Refugee Song

Australia’s government seems a little bit keen. A tiny bit. A fraction. I don’t wish to imply that there’s any kind of police state going on – after all, they did just let me into the country when I had no fixed abode or guaranteed income, so there must be someone pretty nice up there in Human Resources. But nonetheless, there’s an occasional moment of …something.

Now in most ways, I’m a typical child of the post-revolutionary left. By this, I don’t mean that I spend my time forming really small groups based on infinitesimal ideological differences to pre-existing groups, waste all my waking hours fighting those other groups closest to me instead of our supposed common enemy, and eventually splitting my own microscopic party down the middle due to a schism over a point of policy so small it was previously thought to be a myth… although that would fit the description too. What I mean is that I’ve always been inclined to favour ideologies that lean towards equality, humanitarianism and top-heavy taxation over those which aspire to complete libertarian freedom. But one issue which I never previously understood the big fuss about is the observation stuff. CCTV cameras, ID cards, and so on. My only major issue with the British national ID Card malarkey was how much they were going to charge for a compulsory card (starting, as I recall, with international students). Which effectively says: I don’t mind the principle, I just feel like haggling. Similarly with CCTV cameras. I always felt like if they wanted to stick them around the place, provided they were pointed away from my bathroom window, it was all good. Nothing to hide has nothing to fear, and so on. Now, I think I may be changing my mind.

I honestly don’t know to what extent this is Australia, and to what extent it’s just that arriving in a foreign country makes you acutely aware of anything that suggests “we’re watching you, sonny.” I’ve never lived in a country where I’m not a legal citizen before, so it’s difficult to draw any analogies. But I get the impression that this is a country just marginally more concerned with keeping tabs on its citizens than back home is, and that difference, amplified by unfamiliarity, is quite noticeable.

Mostly, it’s little things that make me think this. Having to register my new SIM card to my passport number was the first. It’s not fascistic, it was just unexpected. Meanwhile, those who follow the games industry won’t be in the least bit surprised to hear that censorship is pretty obvious down under – I noticed this before I even arrived, when my aeroplane’s in-flight movie Green Zone was prefaced by a warning that, under Australian law, certain scenes had been removed. What they were, I’ll never know, but the thought of watching Matt Damon doing anything potentially censorable is quite off-putting enough to make me not really mind. I think what really put me on edge regarding the levels of Government control, though, was THIS billboard, right here:

Don’t see what I mean? Here, look closer:

Its all part of Councils Plan!? How much more unashamedly Orwellian could that be? It’s not even “the Council”. Just “Council” – evidently Brisbane is far too well versed in newspeak to have any need for proley definite articles.

On a less confusingly creepy note, I was also shocked to find that the University of Queensland Student Union – UQU – isn’t a board of individually elected representatives like in Edinburgh, but a full-fledged party battle, resulting in one or other of Australia’s major political parties taking control of the union. Apparently, a more party-politic system used to be the case in a lot of UK institutions as well, so perhaps it’s not really a cultural difference in that sense. Nonetheless, the concept needles me. I quite like the Edinburgh student elections, they feel enjoyably human-sized – there’s no sense that the candidates are removed from the rest of the student body by anything other than ambition. It’s a lot less friendly to find that your on-campus representatives, the people that provide student services and support the student population, are towing the line of some much bigger political entity with interests that extend beyond providing a competent Student Union.

This is especially true with the looming general election down here. Yep, having come fresh from watching the UK elect its own shiny-faced new tw- Prime Minister, I’ve found myself in the middle of another election catfight. How is the Big Society going back home, by the way? Anyone feel bigger? More social?

Anyway, you can doubtless expect more political waffling on this page from me closer to election day (August 21, chronology fans!), as I’m one of those sad people who has actually come to regard politics as quite exciting. The point as far as this little ramble goes is that on UQ’s “market day”, supposedly the showcase day for the university’s merry selection of clubs and societies, the first stall I was greeted with on my way in was a massive gazebo packed with Liberal National party posters and propaganda. And all of this under the official banner of UQU. They were having a barbecue, selling sausages for $2 – or free if you bought membership.* How’s that for buying votes?

