Australian treatment of boat people "a cruel and crass act of colonialism"

Ray Jackson

An Open Letter to Kevin Rudd, MP // August 5, 2013 // Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2601
Your personal act, but on behalf of the Federal ALP, to abrogate our Human Rights responsibilities relative to the UN Declaration on Refugees has now pushed this Country and its Society over the top and we stand bare and alone in shedding our collective decency as the now apocryphal “Land of the Fair Go.” Well, at least for some it was. It has never been for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Preamble History

The invasion of the Aboriginal Nations that began in January, 1788 continues to this day but after time it also allowed, under statute, a xenophobic and racist Law that was used against my peoples and immigrants/refugees, especially if they were not white in a social understanding. This was, of course, known as the ‘White Australia Policy.’

If you were Asian, Negroid or Muslim, like the Aborigines you were not to be trusted or favoured with any humanity. On some occasions however they were treated somewhat better as they did not own the Traditional Lands of this country known as Australia.

History shows us that such a Policy caused basic problems for the Governments of the time as such a large land mass required populations to fill it but the major source of desired immigrants, from the UK or the USA, were too minimal to make the country ‘safe’ from the hordes to the north of us. Post WW2, the then-ALP Government trawled through the refugee camps in Europe to boost our numbers. No Asians, Negroids, or even Jews were to be accepted in an attempt to keep the Nation as Christian and just off- white as possible.

I well remember the ‘fair-go’ Aussies, with a smile as false as a political promise, waving to the crowd of immigrants looking over the ship’s side as it docked at Woolloomooloo whilst calling them “balts, reffoes, dagoes, wogs, all with an expletive deleted. The immigrants waved back at the welcoming Australians. We still had the WAP very much in practice.

Gradually over the intervening years these immigrants, in the main, semi-integrated, but kept their own culture much to the chagrin of those lucky enough to be born here. Milk bars generally became Greek owned and run but cooked and served only Australian-type meals whilst the fruit and veggie shops seemed to be owned and run by our Italian families. Selling only Australian fruit and vegetables of course. We seemed to have always had the feast of Chinese restaurants dotting our towns and suburbs but they had been here for many many years and were suffered in some culinary silence.

Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were no longer perceived as dying out so assimilation continued by the taking of, mainly, those kids considered to be half-castes and the continuation of the Missions.

The next need to populate this country with non-Aboriginals was again raised when we were force-fed the propagandism of the ‘Red Peril’ that consisted of Russia, China and Vietnam and the Destroyer of all Democracy, the Domino Theory, that placed our pitiful population numbers at a very distinct disadvantage to the Asian billions who, we were told, lusted for “our white women, our land and all its riches.’  Perhaps even more so when the Dutch were thrown out of Indonesia and millions and millions of Muslim-practicing people also became tagged as a part of the Domino. All that ethnic and religious weight pressing down upon White Australia! What to do?

Then, blessedly, came 1972 and after 26 years of an all-smothering conservatism we nearly became a Nation we could be proud of. Gough Whitlam ceased our shameful involvement in the Vietnam War and brought the troops home. Like the Korean War, also known as the Forgotten War, there was none of the jingoism raised after the First and Second World Wars. They had been for King and Country whilst Korea and Vietnam were Asian Wars in Asia that allowed PM Bob Menzies twice to blame the Red Menace that would imperil Australia if we did not enjoin our soldiers to die there, defending us.

The Vietnam War was brought to an inglorious finale by the victory of the Ho Chi Minh northern forces. That subsequently placed Australia in a difficult situation as a second wave of boats came here with people looking for a better and quieter life. The first was from 1788 until aircraft also became possible. No boats had arrived from Korea so it was with great consternation by the Governments when literally thousands of mostly South Vietnamese but some Cambodians also who had assisted the foreign armed forces began hitting our shores. The Refugee Convention, as you would be well aware, was published in 1951 and Australia signed it in 1954 along with added updates.

