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 http://www.crikey.com.au /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.http://www.channel4.com/news/syria-women-rape-marriage-refugee-camp-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:
Asylum Seekers 5488 Source: http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-
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:
- Australian Human Rights Commission http://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/asylum-seekers-and-refugees
- Asylum Centre Resource Centre. http://www.asrc.org.au
- Julian Burnside: several articles at http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/julian-burnside-2747048.html
- Andrew Bartlett http://andrewbartlett.com/
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. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/07/conviction-egyptian-asylum-seeke
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