Why are we, as a nation, so disdainful and cruel to vulnerable asylum seekers? Arrin Chapman suggests a way to heal the hole in Australia's heart.
THE TERM ‘BOAT PEOPLE’ has been in the Australian vernacular since the 1970s — the derogatory use of the word almost as long. While the rhetoric has changed around its use, effectively it is still a tool used to 'other'.
This 'othering' allows for government to flout human rights obligations on the pretence of it being for the good of the nation. The discussion around this issue for the last decade has revolved around one simple and as such digestible catch cry: “stop the boats”.
It is deceptively effective because all sides of the argument agree on the premise.
Unfortunately, the way in which this has been approached is rooted in a concept of self entitlement. As such, the language of the argument needs to be re-examined and the way we conduct ourselves in our region restructured.
Since the close of WWII, Australia has had no substantial, direct military threats to its sovereignty. This means we have effectively been wasting money on the possibility of an attack from an undefined enemy at an unspecified time. As a consequence, we find enemies to defend ourselves from, such as ‘terrorists’ — another convenient term easily applicable to anyone deemed threatening different.
Our Defence Forces have proven themselves time and again to be highly dedicated peace keepers and nation builders. This is the facet of our military that should be funded. The people fleeing to this country on boats simply want the qualities of life, safety and freedom that first world countries offer.
What is required is a shift in thinking.
Australia’s current rate of aid is 0.37% of GNI — well below the 0.7% recommended by the OECD, the United Nations and international aid organisations.
As well as untied aid, which has been shown to have lower administration costs and offers flexibility to recipient countries, what we can also usefully offer is people power. Our military constitutes a whole range of very talented individuals who can both plan and build infrastructure. We have a whole group of very talented teachers who would happily education generations of people in other, less fortunate countries. There are Doctors Without Borders who could be funded and recruited for.
The stronger an education and social welfare system is, the stronger the people and strong people do not keep quiet about human rights abuses. Strong people make change.
The cost of keeping asylum seekers captive in both on and offshore detention centres will be $2.97 billion this financial year. For this amount of money, we could build working infrastructure for a village or provide resources for people to start businesses and create livelihoods.
Australia is still one of the most affluent countries in the Asia-Pacific region and, as such, can and shuld be funding aid money toward countries that are currently rebuilding. This type of thinking is a much more constructive and humane way of approaching this issue than simply rallying against a perceived invasion of economic refugees.
We, as individuals, need to take a step back and look at all that we have.
Why do we feel so comfortable enjoying our wealth when we know there are people struggling?
(Image by John Graham)
Politicians and often the media give us the impression asylum seekers are choosing to cheat the system by coming to Australia rather than attempting to honestly 'get ahead' in their own countries. The question is, how does one get ahead when there is nowhere to get ahead to?
It is essential for every Australian to keep in the forefront of their mind that these are not irrational people. No-one leaves everything that they know to take a dangerous journey simply because another country seems like a better option.
Often they have no other option.
There are dangers and suffering in these countries that are beyond the imaginations of most Australians. What most people can imagine, though, is what it would take for them to give up all they have and know to seek a new home.
This is not a short term solution. Nor is this a water tight plan for the future.
This is, I hope, discussion point. My sincere wish is that the ideas here are taken apart and from them a more humane direction taken for a country that has severely lost its way.
And how far have we lost our way? The following "song" is not a spoof:
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The originals of John Graham's art, featured in this piece as well as throughout IA, are available for purchase by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can see a gallery of John's political art on his Cartoons and Caricatures Facebook page.