By the time of these immigrants or refugees or asylum seekers our PM of the time was one Malcolm Fraser. The arguments from those who still believed that we were a ‘White and Christian country’ were many. Newspaper Editors and Columnists thundered their racial beliefs and doomsday prophecies of the end of life and the world as they knew it. Fraser however was made of a more humane make-up. Whilst he was a Conservative he also showed rare flashes of being truly liberal-minded and accepted the asylum seekers for what they really were despite the racism and discrimination shown to them.

Fraser’s main concern was to stop the accidents at sea and the threat of pirates in the China Sea. To do that he ordered his Department of Immigration to go to the Asian camps and take over 50 000 legitimate refugees from those camps. Once a working and more humane solution was found the boats trickled to virtually nothing. I am fairly sure that the term ‘people smuggler’ was rarely, if ever, used. They were, after all fleeing from one of our assisted wars. All he done really was to honour Australia’s signing of the Refugee Convention and put it into practice but he had the fortitude to do it. They survived and added well to the multiculturalism of this country.

I make no apologies for the length of the Preamble History but the true history of the ‘Boat People’ needed to be put.


And now to a more relevant and modern colonialist history.


I could spend hours typing out the human rights abuses of the Howard Government, especially, followed by both Labor and Coalition Governments straining every fibre of their immorality to outdo Howard in his historic struggle to maintain a ‘white-anglo-saxon-protestant’ Australia. You have heard all the arguments, the dialectics, the pleas of compassion that merely fall on stony ground. How two such ‘Christian’ Leaders such as you profess to be and Tony Abbot can act in such a non-ethical and anti-human manner to people seeking legal asylum is beyond my logic or credibility. People, Kevin, not ‘boat-people.’ Do either of you ‘pray’ for the drowned? The Muslim, the Buddhists, the Others? I truly wonder.

To do so would be to purposefully enter into a fool’s mission and I do not consider myself to be such. Nor do I think for one nano-second that the views I am about to put to you will make any difference to the views of Governments and those whose views are concreted in to their racist and xenophobic minds.

The Aboriginal Nations were invaded and then colonized over some 225 years but the colonisation is still very much on foot. Colonial actions and deeds have for most of that time been directly aimed at the Aborigines and the Torres Strait Islanders to authorize and legalise the theft of Land and resources. Among many other Human Rights criminal acts that I will not allude to. You, Kevin, also alluded to them a few years ago.

The Colonialism of Race was initially epitomized by the White Australia Policy that was not only used as a faux-legal argument against Aborigines but also against those immigrants who most certainly did not meet the strict ethnic cleansing that was required to keep out Asians, Afghani, Pacific Islanders (who were the original slaves of Queensland’s sugar plantations, among other areas), and mostly from those countries that had been invaded and subjugated by England. WASP’s yes but others no!

It was of course Gough Whitlam who ended that Policy but only on paper. No one can legislate against racism and discrimination. Even with all our good Laws against racism, discrimination and hate crimes it still continues to the present day. One cannot expect the Policy to just disappear just because Gough said so. It had been in place for about 184 years and still remains to this day. Governments at all levels still continue with enacting such legal trickery as is required to maintain their assumed powers of the Stolen Lands.

When one looks with an unjaundiced eye, it becomes quite clear that cruel and crass acts of Colonialism also manifest themselves when Governments, in an ethnic and racial panic, look to such acts to address what they see as an explosion of asylum seekers from the war zones of Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and the many wars in Africa. Refugees are fleeing Iran, Pakistan, Burma, because of the Human Rights abuses happening in those countries, among others.

Religious persecution continues apace between different believers, even down to the bloody genocide between different sects within religions. I trust you and Abbot pray for them.

When John Howard came to power in 1996 he took special interest in the asylum seeker issue. He recognised that the people seeking refuge were not ones that would easily assimilate into ‘the Australian way’ so special processes needed to be put into place to attempt to decrease the number of arrivals. Australia attempted to put its Colonial mindset to the problem and began to badger and bully Indonesia to take “their’ responsibility seriously and save Australia from its racial dilemma.

