Tony Abbott: Xenophobia Action Man
Australian opposition leader, the Liberal Party’s Tony Abbott, has decided to bring back the ‘Pacific Solution’ as a way to ‘turn back the boats’ [see end of post for "Debunking myths about Asylum Seekers].
The Pacific Solution was the name given to the Australian government policy (2001–2007) of transporting asylum seekers to detention camps on small island nations, such as Nauru, in the Pacific Ocean, rather than allowing them to land on the Australian mainland. The Pacific Solution consisted of three central strategies. Firstly, thousands of islands were excised from Australia’s migration zone or Australian territory. Secondly, the Australian Defence Force commenced Operation Reflex to interdict vessels containing asylum seekers. Finally, these asylum seekers were removed to third countries in order to determine their refugee status.
The policy is consistent with Abbott’s Real Action campaign which casts him as the man to protect Australia from ‘illegal immigrants’. His campaign is reminiscent of the attitudes of some of the men from Cronulla who took part in the race riot in 2005. On that occasion young men wanting to protect Australia bashed other Australians.
There was not much swell on December 11, 2005. Shark Island lay dormant. Some of the local surfers in the pub joined about five thousand people gathered at Cronulla beach protesting against the reportedly offensive, unacceptable, and ultimately “unAustralian” behavior of “gangs” of young Australian men of Lebanese descent. Descriptions of these men sexually harassing local women, intimidating other beachgoers, and being boisterous (such as littering, reckless driving, and loud music) had spread by word of mouth and through printed and broadcast media. These concerns were combined with discourses that have framed men of Middle Eastern descent as a “dangerous other” from whom Australia must be protected. This is particularly the case in light of September 11, Iraq, the London bombings, and the Bali Bombings. Many of the Lebanese-Australian men who go to Cronulla are Christian. But this does not seem to matter. Within the current international political context “Muslim” is often conflated through metonymic slippages with “Middle-Eastern” and “terrorist” and “illegal immigrant”.
Abbott’s Real Action electoral campaign includes a TV advertisement with a map of Australia. Bold red arrows signal ‘illegal immigrant’ arrivals from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The image wouldn’t look out of place as war propaganda warning us of invading terrorist hordes.
This advertisement also encourages us to conflate terrorists, illegal immigrants and refugees.
Politically and culturally Abbott has chosen to use a very particular model of manhood to advance his cause.
Just like the men who took part in the race riots, Abbott is acting out a troubling model of Australian manhood. It’s one that relies on xenophobia, masculine pride, nationalism, and an ugly model of mateship to work.
I have been doing research with a broad range of young Australian men for a decade now, in cities as well as rural and regional areas. I also grew up at the beach as a surfer and lifesaver. Unfortunately, I keep getting first-hand experience of this model of manhood working across too many of Australian society for my liking.
After the Cronulla Riots I did research with some of the young men who took part. They believe they were letting everyone know that they were proud of ‘Australian values’ and were ‘defending’ their country – just like the Diggers [soldiers] did.
During World War One and Two the Australian Diggers came to represent strength, mateship and sacrifice. As a young man all I heard were celebratory stories about the diggers. It wasn’t until much later that I heard whispers about the trauma, fear, and horror of some of these blokes who went to war.
A mythological Australian manhood emerged that came to emphasise strength where no vulnerability is allowed.
Mind you, this mythology was written about the Diggers, not by them. They knew war isn’t manly. The Diggers found this out the hard way. Many of them came home injured and traumatized.
The values associated with the Aussie Digger were later reinvested in, among other masculine role models, the Aussie lifesaver. Through the image of the lifesaver mateship, able-bodied, racial purity, heroic sacrifice, and public service duty continued from the rhetoric of war to public safety. As the historian Richard White observes, the lifesaver became a figure in whom “Australians could … identify nationhood with an ideal type of manhood”.
Abbott likes to think he fits into a slouch hat or sluggoes (swim briefs worn by lifesavers), nicely. Action man Tony. White, patriotic, Christian, able-bodied and willing to defend Australia at all costs. He is regularly seen in the press running triathlons, in sluggoes, in a lifesavers cap, and even surfing.
The frontline to prove Abbott’s masculinity is not Gallipoli (World War One) or New Guinea (World War two) but the Australian coastline and the incursion of a new threat in the form of refugees and asylum seekers, recast as illegal immigrants and terrorists.
The manhood Abbott performs is a move to shore up the privileges and authority that come with currently being at the top of the pecking order as a white male in Australia. The problem is it silences the stories of others, such as refugees.
Who are we being protected against? Refugees like my friend Arjun?
Arjun is an ex child soldier who managed to escape the war in Sri Lanka, walk for a week with no food to locate a ramshackle boat, get himself and his daughter to Indonesia, and then get into Australia. While here Arjun has got himself a job, works tirelessly in his new community, studies international politics at university, and supports members of his family who remain in his homeland.
