Tag Archives: Boat people

Gerard’s Christmas wish

27 Nov

Guest post today by Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger

Would Islam work better?  (The addicted gamblers demand it)

Well, if Catholicism was going to save us from the evils of gambling, or the moral spinelessness of our leaders, might it be prudent to look elsewhere for answers?  All our heavenly hope was vested in a leadership that would be benign, kind and benevolent.  So much hope got washed upon the shores of Christmas Island and despite promises that things would change for the better, it just doesn’t seem to have happened. Boat people are still languishing for years in detention. Suicides are almost  par for course with being a boat person. That’s what they do, don’t they? We provide them with three square meals, a bed and a flat screen television. If that’s not enough, that’s just tough. Go and jump.  Our hearts of stone will not be moved.


If we think changing leaders at the next round of elections will change anything, think again. The flipping and flopping about by Abbott is just so mind boggling, one wonders if his stint with the Jesuits did more harm than good. It is amazing how anyone making claims to having enjoyed a Christian grounding and professing to have a belief in a good and benevolent God can in this same strand of theological forbearance and profound insight, and in the same breath, ‘predict’ the rescinding of sensible poker legislation.

We know that there are more bad things as well, alcohol, obesity, smoking, drugs and much more that have proven to be so damaging to hundreds, if not millions of people. But, we made inroads in smoking but are now not able to take on the pokies. Why not? Where is the God in Abbott?

Perhaps it is time to ask; where is the Allah in Australia? If society is crumbling even with our long held beliefs in Christianity, should we swap for something a bit more solid, a bit more reliable, and a bit gutsier?  Of course, no- one is heralding the entry of religion in our government and we all dearly want to remain secular, but how would we would feel having a Member of Parliament, a Minister, if not a Prime Minister, holding Islamic beliefs?  What would we feel about a female MP for the seat of Bennelong wearing a headscarf, or a white-robed defense minister, for example? Could we cope, seeing we are hardly capable of accepting a couple of thousand from those hotbeds of Islam, Afghanistan and Iraq?

Might it not be wise and prudent to add up and balance some of the positives of Islam and its culture? They are against gambling and would most certainly soon sort out our gambling addiction. They do enjoy breeding and racing horses, so it doesn’t seem that bad. They don’t want a drop of alcohol and can you blame them, just look at us. Smoking the water-pipe and chewing khat leaves are ok. So is a bit of hashish, smoked or inhaled.

It is not as simple as we might believe and there are big differences even within the same country or the same religion. Islam is as diverse as Christianity.

We, here in Australia have the Friday night spectre of the pub’s ‘meat tray raffle’, or ‘happy hour’ with reduced prices for schooners. What do you think people from Islamic countries might make out of those peculiar cultural oddities? The pushing of buttons on glittering and light flickering machines by ladies with blue or pink hair could also easily be seen as a strange voodoo like habit.  And so it goes on, so many differences but also many similarities. We all share love, sadness, joy, vanity, modesty, greed, brutality, friendliness, hatred, spite, generosity, togetherness, and loneliness.

We need to be far more tolerant and informed about the rest of the world, especially when borders disappear and so many people with all sorts of beliefs are roaming to find peace and happiness.

May Allah be with us also.

Gerard blogs at  Oosterman Treats Blog

And here, Watermelon Man David Horton has written a timely meditation on holes in the ground.

The high cost of obstinacy

22 Aug

Guest post today by Gerard Oosterman, artist, farmer and blogger

The treasury informs us that 2.4 billion has been spent on detaining boat people since 2000. This has worked out at $100,000 per boat arrival. I wonder how long this stupid waste of money will be allowed to continue.

The tide in favour on off shore detention has been turning, and ever so slowly there now appears the realization that if not from a humanitarian but from a financial point of view, we might be better off to swallow our pride or blind obstinacy and simply do what the rest of the world has been doing for many years. That is, dealing with a difficult problem that presents itself directly on most of their doorsteps, on a never-ending and daily basis.

After all, not many countries have the luxury of submissive sovereign nations such as PNG and Nauru, or excised islands close by, where refugees can be sent and left to slowly languish while awaiting the assessment of their refugee status.

In the meantime, there are serious concerns expressed daily about the treatment of asylum seekers in detention. This treatment results in hundreds of cases of self harm, mental break-downs, riots and the involvement of the Australian Federal Police. These events ring alarm bells worldwide especially at the UNHCR.

No matter what we do to try to dissuade the boat people, they will continue to undertake dangerous voyages to escape their circumstances and find a better life for themselves and their children. They have little or nothing to lose.

