There they are on the Bridging Visa to nowhere, waiting for nothing, as nothing continues on. Like an unending scene in Samuel Becket's absurdist play, Waiting for Godot.
They are the people seeking asylum, who wait for salvation. In empty derelict houses with little or no furniture, denied work rights and living on $217 per week. The no advantage policy is manufacturing a new class ofpoor.
This is all courtesy of a distorted Asylum Seeker policy ,which has sunk lower than the leaky boats that brought these hapless people to our shores. They have been dubbed the accidental underclass but like the collateral damage of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, wilful blindness does not bestow innocence or prevent the repercussions and suffering. Granting the poisoned chalice of release into the community to people who have been through war or persecution, dislocation and separation from home and family, without sufficient resources or work rights, must have predictable outcomes. If this is not punishment of the victims it is certainly not compassion in their suffering. For many it could be the last straw. After prolonged trauma and despite ongoing resilience, such a horrific reception, from a nation that professes to enshrine human rights, could prove to be the breaking point. We are signatories to the Geneva Convention on Refugees. These people are not illegal. They are entitled to come to our shores asking for help.
But the refugees coming by boat have been demonised since the Howard years as queue jumpers and illegal border violators. While both these accusations have been exposed as
absurd fabrications designed to malign a whole class of people, the slur has taken hold in the collective Australian psyche. If these are not the seeds and crop of racism and its aftermath then we can rest easy. But we cannot rest, because the treatment of asylum seekers over the past decade has been a black mark on our history.
And I like many others have heard this all before. I was employed as a psychologist in the remote Woomera Detention Centre and remember the lies and denigration against the dark skinned refugees presumed to be Muslim and the painful recollections of the incarcerated refugees. I and others felt the only ethical action was to speak out to the media.
When the plight of these people was exposed many said that they were aghast at the revealed truth. We didn't know. How could this be happening? Now a decade later the persecution of these people is being repeated. As I wrote in an article, published in the Fairfax Media in 2009, "its déjà vu as these people cry for help."
And it's also déjà vu, regarding the treatment of indigenous people in Australia.
In a week where we have lost a brilliant indigenous activist, the front man to Yothu Yindi at an age that reflects the shorter lifespan of our first peoples, are we are still failing to recognise the deep impacts on aboriginal people of European settlement in Australia and in effect saying they should just move on? Indigenous people live at least 10 years less than non-indigenous people. We are failing to close the gap in life expectancy and on many indicators of wellbeing. Indigenous children have twice the death rate of non-indigenous children. Tragically Australia's aboriginal children have the highest rate of suicide in the world.
Meanwhile, a nationwide debate has ensued over so called casual racism. The most recent example being that of the insult hurled at footballer Adam Goodes by a 13 year old girl. The fact that every one understood the deep penetration of an accusation of being called an "Ape" reveals that we all know racist shorthand. But as though to mock the entire debate and Goode's gracious forgiveness of the young girl, football personality Eddie McGuire added injury to insult. He joked that Goodes could perhaps do the publicity for the show King Kong.
There has been a major uproar, despite a bit of boys will be boys response to the ever popular Eddie. Some commentators have implied this is a storm in a tea cup and just the good old Aussie joking way. The Australian reported the mother had said, that the young girl had been greeted as a hero at school, and that the kids were all joking around and calling each other apes. Lesson not learned, by family and friends either, it seems. While it is not helpful to stigmatise or punish this girl, it is clearly missing the point to see her as a hero.
And the point is that racism wounds deeply and in fact can destroy lives. When allowed to grow rampant it can provide the underpinnings of genocide as we have seen in war-torn countries, where ethnic hostilities have been fanned politically.
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