14 August 2013

Boat People

I have arrived back in Melbourne in Australia and it is cold. It is freezing in fact. Rain is falling in torrents and the skies are black and a howling wind is blowing. The cold cuts to the bone. It is biting. I am swaddled in Yak blankets and I am sitting in front of a log fire. A black fluffy cat named Klawed is curled up beside me. He has his own Yak blanket and he is making loud purring noises. It could be snores. His little engine is rumbling away. I am comfortable and cozy as is the cat named Klawed. It is bleak outside though. The rain is splashing a loud symphony on the roof.

I have been accused of a fashion faux pas by wearing 'Junners'. This is apparently the socially unacceptable combination of pairing jeans and runners. The accusers are the young adults in my life. My daughter Totty has told me that Junners are socially unacceptable and she would not be seen out in public with me in my current attire. I told her that was OK for I had no plans to go anywhere today anyway - with or without her.

My niece Georgina has just wandered into the room looking for breakfast and she said:

"Ewww Uncle Peter. Junners"

Such a statement delivered by a disheveled teenager wearing Batman pajamas, fluffy pink slippers and a cheeky grin I take with all the seriousness that it deserves.

None whatsoever.

Charlotte has told me to go and put my boat shoes on before any people arrived and I have refused. I did not know that I had boat shoes but apparently I do. I call them my grey shoes. I told Charlotte and Georgina that I do not mind Junners and I like them in fact. I told the girls that I find my jeans and my runners to be comfortable. I also informed them that fashion opinions expressed by teenagers with facial piercings and tattoos on their necks carry no weight with me.

None at all.

A Federal election is imminent in Australia and the media is saturated with reports on the upcoming vote. There is interview after interview with politicians talking about policies and budgets and saying not very nice things about each other. The TV is on now and Politicians are spewing their diatribe. It is incessant and mostly repulsive.

Australia's current Prime Minister recently ousted our previous Prime Minister who actually ousted the current Prime Minister herself more than a year ago. Australia had it's first female Prime Minister for a while. History will however record that she was not elected by the People. She came about as a result of a sinister ousting.

It didn't work out.

There has been quite a bit of ousting and treachery in Australian politics in recent times. There always has been really. Politics is a dirty game. Much mud is thrown and a great deal of it sticks.

The origin of the saying 'his name is mud' is an interesting one. It is a derogatory term.  It relates back to the assassination of the US President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. After shooting President Lincoln at the Ford's Theatre in Washington, Booth leaped from the upper balcony onto the stage. The play "Our American Cousin" was being performed. When he landed he broke his leg. Despite this fracture he managed to limp away from the theatre and evade the police and he made his way to the home of one Dr. Samuel. A. Mudd who set Booth's broken leg.

In the subsequent pursuit and eventual capture of the assassin it was revealed that Dr. Mudd had provided treatment to Booth. The doctor was arrested and he was charged and convicted with conspiracy. Dr. Mudd was sentenced to life imprisonment  but he was actually pardoned after four years because of his compassionate treatment of his fellow prisoners who contracted yellow fever.

The very prominent and politically sensitive subject of the moment is about Asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are refugees displaced from their homelands by wars and famines and persecution. They are heading towards Australia in their thousands and they are coming in overcrowded and leaky and dangerous boats.

They are referred to as the Boat People.

I do not think that the Boat People who are heading to Australia in overcrowded and leaky and dangerous boats are wearing boat shoes like the pair that I own. My grey ones. The vast majority of these people are in fact shoeless. They are coming from transit points in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Hundreds of them have drowned trying to get to Australia.



The Asylum seekers who are trying to come to Australia are men and women and children. They are often whole family units. All of them are poor and desperate people.

Yes People.

They come from conflict ravaged countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. They are so desperate to escape tyranny and fear that they have traveled over land and sea from very far away places. They have taken battering and dangerous journeys. Journeys that few of us could imagine - let alone survive. They have been prepared to risk everything to escape persecution and bombs and bullets.


Australia have armies in the countries from which these people are running. We are firing guns and dropping bombs on their homelands.

We owe these Boat People plenty.

The politics of Refugees and Asylum and Immigration are complicated and emotional in Australia. The issue is blurred with ignorance and intolerance and bigotry. There are vastly different public and political perspectives on the issue. There is no dispute from either political Party in Australia that despicable international criminal people smugglers are involved in at least the last leg of the long journeys that these refugees are taking. The scale of the issue is large. More than 45,000 Boat People have been intercepted and detained whilst heading towards Australian Territorial waters in the last three years. The vast majority of these people are still being detained and are awaiting processing in faraway and remote offshore Detention Centers. They are the lost people.

