City News

Editorial: On refugees, Australia remains the lucky country

Peter Drew with one of his posters. Source: twitter.com

By Joe Bourke

 

The events of the last couple of weeks have well and truly brought the issue of asylum seekers into the spotlight. Last week, an estimated 800 refugees died in the Mediterranean Sea on the way to what they thought would be a better life, and just hours prior The Sun, a Murdoch-run tabloid in Britain, ran a contentious editorial comparing migrants to cockroaches.

Katie Hopkins’ piece, titled ‘Rescue Boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants’, stirred up controversy for a myriad of reasons, one of which being its representation of Australia.

“Australians are like British people but with balls of steel, can-do brains, tiny hearts and whacking great gunships,” she wrote.

“Their approach to migrant boats is the sort of approach we need in the med. They threaten them with violence until they bugger off, throwing cans of Castlemaine in an Aussie version of sharia stoning.”

Although colourfully written, one of the worst parts about this was her representation of our policies.

One only has to look at the infamous border protection posters, “YOU WILL NOT MAKE AUSTRALIA HOME”, it says in all caps, to understand where the columnist is coming from.

In regards to popular opinion, while it wouldn’t be correct to say that most people would agree with Hopkins’ assessment, more people would than the average person might imagine.

The Australian published an article about Australia’s plans to relocate asylum seekers to Cambodia, and the Facebook comments were an obvious reminder that the gap in opinions on asylum seekers is very wide here.

Michael Smith-Warner had one of the two top comments on the thread, and said that those in Nauru who had the option to go to Cambodia would be happy to take it if they were “true refugees”.

“If they are true refugees they will be happy to go anywhere that isn’t where they were,” he wrote.

The other top comment belonged to Facebook user Kerry Nolan, who wrote denouncing the refugees in detention in Australia, saying “… these people did not wait in line, they got on a boat and pushed in, they are criminals and in my eyes are being treated very well”.

These two most popular comments reveal a major qualm Australians have with refugees; that being the finer details of who is a “true refugee”, or how long somebody may have waited in line.

The problem with this is, these people are mostly fleeing persecution or war and are probably too busy trying to survive to wait in this supposed “line”.

And if the idea of a utopian Australia is so important that one is opposed to untrue refugees who haven’t gone about it the right way, it would be best to take a look at a few lines of our national anthem which often go ignored.

“For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share; with courage let us all combine to Advance Australia Fair”.

It’s these words that inspired Adelaide artist Peter Drew to start up his nationwide campaign “Real Australians say welcome”, which hit Sydney a couple of weeks ago.

Drew made 1000 posters and has been distributing them all over Australia, their slogan being “real Australians say welcome”.

This is a good campaign. It brings forward what many believe to be the true Australian psyche – certainly an open society. The campaign brings to mind an Australia which welcomes people in need rather than a xenophobic worldview that forces people to tick a criteria list before entering the country.

Free speech is important and in a way Katie Hopkins’ article was positive in adding fuel to the asylum seeker debate, but her words were damaging to Australia’s identity and to the plight of people fleeing persecution around the world.

Many patriotic Aussies still call Australia “the lucky country”, and it is, but regarding our asylum seeker policies, it might be best to refer to a longer version of the quote from Donald Horne, written in 1964.

“Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck.”

Considering the UN has now got involved on the issue, saying tabloid “misinformation” about immigration fed into an “underbelly of racism” surrounding the migration issue, now might be the time for tabloid papers like The Sun to consider the power of the words they publish.

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