Sydney’s Historical Revisionism – divisive not productive

Last night the City of Sydney Council voted to use the word ‘invasion’ to describe the arrival of European settlement in Australia in official council documents. The decision was made under the threat of the resignation of the Aboriginal advisory panel if the word was not used. However, instead of moving Sydney and Australia forward, the decision by the City of Sydney has opened up a can of historical worms with its attempts at revisionism.

The reality is Australia was settled not invaded. If Australia was invaded it would have involved guns, wars and people conquered. However, for the most part the initial establishment of Australia was peaceful. Sure there are stories about violence against some Aboriginal communities, however, there are equally as many stories about the trade between the European arrivals and established Aboriginal communities. The main problems in Australia’s history, such as the White Australia Policy, came later.

I believe it is right to attempt to amend the wrongs of the past. It is especially important to help those people where as a result of the past there is still pain, disadvantage and suffering today. However, this change does not seek to make any difference to the lives of people; instead it is mere political pandering to a select few who play politics.

What the city of Sydney (and Australia) really needs to do is work to be inclusive to all, acknowledging its indigenous heritage, and building partnerships with all communities to move forward together as a united nation. However, while Europeans continue to be seen as invaders and Aboriginals as lazy this will not happen. It is time for both sides to stop living 220 years in the past and instead have a cultural perspective change and focus on future.

 

We can do better than mandatory detention of refugees #gobacksbs

Throughout this week SBS’s Go Back To Where You Came From sparked a number of discussions in my workplace. One key topic of discussion was on the life of refugees compared to those living in extreme poverty. Just because you are poor doesn’t make you a refugee, and just because you are a refugee shouldn’t confine you to a life of poverty.

Unfortunately, however, the problems of poverty and displaced peoples are often connected. The west has also been trying to solve both problems for decades now with little success. The reality is no matter how hard we try, it is human nature to start wars, which naturally displace people. Also with wars, famine, floods, and a growing global population there is always going to be hunger.

The two extremes of the refugee debate in Australia are “Stop the boats. Close the borders.” and “Let everyone who wants to come in, we have enough room.” Of course neither extreme is workable so we end up with a compromise position somewhere in the middle.

At the moment the current Australian Government policy is to make it as hard as possible for refugees to enter Australia through the use of mandatory detention and the threat of deporting people to Malaysia. We are like the big bully picking on the weakest most vulnerable kid in the playground. We act tough when in reality we just have a warped sense of entitlement.

Too often we forget that being a refugee gives you a ticket to the most unlucky lottery in the world. Some people are fortunate they win the lottery easily and make it to the west relatively quickly. Others face years of going from country to country running from the constant threat of death. By the time someone gets in a rusty, old, overcrowded boat they are at a state of desperation.

Upon arriving in Australian territory asylum seekers are thrown into prison – after all these people have gone through to make it alive this far you think they would have a little more luck in the lucky country. Quite simply the approach taken by the Australian authorities is inhumane, unjust and unnecessary.

In an opinion piece on theage.com.au Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser outlines a 10 steps to solve the refugee crises in a much better way. He writes:

Australia should not seek to avoid its obligations by shifting asylum seekers to another country. There are many questions and problems relating to the so-called agreement with Malaysia. The whole idea of swapping asylum seekers including children in this way, as if they are commodities, is odious. It is trading in people. It is neither an appropriate nor a just solution.

Mandatory immigration detention centres should be abolished. Detention for the purpose of health, identity and security checks alone should be permissible.

We should be especially concerned about children in detention. The previous government made a commitment to get children out of detention, yet in February there were more than 1000 children in detention

The punitive approach taken to asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat – who are detained often for years – and to those who have come by air – who are living in the community but are denied any form of government support – should be replaced by a humane and compassionate policy where support is given to those in distress.

A strong, multicultural Australia that draws strength from its diversity, that debates real issues of importance to ourselves and to common humanity, has contributed so much in the past. It must do so again.

The pettiness and meanness of the current debates about asylum seekers and indeed on other issues that are dealt with on a totally partisan basis must be put aside.

We should also ask ourselves what we as Australians need to do so that politicians will learn to appeal to the best of our natures and cease playing politics with the lives of vulnerable people.

You can read the full article here: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/how-australia-can-solve-its-asylum-seeker-problem-20110624-1gjlt.html

Fraser’s ideas make sense and are completely workable. One can only hope that somehow the politicians in Canberra hear him, and the voices of everyone else who are saying that there is a better way.

#gobacksbs What now? How can we go from passive watchers to active change makers?

Over the past three evenings SBS have aired Go Back To Where You Came From – their Amazing Race meets Survivor reality TV documentary on refugees. It is compelling and emotional watching and the interactive feedback via Twitter and Facebook has seen it get decent media coverage.

Now that the show has concluded the question that lingers is “What now? How can we go from passive watchers to active change makers?” As of this morning smh.com.au is reporting that the government is continuing to push on with negotiations to send asylum seekers to Malaysia for “processing”.

The Malaysian solution is the first thing that needs to be stopped. Even refugee advocates believe Nauru is a better alternative than Malaysia. As #gobacksbs showed Malaysia is home to 100,000 refugees who live in extreme poverty and are at risk of beatings just because they are refugees. UNICEF Australia has a letter writing campaign in force to object to the Malaysia solution, it may only be a symbolic action to get involved but please do.

In the long term Australia needs to close its detention centres and take a much more humane approach to dealing with refugees. Richard Ackland makes these comments in another smh.com.au article:

“…people who were treated humanely and in non-detention environments were more likely to be compliant with authorities, including those facing return to their country of origin. Rates of absconding were also very low – about 1 per cent.

We’re talking about countries where asylum seekers are processed in the community, including open reception centres. This is the norm in many European countries, as well as South Africa and New Zealand.

In Australia people held in detention deteriorate quite quickly, they develop grievances and are less able to engage with the authorities. There are the inevitable pitched battles and rarely are those facing removal compliant.”

Unfortunately the only way we are going to see change in Australia is through political pressure. I hope that some back-bench Labor MPs saw #gobacksbs last night and will put internal pressure on the Labor party to stop pandering to racists. I also hope that in the wake of the grass roots action will increase. Imagine seeing a day of action for refugees like we saw for the carbon tax a few weeks back.

Most importantly it is time for those 600,000 viewers of #gobacksbs last night to find their voice and speak up. Start local – talk to friends and family about the refugee crises and the myth of “illegal immigrants”. Send letters to MPs and media outlets voicing your opposition to mandatory detention and let them know there is a better way. Finally, if you want to take direction action, get involved with UNICEF, World Vision, and other NGOs. The only way change can be made is through people power.

 

Photos: Vivid Sydney 2011

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Tonight a group of friends from uni and I went to Vivid Sydney and had a fantastic time. Vivid Sydney is on every night for the next week and a bit at Circular Quay and The Rocks and it is well worthwhile checking out. But don’t take my words for it, instead let my photos below convince you.

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