The politicians of the two mainstream parties in Australia, Liberal and Labor, have worked themselves up into a frenzy as they battle each other to see who can make life the most miserable for boatpeople in order to attract a vote from the Australian people as they head to the polling booths in three weeks time. To listen to the debate during this campaign one could be forgiven for thinking that the upcoming election is more of a referendum about boatpeople than the political future of Australia. It seems almost as though Australians are being asked to decide how best we can make life as difficult as possible for people who come to Australia by boat – and all this on the pretext of ‘stopping the drownings’.
The ‘stopping the drownings’ argument is a furphy, however; the drownings can be stopped instantly by the simple expediency of either flying asylum seekers to Australia or providing seaworthy boats.
Politicians are also exaggerating the boatpeople impact on Australia’s immigration policy. Labor’s Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr, has stated that boatpeople could account for some 20% of immigration to Australia. This is just fearmongering nonsense. The figures suggest something different. At worst, if boatpeople arrivals continued at the same rate as the first six months of this year with some 13,000 boatpeople arrivals, then boatpeople over the year would account for less than 13% of Australia’s nominated intake of 210,000 for the year – a number that can easily be absorbed into the Australian community across the nation.
Despite the impression Australian politicians want to give about boatpeople, the reality is somewhat different. According to the Australian ABC’s Vote Compass project, which at last look had attracted some 780,000 respondents, Australian’s biggest concerns by far is the economy – not the boatpeople issue.
So, who are driving the politicians over the boatpeople issue if it’s not the Australian people?
The answer is simple: it is the extreme right-wing commentariat, particularly those within the Murdoch empire such as Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair, Piers Akerman, Janet Albrechtsen, Gerard Henderson, et al, who dominate Australia’s media. By writing opinion pieces that are anti-boatpeople and then running public opinion polls that reflect their views they give the impression to politicians that the boatpeople issue is the main concern for Australians and that they don’t want boatpeople in Australia. Because to say so outright gives the impression that this reflects a racist attitude, all sorts of excuses are used to deflect the accusation. These include: stopping the drownings, (a current favourite in the light of recent tragedies); that boatpeople are queue-jumpers, that boatpeople are really economic migrants, and so on. The real reason, of course, that the noisy minority don’t want boatpeople in Australia is because they are not white European people as will be the vast majority of the 210,000 migrants who would otherwise make up the quota for the year.
It’s as simple as that. Why the non-Murdoch media can’t face up to this reality and call it as it is – racism – is beyond me. What’s to be scared of?
Australian politicians are making political mountains out of boatpeople molehills.