Monday, July 25, 2011

the problem with problems

Vale Amy

Like most people, I had heard of Amy Winehouse before, and none of the news was good.
About two weeks ago one of her tunes was played on the ABC and I was shocked to hear a hint of Billie Holiday in her voice - not the tragedy but some other great quality in her voice. No idea what the song was, but this one is not too bad either.
Sadly, it's not til someone famous passes away that I stop to think of all the guilt addiction causes to family, friends, associates, or even passers-by, in all corners of the world. To all of you carers out there, be kind to yourselves; you can only do your best.
I'm curious about whether our press is making more of the Murdoch hacking story than the average person is inclined to make of it. Perhaps it's just me who feels ho hum about it all. The British tabloid press have never been purveyors of anything but crap, and if the hacking of Prince Charles' romantic "tampon" message to Camilla didn't create this level of fuss it's strange that this has now become an issue.
As technology changes, so will the nature of crime. The law never has and never can predict the nature of these crimes, it can only respond to new crimes as they arise. This is simply the exploitation of children during the Industrial Revolution with WiFi.
A great deal of what I'm reading or hearing seems to revolve around the question of whether Rupert has too much sway, or whether he is an evil or trustworthy person.
I think his mother is a good-hearted, naturally charitable and kind person.
I think Rupert was the reporter who printed a lot of crap during the Warburton Ranges scandal.
I think Wendi Deng brightened up everyone's day when she bitch-slapped Mr Cream Pie. She also delivered a similar blow to all the smug gits who strut their stuff in security circles, and she delivered one ripper of a blow to all those who questioned her motives in marrying a man so much older than herself.
Go Wendi.

Australia's deal with Malaysia seems set to go ahead, with provisions that asylum seekers sent to Malaysia will have the right to work, and access to education. Announcements are now talking up the advantages of preventing children being brought in on leaky boats.
Another current story is that a legal challenge is being made to laws requiring sentencing of people smugglers: In principle, if the passengers on these leaky boats have the right to seek asylum, then those who ship them here are simply supporting an international law to which Australia subscribes.

What has brought us to this? A chain of unprincipled grabs for votes.
Pauline Hanson was not popular because she was a racist, she was popular because no matter how repulsive her policies seemed, she was refreshingly honest. What she tapped into was not xenophobia, but national spin-fatigue.

The simplest way to cut down her less palatable attitudes would have been honesty. Forget the quiet, lacklustre press releases, this was a time when a government with gumption could have tackled all the urban myths about how much immigrants, or asylum seekers or any other newcomers actually get. But no one wanted to deal with the fear the rest of us were somehow missing out.
Howard used his own face to catch an omelet with the Tampa and the children overboard dramas. He ponced around saying "WE will decide who comes to this country..." It was very much a case of the best DEfence being OFfence.  He created a straw man out of the boats to save face.

The boat problem does not exist: It is a fabrication. Forget the rot about stopping boats, this was a lost opportunity for a government with gumption to tackle the things that are really concerning voters:
The size of our border does not make us vulnerable. In an age of high tech death and destruction, and in an age of terror, the size of our border is irrelevant. If someone wants to get us they will.

For the first time in our history, we now have a minority in our midst who are hell bent on getting away with murder and blaming it on our lack of sensitivity to their racial, cultural or religious needs. The handful of radical Muslim Australians who are demanding interest-free loans because of their religious beliefs are missing the point: They are already free to think and believe what they will, and they already have as much protection against discrimination as is legally offered to everyone else. They are already free to apply for loans like everyone else, but equal opportunity is not the same thing as an equal outcome.
None of this has anything to do with boats. None of this is being confronted in a fair but firm way by leaders.

Because neither of our two alternative governments have the gumption to face down this internal threat; because they would rather blame the asylum seekers who come here by boat; because it is easier to blame the UN, they have ensured that billions of dollars would be wasted on the boat people issue and, in the process, guaranteed that the rest of us will have some reason to resent these outsiders.

Let's forget the straw men and get back to basics.
What do we want? Some would have it that what we want is to stop the boats.
What we really want - regardless of party affiliation - is to help as many people who need help as we can by getting the best possible outcome for each dollar we spend. Stopping boats is irrelevant.

The cheapest option would be supporting two or three roving UN teams in Asia so asylum seekers can actually apply for asylum without getting on a boat.

Whether asylum seekers arrive by boat or plane, they should be treated the same way. Straight to the back of a queue in an established camp in some place like Africa where people, already screened by the UN, have been waiting a life time already. Any person who can afford to fly into Australia, with papers, and ask for asylum will have to wait their turn, just like the boat people.

