Friday, June 24, 2005

Mike Steketee: Fixing this absurd system should be mandatory: "HAVING been denied political asylum, Chinese diplomat Chen Yonglin, together with his wife and six-year-old daughter, should be picked up immediately and put into a detention centre. With the customary efficiency of the Immigration Department, the Refugee Review Tribunal and the courts, it should then take only a few years to determine whether they are refugees. In the meantime, they would be safe from Chinese goons.

"Only joking. Chen's case highlights the absurdity of a system that discriminates between refugees according to how they arrive in this country. Those who carry a visa and apply within 45 days to stay as refugees can live in the community on bridging visas that entitle them to work, Medicare benefits and, in some cases, welfare. These claims are running at 3000 to 3500 a year. In a typical year, fewer than 15 per cent are successful. Those who are become permanent refugees with the full rights of Australian residents and access to English-language classes and job placement services.

"By contrast, those who come by boat are locked up, mostly behind razor wire in remote camps. They have no entitlements other than being allowed to lodge an application for refugee status. Of the 9160 who did so between July 1999 and June 2002, 8260 were assessed as refugees; 90 per cent compared with the 15 per cent who come by air."

The assault on boatpeople (the nonsensical mandatory detention and 'pacific solution' policies) is racist and political in origin. Howard's strategy has been to recognise the existence of racist sentiment in Australia (as plainly demonstrated by Hanson and her 1m votes) and deliberately manoeuvre to ultimately pick up that vote. This has been the basic approach through the whole of his 9 years of government, and the secret of his lasting success. At the same time a number of people in the political establishment have either failed to admit that the racist sentiment exists or naively expected Howard to distance himself from it, instead of exploiting it in the most calculated and skilled manner possible.

The approach to racism (or nationalism, sexism, fundamentalism, homophobia etc) has to be the same as ever: expose and condemn it, both as irrational and inhumane in itself; and as a tool of ruling elites used to divide the public from their genuine interests.

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