Tuesday, August 28, 2012

a new “solution” part II ... fraser’s policy, australian resentment

Hung Le

Malcolm Fraser and Vietnamese Refugees

Let me turn now to Solidarity for some information about Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal Government response to refugees following the fall of Saigon in 1975.
In doing this, I should make it clear that I have not checked primary sources, mostly because I’m too lazy, but mainly because if a left-wing organisation like Solidarity is distorting the truth, they would surely be bending it to port rather than starboard, so their points are probably reliable enough for my purposes.

You can read the whole of the [Aug 2012] Solidarity article here.

Key points from that article:

Julian Burnside recently claimed that Malcolm Fraser had resettled 25,000 “boat people” a year. It was soon pointed out that almost all of these people were in fact selected from camps. Asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat were still the target of hysteria and discrimination.
They did not face detention, but were initially just referred to charities for assistance while their claims were assessed. Later boat arrivals were housed in migrant hostels.

A total of 53 refugee boats had arrived in Australia by 1981. …Most of the Vietnamese refugees remained in camps in Malaysia and Thailand. Prior to 1978, the government refused to accept more than a few thousand refugees a year from the camps. Their distance allowed the state to control exactly who would arrive, allowing them to keep the number of people to a minimum.
In January 1979 the Australian government announced that it “would deny entry to any passengers on such ships”. It declared its intention to “legislate to introduce severe penalties for those who profiteered by bringing people into Australia without prior authority”.

The Australian government’s solution was to create “regional boat holding arrangements” with Malaysia and Indonesia. In return for Australia taking larger numbers of refugees from the camps, Malaysia and Indonesia would prevent boats leaving for Australia.

Fraser spoke of the country as having a front and back door. Refugees who waited in camps were coming in the front door, while the boat arrivals were coming through the back. His view was that the “solution to people coming in the back door was to open the front door wider”. In other words those arriving by boat were “bad” refugees and a problem that needed to be dealt with.


Australian resentment of Vietnamese refugees?

Today’s spin doctors have access to unlimited opinion polling, but all I can resort to here is anecdotes. Arguing from the particular to the general might be poor logic, but in this case I would like to say

a) I was working at the time with a reasonably representative cross-section of middle to working class people; and
b) Urban myths to some extent reflect opinion

The people I worked with were

Anglo Australians –
one of whom always spent his entire shift in an alcoholic coma, stretched out on some sorted-mail bags in a corner of the building; two of whom were junkies on the way down; three of whom were poofs too terrified to use the urinals [preferring the safety of toilet stalls; three women who went out to the carpark during the break with some of the young guns; myself [obviously a lesbian because I never talked about sport or went out to the carpark during breaktime]; a good mate desperately trying to get a marriage visa for his Asian girlfriend; and a few women who kept to themselves

Anglo Indians,
One of whom was the crudest and most sexist pig I’ve ever met

Egyptian Arabs
Nice, intelligent people, one with a Ph D in physics nobody respected

The usual assortment of Italians, Greeks and Maltese, and Philippinos

Two Poles
One of whom was virulently anti-semitic

Half a dozen Germans
One chap kept telling anyone who would listen he was glad to be half-blind because it’s the only thing that saved him from being sent to the Russian front...
And a woman who constantly made comments about how stupid the British are because, for example, they never located the armaments factory where she had worked during WWII because it was hidden under a kindergarten/school complex.

Half a dozen Vietnamese
Who had no trouble socialising with anyone

The urban myth I most commonly heard about Vietnamese – at work and elsewhere - was that the government gave them inordinate amounts of money to get settled/ started. The clincher was that the government also bought every family a car [ironically enough, usually a yellow car].

In the days before the internet, the only way to send a joke viral was by photocopy and snail mail. One common trick was to mock up a letter with a Commonwealth Government letter head, and type it into a genuine looking document.

A popular version was a letter – personally addressed to the xenophobe of one’s choice – went on and on about how the addressee had been specially chosen to house refugees. The government would pay so many dollars a month and park a caravan in the front yard for them to live in… that sort of thing. By the end of the letter the proposal got sillier and sillier so that only someone blinded by hate could possibly fail to realise it was a prank.

[While I never sent any myself I did think they were rather clever.]

Apart from the Nazi and the Anti-Semitic, nobody ever seemed to care a hoot about race. It was all about “not fair, he got a bigger slice of pie than I did”. No one resented refugees whether they arrived by boat or not – it was all about the money.


part III – multiculturalism
part IV – it’s all a matter of perspective
part V – onshore, offshore, and other questions

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