So what is this deep fear that Australia has about boat people who, no matter what, will continue to arrive at our doorstep? Are they armed? Do they threaten Us? Do they come with murderous intent, do they come to rape and pillage? The general and not unreasonable assumption is that many more will arrive  if we let our guard down. That might well be true. So what?  Australia happily takes in more than a hundred thousand migrants in a year. If a thousand boat people a week arrive on our shores, what is the problem with that?

If we reduced our normal intake of migrants by fifty thousand we would still not increase the overall number. Consider that fifty thousand migrants from ‘normal’ channels are those that are in less urgent need than boat arrivals, then why not give priority to asylum seekers? Consider how our image would change overnight.

Currently, we are viewed with horror by many world-wide as images and have been since the Tampa. Then there are the terrible sights of refugees burning and self harming, and those terrible drownings at Christmas Island. Sometimes, the footage resembles Guantanamo Bay, where prisoners are also languishing after many years.

The advantage of age is the luxury of hindsight. I remember still a similar
fear of refugees and new-comers in the late fifties and sixties. The ‘reffos’ and Italians and Greeks were knife pullers and worse, garlic eaters. They would catch trains or buses while speaking strange languages. That fear for Southern Europeans later changed into a fear for the boat people from Vietnam. They would allegedly bring exotic diseases, and they wore funny hats.

All of those fears were unfounded. Can you imagine Australia without the huge benefits from all those brave enough to risk dangerous journeys to come here?
We would all still be slurping milk-shakes, eating meat pies with lamingtons for dessert, and thronging around the six o’clock swill pubs. Those killer Sundays, they were deadly quiet with just the stray dogs about,scratching their fleas at deserted suburban rail-stations. Instead, we have a lively and varied society.

We still seem to harbour similar fears against the Afghans, Burmese or Iraqis, again based on ignorance, prejudice and an unwillingness to change.

Why do we allow fear to compete so sadly with compassion?

Come on Aussies. Open your hearts. Take the risk and deal with those
unfortunate boat arrivals as best as we can. Deal with the problem with honesty and do it in Australia. Show the world we care and have compassion. We are the largest
and least densely population country in the world. Not just a country but a
complete continent with the smallest population.  Let’s also have the
largest hearts.

Gerard blogs at  Oosterman Treats Blog

Leaky boats and marshmallow pies

10 Jul

Johnny in the sky with rainbows

It was with a sense of “did this really happen” that I watched Leaky Boat on ABC TV on July 7. On ABCTV blog you’ll find a timeline of the events of 2001 from the “Tampa” to the “Children Overboard” affairs covered by this documentary, in case you’ve been on Mars for the last ten years, or overseas where they don’t have meltdowns over a few asylum seekers like we do.

Immediately following the doco there was a Q&A “leaky boat” special, with the usual suspects holding their usual positions. Because I’m bored witless by listening to the same old same old from absolutely everybody on this topic, I decided to pretend I was an intergalactic traveller who’d fetched up in Australia just in time to watch these programs. Of course I had an intergalactic knowingness that allowed me to immediately cotton on to what most of it was about. When I got bogged down, I asked the dog. If he told me without detectable bias I let him lie in front of the fire.

My task was to objectively observe the human talking heads and because I was extra terrestrial, I had no difficulty at all being objective.

I tuned in to everybody’s vibes before I tuned into their words. I have to say straight up that I didn’t take to anybody on an energy level. My antennae (disguised so no human could see them) vibrated something shocking when they picked up the mutual animosity, ill will, one-upmanship and totally negative emotion fairly radiating through the television screen. I found it intensely upsetting to be in the presence of such bad feeling, especially when Raye Coleby (of SBS Go Back to Where you Came From fame) started in on a couple of re-settled Muslim refugees about how they didn’t deserve to be safe in Australia because thousands upon thousands of other asylum seekers are trapped in hellish camps, especially in Africa, without the financial means some lucky Muslims have to get themselves out.

Apparently, the dog explained when I murmured a question into his silky ear, this argument is what’s known as the queue question, and the boat arrivals keep jumping it which everybody knows is bloody bad manners and apparently not a good start in a country where good manners are more important than anything else at all. (Really? Is that really true? Is the dog dissing me?)

The fact that a queue is also a Chinese pigtail is of absolutely no relevance here at all, the dog said when I asked.

Wait a minute, I thought, as I watched Coleby become more and more emotional over her Africans, and more and more aggressive towards the Muslims around her.  There’s no queue to get into Australia, not as we understand queues where I come from. A queue that isn’t a Chinese pigtail is when everybody lines up in an orderly fashion to get something somebody else is distributing. That never happens in refugee camps in Africa or anywhere else. People make an application, Australia chooses who it wants. That’s not a queue it’s a lottery. Doesn’t matter how well mannered you are in a lottery.

