Dante’s ninth circle of Hell is full of those who demonise asylum seekers.
Forgive the religious allusion, but the politicians who call these poor souls ‘illegals’ are often the most pious.
Whatever happened to, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted” or, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”?
On Monday, Jesuit-educated Opposition Leader Tony Abbott stoked the fires of racial hatred by re-launching the Coalition’s ‘illegal boats’ billboard.
This is dog whistle politics at its worst: semantic game-play at its best.
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “All people have a fundamental human right to seek asylum from persecution”.
But Mr. Abbott invokes Article 31: “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened …present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.”
Calling every entry ‘illegal’ is deliberate ignorance: between 70 and 97 percent of asylum seekers are found to be legitimate refugees.
The real illegals are people who overstay their visas, including thousands of British tourists.
But those lines won’t be found on the Coalition’s hymn sheet. Instead its strategy is lifted from the pages of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and Machiavelli’s The Prince: create fear about ‘the other’.
The heroic Aussie battlers versus the villainous darkies, sponging off the system and taking our jobs. Suddenly, anyone from the Middle East is a terrorist.
While the current Coalition leader follows in the footsteps of John Howard, bigotry is not exclusively the domain of the Right.
The seeds of the White Australia Policy were sown in the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 under the Barton government, formed by the Protectionist Party and the ALP.
In 2009, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, “We have always said that our approach to people smuggling, to illegal immigration, to asylum seekers, will be tough, hardline”.
This from a man who goes to church every Sunday; who worships Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian who dedicated his life to working for the oppressed.
Oh, the hypocrisy.
Speaking of which, contrast the shadow customs minister Michael Keenan who stood proudly in front of the ‘illegals’ billboard, to the one who cried in parliament about the victims of the 2010 Christmas Island boat tragedy.
639 crocodile tears.
Two and a half years really is a long time in politics.
However, others in the Liberal Party are dismayed at the Phoenix-like return of Howard government policies.
Last year, backbencher Judi Moylan (pictured right) urged the public to “stand up” to the “rubbish rhetoric” of her leader over asylum seekers.
“We should not talk about queue jumpers, we should certainly not talk about illegals. They want to work and be part of our society,” she said.
This year her colleague, Russell Broadbent, accused the party of vilification after immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, called for “behaviour protocols” for those released into the community.
Because those dirty Arabs don’t know how to behave in polite society. Is that something you learned at Sunday School, Scott?
It’s not just about asylum seekers.
Mr. Morrison routinely uses the ‘big Australia’ debate to evoke images of boat people swamping our shores. This defies demography.
As we reach 23 million, 60% of our population growth is through migration (predominately skilled), 7% humanitarian (mostly acquired overseas), and 1.2% Special Humanitarian Program visas, which include asylum seekers.
Far from a tsunami, it’s barely a trickle.
Still, the Libs are focusing on more important matters – like hunting down the illegals who defaced their billboard.
On Tuesday, someone reset the counter to zero and daubed, “no crime to seek asylum, sincerely yours”. The billboard was papered over the next day.
This is not a case of simple semantics. The use of this word “illegal” could incite violence against already marginalised, desperate and persecuted people.
It reminds me of an apocryphal story from long ago about a man who was persecuted, then crucified.
Perhaps those who believe in this tale should show kindness towards their fellow man.
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*Tracey Spicer is a respected journalist who has worked for many years in radio, print and television.
Channel Nine and 10 news presenter and reporter; 2UE and Vega broadcaster; News Ltd. columnist; Sky News anchor …it’s been a dream career for the Brisbane schoolgirl with a passion for news and current affairs.
Tracey is a passionate advocate for issues as diverse as voluntary euthanasia, childhood vaccinations, breastfeeding, better regulation of foreign investment in Australia’s farmland, and curtailed opening hours for pubs and clubs. She is an Ambassador for World Vision, ActionAid, WWF, the Royal Hospital for Women’s Newborn Care Centre and the Penguin Foundation, Patron of Cancer Council NSW and The National Premmie Foundation, and the face of the Garvan Institute’s research into pancreatic cancer, which killed her beloved mother Marcia 11 years ago. But Tracey’s favourite job, with her husband, is bringing up two beautiful children – six-year-old Taj and five-year-old Grace. Visit Tracey’s website at www.spicercommunications.biz or follow her on Twitter @spicertracey.