Australia — A post in support of a more compassionate refugee policy.

Following the Christchurch terrorist attack, Jacinda Adern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, with much empathy and compassion, said that the attack on the Muslim community in New Zealand, was an attack on all New Zealanders, because “We are one.  They are us.”  Her words resonated with me, but I had no words to express my sorrow at the death and injury inflicted by one of my countrymen (allegedly).  I kept getting stuck on the question – if the murderer is Australian, does that then mean he is us and we are him?  I suppose many Australians would completely reject this notion.  After all, Australia is a multicultural country and for the most part, we live peacefully with one another.  But still, I wanted to know what was in people’s hearts, because how can love and compassion create a more tolerant, inclusive society if, deep down, we are afraid, uninformed, or worse, just plain racist?

So I dug around looking at some polls and surveys on the attitude of Australians to immigrants, and Muslim immigrants in particular.  What I found shocked me.   The 2016 Essential Research poll found 49 per cent of Australians support a ban on Muslim immigration, including 60 per cent of Coalition (LNP) voters, 40 per cent of Labor voters and 34 per cent of Greens voters.  Other polls also indicate that such attitudes are widespread.  In some parts of Sydney, opposition to Muslim immigration is much higher.  Reasons for wanting the ban were fears over terrorism, and a belief that Muslim migrants do not integrate into society or share Australian values.  Islamophobia has been fanned by new political opportunists, established political parties, and by elements of the popular press.  “Illegal” boat arrivals (not actually illegal) have become the symbol of this fear and the battleground for a more tolerant Australia.   We are a divided nation; there is no “I am, you are, we are Australian.”

If it helps, I can tell you stories of how I lived and worked with many Australian immigrants, including a number of people of Islamic faith.  My experience of multiculturalism has been overwhelmingly positive.  I can tell you about the time I shared a house with my friend, T, who had emigrated from Malaysia.  He and his family always made me feel welcome.  I could tell you about how I worked with a woman originally from Jamaica.  She was such a positive role model.  I could also tell you about my former work colleague, M, who is gentle, gracious and intelligent, and a Muslim.  A hard-worker and trustworthy, M treats everyone with respect.  Unlike many others, M does not engage in office politics, back-stabbing or displays of self-aggrandisement.  They are all good, decent Australians.  Stories like this are common, not the exception.

An Australian school.

Of course, not everyone has had the opportunities I’ve had to mix with people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.  Or the opportunity to go to good quality, well-funded public schools and universities.  Or to have a travel commute of 20 minutes (it is not a trip I take these days and I understand that the commute is twice as long now).  Or to have the opportunity of getting a hospital bed promptly at a time when our public hospitals were once well funded and served a smaller population.  Buying a house was also within my reach.  However, times are certainly changing and demand for public services and housing is much greater now.  Perhaps we should blame the growing number of migrants for pressures on our public infrastructure and escalating house prices?  Or maybe there are other reasons that these same opportunities are scarcer these days and inequality is increasing?

In relation to asylum seekers, there are countries where people are persecuted for the religious, political and social views they hold, and those countries are not just those with a predominantly Muslim population.  Perhaps there are many people living in fear in those places, but they are unable to speak out against tyranny.  Should we characterise everyone in those countries by the governments that represent them or the extremists that operate within them?  Are we (Australians) any better than those persecutors if we then demonise those who seek sanctuary in our country?  Should we blame refugees for the trauma they bring with them, or should we help them heal, perhaps by providing some of the compassion and empathy that Jacinda Adern has so admirably demonstrated?

We are all different; in my opinion, it is not our skin colour or religious beliefs that define us as Australians.  Nor are Australians defined by how long we’ve been here or how we measure up to some idealised notion of our national identity (I would not be caught dead in a bikini on Cronulla beach).  We are not even defined by our level of patriotism, or lack thereof.  We are who we are, and sometimes we are not great (I’m talking about all you bitches and bastards out there), and sometimes we are bloody brilliant.  We just are.  And that goes for Australian Muslims, or Australian-born Christians.  Some great, some not so great.  It is the same the world over, don’t you think?

That is not to say I am not concerned about the spread of terrorism and ensuring the safety of our citizens.  I am.  That’s why I want our Government’s assessment of risk and response to terrorism to be rigorous, egalitarian (ie. non-discriminatory) and as expeditious as possible.  I want our political leaders to be unequivocal in their words and actions (and not hedge their bets) in welcoming migrants of all faiths or of none, to the extent that is economically and environmentally possible.  Settling refugees costs the tax payer money, whereas skilled migrants contribute more than they cost  (financially).  I understand this, but I want Australia to willingly accept more refugees, not less.  This is important because I want Australia to be a country that gives and not just takes.  Further, I want all Australians and those wanting to become Australian, to reject the politics of envy and fear, as well as the mean-spirited policies and programs that go with that.

Finally, I decry the use of slogans — such as “Stop The Boats” — to demonise those willing to sacrifice their lives to reach sanctuary.  And yet, as I stood before the memorial to the 353 men, women and children who lost their lives on the SIEV X (a boat carrying hopeful refugees to Australia), I am adamant that we not encourage unscrupulous people smugglers who force vulnerable people onto unseaworthy vessels.

