The School of Athens

The School of Athens
The School of Athens by Raphael (click on picture to view short documentary from Columbia University)

Monday, 28 February 2011

The courage of NO!

Colleagues and scholars from coast to coast, across Bass Strait and all the ships at sea.

Dateline: Australia, Federal Politics 2011.

It's time for all politicians of goodwill across all party lines to finally break their interminable silence and say, unequivocally and emphatically, NO!

To what?  To the demonisation of asylum seekers.  

Australia urgently needs its political leaders to take a stand and unchain the nation from this political bastardry that has hardened its heart and shackled its soul.

The true measure of a nation is not its mineral wealth, or its annual GDP per capita, or the level of unemployment, or the number of gold medals it wins at the Olympics, or even how many Academy Awards its artists receive; the true measure of a nation is how well it treats the weakest and most vulnerable among it.  In many instances Australia scores very well on this measure, but on asylum seekers it scores very poorly.

The continual refusal by the vast majority of our politicians to deal with this issue, because they either don't want to give away an "electoral advantage" (as it is seen by the Coalition) or don't want to confront an "electoral liability" (as it is seen by the ALP) is a dereliction of their public duty and does nothing to rid the nation of this stain on its character.  In fact, their inaction makes the stain much worse and is in danger of making it indelible and permanent.

Worse, this focus solely on the electoral consequences of taking anything other than a "tough" stance on this issue not only reflects poorly on those politicians who can see the hypocrisy of this position yet refuse to do anything about it, but by legimitising the unfounded and irrational fears of the public these politicians are deliberately and wilfully directing the Australian people away from expressing what is a natural tendency for them - that is, to be compassionate and generous towards others in need.

We see this compassion and generosity time and time again, from the Boxing Day Tsunami to the Victorian Bushfires, from the Queensland Floods to the Christchurch Earthquake; each time Australians see the misery of others, they want to assist to alleviate that misery.  Indeed, many ache to assist.  

Yet, when it comes to asylum seekers Australians have been encouraged by their leaders to disregard this group of people in need, and because they have been constantly demonised as wrong-doers, they are deemed to be unworthy of any compassion or generosity. 

What a shameful act of betrayal this is.

Those politicians who believe asylum seekers deserve to be demonised for political gain, do not deserve to be in Parliament.  Those politicians who do not believe asylum seekers deserve to be demonised but accept that for "political reasons" they cannot speak up, also do not deserve to be in Parliament.  Better a near empty Parliament than one full of contemptible opportunists and cowardly hypocrites.

The Coalition, with its Neanderthal mantra of "Stop The Boats", is delighted to milk this issue for all it is worth, even going to the grubby extent of Scott Morrison's "poorly timed" comments regarding the funerals held in Sydney recently.

The ALP, with its "We don't see nuthin' we just work here" approach, has vacated the field of positive argument on this issue for so long that any mention of it has them scurrying away, hiding in the dark corners of the political debate, fearful of the backlash from "western Sydney".

The political scripts have all the intellectual rigour, and factual basis, of a TV soap opera.  But far from being The Bold and the Beautiful it is much more, The Frightful and the Fearful, or less charitably, The Grubs and the Gutless.
The media, too, has mostly played a disgraceful role.  Often talking about the "Boat People Crisis" and constantly ramping up the rhetoric, as well as keeping score by studiously reporting each new boat arrival and tallying how many people have reached Australian shores this year.  Curiously, you never hear a news bulletin saying, "the pressure on the Government regarding its immigration policy has increased yet again, as another 931 backpackers have overstayed their visas this week, bringing the total number to June 30 this year of 48,456 overstayers" (Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship).

How many will stand up and say with total conviction, this demonisation must end now?  How many will finally allow their conscience to guide them and ignore their party strategist's wishes and just say no?  How many will tell the Australian public the truth and stop spinning the web of lies that underpins this whole issue and feeds into the fear and ignorance in the electorate? 

Yes, it takes courage to go against the majority and, make no mistake, there is a majority of the public who hold negative views towards asylum seekers.  Yes, it takes leadership to push against something that seems set in concrete.  

