We are approaching the anniversary of the death of 353 people, most of them women and children, from the boat known as SIEVX. For anyone who wants to know the complex involvement Australia had, and the full implications of the whole SIEVX story, go to its excellent dedicated website at SIEVX.com
This tragedy and most Australians' collective non-reaction galvanised many people, and can be marked as the trigger for the formation of Australians Against Racism and I suspect many other actions and groups. These deaths, more than any other factor, created the 'deterrent' the Government wanted. Furthermore, changes to Migration laws, particularly the restrictions on family reunion under the new temporary protection visa generated the frantic attempts by women and children to make the dangerous journey. The mean and petty bullshit that has obscured the significance of this, and the outright lies and cover-ups of the Government in the affair cannot erase the fact that Australia generated some of the preconditions that made it happen, and Australia's current Government benefitted from it. And the Australian people, groomed to consider Iraqi and Afghani people as 'others', as 'different', and, let's be frank, encouraged to see them as inferior, were quiescent, even endorsed evil little spiels that blamed people arriving by boat, the dead and the survivors, for 'putting their children in situations of risk'.
Australia, regardless of its (hotly disputed) role in the sinking of SIEVX, is absolutely implicated. When someone knocks at your gate asking for your help, and you, not wanting people like them in, ignore them, and they are killed while knocking - you are morally implicated. Howard's repeated claim, wrongly, that the boat went down in Indonesian waters and his formal expressions of condolence as if this was a remote tragedy that had nothing to do with Australia, are an attempt to obscure or erase this basic truth from our consciousness.
Many exceptional things are happening among Australia's diverse peoples to counter all this. We are stronger now than we were a year ago, if perhaps disillusioned by how slow change in public opinion has been. I strongly encourage you to try to take your persuasive, wonderful stories, films, exhibitions, public talks, refugee stories and eloquent arguments out of our comfort zone, and reach those who believe the potent myth of border protection and feel threatened by Iraqi and Afghan families. How? Accept that uncomfortable gig. Get your film shown in the RSL. Respond to the flack armed with leaflets, books, and a basic humanist approach. Trust your arguments to be as strong as theirs. Call a friend afterwards. It is important.(I'm screwing my courage up as I write to accept a gig in a country pub to talk on 'spirituality'). Keep up the energy.
Yes, it is September 11th. I don't want to share my grief here on what that event has done to the world. It is a separate subject that should never have been linked to our refugees and asylum seekers. But it increases our responsibility to them that such a link was and is made, as their lives here are made the more difficult for it.