Each pole represents one of the 353 refugees who drowned at sea on the journey of the SIEV X in 2001.  This occured during an election campaign and the fate of these people was politicised.
The SIEV X was 20 metres in length. The poles arranged in the boat shape, show the size of the boat.  It was carrying over 400 asylum seekers.

It doesn’t have to be that way.   We don’t have to be cruel to be kind.  Did that strategy ever work without causing untold damage?  Is that who we really are?  We could instead build a peaceful and tolerant coalition of the willing across the political spectrum, that would lead a change in community attitudes to Muslims and refugees, and would work together to prevent profiteering from refugees, and I mean that in more ways than one.  Is that really too much to ask?

Kind Regards.

Response to the Ragtag Daily PromptCourage.
This also seems to fit with VJ’s Weekly ChallengeCompassion.

40 thoughts on “I Am, You Are, We Are Australian – Or At Least We Could Be

  1. Tracy, this is a brilliant essay. I wish everyone in the world would read it and think about what you’ve written. Replace the word “Australian” with “American” (meaning specifically the United States) and the article is just as accurate.

    I was at a social gathering a few days ago with right wing folks who brought up the current immigration problem. I pointed out that they’re people not trying to enter the US illegally but under legitimate international terms of seeking asylum. The host asked me about when my family came to the US and I answered in the very early 20th century via Ellis Island. I think he was trying to suggest that my family didn’t really have a right to be in this country or that he had somehow been personally magnanimous in letting us in. He then pugnaciously said that his family came in the 1600’s LEGALLY – his emphasis.

    Of course there was no legal or illegal entry at that time because the US was not a country but a British colony – if you could get here, you could stay. He ignored the obvious: this land was already occupied by Native Americans who didn’t want nor invite his ancestors. He also ignored that his ancestors came for the very same reasons that current refugees want to enter the US: they are looking for safety from dangerous political, religious, or criminal systems in their birth countries.

    They want economic opportunity not available in their birth countries. Nobody leaves behind a palatial home where they have political power, religious freedom, and economic opportunity – not in the 1600’s, not in the beginning of the 20th century, not today. Populations migrate for need and safety.

    The real irony of the argument is that we live in California – once part of Mexico! It was an ugly ending to an otherwise lovely afternoon, a discussion his wife instigated because she loves to pretend to be sweet when she’s really completely selfish. Such a skewed, self-righteous view.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh dear, you have my sympathies, Sharon. It doesn’t sound like your friends wanted to have an open, respectful conversation with you at all. They just wanted to be right. I have often been quite bigoted and racist in my own views over my lifetime, sometimes because of ignorance and sometimes because of fear. Initially, I’ve been quite dismissive when challenged but once I’ve had a chance to think more about some of the points raised and had a chance to look at issues from many different perspectives, I’ve then changed my mind. I really don’t know how my family came to this country. It would be nice to know. I have an inkling that I wouldn’t be proud of some of my family’s personal history.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. It’s wise to take a look at family history, accepting whatever is noble or wretched, but we can’t take responsibility or we wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning. Anyway, we are each and all responsible in our way for each and all of us.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Bravo, Tracy! There is a lot I would like to say but I wouldn’t be able to do so cogently. Australia or India, we all face this problem but refuse to acknowledge it. All I can say is I agree with you. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a primary teacher in Sydney for many years, I taught children of many different faiths and colours, beginning with Vietnamese ‘boat people’ during the 70s. Some of my classes resembled a smaller version of the class in your photo. Teaching these children broadened my understanding of people from other cultures and I regard it as a very positive time in my life. Many of the children I taught had experienced hardship we can barely imagine, especially those coming across the ocean in small boats, a journey which no one undertakes without a very good reason. These children were, in the most part, polite and eager to learn, and if they weren’t, then there were most probably suppressed horrors and images to account for that.

    Refugees may cost more to settle in Australia, but before long they and their families contribute to our society and pay back what they cost with hard work and a zest for education and betterment. There are many examples of refugees who have worked so hard and become leaders in their field of expertise.

    It saddens me to read the first comment as I know this sort of thing is replicated in Australia often.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree, Jane. And we should be celebrating that contribution. We are so much richer as a country as a result.