So what’s Coleby on about?

Then the dog showed me how to send a tweet. My tweet said: “Is that the “real” Scott Morrison?”  because I thought he might be an extra terrestrial like me, standing in for a human. Well, not like me because I come from a peaceful people and he got right in David Marr’s personal space and embarked on an offensive interrogatory attack that a lesser man than Marr might have clocked him for.

Why nobody threw their shoes at Scott is a mystery to me.

My tweet didn’t appear on the screen and for that I blame the dog who should have told me to say something more intelligent like the other tweeters did.

I have since checked my Twitter account and found that I have ten followers, including one who wrote about me in my human form: “She is a woman of strong opinions with a sparse Twitter following.” The dog just shrugged about that. It’s my own fault, he gave me to understand. You have to nurture your Twitter account, feed it, give it time and attention: it doesn’t just happen all by itself.

But I digress. From my lofty alien perspective I find the public arguments over boat arrivals have become so predictable as to be meaningless. I know exactly who is going to say what, and the tone in which they will say it. It’s like saying a word, any word, over and over again to yourself until it becomes incomprehensible. Both sides of the debate carry great burdens of animosity towards one another. Emotions are high, indeed the entire debate has been so appropriated by high emotion that there’s hardly anything else left in it. Anybody who tries to be rational and reasonable is outside of the parameters and won’t get a look in.

I don’t know what can be done about this, because  from the galactic perspective it looks like it’s becoming a kind of mutual masturbatory opportunity for sado-masochists to hurl and receive nasties, and is achieving nothing at all for people who arrive by boat.

It is, however, a sign of our extraordinary privilege that we can expend so much emotion abusing one another about a situation that is not likely to affect any of us. Who in the ABC’s audience at home and in the studio is likely to suffer even a smidgin of disadvantage from a few thousand boat arrivals being re-settled in this country?

Personally, being an intrepid cosmic traveller, I’m always interested to hear another traveller’s tales. I don’t get nearly as bored watching refugees tell their stories as I’m starting to get watching talking heads of all persuasions talking about refugee’s stories. I realise there’s a whole pro and anti boat people industry out there and my perspective will not be popular but I don’t care. I found Leaky Boat fascinating. It was good to see Arne Rinnan again. I found Go Back to Where you Came From fascinating because it humanized everybody involved.

But the talking heads, whether I agree with them or not, I’m over them. Let the people speak. Then I’ll hear.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river, the dog whispered in the firelight, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies…

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore, waiting to take you away,

Climb in the back with your head in the clouds and you’re gone…

That dog. He’s a bloody poet.

Really though, in all honesty I have to admit that when I’m back on earth in my usual form, minus antennae and universal perspective, I will probably just get stuck back into the brawl like I always have. I will jeer and sneer and give the finger with the best of them. I will gasp in outraged horror at something else Scott Morrison says, and I will continue to berate the Gillard government for it’s moral decline into unspeakably horrible plans to transport everybody to Malaysia where they may well be caned without first being stunned.

And why? Because I have to. Because even when it gets tiring and bogged down and you think it’s going nowhere you can’t stop. Because people who arrive in boats are my fellow humans and from that comes everything else, and when I can’t remember that any longer, I might as well sew up my lips,stuff up my ears, and close my kaleidescope eyes.

Foreign ownership or boat arrivals – which is most likely to invade and conquer?

4 Jul

On the Watermelon Blog on Saturday, David Horton notes that when a recent Greens’ survey revealed that 83% of mining companies in Australian are owned overseas there was, in his words, “a swift and predictable response from one of the egregious right wing think tanks whose role is to protect corporations from criticism.” Foreign investment is good for Australia, they brayed, and we have plenty of land to sell. They then called up the spectre of xenophobia, more commonly hauled out in “don’t stop till blood is spilt and maybe not even then” arguments over asylum seekers arriving by boat.

Horton raises the crucial matter of where we should draw the line at foreign ownership, and what assets are we willing to relinquish to foreign control. “What happens,” he asks, “when push comes to shove in a financial crisis or a raw material crisis?” We would be naïve indeed to imagine that foreign corporations give a toss about our welfare and wellbeing. Heck, even our own corporations aren’t overly concerned about any of that soft stuff.

‘So how many asylum seekers do YOU think we should allow?” is the question frequently and usually aggressively hurled at supporters by the anti boat people faction, who express deep fears of being overtaken, of losing our culture and Australian way of life, and of losing control of our boundaries and sovereignty if we open the gates and let the refugees in.

