Tag Archives: asylum seekers

Could a ‘welcome refugees’ banner happen at an Australian soccer match?

German football fans at Bundesliga matches

German football fans at Bundesliga matches

It has to be said that one of the most heartening things regarding the recent refugee crisis in Europe has been the expression of support by many people in the streets, but especially by football fans in the stands.


The question is. Could something similar happen in the A League or the FFA Cup?  Could we see a ‘Refugees Welcome’ banner at the match between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United on the 22nd of September?

Well the answer is probably no. For a variety of reasons.  Here I discuss what are in my opinion the main ones.

The social context is different

Australians in the main are wary of introducing politics where it is felt does not belong.  I remember when I first came here that one of the rules of going to a BBQ was ‘no religion and no politics’.  This extends to our sport.  You can see this in the continuing booing of Adam Goodes. The message here from the booers is that by introducing the issues of racism, aboriginal dispossession etc. does not belong in footy.  Same the feeling that political expression does not belong in the stands.  This is reflected in the way the clubs were created.  Some fans of the traditional clubs such as South Melbourne or Melbourne Knights that were prevented to join the A-League accuse the A-League teams to be ‘plastic franchises’ and while I don’t agree with that terminology, it is true that they were a creation by the Football Federation Australia (FFA) to provide a ‘clean slate’ free from any cultural ‘baggage’.

There was a discussion on a refugee banner on Facebook among some members of Melbourne Victory’s Northern Terrace. An active fan group. One member said:

I don’t think it would be good for the NT, no. Part of our unity comes from the fact we are not political. This is a fact of life for a team that was founded on the FFA’s initial ‘One club, one city’ model – it inherently encompasses and attracts all walks of life.

The kids who ended up making up the AU’s, Horda’s and Nomadi’s of the terrace didn’t have clubs to choose from based on their politics like you do if you grow up in Hamburg, Berlin, Verona or similar. There’s even a lot of cross-politics within those sub groups…… we (don’t) have to be left wing or right wing. We function as a political body, but with an apolitical stance on issues that don’t relate directly to us/football.

It is interesting that while active groups often refers to overseas practices for inspiration (chants, marching to the ground and -alas- flares) in this case unfurling a political banner doesn’t seem to resonate.

The FFA/clubs may not allow it

Since the advent of the A-League the FFA especially has been paranoid that the fans may express ‘sectarian’ views that could somehow remind people of the old NSL.  This mean that any banner that hasn’t been approved can be removed and the fans holding them up ejected.

This is not banners that say something nasty about some other ethnic group. It could be about anything. Apparently a Melbourne Victory fan was violently ejected for holding up a banner which stated “FOOTBALL IS FREEDOM” so you can see that anything more contentious such as supporting refugees would give the FFA/clubs kittens.  It would be quite a courageous fan to risk eviction, or even worse cancellation of membership and bans for future matches to hold up such a banner.

What would be great to happen would be a clubs encouraging this message themselves. Like St.Pauli and Borussia Dortmund did earlier this month.  But frankly, in the Australian context, I can’t seeing it happening.

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When an Australian PM came to the airport to welcome refugees. The manipulation of refugees for political ends

Kosovo Refugees

Refugees escaping Kosovo in 1998.

Imagine Abbott calling a press conference and saying this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve called this news conference ….to announce to announce a number of decisions that the Government has taken today in response to the appalling human tragedy that is unfolding in Europe … hundreds of thousands …. are now trapped in a most distressing human situation. ……It is a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions and one that is likely to get a lot worse.”

That really happened.  It was none other than John Howard in 1999 deciding to take refugees from Kosovo. Before Tampa.  Before TPVs and ‘the pacific solutions’ and Manus Island.

Still it was so long ago that the political strategists thought that Howard welcoming and hugging refugees as they walked  out of the plane was advantageous politically.  Do you imagine Abbott of Shorten doing that now?

