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Wednesday, 28 March 2018

AJ English foists a lame “gotcha” moment on the world

A video produced by Zab Mustafa and presented on-camera by Tabish Talib appeared on the social graph yesterday and was gaining some support of people opposed to Australia’s offshore detention policy. This is a very emotive subject and people take extreme views without much concern about the truth of the information they deploy to support their positions.

This dishonest video provides the media company with what it thinks is a classic case of the “gotcha” moment, but ironically it also serves to underscore the strength of Australia’s claim to be a major mid-level global power. If you want to be taken seriously out there, you have to be prepared for some untruths being told about you. Americans no doubt find this to be true a lot of the time. With Australia it often comes down to the issue of racism.


The video aims to criticise the Coalition government, and especially Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, for extending a hand of welcome to white South African farmers who are apparently suffering persecution in their home country. In order to claim that Dutton is being motivated by racism, the AJ English team contrasts his offer with his treatment of refugees who have been locked up by Australia’s Border Force in prisons on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea, and on the Pacific island of Nauru. (The PNG refugees have now been released into the general community.)

The producers found two refugees, including one on Manus Island, Behrouz Boochani, who has been vocal in the past addressing the Australian community through articles in newspapers there. He is a Kurdish journalist. The other person the producers found is living in captivity on Christmas Island, which is located in a remote sector of the Indian Ocean.

At no point did the producers mention the reason for the offshore detention facilities, and neither did they say that the policy that funds them is bipartisan, meaning that both of the major political parties in Australia, the Coalition (Liberal-National) and the Australian Labor Party, own it. This is a damning aspect of the story and represents serious journalistic failure. Once upon a time, I subscribed to the satellite channel that carried Al Jazeera English but I would never go to them for information these days. They have no editorial standard for truth, and merely rely on sensationalism to achieve their editorial goals.

Because the offshore detention policy is bipartisan (actually it was introduced by the Keating ALP government in 1992), it is certain that the majority of Australian citizens agree with interrupting the business of people smugglers, who sell their services to desperate people flying from the Middle East to Indonesia and neighbouring countries, and put their lives at risk in unsafe boats on the high seas. I have written about refugees on the blog before, most recently on 14 August last year, when I suggested establishing a refugee processing centre in Jakarta.

Australia is a welcoming nation and has immigration at levels now that its people have never seen before. From the Australian Bureau of Statistics website:
The Census shows that Australia has a higher proportion of overseas-born people (26%) than the United States (14%), Canada (22%) and New Zealand (23%). What about the United Kingdom, you say? Not even close (13%).
Forty-nine percent of Australians have at least one parent born overseas. The country welcomes over 200,000 every year people (with a total population of 25 million) through its immigration programs, including the refugee program that the AJ English video attempts to criticise.

In fact, immigration levels are so high that there are now debates in the community about their sustainability. What those debates rarely focus on, however, is race. The major independent party that includes racism in its policy platform, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, only got 13 percent of the vote in the 2017 Queensland state election. Queensland is Hanson’s home state. They got one seat in the Parliament there. The issues most people talk about when they think about immigration these days are overcrowding on roads and on trains, and the high cost of residential accommodation (both rented and purchased).

These are much bigger issues for average Australians because they have to cope with them every day, and they are things that Australian cities, particularly Melbourne and Sydney, where most immigrants end up living, will have to deal with.

They go there because that’s where the jobs are. Ironically, in Sydney, it is the “small city” policies of the former ALP premier, Bob Carr, that are making the current Berejiklian Coalition government look so good. In power from 1995 to 2005, Carr had plenty of chances to build new rail lines to serve the city’s growing suburbs but failed each time. Even after he had stepped down as party leader in NSW, the party did not change its policies with regard to public transport. Now, the Coalition, the party of private enterprise, is doing what the ALP should have done all those years ago: build more public transport.

If you want to vote for a party that wants to close down the detention camps, you can choose the Australian Greens, although their support has never got beyond about 15 percent. In the 2018 Tasmanian state election, the Greens won just over 10 percent of the popular vote, and that brought them two seats. The result was down from almost 14 percent in the 2015 election. In South Australia, the 2018 state election brought the Greens about 6.6 percent, again down a couple of percent on the previous election. In the 2017 Queensland state election, the Greens won a seat in the Parliament with 10 percent of the vote, which was up a percent-and-a-half on the previous state election. In the federal Parliament, the Greens have controlled the balance of power in the Senate and that is currently their point of greatest influence in federal politics, which is where immigration policy is decided.

As for South African farmers, if they want to come to Australia, we should welcome them. South Africans have been coming here for years, most notably immediately before and after the dismantling of Apartheid-era government. But they should have to join the queue just like everyone else who wants a better life in a pluralist democracy.

Claims of racism are often still aimed at Australia because of the historical settlement that dated from federation in 1901, when the originary British colonies finally decided to come together as a single country with a single name. One of the first laws passed in the new Parliament that year was the so-called “White Australia” policy, and it remained in force until it began to be dismantled by Coalition governments in the late 1960s. It was finally expunged from the statutes in 1973 by the ALP’s Gough Whitlam, who brought in multiculturalism to replace it as official government policy. The subsequent Fraser Coalition government decided to keep multiculturalism on the statutes, making the policy bipartisan from the very beginning. Australia was only the second country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as official policy.

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