Over the years as Australia pleaded, begged and bought what they could, Indonesia stayed totally unstirred by what Australia expected of them. Yes, the boats were Indonesian, crewed by Indonesians (some as young as 12 from poverty stricken coastal villagers who are locked up in adult gaols in Australia), supported by the endemic corruption that swamps Indonesia but there are also what are to the Indonesian Government and people other good and sound reasons to not give entry to Australia’s asylum seekers.

It would be most presumptuous of me to lecture you on Indonesia, its Government and people. I believe however that part of the reason your Colonial bullying has failed is quite plain to see. Compared to Australia with its large land mass and a population of some 23 million, Indonesia is a tiny, tiny country made up of lots of islands and would fit into Australia many times over. Besides that Australia with its small population has a demographic density that Indonesia can only dream of. History shows their attempts to play Colonial Master in their own right by forcing both Irian Jaya or West Papua and East Timor into their archipelago so as to have more land and resources.

Indonesia is a country of some 238 million people that includes about 300 different ethnic groups but is 87.2% Muslim. As we know there is already too much ethnic and religious tension in Indonesia without them volunteering to have our asylum seekers as well. Again those with an historical mind within Indonesia do not accept Australian Government views as being to their advantage. Consider the post-WW2 struggle for independence whereby our Government of the day favoured the Dutch to remain. Another impost, among many slights and insults, as seen by them was our turning our backs on Indonesia whilst supporting the freedom call of Timor Leste, especially as Australia had agreed that East Timor should be Indonesian. Fair-weather friends indeed.

Another hypocritical tactic was to argue their humanity in wanting to stop asylum seekers coming by boat due to the ever-present risk of drownings. I believe that tragic number is now in the thousands. Australia has cried foul of Indonesia that they do not have enough boats, if any, in their southern waters to do search and rescue. That may in fact be true but they want the Indonesian Navy there to pick up the boats that Australia intends to turn back.  Reports show that both Australia and Indonesia have allowed boats to sink, both arguing and apologizing that the boats are in the wrong area of their individual responsibility. I refer you to the Senate Submissions made by Tony Kevin to “A Certain Maritime Incident.”

Indonesia, because of the above statistics and their knowledge that the asylum seekers are Australia-bound asylum seekers and not Indonesia-bound asylum seekers, has made their national choice that they will do nothing to save Australia from its xenophobic embarrassment. Australia for many years has donated billions of dollars to Indonesia in aid; we have trained their armed forces to quell any civil unrest; and pushed the area as a great tourist spot. This time however the Indonesian Government and its army could not be bought. Colonialism had failed drastically.

What to do?   Why go and bully-boy some other nation states, of course.

When Christmas Island and other excisions failed to stop the asylum seekers seeking legitimate refuge then Government eyes turned to Nauru, a Pacific atoll that had been mostly destroyed for its guano, and Manus Island, north of Papua New Guinea.

Nauru has no economy to speak of and was used for some 6 years to house asylum seekers, their main economy. When the detention camp was shut down about 2006 the Nauru Government complained bitterly of the economic cesspool they had been dumped in. Nauru is a fly-speck in the Pacific being only 21 square kilometers with a population of only roughly 10 000. Troubles have monstered the asylum seekers sent there and there is no need to list them as you have decided to place some 5 000 more refugees on the island. The ecological, economic and cultural damage that this will cause seems to matter not, not only to you but to any future Australian Government.

When, and if, the boats do stop what political and moral stance will be taken to assist Nauru in its future population problems? Or do we propose to assist Nauru until it sinks out of sight due to the economic whirlpool put in place by your Government, or it sinks, literally, out of sight due to climate change and rising sea levels? Not unlike the sinking of the asylum boats, will we just brace ourselves and move on by doing nothing?  Your problems and that of the Opposition will have been solved. Move on, nothing to see here, move on.

