Public meeting condemns white Australia policy
By Edward Johnstone
BRISBANE — Green Left Weekly hosted an emergency public meeting here on December 1, entitled "Reject the new white Australia policy", in response to the federal government's introduction of the Border Protection Bill and other restrictions on asylum seekers.
Rafael Pacheco, from the Brisbane Refugee Claimants Support Service and himself a political refugee from El Salvador, spoke of the massive changes that the Howard government has made to the rights of refugees in three years, including abolishing refugee applicants' right to work, even voluntary work.
They have been denied access to English classes, and are generally forced to survive on charity organisations "which are not equipped to deal with long-term support", he said.
Pacheco challenged the government's claims that people who could afford to pay for passage to Australia were not true refugees. "When I fled El Salvador for Costa Rica, I went by plane", Pacheco said. "That doesn't mean I wasn't persecuted. If I had stayed I would have been killed."
Queensland Greens convener Drew Hutton detailed the debate on immigration inside the Greens, admitting that "there has been some ambivalence in our policy". He declared himself opposed to the "fundamentalist" position within the party which argued that "Australia is overpopulated already". The party's position on immigration is now "far more unequivocal", Hutton said.
Brisbane Democratic Socialist Party organiser Graham Matthews described the new federal legislation as the latest step in the construction of a "fortress Australia" to keep out the poor and non-white.
By targeting "illegal" refugees, the government was trying to soften up the population, Matthews argued.
"The Liberal government has carried out a massive austerity campaign", he said. "The unemployed are now unworthy bludgers. Single parents and disabled pensioners are now rorters and malingerers. This is a campaign to break resistance to austerity — the victim is now accused of having special privileges."
A decision was taken to picket immigration minister Philip Ruddock when he opens a multicultural centre on December 15.