But sadly, no, we haven't seen any courage or leadership from any of our major political leaders on this issue.

Clearly they need to learn from the acts of past leaders who displayed courage and true leadership on issues that were not easy to tackle; that seemed insurmountable; and were even a matter of survival.


1. Martin Luther King, Jr "Justice is indivisible.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere", April 4 1967.

The U.S. civil rights leader, The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr, made a speech on April 4 1967, exactly one year before he was assassinated, opposing the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.  It was called "A Time to Break the Silence".

This was not an easy decision for Dr King, he knew it would bring condemnation from many quarters including other civil rights leaders.  The Washington Post believed his actions "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people", Life magazine called his speech "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi."

However, this is how he explained his decision, 
"For those who say to me 'stick to civil rights', I have another answer.  And that is that I've fought too hard and too long now against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern.  I'm not going to do that.  Others can do what they want to do, that's their business.  If other civil rights leaders for various reasons, refuse, or can't take a stand, or have to go along with the administration; that's their business.  But I must say to you tonight that I know that justice is indivisible.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
This is a clip of the above quote here  This is the full speech from April 4 1967 (text and audio) here

At various speeches in 1967 and 1968 Dr King said the following:

"I have not urged a mechanical fusion of the civil rights and peace movements. There are people who have come to see the moral imperative of equality, but who cannot yet see the moral imperative of world brotherhood. I would like to see the fervour of the civil-rights movement imbued into the peace movement to instil it with greater strength. And I believe everyone has a duty to be in both the civil-rights and peace movements. But for those who presently choose but one, I would hope they will finally come to see the moral roots common to both."
"We were taking the young black men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem.... We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them in the same schools."
"We need to make clear in this political year, to Congressmen on both sides of the aisle and to the President of the United States, that we will no longer tolerate, we will no longer vote for men who continue to see the killings of Vietnamese and Americans as the best way of advancing the goals of freedom and self-determination in Southeast Asia."

Dr King's opposition to the war was a major turning point in galvanising the American public against the war as Ramsey Clark, U.S. Attorney General 1967- 1969, observed, "The moral force of Dr King's opposition to the war was an enormous body blow to the President." 

In the end Dr King was proven right.  Courage was something that he did not lack.

2. Ioannis Metaxas, Leader of Greece, "Οχι!" "NO!", October 28 1940.

This is a very famous day in the history of the Greek nation.  

In 1940 Italy's Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, was feeling inadequate.  His ally Adolf Hitler had conquered most of Europe and Mussolini wanted to show his forces were the equals of the Germans.  So he decided to invade Greece, a nation at the time of seven million people.

Mussolini told his Foreign Minister, Count Ciano, "Hitler always faces me with a fait accompli.  This time I am going to pay him back in his own coin.  He will find out from the papers that I have occupied Greece."

Mussolini wanted to invade Greece through its neighbour Albania, which Italy had been occupying since 1939.  

At 4.30am of October 28 1940, he gave the Greek leader Ioannis Metaxas an ultimatum that he wanted an unconditional surrender from Greece otherwise he would declare war and invade the country.

Metaxas reportedly responded with an unequivocal and emphatic "Οχι!" which is pronounced "och-hee" and translates as "NO!"

Within two hours, five heavily armed Italian divisions invaded Greece from Albania.  Italy had a much stronger army, navy and air force than Greece and so a quick victory was expected by Mussolini.

However, Metaxas's response of NO! to Mussolini became a rallying cry for the Greeks.  Far from being overwhelmed, the Greek forces drove the Italians back deep into Albania and continued to pursue them with great enthusiasm liberating one-third of Albania from the Fascist Italian rule.

Mussolini, after replacing the commanding generals of his forces several times, assumed command of the campaign himself, but to no avail.  His counter-attacks proved fruitless and there was even concern that the Greeks would cross the Adriatic Sea and invade Italy itself.

After a five-month campaign Greece had succeeded in defeating the Italian forces.  It was the first land defeat for the Axis powers and the first liberation of territory under Axis rule.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said at the time, "Today we say that the Greeks fight like heroes, from now on we will say that heroes fight like Greeks."

