The astonishingly dishonourable Scott Morrison, MP, has directed the staff of the Australian Department of Immigration to refer to asylum seekers who arrive by boat as “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”, or “IMA”s. This piece of breathtaking demonisation sparked a predictable outcry from the thinking, feeling, caring public, prompting Mr Morrison to rather huffily declare that he was merely calling “a spade a spade”. Being direct. Saying it like it is.
”People who have entered Australia illegally by boat have illegally entered by boat,” he said.
”I’ve never said that it is illegal to claim asylum. That’s not what the term refers to. It refers to their mode of entry.’‘
It’s fascinating, then, that the directive fails to refer to those who arrive by plane and then illegally overstay their visas as “Illegal Visa Overstayers” (IVOs). That’s not a big surprise, though, because IVOs are People Like Us. They are cashed up people taking advantage of a legal kind of domestic blindness to stay in the country and spend their glorious wads of cash.
Boat people, in contrast, are scary people from scary places. They jumped non-existent queues to get here. Clearly they are a threat to our very way of life. They are IMAs. Second only to WMDs in their power to wreak imaginary havoc and conjure up the demons of fear with every hysterical political utterance.
This is so clearly not a case of calling a spade a spade. It is calling a spade a gun. Conjuring up a threat where none exists. Creating fear and harsh judgement where only compassion belongs.
Years ago my friend James told me a story about a time just after he moved into his very middle class suburb of Camberwell. There was an auction in his street, and when it was won by a very excited Italian couple there was a muttering in the background along the lines of “there goes the neighbourhood” and “bloody Eye-ties, invading our turf” and words to that effect.
Time went on and the Italian family was joined by Greek families and differences were forgotten. 20 years later there was another auction, and the house went to a thrilled Vietnamese couple. My friend James, spectating in the crowd, heard the muttering again. When he looked around, the perpetrators of the “there goes the neighbourhood” style comments were, you guessed it, the very same Italian couple. This was now their turf, and they didn’t want to see it invaded by people who aren’t “like us”.
Ultimately we are all “people like us”. We have mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. We have hopes, fears and dreams. We will do anything to protect our loved ones. Having experienced unimaginable horrors, who among us could swear that we would not take a chance at freedom if it were held out to us?
I hope that if life throws its worst at me, there will be people nearby who will hold out their hands to help me up. Who will offer shoulders for me to cry on, and arms to lean on. Who will recognise that regardless of the colour of my skin, the country I was born in, the language I speak, and the way I got here, I am a human being just like them. Nothing more, and nothing less.
I hope that I would never pass by someone who needed my help.
If only I could say the same of my Government.