Manus Island then became the next far far from Australia dumping ground.  Refugees began being dumped here in 2001 until 2004 when, infamously, only one refugee remained for some 12 months before he joined the others in Australia. Money is no object, it seems, when Governments need to pay for purity of purpose. Manus is another very small island with a population of about 50 thousand on a land mass of some 2 100 square kilometers. You have stated that you wish to hide, out of sight – out of (legal) mind, some 10 000 more refugees in Papua New Guinea, somewhere. Some on Manus, some wherever in Papua New Guinea but definitely not Australia.

Both Nauru and PNG are countries very susceptible to the rattling of the bags of silver proffered by Australian Governments to allow us to dump what we see as ‘undesirables’ or ‘queue jumpers’ or ‘illegal’s’. They, of course, are none of these. Under the UN Declaration on Refugees they have every International Human Right to seek comfort and refuge here in Australia. In our name, apparently, you and the Gillard Government have made sickening submissions to the UN to either change the Declaration to allow Australia to abrogate its responsibilities in this refugee area, or worse perhaps, to water down the Human Rights that are integral to the Declaration to allow all Nations to participate in these Colonialist politics. Shame! And not in my name, Kevin!

The bags of silver, and now gold, were rattled at other Nations but to their eternal credit Timor Leste said an emphatic no. Like Indonesia, they too have long memories of the absolute fickleness of Australian Governments due more to oil rather than Human Rights.

In total desperation we even approached Malaysia, another Muslim country, to allow us to enter into a mathematical conundrum of major proportions. We would take 2 000 of their legitimate refugees from their camps if they would accept 800 of our unwanted refugees in return! Just incredible! But even this scheme was open to mutation and interpretation in its actual process. Both countries would choose the make-up of the numbers and no real time frame was put in place. Legally this numeric abomination was knocked back and could not go forward. Malaysia was preferred by the Gillard Government (it is after all easy to get around pesky High Court Decisions by legislating for what you want. A la Howard and his Ten Point plan.)

The Opposition wanted Nauru and Manus and very restrictive visas and so, as the boats continued to sink, both sides stood obstinate that only their draconian answers were the right ones. Children, women and men drowned whilst our legislators played out some macabre nightmare of each calling the other as being more responsible for those deaths than they were. Months of such disgusting and demeaning behaviour continued, each side sinking lower in their attempts to stop legitimate refugees from seeking asylum in this country.

Those truly lucky to reach this country then found themselves to be labelled as criminals for fleeing persecution and death, for attempting to save their family members and themselves from persecution and death, for reaching out for a new and better life in what yourself and Abbott continue to call ‘the country of the fair go.’ My stomach churns each time such terms, including ‘the Australian way’, becomes a platitudinous sop as a form of moral balm to stop the racist and Colonialist itch.                  

It was Invasion and the consequent Colonialism that has created for most Australians what I term, the white-blindfold-view of the real history of this country. As Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders we continue to struggle with that enforced legacy but I fail to see how History will deal with the Politicians of Australia, with some too few exceptions, on their collective actions when dealing with their Colonialism, racism and xenophobia. Other than to place you with other War Criminals for their Human Rights Crimes, even to Hate Crimes.

I do not expect an answer to this open letter from you. I do not expect that your policies, or the Opposition policies, in the refugee area will change at all. So why write it then? I do so Kevin because although I believe in no god I do believe in a higher innate human power and you and others have trashed that for far too long. I am further insulted and denigrated that you Politicians even believe you have any moral right to say who can and who cannot come to this country, to the Aboriginal Lands of the Aboriginal Nations. Always was, always will be Aboriginal Land. Your disgusting premise is built on theft and Genocide so perhaps it should not come as too much of a surprise that you wish to force it upon others outside of your ethnic and religious kind.

To me, and to many others, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, we have one very clear and simple message to give to ‘our representatives’ in Canberra and that is to loudly confirm that Refugees are welcome here. From whence ever they come.

You Parliamentarians do not speak in my name!


Ray Jackson, President, Indigenous Social Justice Association, 1303/200 Pitt Street, Waterloo NSW 2017         Phone:   (02) 9318 0947, Mobile:   0450 651 063, Email: