All year, the Prime Minister has been waiting for another Tampa to sail over the horizon and provide the Government with a trigger for the same ruthlessly effective campaign themes we saw in 2001.
Play with race politics in Australia – or anywhere – and you play with fire. Stoking basic prejudices to create fear along ethnic lines can lead to a temporary lift in the polls if it’s done skillfully. Yet its detriment is immeasurable, sometimes resulting in Cronulla riots, or more subtle distrust within our communities.
The 2007 Tampa never arrived, instead we have the deplorable spectacle of Immigration Minister Andrews singling out the Sudanese community, in a manner so blatantly political that even the ALP refused to take the bait.
The Greens believe there is no place for this kind of politics in Australian life. The first lines of our Multiculturalism policy state that “people have the right to celebrate and express their cultural heritage within universally accepted human rights.”
Multiculturalism strengthens and enriches our country. This should be supported and upheld at the highest levels of Government, rather than attacked or debased for short-term political gains.
The six-week election campaign potentially leaves us with the last 42 days of the Howard Government.
Behind in the polls, with nothing to lose, the Government may feel it necessary to go on the offensive against vulnerable communities. Targets could include Aboriginal people, gays and lesbians, the disabled, or specific ethnic or faith-based communities. As long as ‘mainstream’ Australian values can be cast as somehow under threat from a minority group, the Government can claim to be defending these values on behalf of ‘all Australians’.
Surely we can do better than this. There are signs that perhaps the Australian electorate has matured and is rising above this kind of cynical politics. In the most remarkable, if largely uncelebrated zigzag of 2006, the Government abandoned its highly contentious migration Bill at the eleventh hour, when threatened with a backbench revolt and an impressive community campaign. Perhaps Tampa politics took a fatal hit on that day. There are those who have seen the Northern Territory intervention, the shameful treatment of Dr Mohammed Haneef, and the attack on the Sudanese community through this same prism. With each excruciating episode, opinion polls leaning steeply against the Government have stubbornly refused to shift.
The fact is, every one of us benefits from sharing our ancient continent with people from all over the world, and every one of us draws our identity from the very melting pot that we are mixing in. It is simply a matter of whether to embrace diversity or to deny it; for the Greens there is no question.
From our first peoples, the Aboriginal custodians of the country who can still teach us about the last time the climate changed here, to the most recent arrivals from the desolate refugee camps of Sudan, we are immeasurably enriched by this diversity of culture and experience. It’s good to be reminded of our connections with the rest of planet earth, in an age when those connections are being woven ever more tightly by the ties of globalisation, and the environmental and social challenges bearing down on us.
We have been asking people to keep in mind the importance of the Senate in this year’s election. Perhaps the ALP will finally be able to win Government, with the help of Greens preferences. But the fate of the Senate is just as important. If the Greens poll well enough, we can win balance of power in our own right, and advance more progressive and tolerant views.
~ first published in the magazine of the ethnic communities council of wa.