The Guardian September 12, 2001


Editorial:

Putting a fence around Australia

The latest proposal of the Howard Government to excise the Ashmore Reef 
and Christmas Island as places where refugees may lodge refugee 
applications must go down as one of the most bizarre proposals ever 
advanced.

It also indicates that the Government intends to put a fence around 
Australia to keep out even the tiny trickle of refugees that find a way to 
approach Australia's shores by way of boats.

The Government is lurching from one contemptible act to another and 
although it might temporarily win votes, it will have long-term and bad 
consequences for Australia.

Although Government Ministers vehemently deny that the Government's agenda 
is rooted in its drive to win re-election, the timing of their actions are 
certainly related to the elections and they do express the deep-seated 
racist attitudes of Howard personally and some other members of his 
government.

The Government believes that by beating the racist and anti-refugee drum it 
is on an election winner. But this could quickly change as the opportunism 
and immorality of the Howard Government's actions are more widely 
challenged.

The well attended protest demonstrations in Sydney and Adelaide in recent 
days are an indication that many do not accept the Government's policy and 
excuses.

Australia is a nation of migrants. Every family, apart from those of the 
Indigenous people are migrants or refugees or their descendants.The first 
illegal migrants were brought to Australia by Governor Phillip in 1788. 
They did not present their documents or receive the permission of the 
Aboriginal people to occupy their country.

But, the attitude of those who now selfishly want to keep the refugees out 
would be shamed by the words of Aboriginal leader Ray Robinson at the 
Sydney protest meeting last Sunday. In welcoming the audience to Aboriginal 
land he said we do not ask what passports or documents people have, they 
are welcome.

While the Prime Minister is urging the Liberal Party to put One Nation last 
on the ballot paper he is, in fact, implementing the exact policies of One 
Nation both as regards refugees and the Aboriginal people. Pauline Hanson 
has protested that the Government is stealing her policies having made the 
proposal last week to put Ashmore Reef and Christmas Island out of bounds.

For its part, the Labor Party is desperately hoping that the issue will go 
away. Rather than make a stand on principle and support Australia's 
international obligations and expose the Government's immoral policies, Kim 
Beazley is attempting to manoeuvre by talking of a bi-partisan policy and 
agreeing with the Government on most aspects of what it is doing.

However, the issue will not go away  the Government will see to that just 
as long as it feels it is winning votes by making refugees a main issue. 
This leaves the Labor Party with no alternative if it is not to lose an 
otherwise unlosable election, to stand up for what is right and just. The 
fact is that the 600 refugees who are now on the "Manoora" are a mere drop 
in the ocean. Even if all were given refugee status it would neither 
bankrupt the Australian economy nor upset social stability.

It is the promotion of racism by the Government and sections of the media 
that is destabilising Australian society. Migrants are not responsible for 
the promotion of racism.

There is a warning for those who promote racism in the results of the 
Auburn by-election in NSW. Premier Carr is personally responsible for 
branding one migrant community as responsible for a gang rape that is 
alleged to have occurred. Carr also promoted "law and order" as a major 
issue.His government is also responsible for a savage attack on Workers' 
Compensation entitlements and rights that affect all workers. The Labor 
Party's vote slumped in the by-election from 60 per cent of the primary 
vote to only 46 per cent. The Unity Party which campaigned on an anti-
racism platform won 10 per cent of the vote. The vote of One Nation 
declined from six per cent in the previous election to 4.5 per cent last 
Saturday.

The Howard Government is attempting to fence Australia off and turn the 
country into an exclusive ghetto but the Government's attitude is already 
bringing very widespread international condemnation. It is to be hoped that 
the Australian people will reject what are immoral, offensive and shameful 
policies.
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