At this point no doubt some people will start jumping up and down about children. I make no apology on this score: Nothing short of child abuse by the guardian figures will ever justify removing or separating children from their families.
Where people are in detention they can like it or lump it. Call me cruel, but I would rather be in an Australian detention centre than living in any of a thousand free situations in other parts of the world. I don't for one moment suggest any person needing refuge should have to grovel for help, but they do need to keep a sense of proportion.
It might well be depressing, but there is no other refugee camp in the world that is not already full of children and depressed adults. Maybe the children and depressed adults who have been waiting the longest, who are waiting elsewhere, deserve a break too.

Rioting, destruction of property, self mutilation or any of the other stuff that keeps happening is not winning much sympathy from the average Australian. There is something rather idiotic in rioting because there aren't enough computers, and then expecting Australians to say "Oh yes, you are just the sort of person we need here, by all means do come in."
None of this has anything to do with boats. Why isn't it being dealt with?

Some of this bad behaviour is the result of jealousy between different ethnic groups. Rumours and misinformation are rife in detention centres. This might not be nice, but once again there are not many Australians who will sympathise.
After World War II we had an influx of migrants who had, a few years earlier, been at war with each other. Germans, Italians, English, Slavs, Poles... they all came here, got over it and got on with it. We do not want people coming to this country who won't let go of traditional feuds and resentments, because we've seen what it does in other countries. This is the sort of hate that results in massacres like the ones in Bosnia.

Some of this bad behaviour is coming from people kept in detention for a year or more. Yes, a year is a long time to live without certainty, but until people actually arrive in a country where they can claim asylum they are living with much worse uncertainty.
The delays are due to the extra time taken to process people with no papers, and in some cases, a shortage of accredited interpreters familiar with all of the legal, medical and other terminology and concepts they must discuss with asylum seekers.
Another, and perhaps the most important source of these delays, is that asylum seekers in Australia have extensive legal rights including rights to appeal. These legal processes have a vital role to play in ensuring Australia never becomes a country where someone's fate can depend on how easily officials can be bribed. Australians pay in dollars for these delays, asylum seekers pay in time. That's the way it is.
There are many Aboriginals today, for example those in East Arnhem Land who had far less early contact with whites than other Aboriginals, who must live with the frustration of having few interpreters at their disposal. More disadvantaged than asylum seekers, they are lucky if they have the same counsel twice in a row when dealing with a legal issue, and are less likely to be represented by someone who has had the time or means to even understand the case. It's not an ideal situation, but that's the way it is.

It's possible some of the worst rioting is coming from people already denied refugee status. While they are waiting for the appeal process, they should be segregated from the rest of the people in detention.

There is absolutely no special excuse for self-mutilation that doesn't already apply to far too many Australians already.
We have homeless people who deserve help. We have people with mental illnesses that are treated like pariahs. We have people denied life saving drugs because they can't afford them. We have people denied basic hospital services like hip replacements because being in pain and unable to move around is not "life-threatening" enough, so surgery is deemed to be "elective".
We have people who have paid taxes all their lives unable to eat properly or heat their homes - many of them would be glad to live behind a fence if it meant having decent accommodation, computers, regular meals and access to medical assistance when they need it.
Many Australians do feel that asylum seekers are getting better treatment and I agree with them. Australians should not have to compete for basic resources nor compete for equal opportunities.

Every riot, and every dollar spent re-housing asylum seekers with children, takes something from other people languishing in the world's refugee camps.

Our greatest concern should not be boats. Our greatest concern should be "economic refugees". We should be concerned about illegal workers who undercut our wages and don't pay taxes. We should be as worried about the people who employ them; who threaten them with deportation so they can treat them like crap. The people who do this are as bad as any other people smugglers.

We do not take our share of refugees. If we assert our right to control the numbers entering this country, and if we take people at a rate which will keep the fabric of Australia intact, we have an obligation to ease the burden on those countries which have been flooded by millions of refugees. If we won't take people in, we must make a better contribution to feeding, housing, and educating them where they are.  We are currently wasting billions on this boat bull**** that could be better spent in any number of ways.

But of course, I'm dreaming if I am waiting for some leadership. It's easier to set up a handful of boat people; to talk down to Australians than with them.


  1. Very well said. Sadly a lack of leadership not least of the political kind is endemic in the world today it seems. The need to pacify the majority has led to a great deal of mediocre leadership.

    You are also implicitly arguing for decisions based on facts, not sound bite slogans or feelings another thing that seems to have died a death recently. I am constantly frustrated by people who ignore the facts in favour of their own "beliefs" on any given subject.

    As you said the greatest outcome for the greatest number for the dollars spent, if only we actually did that.

  2. Thanks Big Dog. As Lily Tomlin says, "It's hard being a genius in a mediocre world".
    You have made me feel a little less lonely now.