Blowing up in his face – an update

Sunday, 19 April 2009 

This horror is brandished as proof of the country’s ancient fears about boat people. We are reliving ugly history.

David Marr SMH 18 April 2009

Don’t we just miss the Howard Years! Not the TV series, that was boring, but the old man himself.

At least that’s the impression given by the eagerness with which cultural warriors from the left have put on their shining suits of armour, saddled up the moral high horse, and gone riding off to battle once again the Evil Liberals as they stir up another Tampa campaign.

Except they aren’t. They may have been tempted but within a few hours, the federal coalition was backing away from what they had been saying, as well as what Barnett had been saying, who was doing a half-hearted job of trying to back away from himself. By the end, Turnbull seems to be saying something about lack of funding being the problem which, before everyone gets too chuffy, was not that far off what Beazley was saying at the time of Tampa.

While not being too fussed if Marr is slandering the coalition, it would be nice if he didn’t include the rest of us as well. The tone running through Marr’s article is that the politicians are playing dangerous games given the depth of latent racism in Australia (from which enlightened individuals like Marr are fortunately immune). The trouble with that view is that it doesn’t explain why Australians normally don’t give a stuff about boatloads of refugees, even some of the times when politicians and the media try to make a big deal of it. Presumably that is why we have to have the ‘tinderbox theory’, i.e. that sure, the Australian public may normally look passive, inert, but actually is ready to explode into racist flames should an irresponsible politician (you know who) light the match.

There is no doubt that race plays a role in Australian political discourse both in international and domestic affairs. But that is the consequence of a weak state and a political class that habitually has to employ the tricky (especially these days) tactic of posing issues on racial lines, rather than because of any deep-seated ‘ancient’ (eh?) fears in the Australian public. It is why any pol sci student out there who really wants to understand the Australian state should first get to grips with the indigenous question. Since we are talking about the state, the assumptions behind this run deep in the political class and its commentators, and, as we saw with the child abuse beat-up in the NT two years ago, can catch out even our brightest intellectuals, some of whom thought there was a problem in other regions as well. Anyway, if it so easy to exploit anti-refugee feeling for political gain, why don’t the coalition just go for it and turn around their lousy poll ratings?

Actually, if one wants to nit-pick, Rudd’s response about the evils of people smugglers isn’t that great either. Let’s be up-front to the Australian people here: no-one really thinks people-smuggling is evil. It’s just a way of saying shame about all those refugees coming over, but in a right-on way while they are lying in hospital with third degree burns. After all, it is quite easy to put an end to people smuggling and send them out of business. Simply despatch the Australian Navy to Indonesia, pick up the refugees and bring them safely back to Australian shores where they can be quickly allowed to enter Australian society. Sorry. Silly suggestion.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Sunday, 19 April 2009.

Filed under Media analysis

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2 responses to “Blowing up in his face – an update”

  1. Just Me on 19th April 2009 10:56 am

    As somebody who has spent a LOT of time in the regional north, I gotta tell you that deep seated, hard core, gutter level racism is alive and well in this country. Not in a majority of people, but most definitely in a substantial minority, who are occasionally quite shameless and vicious about it. They are a fading minority, but they are still there and can still cause serious trouble, one way or another.

    The ‘NT emergency’ farce was one of the most disgusting pieces of blatant political manipulation and opportunism I have ever witnessed in Oz. I was strongly opposed (on the public record) from the very start, at least to the form it took. It is one thing to be offering some serious help, and intervening directly in the handful (and it is only a handful) of communities that might need it). It is quite another to falsely demonise many thousands of decent people simply on the basis of their race and geographical location, just to try to gain a few votes. In particular to use unsubstantiated accusations of serious and wide spread child sexual abuse as the main rhetorical weapon.

    And the total number of convictions for child abuse in these supposedly anarchic dens of depravity? None, that I am aware of. Certainly not the tidal wave that we were led to believe would eventuate. Utterly disgraceful behaviour from our so called ‘leaders’.

    On the good side, it was heartening to see that most voters were quite sceptical about these outrageous claims and accusations, and ultimately did not buy it (in total, they rightly accepted that there were serious problems in a handful of communities, and this needed to be dealt with.)

    Better stop there, before I get into really serious rant mode.

    [Walks away, muttering dark curses about the political class.]

  2. Cavitation on 19th April 2009 6:24 pm

    It’s also interesting that the Liberals have only been attacking the asylum seekers arriving by boat, which constitute less than 5% of the total for such arrivals. The major portion arrive via our airports carrying passports and visas, before disappearing into our midst. When the cost and danger of arranging such a boat trip is considered, you have to wonder why they don’t buy a false identity and a fake passport; it has to be cheaper and easier. I suspect the reason is that these boat people are poor, and come from countries where they can’t obtain these documents easily, and often they do not have the life experience necessary to trawl the underside of the immigration industry. But why are the Liberals focusing just on this 5%, instead of on illegal immigrants generally? Clearly, picking on the poor and powerless is easier. Then the racism issue has to be a factor, as Shrike points out. Also, many of their small business constituency benefit from the mainstream illegal immigrants; the Irish backpacker laying bricks, or the Chinese cook, or Turkish house cleaner.

    But there is something unhealthy about picking on the weakest of the group. This can also backfire politically. The Howard government had to legislate to make it illegal to publicise anything to do with refugees in detention. If the Liberals seem to be making any headway with the issue, the government can simply alter the law; or grant greater access, and when some of the boat people appear on TV recounting their experiences that led them to take such great risks, the tide of public opinion can quickly turn to sympathy. The risk of the government turning the tables in this way, should be enough to bring this Liberal Party excursion into bad taste, to a quick end…

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