MUNGO MacCALLUM. Girt by Sea – Australia, the refugees and the politics of fear.

Some at least of the South Africans who have come here, and no doubt most of those Dutton is promoting, want to emigrate to get away from blacks.  

It may have taken almost 16 years, but finally the whirligig of time is bringing in its revenges.

In the wake of the 2001 Tampa election, Morrie Swartz  commissioned me to write a Quarterly Essay which became Girt By Sea – Australia, the Refugees and the Politics of Fear.

In a chapter entitled What Dare Not Speak Its Name I asked the forbidden question: was our Prime Minister, and by extension his government, actually racist?

John Howard already had form; he had suspended the Racial Discrimination Act to enact the Wik response that favoured farmers over Aboriginal traditional owners, he had called for a slowdown on Asian immigration, and the entire basis of his campaign – “We will decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come” – was one of jingoism if not xenophobia.

But did it go the whole way to outright racism? So I offered the observation: “It is hard to believe that, had those recued by the Tampa been white Zimbabwean farmers fleeing the brutal regime of President Mugabe, they would have been treated as hostile invaders and denigrated as economic migrants, illegals, and finally potential terrorists.”

Then I waited for the government or one of its many media boosters to offer a rebuttal. Deafening silence – until at last, the emergence of Peter Dutton, blatantly and shamelessly demanding that white South African farmers should be encouraged to jump the queue in favour of those already languishing in the various camps – including, of course, those sponsored by Australia in Nauru and Manus Island.

It is worth noting that while the South African farmers do not like legislation which may – after due court process – take away some or all of their property, thus qualifying them as economic migrants, it is a big stretch to claim that they, as a class, let alone a race (as Dutton seeks to define them) are facing deliberate political persecution.

Certainly there have been deaths – far more black deaths than white, if that matters, which it obviously doesn’t to Dutton. But much of South Africa is a violent, though not a lawless, society. To declare that all the 78 farm deaths last year, which Tony Abbott effortlessly ramps up to 400, were all political reeks more of propaganda than evidence.

Dutton is more than dog-whistling; he is quite overtly promoting return to his version of White Australia, in which all but unquestioning preference is to be accorded to whites who want residence and the rest can rot away in whichever gulags they can find – we will decide.

Dutton says the South Africans will make model Australian citizens, and he should know because he has a lot in his marginal electorate. And probably most of them will, just as a great many Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, Sri Lankans, Iranians, Afghans make fine citizens when given the chance. But there is a caveat: some at least of the South Africans who have come here, and no doubt most of those Dutton is promoting, want to emigrate to get away from blacks.

This is not a good qualification for settlement in what Malcolm Turnbull boasts is the most successful multicultural nation in the world. But perhaps that’s why Dutton wants to bring them here.


Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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3 Responses to MUNGO MacCALLUM. Girt by Sea – Australia, the refugees and the politics of fear.

  1. Avatar tasi timor says:

    sorry forgot the cartoon link

  2. Avatar tasi timor says:

    ‘Some at least of the South Africans who have come here, and no doubt most of those Dutton is promoting, want to emigrate to get away from blacks.’

    True. But plenty of immigrants from Europe are racist, and I know Kiwis who came here to get away from Maoris.

    The SA farm murders campaign began several years ago when there were similar threats to appropriate property without compensation. The campaign is driven by white separatist activists drawn from Boer Action, Front National, Freedom Party etc. The latter changed name after some members were convicted of planning terror attacks on the ANC. They campaign through extreme right media commentators here, in the the UK and Europe and the US. South Africans here are more concerned with an over 45 years of age restriction that has made it hard to bring elderly family members here. The white separatists are just using farm murders as a tool to promote separatism, drum up votes in the next election, and gain international support for their political agenda. This site below and the comments are a fair reflection of what their agenda is, and the racism driving it –

    They proudly post pieces from other, far worse sites. The moderator seems to have toned down comments recently, perhaps worried their campaign may suffer by revealing too much. Many don’t like Jews, Catholics and blacks, not the sort of people who would assimilate easily, anywhere. Many seem to want to use Dutton’s offer to expand their businesses to Australia, an immigration rort. Some of the groups supporting the campaign are plain Nazis eg Identity Europa.

    Dutton’s clumsy intervention serving the agenda of the extreme right white separatists to discredit the reputation of the ANC may yet backfire and harm the interests of Australian miners on the continent, who rely upon the goodwill of African Govts. This cartoon illustrates a dispute in the Cape with an Australian miner. The Amadiba Crisis Committee has it’s own facebook page too for those interested in following developments in this ongoing mining dispute. Restoring land to the dispossessed is at the heart of the case.

    fwiw family reunion is an obvious bipartisan way to separate the racist agenda from the legitimate concerns of the SA community here.

  3. Avatar Mike Yewdall says:

    It amazes me (no, it doesn’t really) that Mungo’s pieces aren’t given wider reach through the mainstream media. The people who need to read this won’t or can’t

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