      One of the nuances though is that the success of migrants is often seen as occurring at the expense of those who have lived here for generations. Some research I stumbled across indicated the academic performance of children of migrants compared to the children of 3+ generation Australians is better. Part of the reason is, as you’ve pointed out, is that migrants want a better life than they had before. However this, together with an increase in inequality, could mean that resentment festers. In that context, the Luke Foley comment was quite unhelpful, further adding to the resentment. That’s why I think we need to change our policy settings to address inequality. But that’s just my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. You are so skilled at expressing your beliefs. You do your research! I agree with you . Have you thought of sending this to a newspaper so all people can reflect on what you are saying? This applies to so many Western Nations, Canada included.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Heather, thank you for your encouragement. I’m so pleased that you think this piece adds something on this subject that is worth sharing with a wider audience. It was difficult to write because I really wanted to try to understand why many good people felt so afraid. I haven’t considered approaching any newspapers/news sites. That seems a big move to me. I would be happy if it helped any of my readers reflect on some of the points when confronted with these attitudes. I don’t know about you, but I’m often left speechless in the face of bigoted outbursts.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I think your writing does give people the opportunity to reflect. I too have felt speechless, and ashamed that I haven’t spoken out. Last year, I was reading Better Conversations by Jim Knight and he has a chapter on “toxic conversations” and talks about shaping the conversations around us to avoid toxicity (racist, sexist, and homophobic, as well as anything that puts people down or stereotypes people) It definitely got me thinking how my silence contributes.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Your words apply fully in 🇨🇦! Some Canadians see the value of immigrants and some do not. Immigration is key to the future and current prosperity of Canada and without immigrants many jobs would not be filled. Brilliant analysis Tracy.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. National identity is a mystery to me (unless I were Swiss, then I’d claim it and understand why but that’s a totally separate and personal thing, irrelevant to this discussion). We live on ONE GLOBE. Our actions affect people half a world away. So what’s the deal? The other day I was passing the baseball field of the local high school. They’d just turned on the National Anthem (poorly sung, BTW) and people passing on the street had stopped and put their hands on their hearts hearing some screeching recording of female doing a slip-sliding, note-evading gospel rendition of a song that’s already too long. That’s not patriotism. That’s idiocy. Patriotism is caring responsibly for the people in our world, not only the people who are the same color as us or the same religion or even within the same arbitrarily drawn national perimeters. I am Australian though I live in Colorado and you, Tracy, are a Coloradan.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Ours either. But don’t learn the stupid Star Spangled Banner. Learn America the Beautiful instead. It’s appropriate to any wide and gorgeous empty land. And it was inspired by the mountains of our home state, Colorado. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m so glad that some of your followers mentioned that your words apply fully to Canadians. I totally agree. And your post is brilliant, Tracy! As a journalist, I have written a few pieces on the topic of immigration and met many Muslim immigrants, who just wanted to make a better life for themselves and their families. I concurred, ignorance and fear of “others” is what leads to a lack of tolerance. I don’t know what it will take to make this change, but I do hope that it will happen someday. Perhaps, when we all have to unite to face an even bigger problem… Sorry for being a bit pessimistic.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. There has been an explosion of refugee claims in Canada in 2017 and 2018, including thousands of irregular migrants. Delays for visa are still too long over here too.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. In the first three months about 4,000 irregular immigrants crossed into Canada and claimed to be refugees which is their right by Canadian Law. Once a person makes a refugee claim in Canada they are entitled to legal protections as provided by Canadian law and are entitled to an adjudication before a judge. Irregular immigrants have not entered Canada though a Port of Entry but have crossed without reporting to Customs and Immigration. By treaty such immigrants are called irregular but to those opposed to such immigrants, disingenuously frame the debate by calling them “illegal.” This issue has become very charged politically for partisan reasons. It has become a wedge issue among some of Canada’s political parties, as some politicians want to appeal to their ‘Populist’ constituents some of whom are right wing supporters.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I wish this were the front page of our national media! A great essay on a shocking issue. That we would subscribe to fear and found it in ignorance is depressing for a nation with a great education system (by comparison). Wonderfully written and this too speaks for me. And yes, we could be – one day/

    Liked by 1 person

  10. ‘’ Why Governments have fallen on this issue,” is confounding to me. The issue of welcoming immigrations is often framed as a safety issue by the opponents. In the last Canadian 2015 Federal election one party offered a snitch line and urged that deplorable cultural practices of immigrants be reported. This offer was seen as a bit of a head scratcher as many Canadians couldn’t name any deplorable cultural practices. The election seemed to turn on the press photograph of a drowned three year old Syrian boy on a beach. The newly elected government brought in over 20,000 Syrian immigrants to mixed reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is framed as a safety issue here too. But if it were just a safety issue, we would have very different policies. Deeds often do not match the words either. The media also inflames prejudice and has been actively campaigning for parties and individuals that support their viewpoint. There have been terrorist attacks here. Horrendous. Condemned by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This reinforces fear. We committed to taking in some 12,000 Christian Syrians too. I don’t know how many of that 12,000 have settled.

      It seems to me that political parties know what appeals to their voters. In future, countries will not be able to cope with the mass movement of refugees. Political rhetoric built entirely on tolerance will not be consistent with the war footing towards which our foolish actions are driving us. Sorry to be so pessimistic. But as you can gather from my post, I think we need to resist spreading hate.


  11. I can understand why it was so difficult for you to write this post, Tracy – it is a very difficult topic to address. Fear of the unknown always seems to lead to hate and self-rightousness. To draw a line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ seems to be the easiest thing done, and so many people draw the line willingly and without any kind of second thoughts.
    Our chancellor is opposed by her very own party because of her refugee politics. Too many people are voting more and more rightsided parties and I’m afraid that this will lead to something very awful again. It’s worrying that this copied all over Europe now.

    Liked by 1 person

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