There is no question that the evil and opportunistic people smugglers who are providing the leaky and unseaworthy and dangerous boats are criminals. They are complicit in the drownings of the Boat People. Every possible form of international police cooperation is required to catch and convict all who are involved in such a callous and evil trade. One would think that their identification should not prove difficult given the tens of thousands of witnesses that the Australian Immigration Officials have at their disposal in the offshore Processing Centers.

Immediate action is required.

The current government has recently reinforced it's policy of not allowing Boat People entry into Australia. The navy are intercepting and escorting the leaky and unseaworthy and dangerous boats and their human cargo to Processing Centers in countries such as Nauru and New Guinea. Complex deals for 'off-shore' Processing Centers have been attempted with Malaysia.

The Processing Centers that are currently in use are in remote and isolated areas and are vastly over-crowded. They have insufficient facilities and infrastructure for children and families. People live in conditions that are way below what any decent human being would consider to be humane. Asylum Seekers will likely live there for years until they are 'processed' by over worked and under resourced and under-paid Australian Civil Servants.

It is cruel and it is unacceptable.

We can surely do things a lot better.

My nephew Benjamin who is a bogan and drives a Ute has just arrived with his girlfriend Jessie. We have embraced and Ben observed and commented almost immediately that I was wearing junners. I agreed with Ben that I was indeed attired in junners and I commented that he appeared to still be a bogan.

Ben laughed and before we hugged he said:

"No one wears Junners Uncle Pete"

Ben's girlfriend Jess nodded her head in agreement and I could see the distaste on her face when I hugged her as well.

I clipped Benjamin around the ear and told him that I was a fashion setter and not a follower. I told him and Jess that I liked Junners.

I feel that as an Australian we could and we should be doing better assisting the Asylum Seekers. The Boat People. We need to do our part in an international effort to eradicate the dark and abhorrent trade in human cargo but at the same time we should demonstrate compassion to those who arrive. We should let them land and we should avail to them all of our health and education and legal systems. Australia is vast and is mostly empty. It is as empty as the promises that most of our politicians make. We have plenty of space. We even have a shortage of labor in many of our rural areas.

Towns are dying.

According to the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon: 

"the burden of helping the world's forcibly displaced people is starkly uneven ...... poor countries host vastly more displaced people than wealthier ones. While anti-refugee sentiment is heard loudest in industrialized countries, developing nations host 80% of the world's refugees"

We have plenty of money too. The trillionaire Mining Companies of Australia could fund the construction of all the infrastructure that would be required to host these poor people. They could finance it on their own. From the taxes they are not paying on the carbon and toxic waste that they are producing. Millions of tons of it. Every year.

The  billions of taxpayers dollars that are currently being spent on building Processing Centres in places like Nauru and New Guinea could be spent on building much needed infrastructure on Australian soil. Hospitals and schools and Green Energy systems. Particularly Green Energy systems. We haven't done much on that front since the construction of the Snowy River hydro-electricity system.  More than half a century ago. At the time it was the largest single building program of it's type on the planet. Ironically it was done off the back of the necessary immigration of tens of thousands of workers from other lands. Mostly from Europe. Many of these labourers arrived in overcrowded and leaky and dangerous boats.

Australia is a land that was built on the blood and sweat and toil of immigrants. It has bought us a richness of culture and diversity and acceptance. Australia has always been multicultural and I once thought that we were a caring and compassionate and tolerant people.

I am not so sure anymore.

White Australian history and population has been reliant on a massive influx of foreigners for the past two centuries. The English sent their unwanted convicts to our shores in overcrowded and leaky and unseaworthy boats 200 years ago. Hundreds died along the way.

Australia is an enormous but mostly empty country. It is blessed with resources in abundance and opportunity still abounds. Australia is still regarded as a friendly and generous country where freedom of choice and speech are ingrained in it's culture. It is still is the lucky country. Which is why it attracts so many immigrants and desperate refugees. Australia has always unhesitatingly demanded that every bloke be given a fair go.

At least we used to demand this.

My two other nephews have just arrived with my sister Jane. One boy is sixteen and the other is twenty two and both are strapping. The one who is sixteen asked me if I knew that I was wearing Junners and I told him that I did. I told him that the fashion was back in Singapore as well as Tokyo and Hong Kong. I told both my nephews that I had just returned from a week in London and that Junners were big over there as well. I told them that they were behind the fashion times.

My niece Georgina squealed, "Bullshit Uncle Peter"

Her squealing woke up the cat named Klawed.

I think that Australia needs to treat the Boat People with a bit more dignity and kindness than we are at the moment. We need to demonstrate compassion. I think that we should let the poor Boat People land and give them immediate assistance with healthcare and education and housing. We should also apologize for our part in the bombing and the shooting in their homelands. We should apologize unreservedly. I believe that we should provide the Boat People with the opportunity and hope and peace that they are looking for. And we should throw in a couple of sets of junners for each Asylum seeker as well.

That would be nice and decent and proper.

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