The refugee Australian contradiction

The action of Howard when he welcomed the Kososvo refugees outline beautifully the contradiction in Australia when it comes to refugees.  One one hand we see ourselves as generous people wanting to help, but on the other we are afraid of being ‘invaded’.  You can see from the press conference the types of questions journalists were asking.

“Mr Howard, can these people be kept under some form of restraint, I mean, effective captivity so that they don’t just scatter in the community?”

“Do you have any concerns, Prime Minister, that it might lead to racial conflict here in Australia?”

This for a grand total of 4000 people.  And of course the Howard government had a bob each way.   The government  decided to fly the refugees to Australia only after a request from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.  They were sent to military barracks around the country, with limited access to the community granted temporary entry visas for three months only, and had no legal right to apply for permanent asylum.

We wanted to look ‘generous’ but the fear underlying those journalist’s questions remained.  Our generosity could go only so far.

Out of sight, out of mind

With Tampa Howard made a decision that being tough on refugees was more politically advantageous than looking generous.  From Howard with Tampa onward there has been a deliberate strategy of ensuring that asylum seekers were not seen.  Media was restricted.  The idea was not to allow Australians to see them, and therefore humanise them.  The fact that they remained faceless made the job of governments to label them as ‘undeserving queue jumpers’ or ‘a threat’ much easier.  Images were released when refugees could be portrayed in a bad light such as the children overboard lies.

Australian navy rescue asylum-seekers from a sinking boat off Christmas Island in October 2001. The government concoted a story that children were thrown overboard by refugees in an effort to stay in Australia

Australian navy rescue asylum-seekers from a sinking boat off Christmas Island in October 2001. The government concocted a story that children were thrown overboard by refugees in an effort to stay in Australia.

This spiral continues currently with the Australian Border Force Act 2015 where those working in Australia’s detention centres are now forbidden under threat of jail time from revealing information to anyone about anything they come across while doing their jobs.

Australian governments know the danger of seeing the real human images of asylum seekers.  And that is why they stop it at all costs.

We saw the power of images this week with the tragic drowning of Aylan Kurdi.  Whatever it was right or wrong to publish the photo of his body on the beach it had a huge impact on the world’s attitudes towards Syrian refugees.  This is the sort of thing the government and the ALP doesn’t want Australians to see.  They want us to see asylum seekers as a threat, as queue jumpers, as greedy people that risk their lives and those of their children to reach the ‘best country in the world – Australia’.

After all Australia already had its own ‘Ayan Kurdi’.  Three hundred and fifty-three of them.  On October 19, 2001 when SIEV X foundered. Most were women and children.

Of course both the Coalition and the ALP will say that their current policy aptly described by Waleed Aly, built on the sole rationality of deterrence – to create horror ‘saves drownings’.  But I don’t really believe it.  Is a spiral to create xenophobia and fear for political advantage.  And we are all poorer for it.

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Our xenophobic national anthem better reflects national mood.

My tweeter feed this morning reflected the news that the transfer of Asylum Seekers to Malaysia has been delayed by the High Court.  One such tweet by Mia Freedman stated:

Remember our national anthem “For those who come across the land we’ve boundless plains to share”

While I agree the sentiment, unfortunatley we can’t really use the National Anthem as a glowing example of Australians’ willingness of sharing our plains.  The Australian National Anthem was first performed in 1878 and was composed by Peter Dodds McCormick , a time when basically being Australian was being British.  The song has in all five verses.  Officially now the Australian Anthem has kept two, but the discarded ones are telling.


When gallant Cook from Albion sail’d,
To trace wide oceans o’er,
True British courage bore him on,
Till he landed on our shore.
Then here he raised Old England’s flag,
The standard of the brave;
With all her faults we love her still,
“Brittannia rules the wave!”
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!”

Interesting here the concept of ‘our shore’.  Obviously the Eora people who lived in the Sydney area for thousands of years didn’t really count.  But it gets better.


While other nations of the globe
Behold us from afar,
We’ll rise to high renown and shine
Like our glorious southern star;
From England, Scotia, Erin’s Isle,
Who come our lot to share,
Let all combine with heart and hand
To advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!”

