JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Turn back the bile

Everyone has a story.

Everyone has a story.

Piles of polls make it palpable: if you line up 100 Australians of mixed social, religious and racial backgrounds and ask 'em how they feel about boat-borne asylum seekers, the majority are having none of it.

The Conversation website published a neat summary of various opinion polls recently showing "the consistent element in these results is those who hold strong negative views on asylum seekers outnumber the strong positive, probably by at least two to one".

Which is how we get candidates for office like Jaymes "turn back the boats and ... stuff" Diaz.

Yet, while it's easy to deride our two major political parties as they outdo the other with the severity of their boat people policies, the reality is the Coalition and ALP are simply giving you what you want.

OK, maybe not you, gentle Fairfax reader, or the bearded barista at your local café, nor the cult novelist and doctor from Médecins Sans Frontières who live next door but ... the majority of sweat-rimed, true blue, shoot-a-roo Aussies.

If you accept a political party's primary concern is to first win government, beating up on reffos (remember that word?) is a perfectly safe, rational and necessary policy platform, at least in this country.

If the majority of Australians instead said "let 'em all in, whatever the numbers, and I'm happy for them to move in down the street from me" it would be political suicide for either party to take the stands they are.

So, if you want to see a change in Australian political policy, perhaps it's time to stop berating our politicians and begin engaging our relatives, friends and colleagues.

Having had many conversations with people who "hold strong negative views on asylum seekers", I know it's difficult to keep the discussion fact-based and unemotional.

Often times, the harder you press an ideological opponent with statistics or evidence, the more they'll retreat into slogans, sentiment and feelings.

The great strength of a television show such as Go Back To Where You Came From was the participants couldn't disappear into a Tora Bora of denial when they were physically standing in the slums of the Congo, Iraq, Kenya or Malaysia.

They were forced to engage with the object of their disaffection and this often proved to have transformative consequences on their belief systems.

They began to see asylum seekers not as some inchoate blob of lying, queue-jumping, proto-terrorists but real people with stories, heartbreaks, fears and hopes for themselves and their children.

Of course, we can't send every Aussie who thinks boat-people are lying, queue-jumping, proto-terrorists off to Afghanistan or Somalia with an SBS camera crew in tow.

So what to do?

Reader Jeffrey sent me an interesting email this week, suggesting a "left-of-field" method to humanise asylum seekers and involve the Australian public in a discourse about their fate: "citizen panels" to assess refugee applications. 

It would be "similar to the jury system but the panel can ask questions of the asylum seeker. We already have a so-called 'character' requirement for refugees so, why not let the people participate in this assessment (with an interpreter and chairperson present)?"

"Ordinary, run-of-the-mill Australians from all walks of life would make up a weighted percentage (maybe 50 per cent) of the decision as to whether to accept someone's refugee application," Jeffrey writes. 

"The basic premise is to determine if the panel would be happy to have the asylum seeker living in their community (e.g. next door to them)."

Of course, any person coming before a citizen's panel would already have had the legal validity of their application assessed to get to the character assessment stage. In this way average Aussies would get to hear their stories.

"The panel could interview and assess the asylum seeker's request either in person or via real-time video. A majority decision rules," Jeffrey writes.

"Panel members would be selected at random, similar to juries, but it would not be compulsory to participate, purely voluntary."

You could even take it a step further and have panel participants become cultural mentors or benefactors to any asylum seeker whose application for residency they approved.

Some might say this idea is "crazy", "unworkable" or "sketched out on the back-of-an-envelope" but, judging by reactions to past and present refugee policies, this puts it right in the wheelhouse for immediate adoption by the new federal government.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.

129 comments

  • "Yet, while it's easy to deride our two major political parties as they outdo the other with the severity of their boat people policies, the reality is the Coalition and ALP are simply giving you what you want."
    No, Sam, the politicians are giving us what the media tells us we want. There's a big difference. The misinformation peddled by many media outlets is a disgrace. And don't get me started on the intellectual giants who rule talk-back radio!
    Do some homework yourself, people. Check out the UNHCR site, world media, etc and find out some actual "facts". I think you will be surprised at how vastly different they are from the garbage we are being fed. Be an informed voter and a compassionate member of society.

