Here was South Australian Premier Mike Rann last Sunday on the occasion of Mary MacKillip’s canonisation:
“The values that Mary MacKillop cultivated, nurtured and lived, are the values that underpin our regional towns and communities – an ethos that embraces pragmatism, equality, neighbourly compassion and stoicism in the face of adversity.
For hers was not a dream of self-aggrandisement, personal wealth or power. Her mission was to give comfort and solace to the poor, education to the deprived, hope to society's forgotten underclass.
In Mary MacKillop we see - embodied in shining, heavenly raiment - the pioneering Australian spirit. Our neighbourly, hard-fought ideals of communal decency and good fellowship, and their triumph over power, prejudice and bigotry.
Here is a life to be celebrated, and learned from.”
So what have we learned? What do we celebrate? Here, yesterday, were the people of Woodside in South Australia, the very state that celebrated MacKillip as one of its own:
VOX POP 1: This is something that will wreck this beautiful little town.
VOX POP 2: And we don't want a prison in our backyard lit up with spotlights 24 hours a day. They are not going to assimilate into the community. All they are going to do is their kids are going to come to school and go back behind the fence.
VOX POP 3: Refugees aren't criminals. They are not illegal.
Last night to protest 400 asylums seekers being moved in to an army barracks at Inverbrackie (near Woodside in the Adelaide Hills) more than 500 people attended a meeting at the Woodside Institute. The people who attended this meeting were outraged that a whole 400 people – a large percentage of whom will be children – would be coming into their town area. Why? Well that’s not clear because there was not a hell of a lot of logic on display.
There was anger that health services would be stretched, and then when informed that the detention centre would have its own medical facilities there was anger that they should have better services than the locals.
There was anger that the children would be attending the schools, but there was also anger that they would not assimilate in to the community.
There was anger that there would be spotlight “24 hours a day” (not sure what good the lights will do at noon), but when told the fences would be “low level fencing, it could be like pool fencing or colourbond fencing” there was anger that the security would not be enough.
My old home state has not covered itself in glory this past 24 hours. This reaction coupled with Karen Barlow’s brilliant but shocking report of alleged workplace practises at chicken processor Baiabda in Adelaide does not make the state seem all that great. Barlow’s report contained some awful allegations made by the largely migrant workers:
ANYUON MABIOR: I was called a black c*nt, a black cheat, dumb and everything that has spoken to me and I just (inaudible) for the sake of getting money to solve my problems.
KAREN BARLOW: Workers say they're afraid to raise problems at the factory - even something as small as not getting a pay slip. And Anyuon Mabior claims he and other Adelaide poultry workers have experienced on-site punishments, in his case for refusing to use a forklift in what he says was an unsafe manner. He says he was taken to a termination site where they stun chickens using gas.
ANYUON MABIOR: They took me there for - as a punishment, to make me feel like I've done something wrong. And that's when I've looked like, is it how everyone is treated in Australia, or is it because all the workers here are migrant?
KAREN BARLOW: How long were you sent there for?
ANYUON MABIOR: I work there for 30 minutes and I was really very sick.
KAREN BARLOW: What happened to you?
ANYUON MABIOR: Like, I feel like I'm contaminated by the gas, because I inhale some gases and it give me a lot of coughing and give me a lot of dizziness. And when I leave the (inaudible) I went to my doctor and I was given some medication by them.
It’s rare that a report on chicken processing is detailing that the chickens get better conditions than the workers.
Over on The Advertiser’s website the comments on the detention centre came thick, fast and ugly (no sight of any mention of Baiabda):
Mick of Adelaide Posted at 1:11 PM October 18, 2010
Send them back on the boats from which they came. I for one am absolutely sick of half my wages being taxed to fund this BS!
Yep, half his wages. Hell he must be on a nice wicket to be in that tax bracket.
Brad of Greenwith Posted at 1:18 PM October 18, 2010
Angela Posted at 1:35 PM October 18, 2010
What a pathetic decision. The issues of these illegal immigrants are not our problem. Who cares whether their children are coping - the parents are responsible for them being in the situation to begin with. Let them take responsibility for it.
“Who cares whether their children are coping”… what can you say?
Mandy of Brisbane, QLD Posted at 6:18 PM October 18, 2010
This is a disgrace. I was born and raised in Woodside and my parents are still living there. This has devastated them and now I don't look forward to coming home each year for Christmas as much. I knew that Julia would make a mess of everything... This is only the beginning.
Amazing. Boy I’ve tried a few excuses in my time to get out of going back to the parents for the holidays, but not going because a detention centre is being built on an army barracks is a new one. I wonder if it will fly?