Hitler was reportedly outraged and because of the Italian defeat the Germans were compelled to capture the Balkans and Greece.  On April 6, 1941, the Nazis forces invaded Greece.  The Greeks with their allies from Britain, Australia and New Zealand were overwhelmed by the invading Nazi force and following a five-week campaign, which included an airborne invasion of Crete, Greece was defeated and occupied by the German army.

Historians believe that the Greek victory over the Italian forces may have influenced the outcome of World War 2 by forcing Germany to delay its invasion of the Soviet Union by at least six weeks in order to undertake the invasion and defeat of Greece.  This delay subjected the German forces invading the Soviet Union to the harsh Russian winter, which contributed significantly to their defeat at the Battle of Moscow.

Leni Riefenstahl, Adolf Hitler's favourite propaganda filmmaker, claimed Hitler told her "If the Italians had not attacked Greece and needed our help, the war would have taken a different course.  We could have anticipated the Russian cold by weeks and conquered Leningrad and Moscow.  There would have been no Stalingrad."

Josef Stalin said in a Radio Moscow address following the Soviet victory at Stalingrad "I am sorry because I am getting old and I shall not live long to thank the Greek people, whose resistance decided World War 2."

Georgy Kostantinovich Zhukov, Field Marshall of the Soviet Army wrote "If the Russian people managed to raise resistance at the doors of Moscow to halt and reverse the German torrent, they owe it to the Greek people, who delayed the German divisions during the time they could bring us to our knees."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt said "On the 28th of October 1940, Greece was given a deadline of three hours to decide on war or peace, but even if three weeks or three years were given, the response would have been the same.  The Greeks taught dignity throughout the centuries.  When the whole world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom."

Greece paid a heavy price for its defiance.

World War 2 claimed nearly one million of its people, about 14% of its population; the equivalent of about 3 million Australians in 2011.

Yet, the 28th of October holds a very special place in the history of the Greek nation and is a very important national day of celebration, not only because of its significance to Greece, but what that defiance meant to the world.

3. Dr Herbert Vere Evatt, Leader of the ALP, Referendum for the dissolution of the Communist Party, 22 September 1951. 

The question, "Do you approve of the proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution entitled 'Constitution Alteration (Powers to deal with Communists and Communism) 1951'?"

Fear campaigns are not rare in politics.  They are used all the time.  What is rare is a political leader who is prepared to stare down a fear campaign and win over the public despite seemingly overwhelming odds against success.

Dr HV Evatt of the Australian Labor Party was one such leader and the fear campaign he confronted was one of the biggest of all time - the fear of communism in the early 1950's.  

Sir Robert Menzies, leader of the Coalition, used the fear of communism as a political tool to wedge the ALP and shift voters over to support the Coalition.

Menzies was pushing the communist issue hard and in October 1950 managed to pass the Communist Party Dissolution Bill, which was designed to ban the Communist Party.

Malcolm Fraser years later said of the bill, "The Communist Party Dissolution Bill was one of the most draconian ever introduced into an Australian parliament - at least until the Howard government's anti-terrorism legislation." 
Evatt, then deputy leader of the ALP said of the Bill "the consequence of declaration is that the person concerned will lose his livelihood if he is an employee of the Government or holds trade union office......on the mere declaration of the Government of the day."  Evatt believed the bill was "the apotheosis of tyranny" which said, in effect "You are secretary of a trade union.  By the power of the Government to 'declare', you hold your office at the pleasure of the Government of the day."

Ben Chifley, leader of the ALP, said of the Bill, 

"I am the descendant of a race that fought a long and bitter fight against perjurers, pimps and liars and I should be very ashamed to stand for any principle that did not give the ordinary men and women of the community the rights to know what they are charged with, the right to defend themselves and the right to have their case heard in public...To ruin a man's reputation by calling him a traitor without giving him a right of appeal seems to me to be a departure from the principles, not only of British and American justice but of natural justice."

The ALP, after initially announcing it would vote against the Bill, was directed by its federal executive to support it, even though it was detested by Evatt and Chifley. 