It’s clear here who Australians want. “England, Scotia, Erin’s Isle” everybody else can get stuffed and we don’t want you.   But just in case you haven’t got the message the clincher is in verse five.

Shou’d foreign foe e’er sight our coast,
Or dare a foot to land,
We’ll rouse to arms like sires of yore
To guard our native strand;
Brittannia then shall surely know,
Beyond wide ocean’s roll,
Her sons in fair Australia’s land
Still keep a British soul.
In joyful strains the let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!”

I don’t think further explanation is needed.

But perhaps we can say that this is a song ,which basically is an exultation to the White Australia Policy,  reflects values of an old Australia.  Before Federation, before the wars, before air transport before immigration from continental Europe.  And of course it’s right.  However I do wonder whether for many Australians, perhaps exemplified by those commenting in the Herald Sun, would love nothing better than the return of a White Australia Policy, and that all those years in the 70’s 80’s and dome of the 90’s where multiculturalism was supported by both major parties and Australia changed to be more culturally pluralistic basically accounted for naught. That basically Australia still secretly (and not so secretly) wants to hark back to the days where most migrant were British, if not at least Christian and white.

What other conclusions can I draw when we have both the Coalition and the ALP clambering over each other to devise the harshest anti Asylum Seeker policy possible?  Maybe we should sing the whole five verses.  Maybe it would be more honest to show the world how we really are.

Verse Four
While other nations of the globe
Behold us from afar,
We’ll rise to high renown and shine
Like our glorious southern star;
From England, Scotia, Erin’s Isle,
Who come our lot to share,
Let all combine with heart and hand
To advance Australia fair!
In joyful strains then let us sing
“Advance Australia fair!”


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Refugees and Gold Coast Utd. How predictable.

There is a commercial at the moment for Windows 7 where a computer user say something like ‘Microsoft must have heard me because I thought of something and they put it in Windows 7’ or something like that.

Well, I feel somewhat the same about two pieces of news last week. One is the new policy about asylum seekers from the government and the other is the apparent withdrawal of magnate Clive Palmer in his ownership/support of the A-League team, Gold Coast United. That is that these outcomes were predictable as. So let’s start with the more serious topic.

Change in asylum seeker policy.

Over the past months we had plenty of bloggers outlining how Australia is not being swamped by boats, that we haven’t lost control of our borders. We even had respected members of the Press Gallery telling us that that wasn’t the case.

The real fact is that we can try to explain until we are blue in the face the real facts, but logic and facts won’t convince or reassure a reasonable proportion of Australians. Pollytics crunched the numbers of the most recent Morgan poll about migration, and when asked: “Should asylum seekers arriving by boat be allowed to apply for immigration as now, or should they all be returned and told to apply through normal refugee channels?” This was the result.

Results from Morgan poll

Talk about numbers and push factors and many voter’s eyes glase over. People trust their gut feeling and it doesn’t really natter what the real facts are. The fear of boats arriving on our shores is part and parcel of Australia’s genetic make up. It doesn’t matter if they come in a reconditioned eski. Maybe one way to show how minute is the numbers of people coming by boats is to relate to something many who may be wary of people coming by boat can relate to. Stadium attendances.

Burnside made a very pertinent point that at this rate of boat arrivals it would take 30 years to fill the MGC. I made a similar observation by comparing it to an A-League attendance. Now, since 2009, more or less than 5000 people arrived by boat. When I went to watch Melbourne Victory with Seongnam Ilhwa for the Asian Champions League, it was the lowest ever attendance of about 6,500 and Etihad Stadium looked empty. The trains were empty and when the match finished everyone dissipated so quickly I hardly noticed a crowd of any sort. Now this is in a stadium all at once, let alone in a big country like Australia over a period of many months. But unfortunately, as Thomas Keneally I think said that xenophobia in Australia is like malaria. Once you get it you can’t get rid of it. It may lie dormant for a while but prone to re-surface if the conditions are right. This has been proven over history.

