Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Boats and cows - where do you stand on the asylum seeker question?

Why do people express more anger about the mistreatment of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs than they do about the plight of people seeking asylum?

This question was posed by Jon Faine on local ABC radio this morning as decent, moral and practical policies to address the issue of people seeking asylum arriving by boat continue to elude the country's leaders.

Many callers protested that they were outraged.  The point was made that the level of outrage expressed by the community to political representatives when Four Corners aired secretly filmed footage of cattle being cruelly mistreated in Indonesian abattoirs was so overwhelming that Government immediately suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia.

Whatever you think about that decision and its execution, it's interesting to see how quickly things can move if there is a will.  There's a direct link between political will and public opinion.

In the wake of over a hundred people drowning at sea as they made their way to Australia to seek refuge from horrors at home, the leaders' rhetoric is still framed around blame for the deaths.   A few politicians of all colours have expressed frustration at this situation and are pressing for a swift response.  There's lots of nodding when they say this.  Sometimes words like "we're prepared to negotiate" are said.  We saw it on Q & A last night from Senator George Brandis.  He repeatedly expressed an interest in negotiating but then reverted to standard Liberal Party dogma along the lines of "our policy is better than yours - send them to Nauru.  It worked for John Howard.".  Genuine willingness to negotiate was not evident.

Labor, represented on Q & A last night by Senator Kate Lundy, also marked clear parameters for the negotiations: "we'll negotiate as long as our framework remains in place".  It was so vague I can't remember what that framework is, but it doesn't sound like serious, open-minded, interest-based negotiation.

This is a win-lose battle.  Sadly, the real losers are people whose situation in their home countries is so dangerous and the global support for these people so inadequate that they desperately put their lives - and money - in the hands of people smugglers.

Back to the question about cows and people....

I contemplated the question objectively and wondered whether cows prompt outrage because they don't have a voice of their own. They can't protest about their situation or speak to the media so people need to do it for them.   A woman called and expressed this very view.  I was nodding in agreement as she said exactly what was on my mind.  Then she said this: "Animal cruelty wouldn't be an issue in Australia if the White Australia Policy had not been abandoned."

I stopped nodding.

What has happened here that there can be such a lack of feeling for fellow human beings? Sadly, the policy response to this difficult question feeds the disconnection.  Boats are demonised. The people on them are painted as rich people who indulge in civil disobedience by destroying their documents. Myths about the legality of the right to seek asylum abound. People drown at sea.

Politics is obscuring the deeper moral question - what is our responsibility to help people in need? How do we help them?

1 comment:

  1. We have the same issues in South Africa. Our borders are constantly being crossed, many illegally, and there's a lot of pressure on government and the minimal infrastructure available to the poor that we cannot accommodate everyone. South Africans feel their jobs are being taken by foreigners. Foreigners feel they are victimised. Its a frustrating and difficult problem. Its hard to clearly stand on either one or the other side without jeopardising rights or alienating someone.

    But I do agree that much fuss is made over animal activism and not so much about people. We have a terrible rhino situation. Sure its bad. But what about all the mothers begging at robots with their children? The millions homeless or displaced? The children who go to bed each night without food?

    *sigh* what to do