Asylum seeker debates and racism

June 24, 2009

I’m watching Parliament on APAC. (Yeah, I know, geek.) The current debate is over an amendment to our Immigration Act. If passed, this amendment would abolish the current practice of charging asylum seekers the cost of their detention. Yes, you read that right. At the moment, an asylum seeker who arrives in this country via so-called ‘illegal’ means, is charged $125.40 per day for the privilege of being detained in a remote location, given subsistence housing and food, and subjected to psychological deprivation – all this after risking their lives and selling everything they own for a spot on a leaky boat run by people smugglers. These debts can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars for a family.

Wilson Tuckey, Coalition headkicker, rose to signal that the Coalition intended to vote against the bill. Here’s a summary of some highlights of his astonishingly offensive speech.

Those who risk their lives on boats are not legitimate asylum seekers. They are – in his words – ‘queue-jumpers’ who take opportunities away from ‘real’ asylum seekers who are well-behaved and wait their turn.

We should be careful who we allow to come into the country. While ‘not wishing to say anything about a person’s faith’ (his words again), we should look at all the Iraqi Christians who are currently waiting in refugee camps for re-settlement in one of the UN’s member countries. These people are well-educated. Often they’re doctors. Why, he knows some in his own electorate! Apparently they were so highly thought of in their own country that they were protected from harm by an unspoken order of the government. They speak English, can get good, high-paying jobs, and – best of all – wouldn’t incur a debt because they ‘wait their turn’. Just think of what an asset these people could be for our country.

By contrast, there are so many uneducated Muslims who are ‘queue-jumpers’, who don’t speak English and incur these debts. Take this example of a Muslim child who died recently. That family didn’t speak English and had never used a telephone, and travelled ‘when they shouldn’t have’ because the child was sick. They were photographed by the media in front of their ‘brand new unit’! Clearly, this shows that ‘these people’ are untrustworthy, dumb and dangerous. We have to stop these people coming to our country and take good, hard-working Christians instead.

Besides … if we don’t try to lumber ‘queue-jumpers’ with these debts, how will we pay back the money that the government borrowed to get us out of recession? We need to lock them up. We need to charge them money for this. It’d be downright un-Australian not to do that.

Bah. Urgh. Pardon me while I go wash my hand. Even typing that disgusting, lying, racist drivel makes me feel dirty.

Parliamentary privilege protects Tuckey from having to face any consequences for what he said. No one can call him legally to account. Maybe – just maybe – someone in the media will pick up on what he said and castigate him that way, but I doubt it. With ‘Utegate’ (or, ‘Email Overboard’, thank you Loki) in the news, this will be buried.

It shouldn’t be buried. It’s absolutely unacceptable that a representative of our government should be able to lie, to incite racial and religious hatred, and just get away with it.

***

The debate on the abolition of detention fees for asylum seekers goes on. Today, the member for Cowan proved that Wilson Tuckey isn’t the only disgusting racist in Parliament (or, as Crikey commentator First Dog on the Moon put it, ‘subhuman filth’).

Bronwyn Bishop had this to say on the subject of making people pay for the cost of their own detention: ‘It’s not unusual, it’s a fair and reasonable thing to do. It’s in the best interests of Australia, and in the best interests of those seeking to come to Australia’.

I’m wondering how she justifies that, considering that we don’t charge people who are incarcerated in prisons or mental health facilities for the cost of their detention. Somehow, the crime of desperation – of suffering such terrible stress that it drives people to risk their lives and cross the ocean in leaky boats – is worse than the crime of, say, murder.

On a more encouraging note, Russell Broadbent and Petro Georgiou have signalled their intention to cross the floor and vote in support of abolishing this atrocious practice. Broadbent, in fact, is up in front of the House right now doing a massive mea culpa for having been part of the Parliament who introduced this ‘vile legislation’ (his words) in 1992. ‘God forgive me,’ he just said.

This is the text of an email sent to both of these MPs:

“I am writing to offer my sincere congratulations for your brave stand in opposing your Party’s decision to vote against the abolition of charging detainees the cost of their incarceration.

“As I noted from your speeches in the House, this is clearly a decision that has caused some distress. Standing up in Parliament as you did, and signalling your intention to vote your conscience on this matter, is an exceptionally brave act, and shows you to be a person of great integrity.

“On behalf of my family, I thank you for this decision, and I would ask that you please pass on my thanks to any other Members of Parliament who are taking similar actions.”

Both those men – and, reportedly, at least two others – have drawn large targets on themselves by choosing to act like decent human beings instead of politicians. I think they deserve all the support they can get.


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