How racist are we?

Christos Tsiolkas’s article in the Monthly magazine explores some of the possible reasons why Australian’s hate asylum seekers. I won’t go into most of his points, his article is reflective and personal rather than analytic but well worth reading. Instead, I’ll focus on what one of this interviewees labels the “elephant in the room” when people debate asylum seeker policy : Australian racism.

First, I’m not convinced of the premise that Australians hate asylum seekers. If this is true, then I would have expected the Coalition to have long ago started talking about reducing total asylum seeker numbers and that the debate would have long ago moved to encompass “plane-people” as well as “boat-people”. Perhaps it is true that visa conditions are so strict that there are hardly any “plane-people” as such but a handy fact sheet from Monash University indicates that until very recently far more “plane-people” have arrived than “boat-people”.

“The number of onshore refugee applications lodged by those arriving by air averaged 4,681 per annum from 2002-11, with a low of 3,062. There is much greater variation in the number arriving by sea; an average of 1,312 from 2002-11, with no arrivals in some years. In the twelve months to 30 June 2012, 7,036 applications were lodged by arrivals by air, 7,379 by sea.  Preliminary data for 2012/13 indicates arrivals by
sea of close to 25,000.”

On the other hand, it could be that boat-people are a convenient outlet for blind racial hatred and given that Australians also like to view themselves as compassionate (as do most people), the saving-lifes-from-risky-sea-journey narrative could just be a convenient way of resolving cognitive dissonance. It’s far easier to feel good about oneself when the ends justify the means.

Personally, I prefer to think that the majority of Australians who support draconian deterrence policies do so because they have not been presented with viable humane options (and leadership) that address the risky-sea-journey issue as well as fulfilling our international (and moral) obligations to asylum seekers.  However given that the Greens (and even the Palmer United Party) have pretty good solutions, maybe I am being overly generous.


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