something more than well-meaning but basically crazy idealism, then perhaps we would begin to generate real momentum for the global processing of refugees, perhaps we would be less ready to sign up for conflicts and foreign-policy adventures that drive people from their homes in the first place, perhaps we’d start looking ahead to the decisions we are taking now which are likely to lead to further waves of displaces people in the future (did I hear the words “climate change?”), and perhaps we could even start to question the basis on which we cordon off our wealth from the victims of the neoliberal policies which have made us rich. Bob Carr’s dreaded “economic migrants” – let them in. Most of them are eventually found to be genuine refugees as defined by the UN convention but even if they weren’t, on what basis are we entitled to say that this is our club and you can’t join?
Now my “realistic” instinct is kicking in and telling me that the open-borders campaign is way too far off left-field and campaigning for it would get us nowhere. Which would be unlike everything we’ve done so far, of course. That’s going great guns.