As a moderator of comments for news.com.au I see a lot of intolerance expressed in the debate over asylum seeker boats, especially from a vocal minority prepared to get very nasty. The Oceanic Viking has stirred the asylum debate. The comments from this quarter typically employ broad-brush terms of abuse to stereotype on the basis of nationality.
The targets of these hateful attacks are Australians. The most popular terms of abuse are “redneck” and “racist”. Those commenting along these lines normally express a boundless compassion for asylum seekers. Strangely however, they seem completely devoid of any interest in sympathetically understanding the views of their fellow citizens, without name calling.
The overwhelming sentiment I’ve seen online mirrors what opinion polls say, most want a hard line on boat people. Undoubtedly sometimes this does reflect racism or xenophobia and a desire to keep Australia “white”. I occasionally see these type of comments.
What is more interesting, I think, are the other reasons repeatedly given by those advocating a hard line. The general sentiment is that the boat people are queue jumpers. Often the strongest outrage is from people who have recently migrated or know others trying to. Australia is not an easy country to move into, the process can be long and expensive. So for people to sail in and simply claim residency upsets many, whatever the boat people’s circumstances. For all our supposed larrikinism, Australians, I’d say, value law and order. They like those who “do the right thing” and “go through the proper channels”.
The legalistic argument that asylum seekers are not jumping the queue because “there is no queue to jump” generally doesn’t wash. There is a UN process for refugee settlement readily available offshore and it certainly puts you in a long bureaucratic queue, one that may take years. When some asylum seekers are seen to get a special deal, as appears to have happened for those who occupied the Oceanic Viking, it looks even more unfair.
Another sentiment often expressed by those opposing asylum boats is that those onboard will become welfare bludgers and we have lots of other things to spend money on. Australia resettles migrants with extensive welfare and social community support, teaches them English and provides training to those who can enter the workforce. That’s all well and good because jobs are the key to upward social mobility for migrant groups. Without plentiful jobs you are likely to perpetuate welfare slums, crime and often alienation extending into a second generation.
All the high wage and highly economically regulated countries in Europe that have relatively high and entrenched levels of unemployment have struggled with immigration. Many make it difficult for outsiders to become full citizens. Some, like Denmark, are even paying migrants to go back. Many have trouble with ethnic populations, who sometimes war in tribes against the police, as in France. Some nations have seen the rise of anti-immigration parties.
Britain with low minimum wages has had high migration but it isn’t escaping the other problems, especially during an economic downturn.
The world’s most successful immigrant society is America, at least by scale. America has resettled the “huddled masses”, including large refugee communities and millions of illegal migrants. This has been done by basically saying people should look after themselves, with minimum welfare offered and not even universal healthcare but usually free education. What America traditionally provided was plenty of low wage jobs that require no skills and limited or no English.
In Australia we do not believe in low wage jobs. So except in times of real economic boom unskilled migrants without English will have few employment prospects.
Sometimes it seems widely forgotten, even by Australian Workers Union boss Peter Howes when he talked about “Labor hero stuff” in leading the debate for a more welcoming approach, that Labor heroes of yore were leaders in keeping people out. The unions and Labor were strong advocates of the White Australia immigration policy. The traditional aim was to preserve Australian wages and conditions against the hordes of cheap Asian workers.
I would suggest that most people who call their fellow Australians rednecks or racists often also value award-set high wages, extensive economic regulation with universal and generous welfare. Probably many of these same people have environmental concerns and support policies that will result in higher costs of resources and lower economic growth. None of this is really compatible with increased humanitarian immmigration on a major scale, or perhaps greatly increased immigration of any sort.
Tightly controlled borders are the precondition of much of the Australia we know, the barrier behind which “the Lucky Country” (said with or without irony) was built. Having our borders opened in a major way would threaten to undermine this. We would likely see a less orderly Australia, a less equal one and perhaps a less safe one.
On the other hand it would be more interesting, more dynamic and more exciting. Personally I’d pick the more exciting version. I acknowledge though that I am pretty well economically protected from the real costs and pressures of increased immigration, whether that is competing for unskilled jobs or living in a potentially high crime suburb. I suspect many of those who want the boats welcomed are in a similarly fortunate situation. I’d also guess many are just as committed to preserving the insular “Australian way of life” as the people they call “rednecks”.
Posted by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see TONGUE-TIED. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here