As most of you probably know by now, I am happy to be living in Australia. Although it does restrict my career opportunities, it is a great environment, and the people are very friendly and genuine for the most part. It is also the most multicultural place I’ve ever been, in as much as different races and cultures mix here very freely, and there’s lots of wonderful multicultural events. Like everywhere though, there’s still an undercurrent of racism here, and that was probably never more apparent than during the “Tampa election” of 2001. John Howard, faced with electoral annihilation in the wake of his immensely unpopular GST (goods and services tax), decided to tap into the one issue that he thought might be explosive enough to make people forget about the GST: he played the “race card”. He ordered the navy to stop a Norwegian cargo vessel carrying Afghani asylum seekers (MV Tampa) from entering Australian waters, so they couldn’t land on Australian shores and have their claims for asylum processed here. Shortly after that, September 11 happened, and the anti-Muslim sentiment precipitated the biggest turn around in the polls in Australia’s history. Just like fellow conservative George W. Bush in the US, fear of terrorism turned a deeply unpopular leader into a hero overnight.
Never mind the fact that these actions were completely illegal under international law, and showed an astonishing lack of humanity toward everyone onboard MV Tampa (including its Norwegian crew). But John Howard, being the utterly ruthless and totally immoral and unprincipled politician that he was, didn’t care about international law or compassion. He only cared about winning elections, so he milked the incident for all it was worth. He hastily cobbled together the so-called “Pacific solution” for processing asylum seekers offshore, in this case on the tiny island nation of Nauru. It turned out to be a hugely expensive farce, as almost all these asylum seekers turned out to have a legitimate claim, and many were resettled in Australia (as well as New Zealand). But that didn’t come out until well after the election, and Howard didn’t care how much money he had to spend to win either. He ran TV and radio ads and had posters and billboards with his photo, proclaiming “we decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come”. And he used all other asylum seekers who tried to land here as political pawns as well. This lead to the infamous “children overboard” affair immediately before the election, when John Howard claimed that asylum seekers threw their children overboard, so he could say “these aren’t the kind of people I want entering Australia”. But not only was this claim totally untrue, an Australian Senate Select Committee found that he knew it was false before the election. He clearly just wanted to demonise asylum seekers so he could win the election.
Now, with Howard’s reign firmly over, I would have hoped we’d never see a return to those dark days of Australian politics ever again. Yet with the conservatives trailing massively in the polls, it seems they’re willing to try anything again, and sadly, with the recent explosion of a boat carrying asylum seekers in Australian waters, they are returning to this tried and true vote winner. It started with our only conservative Premier, Colin Barnett, claiming they brought about the explosion themselves by dousing their boat with fuel. So as to avoid another children overboard affair, the federal government responded by saying that they would not make any comment on the cause of the incident until a full police investigation had taken place. The Northern Territory’s Chief Minister, who is in charge of the police investigation of the incident, has told politicians not to interfere with police by commenting on it as well. Yet that hasn’t stopped the conservatives from trying to make as much political capital as they can out of it, by claiming there’s a police and government cover-up of the incident. They’ve said the government should reintroduce John Howard’s “temporary protection” visas, which did nothing except take away the legal rights of asylum seekers arriving here by boat. At the same time, they are outrageously trying to claim the moral high ground by saying this is to deter people smugglers, when all they are really doing is (once again) demonising asylum seekers. The only reason asylum seekers would burn their own boat is to stop it from being towed out of Australian waters, a practice which started with the Howard government! So it is in fact their policies which led to this tragedy.
It saddens me and sickens me that the conservative side of Australian politics is once again using destructive wedge politics in a cynical attempt to try and grab votes. I can only hope the electorate is enlightened enough to not be fooled by this en masse again. If they are, it will mean John Howard has left a permanent scar on Australian politics—and by extension, Australian society as a whole.
In other news, I am very disappointed that Australia is boycotting the anti-racism conference in Geneva this week. How on earth does this help anything? If they’re concerned Arab nations will use it as an opportunity to say Zionism is a form of racism, shouldn’t they (and the other countries that have boycotted it on these grounds) be there to stand against it? Perhaps they are concerned they won’t be able to make a convincing case that Zionism isn’t racism? This once again demonstrates the remarkable amount of political influence Jews have in the west, and how their actions undermine their own cause—it seems you can’t even talk about Zionism without being branded an anti-Semite.