Friday, July 24, 2015
Dear rest of the world,
The Australian psyche is a most peculiar thing.
We are generous, laid-back and fun-loving. We love pranks, scandals and breaking the rules. We scorn authority, privilege and toffy monikers. And we're smart.
But we're not great global team-players. I'm really very sorry about that.
We often forget we're a small number, on a large island, in a vast world. Our geography has stunted our sense of international camaraderie.
Consequently, we (a people borne from boats-arrivals across the ages) have forgotten that we're not acting alone on planet earth. Our conduct takes place in an international context in which we are just 0.3% of the human population.
Displaced people, asylum seekers and unsettled refugees outnumber us 3:1 making up 0.9% of the world's population.
And only a fraction of these are resettled through the UNHCR each year. Only a fraction of displaced people have attempted to reach Australia by boat.
Such small numbers. We've forgotten the bigger picture.
Of course, we don't want any people to die at sea during their journey to Australia. But when we focus on journeys to Australia alone, we're blinkered to all of the deaths occurring in other seas as desperate people search for better lives for themselves and their families.
By trying to look after our own shores, we've lost sight of the global reality of conflict, persecution and people movements caused by fear or famine.
Shutting off one tiny sea route won't make a jot of difference to the global problem. It will just mean that dead bodies wash up on the shores of other nations, not our own.
What's wrong with us that we think we alone can abandon Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - and the Refugee Convention... and the 1967 Protocol? All of these instruments protect the right of people to seek asylum when they face persecution.
If Australia expects Pakistan and Jordan to accept millions of asylum seekeres into camps, we need to pull our weight.
We are a generous people. But we are frozen in the headlights of racism and fear.
Funding safe ways for people to resettle in Australia is part of the answer (hooray for an increase in intake from 13,000 to 27,000 refugees... although it's not until 2025).
But abandoning the obligation to accept asylum seekers is not, and never will be, acceptable from a developed intelligent and generous nation like Australia.
The government and key members of the opposition have forgotten the necessity of being a global team player on the issue of asylum seekers.