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John Passant

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October 2009



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

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Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

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Refugees: from Howard to Rudd the racist song remains the same

Nowhere is the policy continuity from John Howard to Kevin Rudd clearer than in the Labor Government’s treatment of refugees.

The Indonesian solution – getting Indonesia to stop refugees from arriving in Australia – is in fact worse (if one can have degrees  of inhumanity) than the Pacific solution.

And so now 260 Sri Lankan refugees sit in a boat in Indonesian waters, beginning a hunger strike. Why?

Because Kevin Rudd rang the Indonesian President and asked him to stop the boat reaching Australia.

Mission accomplished. No room at the inn, hey Christian Kev?

If the boat had made it to Australia the people on board would have been processed as refugees and released into the community in a few months.

Because Indonesia is not a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on refugees, it means the Sri Lankans must wait to be processed in Indonesia for resettlement. This could take ten years.

These boat people have fled a brutal civil war in Sri Lanka. 

The Sinhalese Government there defeated the Tamil Tigers in January.

It  has conducted a campaign of genocide against the Tamils – including the forced settlement of 300,000 Tamils in concentration camps, rape, torture and murder.

Nobel peace prize winner Barack Obama is complicit in this genocide.

The West armed and encouraged the Sinhalese Government to destroy the Tigers and any idea of Tamil self-rule or independence. Thus the West does nothing about the Sri Lankan Government’s concentration camps.

So people flee the country.  Some have made it to Indonesia where they pay others to get them onto boats to Australia.

The Labor Government perceives this as a political problem. So it responds by being tough on those fleeing genocide.

In this case it has used Indonesia as its puppet to stop refugees making it to Australia. 

In other cases it has deported legitimate asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka where, according to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, they have been mistreated on return.

Why is Labor ‘tough’ on refugees? 

As I have argued in these pages many times, Australian capitalism was founded on racism.  Racism is institutionalised into the very fabric of our society. 

Many Aborigines for example live lives of complete poverty. Their conditions rival their brothers and sisters in third world countries. 

Muslim immigrants are lower paid and have higher unemployment than any other group in our society (apart from Aborigines.)  If the choice is between employing Harry or Hussein, Harry wins the job almost every time.

Hard heads in the Labor Party (the type of geniuses who successfully engineered Family First’s Steve Fielding into the Senate) think they will lose votes if they support people fleeing persecution.

Sometimes politicians lead, rather than follow.  Rudd could begin a conversation now with the Australian people, explaining why accepting refugees is a decent and humane approach, and that we as a nation should welcome our brothers and sisters to Australia, not demonise them.

This could then prepare the way for us to accept the future environmental refugees who will inevitably come here.

Rudd won’t do any of this, partly because Labor has traditionally been the party of racism.

Fear of the other pervades Australian history. Whether it be Aborigines, the Irish, the Chinese, the Russians, the yellow peril or even conspiracy theories about Jews, there is a consistent appeal to that fear by politicians across the mainstream spectrum and on the far right.

Bashing refugees finds a level of support in Australia because of our history but also because capitalism is a deeply alienating system, divorcing us from the products of our labour.

The determination to keep ‘our’ land, land in fact stolen from aborigines, free from the other, gives a false sense of superiority which in many seemingly addresses that alienation. It is carrion comfort.

There is something else in this too. 

The degeneration of the ALP  as any sort of leftist or even progressive party continues apace. It is moving from a Labor Party with some connection to the working class, to one completely divorced from the class that created it. 

 Any sense of solidarity with fellow workers fleeing persecution is gone, replaced by the idea of refugees as the enemy.

While Labor has always managed capitalism, it is now a manager with openly anti-working class politics (plus a plethora of disguised pro-capitalist policies like Fair Work Australia – Workchoices under another name.)

For Labor, attacking refugees is but one weapon in its armoury of planned assaults on the working class.

Indeed  anti-refugee racism (like all racism) ties us to our bosses and their system and weakens our ability to fight the bourgeoisie when it does decide to really attack wages, jobs and conditions.

But bashing foreigners doesn’t improve living standards; it worsens them.

While we are fighting to keep ‘them’ from the beaches the bosses and their Government are quietly picking our pockets. 

The failure of the trade union movement, to challenge this rightward move started with the Accord and the embrace by the left of class collaboration as the guiding principle.

This move politically gave the reactionaries a space for their neoliberal ideas and actions.

Worshipping at the altar of profit has severely weakened the trade union movement and struggle against the bosses. This in turn has isolated and emasculated progressive social movements and ideas.

Imagine a trade union movement built on the struggles of the workers of the 190 nationalities we have in our country actually condemning Rudd Labor for its attacks on the refugees. Imagine a trade union movement that takes industrial action in support of refugees.

Imagine an ACTU executive that begins a solidarity hunger strike with our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters and spreads the camapign across the country?

Far fetched today? Well, yes.  But in the past some in the trade union movement have been militant supporters of refugees.

An injury to one is an injury to all. The attack on refugees strengthens the forces of reaction for their assaults on the working class and weakens us.

It dehumanises us, and prepares us to accept more atrocities, like the ongoing and worsening Northern Territory invasion and attacks on our wages and conditions.

The fight for a better world must be a fight against Labor.

That battle starts with the fight for refugees. Join us.

Readers might also like to look at Rudd’s refugee racism and Refugees: Rudd continues Howard’s brutality



Comment from Luke
Time October 16, 2009 at 4:38 pm

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