Jenny Hocking in Gough Whitlam A Moment in History, explains the fallout from the federal executive's direction to switch the party's position,

"Chifley wore the public dismay and weathered the political derision, instructing caucus members to pass the Bill that was an absolute anathema to him, to Evatt and to so many of their colleagues.  He entreated his colleagues for unity with the prophetic words: 'Those of you who opposed the switch must take your humiliation on the chin.....Accept your humiliation and we can go forward; recriminate and we shall split.'  Gough Whitlam saw Chifley's torment: 'That broke Chifley's heart because Chifley was a good Labor man and a good trade unionist and he opposed the Communist Party Dissolution Bill.'  Five weeks after this Chifley suffered a major heart attack, the first sign of an illness that would later take his life just months later."

Hocking continues,

"The Communist Party Dissolution Act was not even gazetted before it became the subject of an historic challenge before the High Court.  To the astonishment, dismay and admiration of ALP caucus members, the challenge was led by their deputy leader, Dr HV Evatt, appearing on behalf of the Waterside Workers' Federation.  The Commonwealth government's case was to be led by Garfield Barwick KC.  In March 1951 the Court handed down its resounding 6 to 1 decision against the government, a stunning victory for Evatt and an outcome considered the most significant in the court's history."

"The High Court's decision infuriated the Prime Minister, who vowed to continue nevertheless: 'this is not the end of the fight against communism, it is merely the beginning'"

Menzies called and won an election in April 1951 and then proceeded to put the question of banning the Communist Party to the people in a referendum.  

Support in favour of the referendum was very strong and according to a Gallup poll stood as high as 80 per cent.  Evatt now leader of the ALP, with the death of Chifley in June 1951, was opposed to the referendum question.

"Once again it was Doc Evatt who campaigned tirelessly around the country, this time arguing against the referendum that in many ways was a deeper and more dangerous assault on the liberties even than the Communist Party Dissolution Act itself.  The campaign against the referendum was the most bitter fought - and the least likely to succeed - in Australia's history, requiring a shift from a massive popular support for the government's proposal when the referendum had first been announced to achieve the narrowest of victories for the 'No' case". (Hocking)

In Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs by Malcolm Fraser and Margaret Simons, it reads, 

"The referendum was narrowly defeated after an enormously vigorous campaign by Evatt and the Labor Party.  The Menzies government had not succeeded in convincing the Australian people that communism was a threat sufficient to justify the undermining of their civil rights."
"In recent times, Fraser has said that Evatt was right - very right indeed - to oppose and campaign against the Communist Party Dissolution Bill. 'He won rightly.  It was much to his credit; it said a great deal about principle and his readiness to support principles.  Where do we see such courage today, such determination?  Perhaps this is why bad policy has assumed a dominance in certain areas'"  

Justice Michael Kirby also commented on how Evatt had fought the communism referendum in 1951, and won, despite all the opinion polls which told him that his cause was hopeless and doomed to failure.

"In 1951, at the height of the Cold War, the Menzies Government proposed an amendment to the Australian Constitution to give sweeping powers to the government to ban communists and communism. The measure smacked of McCarthyism.  Dr Evatt, as Leader of the Opposition, saw it as an attack on fundamental human rights. The way to beat communism was by persuasion, not by using autocratic communistic methods." 
"At the opening of the referendum campaign, the opinion polls showed 80% of the Australian public supported the Menzies proposal. Many members in Dr Evatt's own Party urged him to back off.  Those who followed opinion polls would never have taken his stand.  But he was convinced of the importance of the principles at stake.  By a heroic campaign he ultimately persuaded the Australian people to reject the amendment to their Constitution.  It was his finest hour as an Australian leader." 
"The lesson for today's politicians who follow countless opinion polls and surveys is clear.  The business of politics is properly that of leading the community, not twisting in the wind to transient public opinion.  Evatt may have been a difficult man. But he knew that in the end, history would vindicate adherence to principle. He rightly told his colleagues in Canberra that it was more important to defeat the referendum than to win two or three Federal elections." 
"We need more politicians of such principle.  They should say what they truly believe.  Personally, I would consign political pollsters to Pinchgut.  They have taken over political thinking in this country.  All too often they hold our political 'leaders' as hostages.  Politicians of all political parties should study Evatt's stand of principle on the proposal to outlaw communists.  We need more leadership of that quality in Australia and fewer pundits and pollsters."

