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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Australians could have been boat people

The irony regarding asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters, is that Australians themselves could have been the boat people.  During World War 2 it was rumoured that the Australian government under Prime Minister Menzies had a plan to allow Japan to take the northern part of Australia had they successfully invaded.  This plan was known as the Brisbane Line.  Whilst there is some conjecture about whether or not the Brisbane Line really existed, I want to suggest a hypothetical.

Imagine that Japan had invaded Australia and that the Brisbane Line was invoked.  Northern Australians would have been the ones seeking refuge. Their applications for refugee status in Southern Australia would have been treated with suspicion and derision from their southern counterparts. Those Northerners who felt they needed to escape the brutality of their new overlords and who decided to jump the newly constructed fence separating Northern Australia from Southern Australia would have found that the Southerners were not waiting for them with open arms. in fact, the exact opposite because of the very suspicion that we saw between East & West Germany: neighbours one day, enemies the next. The reason for suspicion would have included rumours such as: "the Japanese are holding their families hostage and they are only down here to spy on us".  

Those northern Australians who managed to jump the fence into Southern Australia would have been imprisoned and most likely deported back to Northern Australia because of the need to "maintain a good relationship with our new mainland neighbours; the Japanese government".

So where to for the Northern Australians? North! Indonesia. Leaky boats, putting their families lives at risk in order to escape a brutal and inhumane regime if we base it on the way the Japanese ran their prison camps during WW2.

Or.... would have those Northern Australians been happy for them and their families, their children, to endure the brutality, the torture just so that they could take a number and apply for refugee status to other countries such as USA, UK or the limited refugee intake of Southern Australia.

We should have a more compassionate approach to refugees, we should not be demonizing these victims of terror and brutality, we should not be subjecting them to further abuse and dehumanizing treatment by incarcerating them in remote, hostile areas of Australia or off-shore centres.

Boat people are not the threat that some people believe. The vast majority have been found to be genuine and are now living productive lives in Australia.

Our attitude to asylum seekers should be summed up in the words of John Bradford:

'There but for the grace of God, go I'.


  1. The irony regarding someone who claims to have a passion for human rights and social justice and who writes on a ‘cut and dry’ issue relating to the treatment of refugees, such a topic in Australia leads to a myriad of factual comparisons and considerations that would be perfect examples to use or raise to get your message across, rather than using a hypothetical that barely makes any sense. I agree with your second last paragraph though.
    If children of refugees are considered 'Boat People’, or a child of a pregnant refugees would also carry that same label, then 97.5% of Australians are descendants of ‘Boat People'. 2.5% are the first Australians, the Aborigines. They are the only group of people that have any genuine right (morally) to complain about 'Boat People'. The clincher is the fact that if you use the current (irrational) arguments against refugee intake (generally held by multi generational Australians) and you draw comparison between today's new arrivals and the arrival of their ancestor's, you can sit back and savour the moment and enjoy seeing your opponents face contort with frustration while trying to work out how they'll conjure up a response that is not laced in hypocrisy. You could compare the numbers: between 1788 and 1868, about 160,000 convicts were transported to the Australian colonies augmented by free settlers (who also arrived by boat) or the one million people who came to Australia between 1860 and 1900.
    Also the impact on the current population: unlike the arrivals over the last Seventy years who have been productive and honest Australians, the real invasion and colonisation by the british actually personified the label of Terrorists. The genocide of the indigenous population that followed, devastating a culture comprising of over 600 tribes found inhabiting the land in pockets from coast to coast entire land mass that were an integral component of the ecosystem, resulting from the cultural practices regarding environmental respect and care, for 60,000 years as constant as the sun rising, and therefore a significant factor relied upon through a vast number of evolutionary outcomes of landscapes, flora and fona. We colonised their land committed mass murder, directly and indirectly through introduced european diseases that they had no exposure nor natural Immune defences to fight off the common european diseases.

    Then we rounded and them up and either committed them to barbaric treatment and conditions after selling them as slaves and attempting to dissolve their cultural heritage and transform them to western way of existing. The women became personal attendants for settler upper class ruling elite, the men taken for manual labour while being constantly shackled.
    After the failure to westernise them, they (the government) stuck them on reserves, denying them the right to be part of the community as well as the ability to live as they had done for 60,000 years. During the 1950s the government stole the children from their mothers on these reserves and placed them in orphanages and foster homes (where physical violence and abuse was a part of their daily life) they are known as the stolen generation.

    The genocide and human rights violations continue to this day. Average life expectancy is round Forty years of age. Australia incarcerates more of it's indigenous people (relative to non indigenous prisoner's) than any other nation, for example, three times that of african americans in us prisons and four times the number of africans Incarcerated in South Africa before the end of apartheid in 1993.

  2. Hi Perspicacious,

    thanks for the comment.

    This article was aimed at challenging Australians in general to think "what would I do in that situation?" before they criticise asylum seekers arriving by boat. It was an attempt to personalise it for them as most seem to gloss over the question when asked.

    The reason I ran with such a comparison as the Brisbane Line and the possible invasion by Japan, is that it is the only real-life example that most Caucasian Australians have faced in this country - sadly, most won't remember or have experienced, the Japanese bombings of Australia - however, my grandparents and other family members did experience it.

    There is of course also argument over whether the Brisbane Line was ever a real strategy. Nonetheless, this article is a "what-if" because Australia did have a contingency plan for a Japanese invasion and those who feel that partitioning the country wouldn't have been a problem should look at what happened in other countries which were divided (as the Brisbane Line could have done if it was implemented).

    I do agree with you about our invasion of Australia and of the impact that this has had on the indigenous owners of this land. This article was obviously not aimed at addressing that issue, it was aimed at the (mainly) Caucasian Australians who whinge about Boat People with no empathy for what has led them to this desperation.

    I do have plans for an article on indigenous Australia and the impact that European settlement had and continues to have on it. Particularly, the destruction of the complicated kinship laws governing their social and marriage practices, which were never a consideration of the white government as it implemented forced relocations and settling of many different tribes into common areas. This was the initial cause of the destruction of the aboriginal societies, followed by the racist laws such as the Flora & Fauna Act, the Aboriginal Ordinance and so on and as you pointed out, forbidding them to integrate with mainstream society, even to the point where they needed the approval of the Chief "Protector" of Aborigines in order to marry.

    There are many subjects which I do wish to address in my blog. I'm certainly aware of, through years of personal experience in North Queensland, the effect that we have had on Aborigines and I will be writing about this impact in time.