Say NO to the politics of fear – Opinion piece for Ciao magazine, November 2014

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Alice Mantel, Greens candidate for Drummoyne

The apparently reasonable idea of “protecting Australian borders” from boat arrivals conceals a subtle but implicit racism. Amidst the absurdity of Australia needing protection from a few wooden boats with refugees, this slogan uses the threat of strangers, especially dark skinned, and especially Islamic, as the reason behind stopping refugee boats coming to our shores.

We are now seeing a government campaign worse than the decision to send troops to Iraq to fight in a poorly thought out war. It is not an isolated response but part of this government’s policy of promoting irrational fear to support both racism and hatred of Muslims, who have become a convenient scapegoat. We see this government focusing on security for its own sake, because fear allows leaders to take steps which would otherwise not be possible. The Abbott government harnesses our fear of Muslims through new counter-terrorism laws which include limiting the freedom of the press, increasing anti-terrorism raids, and nearly “banning the burqa” by trying to stop covered women entering the Parliament.

The government’s response to the arrival of refugees by boat has significantly damaged Australia’s reputation as a supporter of international law and human rights. The decision by both major parties to commence and increase offshore processing of refugees is unlawful, irrational and excessively expensive. It cannot be sustained in the long-term.

This policy totally reverses the 1950s decision by Robert Menzies (founder of the Liberal Party) to open the doors to those seeking asylum by signing the Refugee Convention, conveniently ignored by his current heirs.

This policy has already resulted in two unnecessary and unlawful deaths of refugees in the care and custody of the Government’s contractors. More chillingly, while offshore processing in Nauru and Manus has been in place for over 2 years, no policy yet clearly states the performance indicators that the Government must meet to process refugee applications. These people face an endless hopelessness that one day they may be resettled somewhere to some country, whether PNG, Cambodia or Nauru, that is ill-equipped to receive them.

Research shows the devastating mental health impacts on adults and children under these conditions. The Greens stand for alternatives to this policy, which begin by recognising that Australia can actually implement humane and workable options that meet its treaty obligations. We can increase the number of refugees allowed, we can close down all offshore processing centres and abolish artificial “migration zone” rules. All refugees can have their application considered and processed in a reasonable time, with a visa to allow them to work and receive medical treatment while their children attend school.

There is another way beyond fear.

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