I am pissed off. Near where I live is a little hillside town which has been in the news of late. Not because it is quaint and the people lovely, but because it has been branded as racist. And ashamedly so, a group of locals and I’d presume a group of not-so-locals, are giving it their best shot to reveal to the world their redneck credentials. They are angry at the Federal Government’s decision to transform 83 empty defence houses into a detention facility for asylum seekers.
Here is where I air my first grievance. The Federal Government did not consult the local community. They did not give any warning or attempt to first assure people that it would address concerns about safety and pressures on already stretched local services. Instead, the Government took a different route. By not informing the residents first, it knew, when news broke of the planned detention facility, it would result in outrage, thereby taking the focus off its decision. With anger comes the inevitable racism. And with fear-driven ignorance in the forefront, the Government can then blame racist attitudes for the opposition to its proposal. But, by doing it that way, the Government has also provided the opponents with a loophole. The racists of the community have been able to hide (badly) behind a banner of “not being consulted”, while stating publicly: “We’re not racists”. And that pisses me off. However, although I am annoyed at the way the Government went about it, it’s not the detention facility that I disapprove of, it’s the rednecks.
Angry locals have managed to turn what is essentially a lovely hillside town into a cesspool of nastiness. There’s been many a vile comment made about the asylum seekers, but one viewpoint which has stuck in my mind, and promoted with gusto by the Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, is if you let the asylum seekers live in such an idyllic place it sends a “red carpet” message to the people smugglers and boat people. Are you for real? All they deserve is concrete surroundings, no trees for them. C’mon, they are people. They are willing to go to extreme measures to come here. These people have chosen to flee all that they know, their customs, their families, their friends, their way of life, to come to a country largely with nothing. To come to a country where dealing with loneliness, racism, prejudice and lack of opportunity is more simple than facing what their homeland has to provide for them. For many, the option to apply legally to live in Australia was not a viable option for them for fear of death, continued persecution and harm to their family. Imagine the fear they must have felt taking those first steps off their home soil. They chose to come to Australia because we are meant to be a nation of giving everyone a fair go.
I can understand for some locals there is a fear of the unknown. For some locals, they are already struggling economically and they fear more people coming into their town will only make things harder for them. However, these possible “new” Australians could enhance their community, spend money in their businesses, enrich their schools and community groups with new food, new languages, new ways of doing things. These people will also work damn hard at anything you throw at them. They will do anything not to have to go back to a life of extreme hardship.
These people have hearts and souls and families and fears and dreams like anyone else and a small hillside community has the opportunity to embrace them. They have an opportunity to become an example of tolerance, rather then reinforce the stereotypes often associated with “small-towns”. Instead, it’s walking into the Government’s trap; banjos in hand. It saddens me to know there are others who don’t believe everyone is entitled to a life of clean and safe living conditions, free from persecution. That where you are born should not define you. I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to reach out and help others in their greatest times of need. Maybe, if some of these “concerned citizens” started to actually show genuine concern for others, outside of their sheltered existences, they would realise how amazing it feels to give with your heart, rather than turn people away.