In a briefing to Tony Abbott yesterday, Department of Immigration secretary Andrew Metcalfe warned the Opposition leader that on-shore processing of asylum seeker claims would lead to 600 boat arrivals a month. This would cause overcrowding in detention centres making community release inevitable, and this in turn would cause tensions between asylum seekers and the community comparable to those that allegedly led to the rioting in Paris in 2010, and more recently in London.
It’s enough to make a grown woman cry.
Without offering any evidence at all for this causal chain, Metcalfe takes it upon himself, along with his officials, to offer unsubstantiated opinion that is divisive, hostile, demonizing, racist and irresponsible. Is this an indicator of the culture inside the Immigration Department? Of course it is.
Metcalfe then makes a fantastical leap, linking riots in Paris with the riots in London and other UK cities, just because they’re all riots, I suppose. Just because people from non Anglo cultural backgrounds took part in both of them, as did whites, but don’t mention that. Just because immigrant families were involved in the Paris riots and some immigrant families took part in the UK riots. Or just because Mr Metcalfe and the Immigration Department don’t like refugee families who arrive by boat from the Middle East and Metcalfe just has a feeling in his water that they’ll riot if they get out into the community in sufficient numbers just like they have in Paris and London.
Metcalfe doesn’t have to substantiate this ignorant drivel before he and his staff broadcast it to Australia, it’s sufficient that they think it for it to become their professional advice to politicians.
Even the most superficial assessment of the Paris and London riots would concede that there were very different factors at work. The Paris riots broke out in a self-described immigrant ghetto on the outskirts of the city, where young French citizens, ostracised because of their skin colour and/or their immigrant parentage, rioted against French President Nicholas Sarkozy‘s right-wing anti-immigration rhetoric, and the miserable and disadvantaged circumstances of their lives.
The UK rioters came from a much wider demographic, and overt political protest was not a motivating factor. Few of the UK rioters could be described as living in ghettos comparable to those in Paris. But a riot is a riot, according to Metcalfe. Let’s not split hairs. If they’re from another culture, the Middle East in this case, if they’re refugees and if there’s enough of them, they’ll riot, causing social upheaval, fear and destruction in previously safe Australian communities.
The asylum seeker debate, (though to call it a debate is to dignify it) is top-heavy with unsubstantiated codswallop useful only to those who harbour the evil desire to whip up fear and uncertainty in the community. Has everybody turned into Pauline Hanson, because what’s come out of the Immigration Department in the last twenty-four hours could have been written by her.
We are awash with these generalizations, that are nothing better than lies and obfuscation. They are not argument and they are not debate. It’s unacceptable that public servants are given free rein to express uninformed and ignorant racial prejudices in the guise of advice to politicians. There’s opinion and there’s advice. The latter requires evidence and substance. Metcalfe’s conflation of the London and Paris riots is ignorant personal opinion, and to use ignorant personal opinion as the basis for policy advice to government and politicians is unprofessional.
On August 16 Andrew Metcalfe fronted a parliamentary inquiry into mandatory detention of boat arrivals, and suggested that politicians should consider the usefulness of detention as a deterrent. He also urged them to consider how to achieve a better balance between our international obligations and our need for border security. At the time, some of us were encouraged by Metcalfe’s stand, however in view of yesterday’s irresponsible claims, it would seem his racist fear of rioting Middle Eastern immigrants trashing our communities will inevitably dominate and prejudice his thinking.
Is this another example of senior public servants telling politicians what they think the politicians want to hear? Or have we been granted an insight into a racist culture in the department that nicely corresponds with both government and opposition policies? Is racism so ingrained in this country’s asylum seeker/border protection policies that neither senior public servants nor politicians no longer feel any need to even attempt to conceal it?
- Officials warn of boat influx (theage.com.au)