Stop the Boats?
August 11, 2010 4:20 PM   Subscribe

In a couple of weeks there will be a Federal Election in Australia. One of the key issues is migration policy, and policy relating to the processing of refugee claims, particularly those who escape from their home country and travel to Australia by boat. This one-page web comic is the most detailed examination of the issue I've seen anywhere in the media.
posted by awfurby (45 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
That was extremely interesting. It was both a detailed and easily comprehended argument. I am very eager to see more of this kind of graphic analysis.

A lot of my friends take the piss when they see me reading graphic novels. I can't wait for them to go mainstream, and for people to realise how much 'serious' comics have to offer compared to prose.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 4:32 PM on August 11, 2010

I found it interesting that there appears, from this comic, to be no racial or religious basis for the reaction to incoming refugees fomented by some Australian politicians. I found some reference to the racism of these policies in Australian left-wing and socialist media, but I don't want to mistake these perceptions for the mainstream framing of this issue in Australia. Do many media outlets in Australia see this as an issue of race?
posted by yomimono at 4:35 PM on August 11, 2010

Direct post link for posterity.

This is less a web comic and more of a well-written summary with infographics.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:07 PM on August 11, 2010

Yomimono, the answer is kind of. It's the elephant in the room. Of course it's based on race - otherwise who would give a shit right? Everyone in Australia likes to pretend that no one is racist, but actually we're quite racist (as a country), and the trifling number of refugees that arrive via boat each year (the vast majority of which are found ot be genuine) is only terrifying to so many Australians precisely because of racial fears.

Because of the prevalence, however, politicians and many media are quite reluctant to use the "r-word" when it comes to this.
posted by smoke at 5:22 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

I found it interesting that there appears, from this comic, to be no racial or religious basis for the reaction to incoming refugees fomented by some Australian politicians.

The trouble is that this debate is infamous for the use of dog-whistle politics. No politician is going to come out and say that its about race. But are they talking about race and religion when they use terms like 'invasion'? Australia has had a long time to develop loaded words that seem innocuous to outsiders.

Do many media outlets in Australia see this as an issue of race?
This article from the Sydney Morning Herald seems to. This article from the ABC hints at it. This article from the Australian discussed the different ways the debate is framed, but doesn't really take a position on whether its an issue of race.

These are all opinion pieces, of course. Theoretically, the actual news articles are supposed to be unbiased.
posted by PercyByssheShelley at 5:37 PM on August 11, 2010

Yeah, race is rarely mentioned, yomimono, but I think you'd have to be blind to believe it isn't an issue (in another example of 'not racism', calling someone 'sandnigger' is just the same as calling a New Zealander a Kiwi)

That was a great comic/infographic, awfurby. When you say 'in the media', have you seen it in the mainstream press at all? I'm out of the country at the moment, but I'd love to think that it's being seen by the many people who seem to think we're drowning under a torrent of refugees.
posted by twirlypen at 5:40 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

As smoke says, it's not a matter of clear racial or sectarian perception, it's at a rather lower level. It's a much more inarticulate anxiety. The anthropologist Ghassan Hage (for those pointy-headed folk who still read books) described the phenomenon as "white anxiety" in his book on Paranoid Nationalism; it's much more about people fearing the loss of an insecure identity as Anglo Australians than fear directly of race or religion. Consider the current Prime Minister's hedging around the issue when she succeeded Rudd (my italics):
KERRY O'BRIEN: Will you do what Kevin Rudd swore he wouldn't do on this issue, lurch to the right?
JULIA GILLARD: Kerry, I can absolutely rule out lurching anywhere. I won't be doing that.
I do understand the anxiety and indeed fears that Australians have when they see boats, they see boats intercepted. It does make people anxious. I can understand that, I really can. And I can understand that Australians therefore say to their Government that they want to know what we are doing to manage our borders and what we are doing to manage asylum seeker flows. And I will be explaining as Prime Minister to the Australian people how we do that.
Of course, I obviously believe that as Prime Minister it is the role of the Government to do everything we can to best manage our borders.
KERRY O'BRIEN: But does that mean that you are prepared to change policy or not? Are you just going to explain or are you going to change as well?
JULIA GILLARD: Well Kerry, I'm going to explain and we of course we deal with changing circumstances. We have got some decisions to make about potentially changing country circumstances in relation to Sri Lanka for example.
I will continue day by day working with my ministerial colleagues like Chris Evans and Brendan O'Connor to work through the complex question of asylum seekers.
What I also say, Kerry, what I also say is that it is not appropriate for the Opposition to seek to inflate this into a language of crisis, to seek to scare people. I understand that even if the Opposition never said a word that Australians would feel anxious about these matters. But I am also very, very critical of political strategies to try to mount those anxieties for political profit and unfortunately that's the conduct that Mr Abbott has shown.
The Prime Minister's not a racist, I don't think. But she knows that if she doesn't acknowledge the power of people who vote according to the fears they have about white faces at the shops and English on signs, Labor candidates get flogged.
Alternatively, consider TISM's interpretation of the previous Government's policy;
why should we let towel-heads in
'cause their ships won't float?
what other race has ever come to australia on a boat?
and if self-interest should rule
five miles out from shore
why the hell don't it apply to those who live next door?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:45 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

When you say 'in the media', have you seen it in the mainstream press at all?

