You Dont Speak for Me

Does the current political discourse on race and immigration, as reported in the media, reflect the opinions of ‘ordinary’ Australians? I for one say No.

You Don’t Speak For Me.

Among my music collection is a treasured album from retired Australian folk singer Judy Small. I had the absolute delight of first hearing Judy perform before hundreds of women at the UN Women’s Forum in Beijing in 1995. A song that resonated with me then but more so now is You Don’t Speak For Me.

You who poison the airwaves with Ghengis Khan views

You broadcast your bias and call it the news

You say that you speak for the millions out there

And deny that you’re lighting a dangerous fuse

You don’t speak for me, no you don’t speak for me (J Small 1988)

I am a resident of the Gold Coast in the electorate of McPherson. Today, I received in my letter box a pamphlet from our Federal Member Karen Andrews MP. Front and centre is a photo of the Christmas Island Detention Centre followed by a message saying residents of McPherson stated in a recent survey that Border Security is their biggest concern placing it above the cost of living, crime, education, roads and employment. I have lived in this electorate for 30 years and have never been surveyed and are yet to meet anyone who would consider Border Security as “their biggest concern”. This has led me to ponder that if in fact this statement is true where on earth would people of the Gold Coast form their ideas about Asylum Seekers given that no “boats” have landed on our beaches.

Is the said pamphlet more of pushing the “stop the boats” mantra for political expediency and if so what role does media play in this.

I believe the influence of the media on public perceptions can and does contribute to distorted realities.

“The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Malcolm X

These words can be echoed in the negative and often near hysterical response to the arrival of asylum seekers by sea. The “Stop the Boats” mantra permeates the airwaves with such regularity it has become easy for everyone to forget there are people including children in those boats. Seldom do we hear any meaningful discussion on the people themselves even when their perilous journey ends in tragedy. This past weekend when we heard the news of another boat sinking with the death of 55 people including children, some politicians used this tragedy for political point-scoring trotting out the “stop the boats” rhetoric.

Questions that no-one asks:

  • Who were those poor desperate people who drowned?
  • Where did they come from and what were they fleeing?
  • What of their desperation for a better life that they would risk their lives to come to Australia?
  • Does anyone stop to reflect on the lives lost?
  • Did they have family in Australia waiting for them?
  • Are their families overseas who will probably never learn of their fate?

And so we have 55 nameless people and it seems, we are “too busy” to even collect their bodies.

The following response on Twitter both sickened and saddened me.

What have we as a nation come to?

You Don’t Speak For Me: You Don’t Speak For My Friends

We are continually updated by the media on how many boats have arrived in much the same manner we are updated on the scores of a test cricket match. The real story of immigration and asylum seekers gets lost in the “stop the boats” hysteria. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are 10.4 million refugees globally with further humanitarian concerns for 1 million people in or leaving Syria. Added to this, are an estimated 800,000 asylum seekers globally.

The largest groups of people seeking asylum globally are from Afghanistan followed by China. Most Australians do not realise China is Australia’s top source country for asylum seekers, because almost none of them arrive by boat. Instead, they arrive by plane on various temporary visas and apply for asylum later. Source: Andrew Bartlett /2009/06/30/refugees-asylum-seekers-and-australia-some-cold-hard-facts/

Over 80% of the world refugees are living in developing countries that do not have the infrastructure and resources to adequately support them. I am appalled at the further violence committed against women and children within the refugee camps. For many years Aid Agencies have worked to highlight and address the rape of women at Darfur and other camps. Now there are horrendous reports of rape, kidnapping and forced marriage of Syrian women occurring within the refugee camps in Jordan.

When we consider the number of people globally displaced by war, famine or other disasters, Australia’s intake of refugees and asylum seekers is small by comparison. In 2012 the UNHCR worked with the governments of Australia and New Zealand to resettle:

Refugees 30188

Asylum Seekers 5488 Source:

JUST 287 asylum seekers out of more than 22,000 who have arrived in Australia by boat in the past four years have been sent back home for failing the refugee criteria.

I don’t propose to be an authority on immigration. Others better qualified than I have written on this including:

I do not condone people smuggling, risky sea voyages or detention centres. I do believe it possible to find meaningful safe solutions to refugees and asylum seekers which are done through cooperation with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees free from media influences and negative slogans. Whoever is in government, people will continue to come whether by plane or boat because the world has a refugee and humanitarian crisis. Why is this fact continually overlooked?