No use to tell them that more people ask asylum by flying here. It is the boats that ignite the genetic fear. The illusion is that at least with planes people have to go through some sort of check, there is a filter. Why are those ‘border patrol’ programs on TV so popular? Watching those foreigners being caught with their drugs and illegal foods. A boat arrival signify no control. Signify someone jumping on a boat and landing on Australia’s coast. The concept of being isolated by the hoards to our north by the sea is challenged. It creates panic. Australia is not that separate any more the sea provides a link to those hoards of people waiting to invade us.

And here of course I have to give a big proportion of blame to the Liberal Party. Yes, the ALP of course is also to blame. It was their inaction towards the Tampa episode that made me lapse my ALP membership, but at least they haven’t exploited the boat arrival issue as a major point to score political advantage as the Liberals have. Back in 2001 with their ‘we decide who comes here’ big statement and now with the mantra that the government had lost control of our borders, with 5000 people, what a joke.

But in politics perception is everything and I am sure that the ALP would have seen some issue arising from their polling. Yes because we can be all outraged but the fact that boat arrivals has been so shamelessly used by the opposition and their friends in the media has unfortunately spooked the government.

In a perfect world the government would have stated that the principle of treating desperate human beings is more important than protecting votes from a section of Australians that suffer from xenophobia. In a perfect world an opposition would have recognised that increasing such xenophobia for political point scoring is detrimental to our spirit as a nation. But we don’t live in such world. I was shocked in 2001 when I realised that I wasn’t living in an Australia that I thought I was living in. An Australia that I thought embraced multiculturalism and accepted asylum seekers. An Australia that left the fear of the foreigner behind. Unfortunately it took an opportunistic white picket cricket loving Prime Minister to raise the worst fears of the nation. And since then I am not really surprised about what the Rudd government did. In fact I was surprised that haven’t done it sooner. Sad but I accept now I live in a xenophobic country. I avoid thinking about it too much because it does my head in. Better to think about other things, like football which brings me to my second point.

Gold Coast United demise?

I got a lot of time for the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) despite the fact that I think it is headed by people that are unaware of football particular culture. I do not think we would have been able to qualify for two world cups without them.

Having said that I think they have done some mistakes. One of this was to create a team in the Gold Coast in the first place and second to give the licence to Clive Palmer.

A team is not just a team. It needs to connect to their fans and the community to some extent. Now someone may correct me here, but is there really a connection between the Gold Coast and football? I know that sport administrators become amateur demographers and looks at where the population growth is, but that doesn’t mean that there is a need to rush and create a team. The other mistake is to give the ownership of teams to non-football people who seem to use the team for their plaything or because it looks good on their CV. For me Palmer looked like a really rich person wanting to own something that would make him look good in Asia, with all those deals to sign. Big checkbook, get players like Culina and boast that they will win every match in their first season.

This view is echoed in an article by Robert Craddock in the Courier Mail.

If the Gold Coast folds then it may be resurrected in 2011-12 with a broad-based ownership structure for there would be many lessons learnt from the United collapse.

The first is that for a club to capture the heart of a region it must be seen as something more than a rich man’s toy.

Fans need people feeling as comfortable as if they’re sharing a mate’s tinnie rather than simply having a ride on a millionaire’s yacht.

People need to believe it is their team as much as his team. But with the lowest average crowds in the league – 5392 which was partially the fault of a controversial crowd cap – the project just didn’t capture local hearts.

But it seems no one looked at the fans. Just because there is a team with good players it doesn’t mean people would automatically come and watch it, especially in Australia where Association Football is not the main game. You need to make a connection to the people, make the team meaningful to them. This is something that apparently Central Coast has done very well. I also believe that North Queensland has done this, and despite its financial troubles and poor performance their attendances haven’t been too bad. Also the fact that there is a North Queensland football tradition helps, and that is something that maybe Gold Coast doesn’t have. And that is also why watching the fortunes of the AFL Gold Coast team and the Western Sydney AFL team and A-League team will be interesting.

