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Is there Enough Space for the People on the Boat?

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Is there Enough Space for the People on the Boat?

Andrew Ryan

Election time is approaching! And it would appear the main topic that will decide who gets to rule this big ol’ red country of ours is the problem of those darn asylum seekers. We all know how hotly it is debated, and how complicated the whole deal is. It’s plagued us for years, and I have a theory as to why Australia gets so weird about refugees arriving on our shores.

This country is in its current state due to a large group of white people deciding that this land was theirs to do with as they please. They arrived on boats, found a place to settle and went about their lives, effectively wiping out the native population. With a new race of people (African, Arabic, Asian) arriving on the same land and wanting to go about their lives too, some deep, dark memory is triggered within all Caucasians with European settler heritage, which in turn triggers a defensive attitude; because we all know, deep down, that if we stole the land from someone else, then it could easily be stolen from us.

The difference is, of course, that our white predecessors originally came in looking to expand their empire, found a bunch of weird trees and animals (a whole group of dark-skinned animals who think they’re people! Imagine that!), a whole lot more desert, and decided it would be a good place to throw a bunch of criminals so that the well-behaved people of their society didn’t have to deal with them anymore; while the people entering our waters ever since then have been (generally) well behaved people trying to escape the criminals in THEIR society, knowing full well that they will be joining a fairly smooth running, existing group of human beings.

“People smugglers” are made to look like devils in the eyes of the unthinking Australian public. A lot of them could be described as such from one point of view, because yes, they profit from their illegal dealings, and can cause more harm than good in some cases. Smugglers who mistreat their charges, allow people to die on the boats, or send them out onto the ocean in a less than sea-worthy vessel should be punished accordingly. If the ALP has their way, the worst of them could get put to death (that’s what they plan to push for as a maximum sentence in the future, if re-elected).

But they also put themselves at a great risk to help shuttle suffering individuals out of a place they would otherwise have no hope of surviving in. Where does a good portion of the money go? On bribing police officers and officials to set up a safe passage out of the home country, the owner of the boat, petrol, food, water etc. I’m not saying that the guys who work in the people smuggling trade aren’t potentially driving nicer cars than their neighbours, or funding some other criminal, socially destructive activities. It is extremely likely. However, they are still helping people in need.

Let’s just step back and look at an obviously similar situation in history, just for the sake of looking at it from a different perspective. Nazi occupied Europe, for example; Jewish people were trying to get the FUCK out of there as soon as they realised what the hell was going on. The non-Jews who helped them escape were later applauded as heroes. There were many cases of people spending from their own pocket to help their Jewish neighbours escape imprisonment and death, but there would also have been cases where the non-Jews asked for a payment of some description. Not everyone can afford to be a saint. But the fact remains the same: lives were saved.

That is the crux of this issue: other people’s lives. If any of us were in that situation, and we needed shelter and safety and community support after years of living in poverty and danger at the hands of a government that refuses to give us the legal documents needed to leave, we would be just as desperate, and then angry, confused, frustrated- all of the negative emotions- that the country we believe to be most desirable to live in is full of people who fear the idea of us, full of people who squabble about what to do with us, where to put us, how to make us go away, instead of creating an efficient system that will process all the bureaucratic bullshit and let us get back to living, learning, working, raising our families, and contributing to the economy like a good, capitalist human being should.

If I had known the cut-off date for electoral enrolment sooner, and could remember where the fuck it is that I was previously enrolled to vote in last election, I know exactly who I would be voting for, and it definitely is in part due to their stance on refugees. Look at this link and then take a guess where my favour lies. I’ll give you a hint. The party name starts with “The”. And ends in “Greens”.

In writing the article this week, I am not meaning to start any political arguments within the semi/quasi/psuedo/legitimately intellectual local music/art fan sphere, nor do I want to engage in political arguments with anybody; ever. It is taxing, and honestly, fruitless. All I would like is that voters take a real interest in the policies of at least the three main political parties in this country come election time. Knowledge truly is power, and it actually IS possible to have a say in how your country is run. I’m certainly going to be catching-up on the rest of it this week (election day is Saturday, 21st of August, sillies!), and I hope you all will do too. It won’t be as entertaining as the next episode of True Blood, but it will definitely be more interesting and relevant to your life than that girl you haven’t seen for two years’ status update on Facebook. Unless she is Julia Gillard. But I doubt she is. Happy learning, voters!