    Not what the opinion polls say. - Sam

    Commenter
    NewsHound
    Location
    Work
    Date and time
    August 07, 2013, 1:53PM
    • Which makes my point, Sam. The opinion polls reflect what people are told to think by the media. I must admit, I can be a little provocative when discussing political matters with friends but it is depressing when their responses are almost word from word from the mouth of Saint Alan or some other equally biased commentator. Push past that, make people think and then see what you get. Oh, wait, that wouldn't sell papers, would it?

      Commenter
      NewsHound
      Location
      Work
      Date and time
      August 07, 2013, 2:48PM
    • Newshound, did you read the piece or stop at the mention of opinion polls?

      Commenter
      JEQP
      Date and time
      August 08, 2013, 12:46AM
    • Ah the "chatter " class, telling us what terrible people we are. First off, quoting the U.N. on anything is a ridiculous premise. The unl(for low)cr is just another propaganda arm of an organization that has caused more havoc than it has solved. Secondly, check your facts on the biggest organization helping refugees, and it is not that lot you "quote".
      This is not a refugee problem, its the Indonesians just changing business models from Piracy to People Smuggling. Until this becomes an Indonesian problem, this will not be solved, no matter how the "chattering " class tell us what terrible people we are.

      Commenter
      Waiting for Waldo
      Date and time
      August 08, 2013, 3:26AM
    • Currently Abbott is screaming his lungs about how 50,000 refugees have arrived by boat since the Pacific solution was dismantled. That works out to be not even 10,000 a year. That's a seriously small number considering how many displaced people there are currently looking for a new place to call home. To make it more laughable is the knowledge the Tony Abbott was born in England came came here on a boat as an economic migrant.

      Commenter
      John Michaels
      Date and time
      August 08, 2013, 7:12AM
    • If 90 percent of illegal immigrants arrive by plane then Tony should be screaming his little lungs off to close the airports. But he was in government when his mentor sold them off.

      Commenter
      John Michaels
      Date and time
      August 08, 2013, 7:18AM
    • "That works out to be not even 10,000 a year"

      That means 10,000 people not taken from refugee camps all over the world. I think most people like me are pro-refugee, they just want some semblance of control over the intake. The Rudd-Gillard government tore down a working policy and now they want a second bite of the cherry....not on my watch!

      Commenter
      madacat
      Date and time
      August 08, 2013, 7:53AM
    • Like the recent poll on this website which claimed most respondents support the greens solution to boat arrivals. Yet support for the greens has been declining rapidly since 2012. Also we are told 80% of people support gay marriage, really? Or is this a way to stop debate on issues? Nobody thinks like you so shut up and go away

      Commenter
      Voters are people too
      Date and time
      August 08, 2013, 8:58AM
    • good on you waldo, always able to shoot the messenger, I think your lack of comment reinforced newshound's point.

      The boat people is just a straw man issue allowing the pollies to play tough and hide the fact that our immigration level is so high. We are being conned by the media and the pollies.

      Commenter
      ian
      Location
      brisbane
      Date and time
      August 08, 2013, 9:04AM
    • Newshound, it's the media that reflects what the public (some) think, not the reverse. You're underestimating the level of xenophobic feeling, especially among lower socioeconomic groups. Media is owned by big business, and big business supports immigration because it tends to increase consumer demand and suppress wages. Media also knows when its onto something, like tapping into xenophobia. Legitimately or not, competition for jobs and housing between residents and immigrants is driving resentment, together with an exaggerated impression of refugee entitlement to social security.

      Commenter
      rudy
      Date and time
      August 08, 2013, 9:33AM

More comments

Comments are now closed
Advertisement
Featured advertisers
Executive Style newsletter signup

Executive Style newsletter signup The latest news delivered to your inbox twice-weekly.

Sign up now

Advertisement