The politics of the asylum seeker issue is back in the headlines. Earlier this week we learned that an asylum seeker housed at Macquarie University on a bridging visa has been accused of sexual assault. This shameful crime has led to the Liberal Party streaking away in the so-called “race to the bottom”. We have seen further moves from liberal ideals mixed with the support of generalisations which give rise to xenophobic tendencies in some parts of the broader public. There has been a gross miscalculation of the issue and a complete exaggeration of any so-called ‘problem’.
In response to the alleged sex attack, the federal opposition have proposed a mandatory behaviour code for asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas. The Coalition has also pushed for the government to suspend all current bridging visas which have allowed a number of asylum seekers to live in the public while their asylum claims are processed.
No crime is ever forgivable and should be prosecuted by the law. And in this case and others of a similar nature, it will be. The man will have his day in court and answer for his alleged actions. We live in a liberal democracy and have this process, along with many others where people are made accountable for their actions.
Some people seem to think that the response of refugee advocates has been to legitimise the alleged crime. This is complete nonsense. Not one person is for a second giving any support to one of the most heinous criminal acts imaginable. They are however trying to put the whole issue into a sensible context based on reality and not some issue confected from emotion and irrational fear.
The problem of crime, it may surprise some, is not unique to asylum seekers. Crime is perpetrated by all kinds of people and for a number of different reasons. The Oscar Pistorius case shows that crime is not an issue for one section of the community but for the whole of society. Crime is not an asylum seeker problem, it is a human problem and people would do well to put the emotion to one side and realise that for themselves.
A big problem related to the asylum seeker debate is the treatment of all asylum seekers as if they are criminals. We lock most of them up while we process their refugee claims, some offshore and some onshore as if they have committed some criminal act. They have not. And the two proposals from the Coalition in the wake of the sexual assault treat asylum seekers as if they are all criminals regardless of whether a criminal act has been committed.
It is dumb and illogical to suggest that asylum seekers be subject to a code of behaviour. Everyone that comes to our shores is subject to our laws. A code of behaviour would just be a reiteration of those existing laws. It is merely an attempt to look tough and to appeal to those who are at the least very sceptical about asylum seekers in Australia.
Calling on the government to suspend all bridging visas is an equally silly idea. Again this feeds the generalisation that all asylum seekers are undesirable which is, in large part what motivates the xenophobia that pushes this issue into the absurd depths of idiocy we have come to expect when the politics of asylum seekers is raised – and it is raised too often now.
When it comes to asylum seekers, we see the Liberal Party veering further and further from the liberal ideals they were founded on. It is fundamentally illiberal to treat people differently under the law. It is also fundamentally illiberal to be hostile with regard to immigration, especially in the way that the Liberal Party are prosecuting their latest demands.
The 43rd parliament has seen some lows in asylum seeker policy that few would have predicted. The trouble is that the debate keeps plunging lower and lower to the point where there is not much further to go before rock bottom.
Australia’s first man told a joke today and it did not go down at all well. Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s partner, Tim Mathieson was speaking at a function welcoming the West Indian cricket team to Canberra, the topic: prostate cancer. You could just how rapidly the Prime Minister’s facial expression changed. Very quickly Ms Gillard’s expression shifted from a wide smile and a twinkle in her eye to a look of ‘oh my this is going to create headlines’.
The so-called joke, went a little like this:
“Get a blood test for it. But the digital examination is the only true way to have, to get a correct reading on your prostate so make sure you go and do that and perhaps look for a small, female Asian doctor is probably the best”
What Mr Mathieson said was wrong on a few levels, but it is entirely possible that his ill-conceived joke may have drawn more attention to prostate cancer than if the speech had just reached its Canberra audience. At least in some oblique way, the topic of prostate cancer prevention has been aired in the general community. Perhaps the joke might have even made some men feel more at ease with the whole process and could lead to them having their prostate checked at the recommended intervals.
What was completely right about the short quip from the first bloke was telling the audience, and now Australia, just how easy the testing process can be. We all knew that a prostate examination is important, but perhaps fewer people would have been aware that there is a blood test for the cancer, though of course doctors already know that. But some men probably do not.
There are three elements of the gag which were wrong and completely unnecessary.
The first being the use of a stereotype: that women, particularly Asian women, are small. Not entirely untrue, but a needless generalisation.
The second unfortunate element of his public service message was the unnecessary reference to a particular gender: women. Male doctors can and do give prostate examinations if you are comfortable with that.
Finally, the gaffe would almost certainly fit into the category of casual racism. There was no need to single out a particular group of people. There are small people in all races.
What the Prime Minister’s partner should have said was something like this:
“Get a blood test for it. But the digital examination is the only true way to get a correct reading on the health of your prostate. So make sure you go and do that and perhaps look for a doctor with smaller hands, because it might feel a little uncomfortable”
There you have it, a non-racist, non-sexist gag without any silly generalisations. Hey, the little joke at the end would have probably made the PM laugh a little.
Today’s blunder should serve as a reminder of the need for the spouse of our nation’s leader, whomever it may be in the future, to be a little more dignified in the way they approach speaking in public. Australia’s reaction was probably rather muted to what would have happened if the same tasteless and tactless verse was used elsewhere in the world.
But hey, if it got the message across then it’s not all bad.