This is the line in the Australian national anthem that I’ve always loved.
Australia is a highly multicultural nation. From our earliest days of white settlement and gold rush, Australia has been a melting pot of different nationalities.
The English, Irish, Scottish were the first to make their new home here. As history tells us, they were the original boat people, and the people who were already here were treated most unjustly by them. Since then, French, German, Maltese, Italian, Greek, Dutch, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Kiwi and countless others have made Australia their home. More recently, there have been significant numbers from South Africa, Sudan, Timor, Afghanistan, and Iran.
All have come to Australia to make a new start. It’s a land of hope, opportunity, temperate weather, and good natured people. It’s a fantastic place to live.
However, it seems that we’re just not that welcoming anymore… officially, at least. Recently, the Australian government excised the whole of the continent – that’s right, the entire nation – from the migration zone, in an effort to deter people from going into enormous debt to get on a leaky boat and sail here from Indonesia as asylum seekers.
What that means is that nobody who sails here, flies here, or swims here fuelled by sheer determination can actually ask for asylum from whatever messed up, conflict-ravaged nation that they’ve come from.
That’s right. The Australian Government hung out the virtual “NO VACANCY” sign. If they could find a way to fill it with neon and make it flash, they would.
Yesterday, the Australian Government sank even lower.
Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced yesterday afternoon that anyone who actually does make it here, having risked their lives on a leaky boat from Indonesia or anywhere else, will never be allowed to settle in Australia. Instead, they will be sent to Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea is one of Australia’s nearest neighbours. While many of its people are peace-loving and friendly, it’s sad to acknowledge that it is a nation that is conflicted and suffering significant poverty.
It’s hard to imagine how sending thousands of refugees there to be settled is going to help anyone, especially when they are already fleeing from other war-torn nations. It’s certainly hard to see how that’s going to improve anything in PNG.
Australia signed the UN Refugee Convention. Australia is currently a member of the UN Security Council.
And yet, Australia is avoiding her responsibilities to the rest of the world because those in leadership can’t think of any other way to put the people smugglers out of business.
My suggestion? Open an agency in Indonesia, in refugee camps, wherever there are people who want to come to Australia. Let them register and apply, have their identity and bona fides confirmed, and bring them over. That will put the people smugglers out of business, without question.
Let every asylum seeker be judged on their individual circumstances. If they genuinely need a new home, let them come to Australia. Let them settle in the community, learn the language, get jobs, become Australian citizens, and help Australia to prosper and flourish like the majority of migrants who have come here before have done. They may be asylum seekers, but their children will be Australian, just like all the children of all the migrants and refugees that have come before them.
This latest policy is morally bankrupt.
It makes me angry at the Australian government and ashamed that they are so lacking in compassion and understanding, and it makes me so incredibly sad for the people who just want to come here and live in peace. Haven’t they been through enough already?
It’s ironic that the Prime Minister who apologised to the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for the way the white settlers treated them for two hundred years is also the same one who has introduced this dreadful policy. I wonder if there will ever be an official apology for that, or if the heartfelt apologies of the Australians who disagree with it will have to suffice.
Until we get some national leaders who can do something more positive and compassionate, I guess we’ll just have to sing the anthem differently:
“For those who’ve come across the seas,
Our leaders just don’t care.
It’s time to hang our heads in shame;
Advance Australia… where?”