For me, it is actually people like Arjun who exhibit the traits of the Diggers.
The ironic thing is, some men continue to believe that Australian manhood means being vigilant and able to protect ‘us’ from such people.
Debunking the Myths about Asylum Seekers by Edmund Rice Centre for Justice & Community Education
Myth 1 – Boat People are Queue Jumpers
Fact: In Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no queues for people to jump. Australia has no diplomatic representation in these countries and supports the International coalition of nations who continue to oppose these regimes and support sanctions against them. Therefore, there is no standard refugee process where people wait in line to have their applications considered. Few countries between the Middle East 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. People who are afraid for their lives are fleeing from the world’s most brutal regimes including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Sadaam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq. Antonio Domini, Head of UN Humanitarian Program in Afghanistan, states that Afghanistan is one of the most difficult places in the world in which to survive.
Myth 2 – Asylum Seekers are Illegal
Fact: This is untrue. Under Australian Law and International Law a person is entitled to make an application for refugee asylum in another country when they allege they are escaping persecution. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” People who arrive on our shores without prior authorisation from Australia, with no documents, or false documents are not illegal. They are asylum seekers – a legal status under International Law. Many Asylum Seekers are forced to leave their countries in haste and are unable to access appropriate documentation. In many cases oppressive authorities actively prevent normal migration processes from occurring. ‘Illegals’ are people who overstay their visas. The vast majority of these in Australia are from western countries, including 5,000 British tourists.
Myth 3 – Australia Already Takes Too Many Refugees
Fact: Australia receives relatively few refugees by world standards. In 2001 Australia will receive only 12 000 refugees through its humanitarian program. This number has remained static for three years, despite the ever-increasing numbers of refugees’ worldwide. Australia accepted 20 000 refugees each year at the beginning of the 1980’s. According to Amnesty International 1 in every 115 people on earth are refugees, and a new refugee is created every 21 seconds. Refugees re-settle all over the world. However, the distribution of refugees across the world is very unequal. • Tanzania hosts one refugee for every 76 Tanzanian people (1:76) • Britain hosts one refugee for every 530 British people. (1:530) • Australia hosts one refugee for every 1583 Australian people. (1:1583)
Myth 4 – We’re Being Swamped by Hordes of Boat People
Fact: 300 000 refugees arrived in Europe to seek asylum last year. In contrast, 4174 reached Australia by boat or plane. In 2000, Iran and Pakistan each hosted over a million Afghan refugees. The real burden of assisting refugees is borne in the main by the world’s poorest nations.
Myth 5 – They’re Not Real Refugees Anyway
Fact: 97% of applicants from Iraq and 93% of applicants from Afghanistan seeking asylum without valid visas in Australia in 1999 were recognised as genuine refugees. Therefore, under Australian law they were found to be eligible to stay in Australia. Generally, 84% of all asylum seekers are found to be legitimate refugees and are able to stay in Australia. Myth 6 – They Must Be ‘Cashed up’ to Pay People Smugglers Fact: It is alleged that people who have the resources to pay people smugglers could not possibly be genuine refugees. The UNHCR disputes claims about ‘cashed up’ refugees saying that payments made to people smugglers in fact range from $4000 – $5000 AUD. In reality, many families and communities pool their resources in an attempt to send their relatives to safety. People smuggling is a crime that the international community needs to combat. However, this does not negate the legitimacy of asylum seekers’ claims, nor their need to seek refuge. The international community, in eradicating
people smuggling, is also required to address the growing numbers of asylum seekers throughout the world. As a Western nation, Australia has a role to play.
Myth 7 – There is no Alternative to Mandatory Detention
Fact: Asylum seekers claims need to be assessed for legitimacy. Australia is the only Western country that mandatorily detains asylum seekers whilst their claims are being heard. Asylum seekers are not criminals and detention should be minimal. At a cost of $104 a day per head the policy of detention is very expensive. Community based alternatives to mandatory detention can be found internationally and within the current
Australian parole system. A select Committee of the NSW Parliament has costed alternatives to incarceration
including home detention and transitional housing. The average cost of community based programs are (per person, per day): Parole: $5.39. Probation: $3.94. Home Detention: $58.83. These options are clearly more economically efficient, and much more humane. Sweden receives similar numbers of asylum seekers as Australia, despite having less than half the population. Detention is only used to establish a persons identity and to
conduct criminal screening. Most detainees are released within a very short time, particularly if they have relatives or friends living in Sweden. Of the 17,000 asylum seekers currently in Sweden 10,000 reside outside the detention centres. Children are only detained for the minimum possible time (a maximum of 6 days).
Myth 8 – If We Let Them In, They’ll Take Our Benefits
Fact: A common misconception is that refugees arriving in Australia will ‘steal’ the entitlements of Australians. The reality is that refugees, like migrants, create demand for goods and services, thus stimulating the economy and generating growth and employment. A recent UCLA study has shown that unauthorised immigration boosts the US economy by $800 billion per year.