Under Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Australia no longer displays compassion and humanity towards those in need, writes Rosalind Fuller.
MANY ARTICLES have been written over the last few weeks about the current refugee crisis in Afghanistan as well as the 20 year anniversary of the Tampa debacle, both now inextricably linked.
What has also been featured in the commentary is that previous prime ministers, including two Liberal PMs, responded to previous humanitarian crises by offering refuge to people fleeing violence, persecution and in the aftermath of wars. The acceptance of refugees was not always supported by the populace or the political party’s base.
These figures are worth restating. Malcolm Fraser, between 1976 and 1982, accepted almost 70,000 Vietnamese refugees (so-called “boat people” — because how you flee apparently matters). A tearful Bob Hawke was so incensed at the Tiananmen Square massacre he made a ‘unilateral decision in 1989 to let the 27,000 Chinese students [that were]present in Australia stay’ and ultimately ‘grant a total of 42,000 permanent visas for Chinese students’.
Tony Abbott (not known as a beacon of tolerant politics) in 2015 offered 12,000 Syrian refugees sanctuary. These refugee intakes show what a compassionate, humane country and a good global citizen Australia used to be. It is also an example of leadership in the face of criticism by the commentariat — they did the decent thing despite opposition.
Our current PM, Scott Morrison, can only manage to assist 3,000 Afghans. This being part of our already depleted humanitarian immigration threshold of 13,750 for this year, down 5,000 places for this financial year. All the PM does is use spin and weasel words stating the intake is “a floor, not a ceiling”. How comforting for those souls trying to get out of their war-torn country.
Australia has been party to the United Nations Refugee Convention since 1954 when Liberal PM Robert Menzies signed it on behalf of Australia. Since Liberal PM John Howard and the Tampa, it is a worthless document for which we have been rightly criticised by the United Nations.
Australia benefitted greatly by welcoming refugees from war-ravaged countries after WWII. This country would not be the Morrison-touted “most successful multicultural country” without those immigrants who came from the other side of the world for a better life.
How good is Morrison’s Australia? By my reckoning, it is far from good at all. I would even suggest cold-hearted, unempathetic and selfish. To be vilifying the Other, especially people of colour, under the guise of protecting Australia from the “unsuitable” is abhorrent to me and I am sure other Australians.
These suffering Afghans are not us, nor are they less than us. I’m glad we live in a secular society that has religious freedoms (if you choose to worship) and are not ruled by religious, fanatic ideologues. However, all we get from this PM, who professes to be a Christian but shows not one shred of Christian values, are reasons not to help and excuses for why we haven’t helped. Every Australian should be appalled by this stagnant, miserable, flaccid excuse for a government.
Morrison talks about hindsight when assuring the Australian people that we are doing all we can for the people trying to flee Afghanistan, failing to mention what we could have done if we used foresight. We were warned by reputable sources about getting Afghan interpreters and others out of Afghanistan, not weeks or months ago, but years ago. Now our only response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis is to throw platitudes at it — see the previous “floor, not a ceiling” and further, “despite our best efforts” and “we wish it were different”.
On any economic measure, Australia is a prosperous country. We can afford to be welcoming, especially when we withdrew from a 20-year conflict in which our involvement was questionable. However, not all measures of a country’s prosperity are measured in economic terms and nor should they be.
The measure of a humane society is its treatment of the poor and the most disadvantaged. We will be remembered at this time, not as a country that offered the Afghans compassion, humanity, generosity and a welcome but the complete opposite. We cannot even measure up to other countries such as the UK and Canada who are offering 20,000 refugee places as a humanitarian crisis unfolds on our screens daily.
I commend fellow Australians who have come to the aid of Afghans by lobbying the Government, formulating petitions, creating fundraisers and donating to charities. My small donation to the Ben Quilty UNHCR fundraiser (one of many) is a drop in the ocean. Fortunately, many kind and benevolent Australians have also donated and $1.6 million (to date) has been raised.
In a generous offer from prominent Australians, at least $4.5 million will now be donated to assist those in need in Afghanistan. I agree with one of the comments on this page (thank you Damon Girbon) summing it up nicely by stating: ‘Once again it’s us the people picking up the pieces post-war and invasion. Our national leaders should be ashamed.’
Scotty from marketing should be ashamed of himself and his government. He – the epitome of the hollow man – who can only give us spin, weasel words and doublespeak, does not know how to lead but especially not in a crisis. He is either MIA or he is all talk and no action, full of announcements and no follow-through. He is more concerned with his “brand” than realising the enormous potential of his role.
This PM is not someone I would want to have my back in any crisis let alone leading an entire country — the “I don’t hold a hose, mate” and “it’s not a race” Morrison. He and his government are shameless.
The Australian Government should immediately increase the humanitarian intake of Afghan refugees to at least 20,000 visas to those most in danger and treat the situation like the international humanitarian crisis it is. As well, the Government should grant permanent protection to over 4000 Afghan refugees living in Australia who only have temporary visas.
Morrison is in a powerful position to actually make Australia a good country. “Good” in the sense that we help when we can, that we show empathy, that we listen and forward plan and most importantly, we act.
Rosalind Fuller is a retired primary school teacher, a mother of two and a grandmother of five with a lifelong interest in social justice issues and politics.
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