Here’s an incident from the 2001 Federal Election that shows John Howard’s nastiness to maximum effect. Specifically, it shows how Howard incited racially-linked fear and prejudice in the electorate for political advantage.
I record it here as a way of giving more publicity to the insidious poison that Howard leached into the mainstream during his tenure as Prime Minister. Truly a nasty little era.
The incident is related in Mungo MacCallum, ‘Political Anecdotes’, 2003, p. 274, the original source being Peter Charlton in Solomon (ed.) Howard’s Race (2002) pp. 127-128.
The Terror Of The Boat People
“As Tom Allard of the SMH reported after the election, ‘It was past deadline for most papers so The Courier-Mail’s political editor Dennis Atkins had his laptop computer open and was showing his fellow reporters the front page splash the Brisbane newspaper was running the next morning. The article…began: “Australia had no way to be certain terrorists, or people with terrorist links, were not among the asylum seekers trying to enter the country by boat from Indonesia, Prime Minister John Howard said
The article went on to say that Howard had linked terrorism and Australia’s border protection stance for the first time. It paraphrased Howard comparing the current situation with the end of World War II, when Nazi war criminals had slipped into Australia.
As Howard passed by, Atkins showed the story to him. ‘Good’ Howard said, ‘Excellent’”
‘Excellent’. Yes in a hateful kind of fear-mongering way. Howard’s definition of excellent.
David Marr also records the Howard-Atkins incident described above in his book on Howard’s 2001 election campaign, Dark Victory
Let’s Give That Another Run
Samantha Maiden of The Australian recalled the Atkins article in her piece ‘Terrorists On Boats Claim Date Back To Howard” in Oct. 2009 as she reports on the shameless Wilson Tuckey rehashing the old bile in relation to contemporary Sri Lankan Tamil refugees.
Record Muslim Immigration Under Howard
It is sometimes claimed that Howard cannot be racist and does not hate Muslims because a record number of Muslims entered Australia under conventional immigration programs during his tenure and Howard did not ban or compromise Federal Funding of Islamic schools (e.g Paul Sheehan Still a Land Of Fair Go Despite Fabrications) To my mind the facts referred to by Howard’s defenders only succeed in making Howard’s culpability worse.
Howard does not specifically detest Muslims more than he does against any other non-Anglo (apart from his general mistrust of any non-Anglo or less than fully assimilated aussified immigrant), except that Muslims are associated with 9/11. But Howard actually knows that the vast majority of Muslims are as sensible, peaceful and law-abiding as anybody else.
So Howard is 95% as content to allow Muslims to immigrate to Australia as any other low wages immigrant. After all Immigrants are a necessary part of Australia’s low wages unskilled and semi-skilled economy. Anglos on the whole are too proud to clean toilets or take comparable low wage, low status jobs. Business needs these people and Howard is a servant of the Business class.
But when convenient Howard uses Muslims as community scapegoats for political purposes. In other words Howard uses people as objects of his ambition. People are instrumental vehicles to him, means to ends. He doesn’t hate Muslims or Chinese particularly. He’ll just use abuse, discard, embrace, scapegoat, or exalt them in whatever form serves the interests of J. Howard Esq.
And that’s an offence against basic decency.
Why Australia Is Obliged To Accept Refugees
Boat people, however, are not conventional immigrants. They are refugees. Refugees have internationally-recognised legal status under The United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 to which Australia is a signatory. Because we signed the convention, we are obliged to accept refugees.
[T]he term ‘refugee’ shall apply to any person who…owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his [sic.] nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.
– Refugee Convention, Article 1(A)(2)
As Robert Manne explained in his excellent essay from 2004“Sending Them Home” The United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 was created as a consequence of the fate of Jews before World War 2 and displaced persons immediately following World War 2. Jews unable to flee, or returned to, Nazi Germany were of course liquidated. As Stalinism spread across Eastern Europe similar tragedies occurred with many innocent persons seeking to escape totalitarian rule.
Thus the convention was created as an act of good conscience by nations supporting liberal democratic principles and basic justice and humanity.
Thus recognized, Howard’s de-facto rejection of the 1951 Refugee Convention is an act of a deeply mean spirit. And Howard’s specific comments above, where those fleeing totalitarianism are themselves described as the totalitarians, represent an inversion of the humanitarian spirit of the treaty. This is disgusting enough; but when we remember that Howard does this purely for political expediency we have come face-to-face with a souless man.
Howard’s Bare Point
Howard is a sneaky and deceitful person. And like all sneaks he uses even the truth where expedient to try to deceive. Yes, some Nazi’s did conceal themselves amongst the tide of legitimate refugees in order to escape justice, but to use this bare point as a justification for towing all refugess boats into the open sea is to focus on the gnat in the herd of camels. In usual form Howard is using fear to manipulate the electorate. That use of xenophobix fear for political purposes, so typical of Howard, is contemptible.