Ah no, that was my poorly-worded attempt to conflate the blogosphere with "the media" and make a point about how badly traditional media outlets have been reporting on the issue.
posted by awfurby at 5:52 PM on August 11, 2010

This article from SBS sums up why Australia's refugee "problem" is so ridiculous. Compared to just about every country, we don't even have one.
posted by onya at 6:25 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

ABC program Hungry Beast (no longer on the air, sadly) also aired a great animated infographic on the immigration issue.
posted by robotot at 6:28 PM on August 11, 2010

This 'boat people' issue dominating the election AGAIN clicks my insta-rage button every single time. Cause you know what? Beyond believing that we should treat all refugees with respect and companssion, I really, really don't care. When I talk to people about the election what they, and I, are actually interested in are the issues that have an impact on he we live and where we are going. Not OMIGOD MUSLIMS ON BOATS COMING TO STEAL OUR TAX DOLLARS AND MAKE US WEAR BURKAS!!
posted by Wantok at 6:56 PM on August 11, 2010 [5 favorites]

Thank you so much for that link. I'm always at a loss to explain why there is such a lull in refugee arrivals by boat during the pacific solution. This gives me ammo to fight the good fight against racist xenophobes.
posted by Talez at 7:00 PM on August 11, 2010

Why is it an issue? It's an issue because the media loves to make it an issue, and because the Liberal party demands the media make it an issue. Everytime a dinghy appears on the horizon we see it on the evening news, hear it on the radio, read it on the web, and the ABC isn't exempt from this. We don't hear about it every time a British backpacker overstays his visa. This completely shits me. Yes, our country is full of veiled racists who'll comment on "boat people" as they chew their Vietnamese take-away, but this is purely an issue a few egocentric journalists are pushing so they can feel they had some influence on the political narrative.

Here's a fucking tip; you can't stop the boats. We don't control the beaches they're leaving from. It's that fucking simple. Noone is willing to own up and admit that. And thats why I'm voting the fuck out of the Greens.
posted by Jimbob at 7:04 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Amazing timing. Five minutes ago I was watching the Gruen Nation Election Special and they were dissecting the ads run by the political parties; Abbot's ad promised (among other things) to Stop The Boats. As an American I had a sneaking suspicion what that meant, but wasn't one hundred percent sure.

Also, I find it a bit odd that one of the hosts was wearing a Sarah Palin T-Shirt. I guess she is an international joke?
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:06 PM on August 11, 2010

I guess she is an international joke?

You guess??
posted by wilful at 7:12 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wil Anderson, on the other hand, is the butt of purely local contempt.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:13 PM on August 11, 2010

I guess she is an international joke?

There are little grey people on a planet orbiting Betelgeuse who are laughing at Sarah Palin.
posted by Jimbob at 7:13 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Yes We Canberra" had a good take on the boats last week. They "brought the navy to stop the boats" into the landlocked constituency of a labour (?) candidate who was present in all background shots of the PM (or was it Abbot?) on tour in some border area up North.
posted by vidur at 7:37 PM on August 11, 2010

I don't think it's about race as much as xenophobia generally. Also, Australians' traditional mental image of Australia is that it's a wide, empty land - and they like it that way, they're proud of it. The centre of it is mostly uninhabitable, but by other countries' standards it really is empty. But the world's fourth most-populous country is directly to our north, with ten times our population and forty times more densely populated. I think the unexpressed fear is that we would be immediately swamped by millions of migrants if restrictions on illegal immigration were ever weakened.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:13 PM on August 11, 2010

The way you make ignorant people vote for you (or buy your newspaper or watch your "current affairs" show) is by convincing them that they are in danger and under threat. Since we actually live in a very secure, unthreatened and prosperous nation by global standards, the media and the journos decided boat people were an easy target.

I liked the "Yes We Canberra" protest against the far larger problem of "womb people". 300,000 of them arrive every year! And they suck up resources without contributing any tax money! WHY HAS NOBODY COMPLAINED?

