Thursday, October 22, 2009

Boat people worries

A nasty political row has erupted following Liberal Parliamentarian Wilson "Ironbar" Tuckey's claim that "terrorists" are amongst those arriving here from Asia by boat seeking asylum. Tuckey's comment comes not long after Prime Minister Rudd called those arriving by boat "illegal" immigrants. Both sides of politics are keen to show the Australian public they are taking a hard line on the so-called "boat people".

Here's how I see it. Those on the left think Australia is obliged to take whoever comes here seeking refuge – we should put out the "welcome mat" although, as you will see if you click the link, the left's position on "illegal" immigrants is by no means monolithic. The right would prefer to put up a "no vacancies" sign, suggesting politely that asylum seekers find somewhere else to park their boats – there are established procedures for those wanting to come here: get in line and wait your turn.

The vast majority of Australians are not unsympathetic to the plight of those wanting to come to Australia seeking a better life. They do not want to put out the welcome mat, however, worrying that doing so will result in a flood of Asians knocking at the door wanting to be let in. It is irrelevant whether or not this fear – worry is perhaps a better word – is valid. 

Asia's population is approaching 4,000 million whereas Australia's population, at some 22 million, is approximately that of Shanghai. Australia is a minnow – both economically and in terms of numbers –  swimming next to a whale. Asia will almost certainly eventually overwhelm us economically but for now we like our distinctive Aussie lifestyle just the way it is and don't want to be swamped by a rising tide of Asian immigrants, illegal or otherwise. Putting another shrimp on the wok is simply not Australian.

This fear of being overwhelmed, forcibly or otherwise, by Asians is not new. Hence the post-World War II push to draw European immigrants to Australia. Australia has since become a multi-cultural nation but living next door to a giant is still a worry. Politicians are therefore pandering to the majority of Australians who are worried, rightly or wrongly, that a soft line on asylum seekers will inevitably result in a flood of queue-jumping mostly Asian immigrants. Such is politics.


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