The Gold Coast has lots of ex-Victorians and I think the AFL team, unlike the A-League one will be a success. Western Sydney has a well established football culture and if the Sydney Rovers are able to tap into that they will be a great success. That is also why I think that the AFL team there will struggle, there is no culture if AFL in that area which is predominantly Association Football and Rugby League. Of course the cashed up AFL will through heaps of resources and maybe after a few years AFL will become part and parcel of sport in western Sydney, but we will have to wait and see.

Same with the Melbourne Hearts. I thought that Melbourne Victory caught most of the people that wanted to follow the A-League in Melbourne. Those who hate the A-League because it’s ‘plastic’ will continue to follow their teams in the State Premier League, and I don’t think they will be following Hearts for the same reason they won’t follow Melbourne Victory.

Sometimes I wonder whether the FFA follows a plant based on numbers and markets. But football is not like selling soap.

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How Sri Lankan refugees can get into Australia.

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Can Rudd avoid another bout of xenophobia?

How things change.

As a keen follower of Italian media, Australia is hardly mentioned. However in August 2001 it was quite a news item due to the Tampa. Italian governments were (as they are now) struggling with the issue of refugees coming from Africa (which is a flood, comparing to the trickle Australia gets).

How to deal with asylum seekers was a contencious political issue between the third Berlusconi government and the opposition. The fact that Australia chose to get the SAS to board the Tampa was seen as a dangerous precedence in international affairs. The Italian left was afraid that allies of Berlusconi, who were anti-refugees in their thinking such as the National Alliance and the Northern League, would look at Australia as an example. So the attack on Australia was pretty strong (and in some cases quite wrong).

The irony now is that the tables are turned. In an opinion piece in The Age today, Pamela Curr, campaign co-ordinator at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, writes that we shouldn’t take Italy’s example where boats are turned back to Lybia after a deal done with Gheddafi.

In the same edition we have Paul Sheehan stating that the current policies of the Government towards refugees are making us a ‘soft target’. That Sheehan writes this sort of opinion piece is not surprising. He was after all the darling of the anti-multicultural set when he wrote Among the Barbarians: the dividing of Australia, back in 1998. A book that Tim Costello in a review described as ‘skating on xenophobic ice’.

Fortunately at this stage we haven’t yet reached the xenophobic hysteria that we reached in those depressing times during the Tampa. There are different factors at play. Labor is in government and failry popular, while the opposition seems divided. Terrorism is not at the height of That period of 2001, when 9/11 occurred. However ever since that time I am wary.

I think it was Thomas Keneally that said that xenophobia in Australia is like malaria. Once you get it you can’t get rid of it. It may lie dormant for a while but prone to re-surface if the conditions are right.

This issue is discussed by Mark in Larvatus Prodeo where he raises the point that the same old issues tend to come up again and again once asylum seekers are mentioned.

Andrew Bartlett, who has been a consistent advocate for asylum seekers in Australia has a great post in the Crikey blog. Where he highlights the fact that the local paper is advocating for a white South African family to stay in Australia because they not meet the criteria for a state-sponsored business-owner visa. I wonder if they would do that for a Sri Lankan family of a family from Afghanistan.

Eva Cox also on the Crikey blog berates Ruddock. And Guy Rundle discussed how the latest discussion on refugees raises the spectre of the politics of fear.

On one hand we don’t want the Rudd government to return to the bad old days of the ‘We decide who comes here’ Howard government, where refugees were shunted in holes across the Pacific indefinetely and were offered temporary visas with no opportunity of support or work. But Rudd also needs to keep the xenophobic genie in check. This is a sad reality, especially when a desperate opposition will exploit every boat arrival with Sharman Stone hyperbollically stating that the Rudd government ‘has lost control of our borders’ – the yellow peril revisited.

How this is done humanely and without Australia going back into a punishing mode against asylum seekers is not something that is going to be easy. It is certainly a delicate balance act. But have another bout of xenophobia would be dreadful.

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