Also absolutely loved the pro-Greens ad made for Gruen Nation and screened there last night. I never thought I would say it but even my eternally faithful Labor-soaked heart has lost all faith and I'm going Green this year too.
posted by andraste at 8:23 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unexpressed or not, fear of mass immigration from Indonesia makes little sense given that the people arriving from Indonesia by boat are not Indonesian. Indonesian sailors had a few thousand years to move to northern Australia before any Europeans turned up but the vast majority obviously didn't think it worthwhile.
posted by Canard de Vasco at 8:31 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

With that level of paranoia about the brown hordes trying to penetrate our defences & colonise our country, we should just reposition Australia as the Israel of the Pacific, and convince the US to throw a few hundred billion into our defence forces.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:35 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

A while ago I was talking with a man who used to be a cop here in Australia. He used to escort illegal immigrants - generally failed asylum-seekers, I think - on their unhappy plane ride back to wherever the system decided to send them.

He bore no particular grudge against the "illegals" themselves, but he also declared that we were already doing more than enough. Australia, he said, accepts more refugees than any other country in the world.

This didn't seem to make much sense to me, even in per-capita terms. But I didn't argue about it at the time.

He was, of course, completely wrong. Nations that're right next door to countries from which hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing obviously are, of course, the recipients of FAR more refugees than Australia, which is isolated from all sources of immigrants by lots and lots of ocean. Even in a per-capita sense, taking into account Australia's low population (we've got about as many people as New York State), we're way down the list compared with Turkey, or Germany, or whatever African nation's next door to the latest hideous civil war.

(Australia is high on the net migration rate list, but that's just the ratio between immigrants and emigrants. Since Australia is quite a nice place, and has a pretty low population, we don't have a huge amount of emigrants, so a relatively low number of immigrants can strongly influence the net migration rate. There's probably also some technical sense in which Australia's per-capita refugee-acceptance rate is high compared with countries that are themselves something of a shambles and so have no real idea how many refugees are arriving. I don't think this is the case for any European nations, though.)

None of this matters to the significant portion of the Australian population who appear to believe that some great tidal wave of Muslim immigrants - who are, of course, very likely to be terrorists! - is breaking upon our shores, and that Those People just aren't LIKE us, and they won't "assimilate", and look, mate, I lived in Lakemba and I saw it happening so don't you try to tell me, blah blah blah.

That the exact same concerns were expressed about whatever racial and/or religious groups these complainants belong to never seems to make much impression upon them. Irish, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, every different flavour of Christian... you name it, and there was probably a popular belief that it was going to mortally wound our fragile nation. Steps were, famously, taken to keep these foreign monsters out... until they (or their children, or their children's children...) eventually got in. And everything went better than expected.

A common piece of camouflage for Australian race-or-religion-based immigration-resistance is the claim that boat people are "queue-jumpers", pushing law-abiding immigrants out of the way.

In reality, there is no queue. If you're in, say, Afghanistan, and you want to emigrate to Australia, there is no "legal" path for you to take, besides the asylum-seeking path that is equated with illegality by the anti-boat-people crowd.
posted by dansdata at 8:54 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also absolutely loved the pro-Greens ad made for Gruen Nation and screened there last night. I never thought I would say it but even my eternally faithful Labor-soaked heart has lost all faith and I'm going Green this year too.

I've traditionally been a Democrats voter (before they imploded) simply because I didn't agree with some of the hardline green policies on the environment (for example I'm pro-nuclear) but I now think that it's time to look into renewable energy as the cost has sharply declined and the EROEI is starting to climb above 1.

This year will be the first I vote The Greens as my primary vote. I'm in a safe liberal seat but I want to scare the hell out of my MP.
posted by Talez at 8:55 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Talez, if you vote ADs in the senate, at least in Victoria, your vote will track -> Greens -> Labor - > Libs - > fundies first -> climate loonies.

Sounds about right, I'm voting above the line, which I rarely do.

Also see here:
posted by wilful at 9:23 PM on August 11, 2010

The clip from Yes We Canberra is here (at about 50 seconds from the start). The politician under consideration is David Bradbury (ALP) of Lindsay (NSW).
posted by vidur at 9:28 PM on August 11, 2010

should just reposition Australia as the Israel of the Pacific

And that's exactly what Abbott's proposing with his "neighbourhood watch for western values". Fuck that interview was something else.
posted by smoke at 9:42 PM on August 11, 2010

I always vote below the line. Both major parties are always second to last only ahead of nationalist parties and fringe loons.
posted by Talez at 9:54 PM on August 11, 2010

Australia as the Israel of the Pacific

Well we've got great hummous and Australian oranges are first-rate. And I'd love to see a few of the major Murray-Darling irrigators turned into kibbutzim.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:59 PM on August 11, 2010

we should just reposition Australia as the Israel of the Pacific

Er, you mean a country predominantly populated by refugees and their descendants?
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:23 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, that's right, a country where the people who inhabited the place 200 years ago have been marginalized and removed from their land. A country like that.
posted by Jimbob at 11:06 PM on August 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Okay I retract that. Let's keep this about ASTRAYA.
posted by Jimbob at 11:07 PM on August 11, 2010

Plus, we love beating up on Lebbos.