The arguments used by corporate interests against those who oppose unbridled foreign ownership, and those used by the anti boat arrival faction against those who support their re-settlement, are ironically similar. In the absence of reliably specific demographic evidence, I’ll make an assumptive  leap that there may well be those amongst the anti boat arrival group who would regard expanding foreign ownership as good for our country, while simultaneously railing about the catastrophic dangers posed to us by a few thousand boat arrivals. I have no proof of this – it’s a good subject for a poll.

In essence, it’s the same argument employed for very different purposes and by very different interests.

Wealthy foreigners in suits arriving first class by plane and bearing papers won’t want to live next door, and they won’t be a drain on the welfare system. That they might well be in a process of asset stripping the country is such an intangible that it can’t be seriously be raised to the level of a threat. As is frequently the case, the danger lies not in the obvious, and one doesn’t see it coming.

Those who struggle to bring the hidden danger into collective awareness are usually dismissed as a bunch of Cassandras, after the mythical woman blessed with foresight then doomed by Appollo  to be mocked and disbelieved when she revealed her predictions.

The conflation of the topics of boat arrivals and foreign ownership usefully highlights where the danger to this country’s future really lies. It’s not in the few thousand foreign asylum seekers fetching up in boats on our shores. It’s a pretty safe bet that none of them are going to own the rights to our water in the future. We probably don’t need to worry that any of them are going to buy up our prime farming land for mining, leaving us more dependent on imported food supplies when we can’t produce our own. It’s not very likely that any re-settled boat person is going to end up owning our energy companies, our transport companies, our stock exchange, or any of the other assets Horton lists as at possible risk.

In spite of the Greens raising the issue of the dangers of foreign ownership for our future and ultimately our sovereignty there will not be, I predict, anything like the furore over foreign investment that there is over boat arrivals.

Other than what spews forth from the corporations who stand to benefit enormously, of course, and we can likely prepare ourselves for billion dollar advertising campaigns as soon as any serious rumbling starts up.

It’s undoubtedly in the interests of corporations and governments that xenophobic fears (apparently endemic in some human communities) of being invaded and conquered are channeled away from the issue of foreign ownership, and into something as petty as a couple of thousand boat arrivals.

Go back part three: Don’t call me a leftie!

24 Jun

Abbott you've been dickrolled. by David Jackmanson via flickr

Go back where you came from: Part Three

I was amused to see Roderick, vice president of  a branch of the Young Liberals, appear again in last night’s episode sporting the tee shirt with Tony Abbott in a lifeguard’s bonnet and budgie smugglers on the front. Unfortunately I couldn’t read the slogan.

Later he showed up in Congo wearing Julia Gillard as a lemon on his chest. Roderick is to be commended for his commitment to furthering his goal, stated at the beginning of the series, that he did not intend to allow anyone to cast him as a leftie. He simultaneously pushed domestic political propaganda for the home audience, and I’m certain he is to be watched as a future politician.

I’m struggling with on-going ambivalence about this show. On the one hand, it’s a remarkable achievement. I mean, imagine the logistics involved in pulling it all together. Give credit where it’s due, I say.

The fusion of documentary and reality TV genres was inspired: while I found the Big Brother style narration a little irritating it certainly allows the program to speak to a broader audience than a straight doco. It was a clever marketing decision, and also  allowed the participants an on-going and authentic emotional engagement that would not have been as easy in a doco.

However, I’m unable to shake a sense of voyeurism and exploitation. I think this could have easily been avoided by including footage of whatever negotiations took place between the producers and the asylum seekers and refugees who took part in the program. We get very little sense of their agency: they are portrayed as largely without any.

While they obviously have severely restricted agency in determining the course of their lives, I think it would have been respectful and humanizing to at least show the audience how they were invited to take part, and how they accepted the invitation.

Instead, we are left with an impression that they passively exist for our consumption, while the agency of the white participants is taken for granted. Raquel, for example, was given a choice about visiting Congo and she declined.

At the same time, the face to face interactions between the Australians and the refugees worked extremely well to humanize them, counteracting the Gillard government’s on-going efforts at dehumanization by isolation.

As the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas pointed out, when we are denied interaction with the face of the other, we are denied interaction with our humanity and theirs. Go back to where you came from achieved a great deal in this regard, and this is one of it’s most powerful strengths.

Two participants did have their beliefs about boat people reinforced. Having seen the camps in which refugees languish for years awaiting resettlement, the sense of unfairness that these people should be usurped by boat arrivals was strong.

It’s probably entirely unreasonable to demand that anybody fleeing death and persecution should first consider others who may be worse off than even them. Such moral considerations are easy for those of us who are safe. Put any one of us in a war zone and we might well discard all moral niceties, and bolt to anywhere in any way we can.

Hopefully, the show will have gone some way to exposing the constellation of false assumptions that underly Australian attitudes to asylum seekers. But I’m not holding my breath.

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