Will it make any difference now the newspapers are full of what some
people knew all along - that the story used by the Howard Government
most used to demonise Middle Eastern refugees - and to create a
public atmosphere of fear and loathing conducive to winning the
election - was a complete lie? (For those who don't know, during the
last election, run as a war campaign, Howard condemned in the most
violent terms refugees who had allegedly thrown their children into
the sea from a boat "to blackmail the Australian people". Two
inquiries have found out that not only was this not true, but that
both Reith and Howard knew it was not true while they were condemning
"these people" all over Australia.)
I wonder. It seems that Howards last notoriously exposed lie (the
"non-core promise") made no difference. In the meantime, we seem to
be the only country in the world going all the way with George Bush
in his plans for a wider "war on terrorism". In the meantime, asylum
seekers are still locked in prisons. Is Australia so used to bad
conscience? I ask this partly in bewilderment, partly in anger,
partly in cynicism. I know that some Australians aren't, and it's
interesting that the Churches are being marginalised as "radical
trouble makers" - this despite our "family values" government. Very
That radical publication Australian Catholic, sent home with my kids,
has a useful myth/fact box on refugees in its current issue:
Myth: Boat people are queue jumpers.
Fact: In Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no queues for people to
jump. There is no standard refugee process... Few countries between
the ME and Australia are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention
and as such asylum seekers are forced to continue to travel to
another country to find protection.
Myth: They're not real refugees anyway.
Fact: 97 per cent of applications from Iraq and 93 per cent of
applicants from Afghanistant seeking asylum without valid visas in
1999 were recognised as genuine refugees...
Myth: They must be "cashed up" to pay people smugglers.
Fact: The UNHCR estimates that payments made to people smugglers in
fact range from $4000 to $5000 AUD...
But perhaps the most startling figures are that it now costs $104 a
day per head to detain asylum seekers. "Community-based alternatives
proposed by a select committee of the NSW Parliament include parole
($5.39), probation ($3.49) and home detention ($58.83) - all per
person per day."