Fund education instead of locking up refugees

August 10, 2013

It's election season once again. For the first time in three years, the government is allocating us all our piece of democracy. People in suits are frantically talking about the issues of the day, in the hope that they can win over enough of us to put them into parliament.

Two of the defining issues in this battle are refugees and education. In both cases, candidates line up one after the other to show they are able to make the tough decisions.

On refugees, both big parties try to outdo the other in devising "solutions" that will scare already traumatised people into not seeking asylum in Australia.

On education, there is bipartisan support for the sweeping cuts to higher education and TAFE that have been announced both at a state and federal level in recent years. 

"Tough" times need "tough" people to make the "tough" decisions. But the closer one looks at these policies, the less sense they seem to make.

On the one hand, $2 billion in cuts to education is justified by a “tough economic climate”.

Budgetary restraints caused by an ailing global economy have supposedly left both Labor and Liberal parties no choice but to make these cuts.

However, on the other hand, billions of dollars is being spent on offshore detention centres for refugees.

Kevin Rudd’s new policy will massively expand existing detention centres and transport refugees there by charter flights.

For a fraction of the cost refugee groups and welfare organisations could provide resettlement here in Australia.

Why is it that for governments it's austerity for education, but excess for locking up asylum seekers?

This is not a coincidence. The reality is that the entire refugee debate is a racist distraction from the issues that affect us. This demonisation serves to distract from reality. If political debate wasn't dominated by who is going to kick refugees the hardest, other questions might seep into public discourse.

Questions such as why are we making big cuts to funding for health care and education? How can it be that coffers are empty when politicians still have money to give themselves pay rises or lower the corporate tax rate?

Why do we need to pay for university education now, when 30 years ago it was free? Why can’t Gina Rinehart afford to pay more tax when she is worth billions of dollars.

And most terrifying of all for politicians, why don't all of us get together and do something about it?

There is an alternative. Think of what could be achieved if the mining wealth, instead of going to Clive Palmer to build a replica Titanic or a dinosaur park, was in the hands of working people.

We would have the resources to build public transport instead of more toll roads, or properly fund hospitals and the education system. A publicly owned and run economy would create the ability for Australia to put the needs of society ahead of a few billionaires.

And in such an Australia, when there was so much more to go around, would we still want to lock up desperate people overseas when we could provide shelter and support for refugees for a fraction of the cost.

The reality is there isn't a choice between education and asylum seekers or Australians and refugees. The question is better posed: In whose interest should our economy be run?

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