Thankfully there were a minority of sane comments among the hate:
Dave of Morphett Vale Posted at 4:15 PM October 18, 2010
My dad lived at Woodside with his family when they got off the boat (as "legal" refugees from eastern Europe) in 1949. A site such as Woodside will be far less damaging to refugees than a spot in the desert like Woomera, and will be a cheaper option for all of us in the long run.
Jonathan of Adelaide Hills Posted at 3:41 PM October 18, 2010
The irony that many Adelaide Hills towns were founded by German refugees is obviously lost on many NIMBY's.
These comments highlight why I am so disappointed by the response, and also why I am suspicious of it. South Australia more than any other state is a state founded on migration. There were no convicts, you only came to South Australia if you wanted to. And many of those (including my forefather) were Germans. Some of those (about 5 per cent) came because of religious persecution, but most came because they wanted a better life.
Here is a description of how things were:
Most of the early German immigrants were extremely poor and therefore migration to South Australia was an improvement in both economic and religious matters. Although there were many exceptions, most Germans kept mainly to themselves and married their own kind, kept up their language, customs, such as the Liedertafel and skittle alley, religion and education system. Wherever they went they established their German schools.
Replace the word German with Afghan and ask yourself if things have changed?
And yet guess what: the German migrants did assimilate – they spread and became part of the culture – it is impossible to imagine South Australia without the impact of the German migrants – and yet we are talking about such a vastly smaller number that it is doubtful the direct impact on the culture will be more than negligible – at least for many years.
Oh yeah, my lot came “legally”; they weren’t queue jumpers. Well here’s the question, and the first person to answer it can be Liberal MP Jamie Briggs who was at the Woodside meeting to
stoke the fire listen to his constituents. Show me the queue. Maybe I have been completely wrong about all of this and the media just hasn’t bothered to report it, but if there is a queue, find me one person in it who knows that next year they will be coming out to Australia (or Canada, or America). Then find me someone who knows they will have to wait two years, then someone who has to wait three years. Find me any sense of a queue.
The fact is there is no queue – as the Parliamentary library background note demonstrates:
There is a view that asylum seekers, particularly those who arrive in Australia by boat, are ‘jumping the queue’ and taking the place of a more deserving refugee awaiting resettlement in a refugee camp. The concept of an orderly queue does not accord with the reality of the asylum process. Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) notes that:
Implicit in this view is that Australia should not be bothered by people seeking protection under the Refugee Convention and that genuine refugees should go to other countries and wait patiently in the hope that Australia may choose to resettle them.
The reality is that only a small proportion of asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR:
UNHCR offices registered some 73 400 applications out of the total of 861 400 claims in 2008. This number has decreased compared to 2007 (79 800 claims). The office’s share in the global number of applications registered stood at 9 per cent in 2008 compared to 15 per cent in 2006 and 12 per cent in 2007. As the overall number of applications has continued to rise, states are increasingly taking responsibility for refugee status determination.
Once registered with the UNHCR, many refugees seek resettlement to a country such as Australia. Refugees do not have a right to be resettled, and states are not obliged under the 1951 Refugee Convention or any other instrument to accept refugees for resettlement. It is a voluntary scheme co-ordinated by the UNHCR which, amongst other things facilitates burden-sharing amongst signatory states. Resettlement therefore complements and is not a substitute for the provision of protection to people who apply for asylum under the Convention.
According to the UNHCR, less than 1 per cent of the world’s refugees may be resettled in any given year:
Millions of refugees around the world continue to live with little hope of finding a solution to their plight … resettlement benefits a small number of refugees; in 2008, less than 1 per cent of the world’s refugees directly benefited from resettlement.
So the next time any report includes the phrase “queue” you know you are reading or listening to someone who has no idea of the facts (or is flat out ignoring them).
To be honest, I doubt the 500 people who attended the meeting reflect the real view of most people who live in the hills. My suspicion is more than a few of those who attended the meeting don’t even live in Woodside. If Jamie Briggs wants them to be his supporters, then go for it – but he can then forego any crud about him being “a moderate”. My view is that the real majority of the residents is voiced by people such as Kim Galdigau who “said the Christian church community in the area wanted to know what it could do to help”.
My hope – and actually my belief – is that when the asylum seekers do arrive they will be treated well and very soon it will become hardly an issue.
Let us hope so, lest the view of South Australia become one of angry people not having any care for those in desperate states.
And lets hope as well that when the asylum seekers do finally settle in this country they don’t end up in a situation like the one detailed in Barlow’s report.