The lessons from Dr King, Ioannis Metaxas and Dr Evatt, all point to the same conclusion:

When you are fighting from a position of conviction based on the truth, in the end, you will always win.  Even though at times it may seem impossible and the task insurmountable, you will not lose because as the Greek dramatist Sophocles wrote, "Truth is always the strongest argument."

The truth always triumphs because it is built on the firm foundations of fact not the flimsy footings of fiction.

The first truth is that most of the public doesn't know any of the truth on this issue and this goes a long way to explaining their disdain towards asylum seekers.

A constant stream of untruths, eloquently argued, can lead anyone to believe anything.

As Socrates explained in his defence at his trial in 399 BC "How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was - such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth."

Gleaning from various sources of published research on this issue, there are several fictions that a majority of the public believe to be facts and combined with the lack of leadership which not only refuses to explain the truth but implicitly and explicitly perpetrates such fictions, leads to the negative reaction we see from the public.

Fiction no. 1 "These people are acting illegally"

This is one of the most damaging fictions.  Australians do not like illegal acts, it goes right against the belief of 'playing by the rules'.

The truth is, however, that asylum seeker are not acting illegally, they are perfectly entitled to seek asylum from persecution.  

Under Australian and International Law a person is entitled to make an application for refugee asylum in another country when they allege that they are escaping persecution. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” 

The Universal Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 by a vote of 48 in favour (including Australia), 0 against, with 8 abstentions (all Soviet Bloc states,Yugoslavia, South Africa and Saudi Arabia).

The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.

The convention was approved at a special United Nations conference on 28 July 1951. It entered into force on 22 April 1954. It was initially limited to protecting European refugees after World War II but a 1967 Protocol removed the geographical and time limits, expanding the Convention's scope.  Article 1 of the Convention as amended by the 1967 Protocol provides the definition of a refugee:

"A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.."

Australia is a signatory to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol.

What is most important to grasp in dealing with this fiction of illegality, is to understand that the origins of the 1948 Declaration, the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol came from the inaction of the world regarding the plight of Jewish refugees prior to World War 2.

In July 1938, an international conference with 32 nations attending (including Australia) was held at the resort town of Evian, France.  The purpose of the conference was to discuss the plight of refugees, many of whom were Jews escaping Nazi Germany.  Many lives were currently in danger but the international response was lukewarm as Sir Martin Gilbert explained in The Holocaust "The international community, which at Evian had been presented with an opportunity to keep open the gates of refuge, chose that moment, so desperate for the Jews already under Nazi rule, to signal its own hesitations and reluctance.  It was a neutral stance, not a hostile one, but this neutral stance was to cost a multitude of lives."

When the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany became well understood after World War 2, and the result of Evian and other indifferences by the international community to the plight of refugees prior to the War became clear, the international community believed that a universal declaration that specified the rights of individuals was necessary to protect people from such atrocities occurring again.  

Fiction no. 2  "These people are rorting the system"

There is a widespread belief that the majority of 'boat people' are somehow managing to rort the system and get live in Australia without any justification.  The truth is that between October 2008 and December 2010, 94 per cent of these 'boat people' were found to be legitimate refugees fleeing persecution (Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship).

They are not rorters, they are people in genuine need of our help.

Fiction no. 3  "We are being over-run with these people"
There is a widespread belief that Australia is being invaded by hordes of 'these people' and the Government has lost control of our borders.  Such fears are completely unfounded but are easily exploited by party political advertisements depicting invasion-like red arrows as in this example here.

The truth is, depending on the year, 'boat people' make up between 1 and 3 per cent of Australia's immigration intake (Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship). 

The public, however, think much differently.

In June 2010 Essential Research found that 70 per cent of the public had a view as to what proportion of our immigration intake came from 'boat people', and 30 per cent said they did not know.