I am very concerned at the growing race hate within Australia towards other cultures especially merging communities and the role media plays in aiding and abetting this. Following the Cronulla riots in 2005 Alan Jones was found to have breached Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) Code of Conduct section 1.3(a), as his comments were “likely to encourage violence or brutality and to vilify people of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern backgrounds on the basis of ethnicity” Jones was ordered to provide an on-air apology.

“I’ve seen where you come from; I’ve seen where you lead

It’s a poisonous fruit that grows from your seed

You stir up the hatred till something explodes

No You don’t speak for me” (J Small 1988

More recently we have had the case of Sayed Abdellatif, an Egyptian asylum seeker who arrived in Australia in May 2012. He has been labelled a “convicted jihadist terrorist” by the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, and in numerous media reports. The Government was blasted in Parliament during question time on 6th June by four senior members of the Opposition including Tony Abbott for detaining Abdellatif in low security behind a “pool fence”. The Guardian was the only media who bothered to check on the charges against Abdellatif and inform us that he was tried and convicted by an Egyptian court in absentia in 1999. The Guardian informs us there are serious doubts on the charges against Abdellatif.

The true story of Sayed Abdellatif is lost in the quest for headlines, keeping up with a 24 hr news cycle and pandering to the “Stop the Boats” mantra which silently lurks behind much of the political discourse in this country.

I don’t want to receive pamphlets in my letter box with implied “stop the boat” messages. I do want all people in public office to work together to create a fair, just and equitable society that is welcoming and hospitable to those who come to our shores for shelter.

Only Then Will You Speak for Me

Betty Taylor

About Bettsie

Writing on things important to me... Feminism Australian Politics Social Justice
This entry was posted in asylum seekers, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to You Dont Speak for Me

  1. jack craig says:

    It saddens me that we have come to this, and no they don’t speak for me either and they never will. To see the Racism of our politics is bad enough but when we no longer care about bodies floating in the sea we must say NO! This is our Australia and you wont take it from us.

    • Agree Jack. I think it was th complete indifference to the bodies in the sea that started me on this track. Absolutley disgusting. Oz has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars searching and saving yachtsmen lost st sea. Some lives worth more. Keep up the good fight

  2. Susan Steel says:

    Well Bettsie you certainly speak for me. Thank you for writing this and all the links. I’m also bewildered and saddened by the hatred of some Australians in their reaction to asylum seekers. What’s happened to Australians that they’ve become so cold hearted? I realise the media can take a lot of blame but we are a nation of immigrants, a multicultural society who should be sympathetic. Maybe we’ve all had it too good and become selfish. Whenever I see someone I think is a refugee I feel like apologising and saying “you are very welcome”. It’s extremely worrying to think where all this hatred will lead. Let’s hope people regain their empathy and common sense. I’m in a safe Labor seat in SA so possibly won’t see this type of propaganda but if I do I’ll be so angry. OK better finish , thanks again.

    • I think You Dont Speak For Me captures the thoughts of a lot of people who are concerned at some of the views in MSM. Maybe the not so cold hearted just as vocal as the hysterical stop the boats brigade. I dont know how people exist in a fear bubble though. This is what MSM and pollies fees on. Together we can change this

  3. lmrh5 says:

    Reblogged this on lmrh5.

  4. Pingback: You Dont Speak for Me | lmrh5

  5. Bishop says:

    I have given up on Australian media, they are so completely cowered by Murdoch and others they have become a joke. I can remember when media reported the news not created it!

  6. Really loved this Betty! Was watching sky this arvo talking about Asylum seekers, carrying on about how ‘Australian People are worried about border security’… What rubbish! Decent people are worried about poor bloody majority of people who are so desperate to give a life to their kids that they will get on a boat to try it as they have no hope where they live. Your title is so correct! “You don’t speak for me”, but you do Betty 🙂

    • Thanks Noely..I think MSM doesnt speak for a lot of people. I decided to name mynbkog Silent No More. For a long time I have felt strongly about what I reading & seeing on MSM but didnt know where to go with it all. TG for Twitter and linking with women such as yourself. Love you website and writing. Power of the People 👍

  7. Lorraine says:

    Such a powerful piece Betty. I entirely agree. I tweeted this morning about my own physical and emotional reaction to the latest tragedy so close to our shores. This problem is as you say, a world wide issue and it’s not going to go away no matter how many times we bleat “stop the boats”. Thank you for saying what many of us feel.

