The fall out from the Australian cricket team’s ball tampering scandal on the South African tour has been inescapable. Steve Smith was marched through Johannesburg Airport like a criminal, while international media has enjoyed a feeding frenzy – bringing usually stoic sportsmen, the epitome of tough Australian male culture, to tears.
The saga has been labelled Australia’s ‘national shame’ and a disgrace.
But there’s another disgrace that’s been unfurling between Australia and South Africa, removed from the relatively unimportant cricket pitch and tossed like a tampered ball into the halls of parliament.
Earlier this month, Peter Dutton announced plans to fast track visas for persecuted South African farmers. It had been reported that more than four white South Africans are murdered per month, amidst a government led push to return lands to black South Africans.
“The people we’re talking about want to work hard, they want to contribute to a country like Australia,” Dutton said in his explanation for the out-of-character push for migration.
“We want people who want to come here, abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard, not lead a life on welfare.”
This week the same government announced Australia would be highly unlikely to accept any refugee applications from South Sudan, Somalia and Iran under the Community Support Program.
In South Sudan, at least 50,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million internally displaced since 2013. Similarly, over 1 million people remain internally displaced in Somalia after targeted attacks on civilians, with 358 people killed in a single bombing in 2017. With these horrifying statistics at the forefront, we need to question why South African farmers are being offered fast tracked visas, while those from other nations clearly requiring assistance are being turned away, or worse, locked on Manus and Nauru.
What is the real difference between these South Africans who want to “work hard and contribute” and asylum seekers who Peter Dutton believes “won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English”? One obvious answer is skin colour.
This institutionalised racism is only a slither of Australia’s shame when it comes to our treatment of refugees. Our ongoing detention of 336 asylum seekers in Nauru, including 36 children continues to be a dark spot on Australia’s human rights record.
The UN has continuously called our offshore detention policy, a violation of human rights, stating that Australia “has violated the right of the asylum seekers, including children, to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
In addition to this, last week the government announced plans to cut income support for up to 7,000 asylum seekers who are living in Australia while they await a decision on their application for humanitarian protection. The cuts mean many asylum seekers will be forced to stop further study that would likely lead to greater employment opportunities, including government subsidised English classes that assist integration, two things Peter Dutton claims to be highly important for Australian migration.
So why is Peter Dutton not being marched through airports as a criminal? Why is he not being shamed to the point of tears? Why is it that we consider ball tampering a national disgrace, yet being called out as torturers by the UN seems to leave Australians relatively unperturbed?
It is time Australians start demanding the same high moral standard from our politicians as we do of our sports stars. It is time we start recognising our shameful immigration policy of offshore detention as a national disgrace, because whether we choose to recognise it or not, our international reputation depends on it.
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