Of those 70 per cent a full 10 per cent, nearly 1.5 million people, thought that they made up 50 per cent of our intake; a further 15 per cent, about 2.1 million people, thought they made up 25 per cent of our intake; and 13 per cent, about 1.8 million people, thought they made up about 10 per cent of our intake.

Only 33 per cent, about 4.6 million people, were close to the truth, thinking that the intake was from less than 1 per cent to about 5 per cent.

"From what you have read and heard, what percentage of Australia’s annual immigration intake are asylum seekers arriving by boat?" (Table source: Scott Steel)

Fiction no. 4 "These people are queue jumpers".

This is another very damaging fiction, because it goes against the concept of the 'fair go'.

A majority of the public believes that many other people are waiting in an orderly manner, as if they were lining up to get into the Sydney Cricket Ground to watch an Ashes Test, and 'these boat people' are jumping the queue to get better seats. 

But the truth is, as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representatives have explained many times, there is no queue, or if there is one it doesn't work.  There's nothing orderly about it as asylum seekers are desperate to escape and so it's essentially a stampede.

It's like being in a theatre with 500 other people and a fire starts.  As there are only two exits, everyone is trying to get through those doors.  There's no orderly queue, it's everyone for themselves.  Everyone is trying to save themselves and their families.  And if some fellow presented himself suggesting that for some money he could get them through a side exit, who would not take that offer?  Who would seriously suggest that they would not do everything they could to get their family to safety?

It's a ridiculous suggestion and even the most hard-hearted of people could recognise that.

Fiction no. 5 "These people get access to benefits that ordinary Australians can't get".
This is a truly sad fiction.

This is like a healthy person complaining because a heart attack victim is receiving 24 hour a day intensive care, and they are not.  Perhaps the perpetrators of this fiction would like to swap places with any of 'these people' to get access to those benefits.

It's the same as those who complain that Indigenous people get a whole lot of benefits that they can't get.  Again, perhaps they would like to swap places with an Indigenous person and receive all those 'benefits' including having an 18 year lower life expectancy.

Fiction no. 6 "These people do not fit into our society".
This fiction is quite malicious not only because it is directed at asylum seekers but also because it leads, by extension, to targeting others who 'do not fit into' our society; for example, Muslims.

Since the First Fleet arrived in 1788, Australia has always been a nation of immigrants.  Everyone originally came here as a boat person or, more recently, jet person.  How does one immigrant not fit in with a society that is made up of immigrants? 

It's nonsense.

Unless your name is Djagamurra or Gulpilil or some such, you are the descendant of immigrants.  To suggest otherwise is incorrect.  And as such, we are obligated to give as many other people as is practical the same opportunities that we and our forebears enjoyed.

None of our forebears decided to leave where they were living and move to Australia because they thought they would have a worse life; they came here for a better life, as do asylum seekers.

This 'do not fit in' concept, especially when it is extended to citizens who have already been living here for a number of years, is ignorant and cruel in the extreme and gives the extremists in our society the legitimacy they crave.  Pleasingly, many members of Parliament from the Government and Opposition condemned such notions.

Fiction no. 7 "These people are terrorists".

This fiction is so absurd that it doesn't warrant any serious discussion.  Except to say that those politicians and commentators who have run this line are a disgrace and those of the public who believe them are beyond help.


While Australia has much to be proud of, including being one of the few nations around the world that has developed as an immigrant nation with almost no serious problems, its treatment of asylum seekers is nothing to be proud of.  

In fact, it should fill the nation with shame.

Those who act most shamefully are not the majority of the public, who have been incorrectly named by some as racists and xenophobes, but their politicians who have exploited either directly (in the Coalition's case) or by compliance (in the ALP's case) the public's confusion and unease about asylum seekers landing on their shores.  This exploitation has turned an understandable concern into a hostile loathing and has deliberately used fear appeals to take advantage of the public's ignorance.

To overcome this problem requires leadership and courage.  To date, this hasn't existed from our political leaders.

However, there have been examples in the past of leaders who have taken a stand and stood up for they believed was right, and won out in the end.