  8. I’m just like all the commenters here. Stopping the boats isn’t an option, the opposition know that. They & the MSM just want to use the sensationalism to try to force an early election.
    Paris Aristotle is on the 7.30 Report at the moment and he is telling us what is needed to is for the package that was put before the gov. There is a need to implement ALL of this package to work so that we do not see more & more of these poor souls losing their lives at sea.
    So I would say to the LOTTO Tony Abbot – it is about time that you stop playing politics with this serious problem. Going back to what was a bad policy in the Howard era will also not work because of the enormity of the numbers around the region who are homeless & just want a better & safer place to live & bring up their families.
    This is not a game, these are real people who will do desperate things to have a chance in life again.
    I suggest that one of the slogans to take to the election should be WE THE PEOPLE WHO CARE SHOULD BE SILENT NO MORE.

  9. Stephen says:

    It is odd for an article with a title like that to actually be the exact opposite. Betty you can speak for me any time on this topic. Asylum Seekers have long been a political football for the LNP (Howard got another term out of this beat the downtrodden).

    I do hope that the muppets in the LNP spreading this propaganda are doing so because they so very much want to win, and not because they actually believe in it. Ruthless power hungry grabs to line up at the money trough by greedy self centered (un-civic) people I understand, complete utter lack of humanity I do not.

    • Thanks Stephen. There was a bit of this nonsense after the end of the Vietnam War with the arrival of refugees but nothing like the current hysteria and there was certainly no mention of towing the boats back to Vietnm.
      Pauline Hanson started some of this with her Asian Invasion rubbish. I remember Japanese tourists coping it on the Gold Coast. Moved on now to Middle Eastern and African. Gets to me, especially hearing about kids drowning. Noely has inspired me to take up the pen.

  10. geoff pearson says:

    You have voiced the word I wish I could use Media and Coailition think peoples lives are worth nothing ALP has a policy by three men I respect greatly coalition blokes it I’m not justifying labor on this but we will never know if the policy would save lives Abbott and Morrison are to bloody minded to allow its implication greens are too stubborn to budge on their policy to try the experts recommendation I condemn all politicians on this those body’s should be picked up and buried with dignity

  11. joalve1994 says:

    Abdellatif was tried in an Egyptian court during the presidency of Hosni Mubarak. The same Mubarak who had banned the current governing party in Egypt.

    I seriously doubt the legitimacy of the charges laid against this asylum seeker.

  12. Gail Hislop says:

    I speak to people in the electorate of McPherson as the Labor candidate and have not been told that this is their ‘ biggest concern’. What I have been told is that people are concerned that there will be more sackings from either Newman Government ( L.N.P.) or Tony Abbott. I have also been told that the price of electricity going up is a concern, when promised it would not by the L.N.P. The cuts to the Gold Coast Hospital is a concern. The gag orders been placed on staff talking about the cuts is a concern.
    Where are we going as a nation instilling hatred and scaremongering to our community. How would any one of us feel if the roles were reversed and it was made clear to us that politicians used this type of rhetoric on the community to whip up such hatred.
    What ever happened to being humanitarian and showing a little bit of human kindness.

    • Thanks Gail. It really bothered me that Border Security is been used to scare people in our electorate. Its not what I hear either. Terrible enough that poor desperate people stuggle for an opportunity of a better life. Worse they are used for political point scoring.

  13. Gail Hislop says:

    How soon people forget the lies about the Children overboard policy by the libs

  14. Mar(k) says:

    Thank you for posting this Betty. I echo your sentiments wholeheartedly! Silent no more indeed – I DO speak up when I hear racist remarks around me – or when someone spews off without the facts – because I believe that if we are silent, we are complicit in what is being said. So whether it is about asylum seekers and refugees, or about Indigenous Australians, or any other vilified group, I do speak up and affirm my beliefs. Wonderful to see other like minded souls out here doing the same! cheers – Mar (WA)

  15. siobhan says:

    I quite literally cry in despair with the treatment of the poor asylum seekers that are locked up. I hate to say it but many people do believe the crap that the mass media and both major parties spin. For the people that do fear “the boats” they need to be educated, not pandered to.

  16. czerni says:

    I feel great relief when I read a post like this. As an immigrant from Europe, I feel great unease at the form the “debate” about asylum seekers is taking in Australia.
    I lived in Germany in the 80s and 90s, when very similar circumstances lead to the attacks of asylum seeker and immigrant’s housing. In France, the boost of the extreme right around 2000 followed closely the public discussion of “no papers” people seeking refuge in churches and hiding in squats. Do politicians in Australia not realise they have the responsibility to stop the populism and fear mongering, especially now that many Australians are coming into greater stress caused by the economy? It’s an explosive mix! Australians are NOT beyond the very ugly extremes this kind of racial hatred can take. Google “Rostock, Lichtenhagen” ..