There’s all sorts of silly election guff, of course, but silly election guff is a given. There have been a few other surprises, though –  for one thing I’m not sure how advanced gay rights are here. On the UQ house rental adverts I was looking at in my first week there was a “queer-friendly” checkbox as though being unfriendly was an option (the box was often unchecked), and I know gay marriage isn’t legal because there’s a march about it sometime soon.

Finally, though, there’s the whole-refugee-thing. Australia has some very, very harsh measures in place to prevent refugees from places like Sri Lanka reaching here on boats to claim asylum. Again, like the coward I am, I’m going to distance myself slightly on the grounds of ignorance. I have only heard this issue talked about by people firmly on the far left, so I don’t really know what the rightwing or centrist take on the issue is. It seems likely to be the sort of thing that is maybe a mild concern, inflated to the status of massive-problem by some cunning electioneering. But from the talk which I attended on the subject, one image emerged which I’d like to leave you with.

Apparently,  if the refugee boats get detained on an outlying island, such as Christmas Island, the refugees aren’t entitled under law to the same level of human rights as they are if they reach the Australian mainland. As a result, enormous processing/detention centres have been built on these islands in order to process the refugees with less demands on the Australian government. Except, of course, the refugees don’t particularly want this. So those refugees who do flee from war-stricken countries towards Australia by boat do their best to plot a course for the mainland – meanwhile, government boats hunt the sea for them like fishing trawlers, trying to pull them in to take them to the island detention centres. It’s like Catch the Pigeon featuring asylum seekers, or the world’s biggest game of tag – with the enormous Australian mainland as “den”.

Presumably, somehow, it’s all part of Council’s plan.

* C.M.O.T Dibbler, anyone? Anyone?

9 thoughts on “Refugee Song

  1. Ah so we’re getting educated in Australian politics and foreign policy. Don’t put yourself down Aran, this is a really interesting piece.

    Have you joined any of the societies? x

  2. A great read – lucid considered & inquisitive. But what is a “new tw- Prime Minister”? Twinkling? Twisted? Twendy? Twoubling? Twoubadour?

  3. Very interesting read; as always.

    As I feel I can shed a wee bit light on the whole gay rights thing, I will do so. Basically, same sex marriage is prohibited across the country but some states allow civil partnerships or something similar. About half of the states recognise the rights of a second gay parent and have proper adoption laws. There is also anti discrimination legislation in every state except the wee Commonwealth islands, though it is apparently promised. All in all, they aren’t doing too badly in Australia in terms of actual laws, but you’ll probably find that no matter where you go, you’ll find people with views and opinions that could easily place them in the southern American states. Generally speaking, being queer Down Under isn’t all rainbows and sunshine.

    Apologies for the wee rant, but useful information, I hope? :)

  4. Any idea what the statistics compared to UK on crime, political awareness (i.e. number of people voting, et all…), road deaths, unemployment etc is? Would be interesting to see. If Australia’s keen-ness to record and watch makes for a safer country then perhaps it is worth it. Or does it do the contrary and breed mistrust between the watching authorities and the watched? Would be interesting to develop this further…

  5. Ana, Rog – cheers (:. Good to know people are getting something from it.

    Stace – definitely useful information, yeah. There’s a legalise gay marriage march this weekend, I’ll try and get along to educate myself further.

    Cat – not sure, I’ll see if I can unearth those. However I *do* know the voting stat. EVERYONE votes. Because they have to …expect some blog rambling on that in the near future, heh.

    Cathryn – I KNOW. =O

  6. *everyone*?! That’s a reallllly interesting idea. In a potentially incredibly positive, yet potentially ridiculously disasterous, way…

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