And a convict is just a frustrated refugee, who couldn't flee from a potato famine, and had to turn to theft instead.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:10 PM on August 11, 2010

which reminds me of a great joke I heard (thanks pompomtom), which I just have got to share.

Q: how many potatoes does it take to kill an irishman?
A: none.
posted by wilful at 11:25 PM on August 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

UbuRoivas: A lot of people used to go on about economic refugees. I have never been able to see much point in it; somebody fleeing a famine isn't morally inferior to someone fleeing a war.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:35 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Technically (ie according to the UN Refugee Convention & Protocols) a refugee is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution - which gives us a legal distinction between asylum seekers & economic migrants.

I generally agree with your point in moral terms, though, although my gut feeling is that priority should go, if to anybody, to those fleeing persecution above those fleeing economic hardship.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:59 PM on August 11, 2010

...especially since in the majority of cases the economic situation of countries producing economic refugees isn't absolute scarcity but extremely poor resource distribution and class/ethnic conflict. Exhibit A: Ireland in the famine. Quite enough food, not enough landlords shot.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:17 AM on August 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Thanks for posting this, awfurby, it really is excellent.
posted by harriet vane at 2:47 AM on August 12, 2010

Did anyone catch the Dick Smith documentary on ABC last night about population growth in Australia, and the Q&A show afterwards?

It struck me how incapable our systems of government & political parties are of handling any complex or long-term problems. Our systems are all stacked in favour of short-term 'squeaky wheel' fixes. This is fine when you have an immediate crisis to deal with. But who is looking after our long-term interests?
  • not the politician who doesn't look past winning the next election
  • not business groups who support the political parties financially; they're looking after their own interests, and making hay while the sun shines
  • not the media who need to sell copy (problems that will take 10 - 20 years to develop to crisis stage do not sell copy)
  • not the majority of voters, who think reducing carbon emissions is a good thing but not if it means driving less or paying more for electricity; who want infrastructure, health, eduction, social security for themselves - but don't want to be taxes increased to fund it.
It reminds me of an under-7's soccer match where all the kids on the field madly chase after the ball in one disorganised mob... no strategy, no restraint, just short-term selfish interest.

If I had to narrow it down to just one reason why I will be voting Greens, it's because they seem to have the best handle on long-term thinking.
Unfortunately it's also the reason why they will never win office in their own right.
posted by joz at 5:39 PM on August 12, 2010

To be fair, that's a problem inherent in all democracies, not just Australia.

Political parties in power are rarely game to inflict short term pain on the electorate, even if the policy would be beneficial in the long term.

The Greens can get away with having a longer term vision precisely because they don't need to risk losing a Prime Ministership, and can therefore act as a useful gadfly, trying to push the policies of the major parties towards a slightly bigger picture.

(disclaimer: Greens member; do my letterboxing &/or polling booth bit every election, but otherwise not active in day-to-day politics)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:06 PM on August 12, 2010

UbuRoivas, no arguments from me -- it's a problem with democracy, not just Australia.

How to make government more accountable for long-term effects of their policies? (or lack of policies)

I'm at a loss.
posted by joz at 8:01 PM on August 12, 2010

I bet that if the Snowy Mountains scheme was being proposed today, people (and politicians!) would be whining "Why should we pay taxes just so a bunch of immigrants can work? Send them back where they came from!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:16 PM on August 12, 2010

And yet Labor is building a $43b broadband network. I guess there are issues where a long term approach can work (notably in this example where the long term interests of the citizens, business and the media converge).
posted by bystander at 1:11 AM on August 13, 2010

I don't know what the solution is, but the 7 year olds playing soccer is an apt analogy, joz.

And yeah, the broadband is one of the biggest national infrastructure projects we've seen in a long time. I suppose it's because people can see a short-term, personal interest for themselves as well?
posted by harriet vane at 6:19 AM on August 13, 2010

Apparently we have a similar issue in Canada, both because people are arriving in boats, and because of the media's reaction. And the unsavoury public reaction - in the story I read yesterday in on of the national media sites, the overwhelming sentiment in the comments was "send them back", with a large helping of "sink the ship - that'll teach them".
posted by sneebler at 8:46 AM on August 13, 2010

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