  17. earleydaysyet says:

    As part of the “Homestay” initiative, we’ve hosted 4 Hazara men from Pakistan.

    I’d never heard of the Hazara before these guys came to us, so I looked them up online. They are a distinctive-looking ethnic group who can trace their origins back to Genghis Khan. The community was primarily in Afghanistan originally, but fled to Pakistan when the Taliban decided they were all to be killed. In Quetta, their main location in Pakistan, they have been ghetto-ised and face the possibility of death every time they leave “their” part of the city. One of our guests was talking to his brother on Skype when a bomb went off nearby – he heard it, and had an agonising 20-minute wait while members of the household rushed out to locate his son, who had been out buying fruit. At this moment, his wife & 2 sons are OK, but he has lost 18 members of his direct & extended family. In the last year.

    The Hazara are reviled by many Muslim communities, and members of the group who have tried relocating to Malaysia or Indonesia have quickly found themselves targeted there as well.

    One of our friends was a fairly senior policeman. Because of his position, he was largely immune to the ethnic hatred directed at the Hazara, until the positions at the top of the chain changed hands and he found himself hounded at work and at home. He decided they had to leave, but that he couldn’t put his family at risk with the boats, so he came alone. The boat he was in left Indonesia in the middle of the night, carrying 43 people, with food for 15 and no fresh water until it rained on Day 3.

    The night he came to our house, straight off a plane from Curtin, he was able to ring his family for the first time in 9 months. 9 months! of him not knowing if they were still alive and vice versa.

    I cannot begin to imagine how people think this boat thing is the “easy” option. For someone to feel so strongly the need to escape, that they would endure 3 months of covert travel and finally to pin their hopes on surviving a gruelling trip in an overloaded, dodgy boat across an enormous gulf of water… That’s a level of desperation I don’t think many of us can begin to comprehend.

    11 months after being released into the community, our friend has been unable to get any work for which he’s qualified and is now working in a meat-packing job in a regional centre. He speaks to his family every day, and so far they remain alive, but his status here is STILL “pending”. The future road will continue to be rocky and dangerous.

    Who would CHOOSE this option if they didn’t truly feel as if it was the only one left to them?

  18. ausurfer says:

    Thank you for writing what so many Australians believe. That the lot of an asylum seeker is not anything to be envious of. To be risking their lives as well as those of their families indicates the horror that they attempt to leave behind. Sadly, there are Australians who get into the whole racist dialogue over the subject and of course that tired old “Stop the Boats” just whips them into a frenzy.
    Like Mar(k) above, I too respond immediately I hear some racist comment, because to remain silent puts me in the category of don’t care, or even worse, the believers group.
    Let’s just hope that the LNP doesn’t win power — heaven help the asylum seekers and other minority groups then. Cheers. Kim (Brisbane)

  19. hilderombout says:

    Thank you Betsie, i am with you and thank you for reminding me of Judy Small’s song. I’ve met her once when she was performing on stage many years ago and was very impressed by her, and i too agree with you and the other commentators that the “haters” do not speak for me.
    I volunteer with elderly migrants and it amazes me that some of them can be so afraid of asylum seekers. Yet when a man from Iraq and another from Afghanistan joined the group they were quite pleasant to them and there was no animosity because of where they came from. So meeting actual asylum seekers might change people’s mind. Keeping them in detention does not afford us this opportunity.
    I too feel slightly guilty towards the asylum seekers i see down the street and feel like apologising to them for the treatment they might have received. I don’t actually do so, because this might be considered as discriminatory as well. And the same feeling goes to Aboriginal people. Once i saw the treatment of an Aboriginal girl working in a supermarket. Some people went out of their way not to go to her check out, even if it meant they had to wait longer before being served. It made me so angry that i made it a point to go to her checkout aisle even if it meant i had to wait longer just to make a point. In the end it did not work because she did not stay long. I don’t know whether she was sacked or left though. People can be very cruel, including children.
    I lived in the Netherlands for a while and worked at an asylum seeker school. Children go to school there on their fourth birthday. And even amongst the children that young there was already signs of discrimination between the diffferent nationalities. Arabic children would not hold hands with a black skinned children from Africa for example. That attitude was not tolerated, but it just showed me that discrimination can start from a very early age. So the fight against it will be hard, but reading the responses to your article Betty gives me hope.

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