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I write this blog as an Australian, and in a personal capacity based on both my background as an international lawyer and of having worked for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other agencies in some of the world’s most atrocious of circumstances. My background is here.
Australia: informed and hopeful or ignorant and fearful?
Two of the greatest threats we have in this country today are ignorance and fear. Ignorance of change that will naturally happen, and fear of that very same change. Globalisation, population, demographic changes and continued multiculturalism a visible components in this ongoing change.
Fear of this change can manifest itself in many ways with some of the fear manifested in our refugee debate.
Conversely the greatest opportunities for Australia derive from us being informed and hopeful. Informed about the opportunities the future brings, and hopeful about the change that will result.
If I were PM I would want Australians ‘informed and hopeful’ even more than ‘relaxed and comfortable’. I would certainly want them to be ‘informed and hopeful’ rather than ‘ignorant and fearful’.
Surely this is the great challenge for leadership in this country – to lead on hope, not lead on fear? It is a sad truism in politics that it is easier to preach fear, hatred and intolerance, on one hand, than it is to preach compassion understanding and tolerance on the other.
Our leaders’ challenge is to break that truism and the challenge exists equally for PM, Opposition leader and minor parties. Whilst we have seen the PM’s narrative turn positive in many areas, although sadly not on asylum issues, the same change is yet to start in the camp of the Opposition Leader.
I want Australians to be informed and hopeful around all issues, but particularly around asylum seekers and refugees. I have written more on the ‘Carrots and Sticks‘ that could provide a better refugee solution – one that helps not hinders our international reputation.
Many can mount an argument about the horrors faced by refugees and why Australia should do the right thing in accepting refugees. But it is an argument that sadly lacks traction in today’s Australia.
The argument for humanity lacks traction in Australia because we allowed some sectors of our community to take the fear I referred to, and turn it into hatred.
As a community, we failed to stop the genie leaving the bottle when we were tempted with the Tampa.
The time has come for us to fight the genie.
I would suggest three things:
- Firstly we must urgently change our national narrative from one based on negative to one based on positive, not just to asylum and refugee policy, but to a whole raft of policies. Our current national debate does asked no good. Our current national debate is causing us brand image harm. Our current national debate is setting us up to be the future regional cringe not the future regional hinge.
- Secondly, we must change our dialogue on asylum from that of location of processing to how we handle resettlement regardless of where that processing takes place. Any discussion on resettlement must be handled regionally and the Bali process is a good place for that to start. For more information and my views on better policy, see here.
- Thirdly, it is in my view no longer good enough policy-makers to say “I am quietly raising these issues within my party room but I cannot speak out in public”. Because this issue is an issue that is move beyond that of boats, because it is an issue that has moved beyond that of even people, because it is an issue that has become one about the “content of our national character”, it is no longer good enough to quietly change things from the inside if they are yielding so painfully to change. You must speak out publicly.
Australia is a good country. It is a nation of well-meaning people. It is a nation of people with a good heart. But it is a truism in a democracy that if you have the chance of preaching fear hatred and intolerance on one hand and compassion togetherness and understanding on the other, fear hatred and intolerance wins almost all the time.
This is that reason that we believe people like Nelson Mandela are rare, precisely because they chose the difficult task of preaching compassion togetherness and understanding.
I believe for this country Tampa was a turning point. I believe Tampa was the time that we legitimised fear as a genuine political tactic in our country.
We urgently must work to put the genie back in the bottle, we must reverse our national psyche of negativity and create a dialogue of the positive for after all, that is what this country should be.
We have a lot of fear in our country, but what is not fear, is hope. It is funny that business can sometimes see hope more than politicians can!
People like me will help but at the end of the day – it is up to you.
More discussion like this is in: