Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The new norm of hate betrays our Australian immigrant origins

A week ago I received my first incitement-type hate mail. Most anonymous missives settle for hating me, and go straight in the incinerator. But this one was not about me. This one I kept and might even show police but for the disturbing sense that, in 14 short months, Abbott-ism has made hate and hypocrisy Australia's working norm.

The image, in the anonymous missive, shows a smooth-skinned, thoughtful-looking boy in beanie and T-shirt regarding the camera big-eyed from behind a steering wheel. It looks like a bad Facebook selfie of "my first driving lesson".

The caption, which I almost cannot bring myself to retype, is this: "Say hello to your new muslim[sic] neighbour. If he grows a big bushy beard and starts talking about raping your wife and beheading your daughter, he may not be joking."

The clear implication is, no matter how appealing or harmless a Muslim may look, he is still a danger to your loved ones and an affront to your beliefs. Say what?


US President Barack Obama's G20 speech opened with a big-bro cuddle for Australia. "We're cut from the same cloth,"  the president said. "Immigrants from an old world who built a new nation. We're inspired by the same ideals of equality, and opportunity. The belief that everybody deserves a fair go."

But these are precisely the ideals that the Abbott government is betraying, daily, deliberately and with calculated hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is not quite the word for someone who crosses the ravine on a swing bridge then cuts the ropes to stymie others. There's a touch of nimbyism, and more than a touch of bigotry in various shades (racism, genderism, classism). But hypocrisy will have to do until something better is coined.

Hypocrites? Well, there's Abbott the immigrant, Hockey the scholar, Bishop the not-how-I-self-describe feminist. There are more, of course. But for now let's consider three.

Tony Abbott is an immigrant, in this nation of immigrants; a Ten Pound Pom from London, 1960, aged three. You might split hairs, arguing the difference between a Ten Pound Pom and a "reffo". But I'd say the difference is more in host attitude; generosity and optimism versus fear and suspicion. The people themselves came, by boat, in the same desperate flight from a war-ravaged country, following the same hopes for their children's future.

Yet the new Migration and Maritime Powers Bill, expected to whiz through the Senate in just four sitting days before the Christmas recess begins on December 4, is our most intensely xenophobic legislation since White Australia days.

The new bill is designed to override all checks on the government's determination to deter by degradation, including the High Court, the UN and international law.

It will allow the minister to cap protection visas (overriding the High Court's finding this year that such a cap was invalid) and detain people on the high seas, sending them to another country, even if it has not signed the UN Refugees Convention.

It will make children of refugees born here "unauthorised maritime arrivals" liable to indefinite offshore detention like their parents. And it will reintroduce Howard's three-year Temporary Protection Visas, keeping people in permanent insecurity about whether their existence here will be renewed.

It will make refugees prove that no part of their country is safe for them and to "take all reasonable steps" to appease persecutors. (Becoming straight, perhaps? Leaving school? Becoming male?)

Most sinister of all, the bill explicitly removes Australia's non-refoulement obligations under both the UN Refugees Convention and the Convention Against Torture, which we signed in 1989. The new act will oblige an officer to deport an "unlawful non-citizen" regardless of the risk of torture or even whether this risk has been assessed.

This is indefensible.  And Abbott's G20 boast that "the illegal boats coming to this country … have, thank God, stopped", dragooning God into his personal bastardry, makes it worse, not better.

Equally keen to tell the world of his "important" economic reforms, Abbott also outlined his blow at the root of all that is good and fair about Australia. "We have tried to deregulate higher education, universities … [meaning] effectively more fees that students will have to pay. We think that this will free up our universities to be more competitive … but students never like to pay more."

Treasurer Joe Hockey was more succinct, telling the Australian Financial Review a few days earlier, "we'll find any way we can to take the money out of the universities".

Hockey is himself a beneficiary of Whitlam's higher-ed reforms, having had two years' free law school and two of modest fees – during which as student leader he agitated for "free education" –  before graduating BA/LLB from University of Sydney in 1990. 

As the son of an (Armenian-Palestinian) immigrant father, Hockey often speechifies for ethnic, religious and gender diversity.  Yet the biggest single enabler of such diversity is affordable higher education.

Hockey denies hypocrisy. And yes, you can change your mind. But changing your mind according to your personal locus at the time – poor student versus wealthy landowner – is the definition of hypocrisy.

Worse, allowing (read, forcing) universities to institute $120,000 degrees by "taking the money out" can only re-establish in Australia the very class system we all came here to avoid. Far from bringing the "benefits of competition", it stops poor kids competing fairly even as, making students into customers, it traduces educational content.

And so to Bishop. Much has been made lately of Bishop's denial of the very platform on which she stands so tall, but such a catalogue cannot be complete without her.

She parses it thus. The glass ceiling exists (one woman in Cabinet) but to cite gender as a reason for that un-success is to choose victimhood. So you shut up, enjoy your own glorious trajectory and let the implication run that other women fail through incompetence. Truth, she won't speak the f-word for fear of upsetting the boys.

I rest my case. Rope-slashers, ladder-trashers, drawbridge-lashers, boat-bashers the lot of them.

Elizabeth Farrelly

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