We’ve always had boat-people coming to Australia. Our ancestors arrived here in ships from England. The First Fleet is the name given to the 11 ships which left Great Britain on 13 May 1787 to found a penal colony that became the first European settlement. It was a dangerous voyage with many deaths from sickness. But for the Aboriginal people it ended very badly with almost total genocide.
The First Inhabitants
The Aboriginal people must have arrived here by boats from South East Asia, estimated to have been about 51,000 years ago.
The Vietnamese “Boat People”
The term ‘boat people’ entered the Australian vernacular in the 1970s with the arrival of the first wave of boats carrying people seeking asylum from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Over half the Vietnamese population was displaced in these war-torn years, with most emigrating to other Asian countries, however, some embarked on the voyage by boat to Australia.(http://www.aph.gov.au). I taught English to some of these as an Adult Migrant English Teacher during this time. We welcomed these refugees with open arms, the government allotting funds for offering language classes, accommodation assistance and cross-cultural programs.
So what is happening now? Why the sudden change and the secrecy surrounding government operations?
Our government has taken on aspects of certain notorious boat people of the past: the Bounty’s Captain Bligh, for example. Instead of ‘Land Ahoy! Land Ahoy!’ all we hear now from our leader is ‘Stop the boats! Stop the boats!’ But real and truthful information to the Australian public about the processes and procedures to be used by the government is absent.
The number of people arriving by boat in Australia is very small, and it is minuscule by comparison with the intakes in other countries.
According to the Refugee Council of Australia, in 2010-11, Australia received 11,491 asylum applications. Less than half of these (5,175) were from asylum seekers who arrived by boat. Over the same period, 2,696 Protection Visas were granted to refugees who arrived by boat. This is just 1.3 per cent of the 213,409 people who migrated to Australia during the year.
The Conservative Government of 2014
Scott Morrison, federal Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, told the 44th Federal Parliament in its first sitting in 2014: ”We are going to hold the line, we are going to protect the borders … This battle is being fought using the full arsenal of measures.’ Later on, the Prime Minister defended the secrecy of the ”battle”, saying, ”if we were at war we wouldn’t be giving out information that is of use to the enemy just because we might have an idle curiosity about it ourselves”. (http://www.theage.com.au)
Once a government resorts to secrecy, a dangerous precedent is set up, and this was corroborated by our ex-Liberal Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser’s summation of Tony Abbott as a ‘dangerous politician’ way back in 2011, reported in The Conversation.com.
Stop the mealy-mouthed language and show us some respect!
The Conservative Government of 2017 under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in spite of its inability to find a proper solution to the treatment of asylum seekers, is at least more respectful in its use of language towards refugees.
Let’s hope that a change in government will bring about a more compassionate stance on this issue.
- 10 Malicious Missteps Of The Tony Abbott Government (listverse.com)
- Australia’s Policy on Migrants Questioned After Smuggler Says He Was Bribed to Turn Back (rss.nytimes.com)