The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr. understood injustice all too well and when he came to realise that the Vietnam War was another injustice, he rose to the challenge and took a stand.

Ioannis Metaxas, when he was given an ultimatum by a much more powerful nation in Fascist Italy that he surrender or else, gave a clear and unequivocal NO!  And the Greeks' defiance played a crucial role in helping to defeat Nazi Germany.

Dr Herbert Vere Evatt, when he was confronted with what he saw as a draconian attempt to isolate and vilify a particular group (The Communist Party) fought the attempt, first in the High Court and won, and then in the court of public opinion, and won again.

All this is possible when you are fighting from a position of conviction based on the truth.

A wonderful example of this comes from the most resilient and courageous member of the House of Representatives from either the Government or the Opposition:

"I rise today to call on the government and the opposition to stop the political tactics and to end the escalating, hysterical rhetoric over who can produce the toughest policies, and for men and women of conscience in this place to call for the end of the politicisation of asylum policy."
"The contention that temporary protection visas and mandatory detention will in some way stop the boats is not supported by history. Mandatory detention was introduced as a deterrent by the Labor government in 1992, when a small number of people arrived by boat. Ten years later, there had been 5,000 boat arrivals. In the five years prior to temporary protection visas being introduced, there were 3,103 boat arrivals. In the five years following the introduction of temporary protection visas, there were over 11,000 arrivals."
"Of the 10.4 million refugees currently in the world, according to the UN, Australia’s generous resettlement program will take less than 0.0001 per cent per annum. This is the number that will find their way to our shores each year, and it would therefore be reasonable to craft policy in proportion to the dimension of the challenge faced in Australia—not to ramp it up with political rhetoric."
"If we are serious about stemming the flow of refugees, we must desist from punitive policies and join with our regional neighbours and the international community to prevent the tyranny, genocide and war which cause people to flee from their homelands. We must prepare to share the burden of those who come to the region seeking asylum. After all, few people would choose to leave their home and make such a perilous journey without good cause." (Source: The Hon. Judi Moylan, Member for Pearce, from a speech to the House of Representatives, 21 February 2011).

Australia has dealt with this issue before with the influx of refugees from Indochina in the 1970s.  The nation, with strong leadership from Malcolm Fraser, managed to work through that situation with compassion and good sense. 

There's no reason it cannot be done once more.  All that is required is leadership and conviction.
How many politicians will now join with Judi Moylan and take a stand for what many know to be right?

How many will search deep into their conscience and ask themselves did they really enter public life to be party to the vilification of some of the most vulnerable people in the world?

How many will say to themselves, "enough is enough"?

How many will have the courage to say NO?

As a final point, this little 'tutorial' neatly explains how fear and ignorance can be exploited by ruthless politicians to the detriment of their nation see here  and after having watched that it might be worth reflecting on this and then listening to this.


  1. This would be one of the most moving and yet heartrending posts I have ever read. You put the case so simply and passionately and I wish that it were so that more people say NO.

    Alas, the latest poll by Essential Research indicates that there is a lot of headway to be made against the bigotry and ignorance in the community. It is not helped by the rabid ravings of the right-wing shock jocks on radio and TV or, as you say, our current crop of politicians.

    To borrow from another famous speech by Dr King, I have a dream.....

    I hope I live to see the day.

    Thank you for posting such an insightful commentary.

  2. You are most welcome, Allan. Thank you for your comments.

  3. Brought tears to my eyes. A truly beautiful profound and inspiring post. Thankyou.

  4. Well said. I hope many people read this and repent of their bigotry

  5. 30,000+ illegals later under the leftie experiment and it's been proven to be a dismal failure.

    Under Howard we had 3 boats a year, under Dillard and Rudd we have 3 boats a day. Our detention centres are full. Immigration bill has blown out by $5 Billion Dollars.

    The leftie experiment is just about over, only a few months to go.

    BTW... Tell real refugee's in a downtrodden refugee camp in Euthopia that cashed up queue jumpers wearing designer clothes getting their spots is fair. Go on... I dare ya. You might have to come out of your leftie fantasy world back to reality.


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