People have the right to move freely: it's time to welcome all the boats

June 18, 2015
People have the right to flee poverty and environmental destruction, or simply seek a better life.

Albert Einstein said the purpose of socialism is to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development.

Today it seems the predatory phase is here to stay. The choice between socialism or barbarism is now pressing us on all sides.

Mining, for instance, pays little in taxes, but we subsidise it to $4 billion a year — and will bear its health burdens for generations to come.

As former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd found when he tried to make mining companies pay reasonable taxes, it is a rogue industry.

He did not even try to tackle the power entrenched in the upper echelons of immigration detention and security bodies.

These bodies receive billions for locking up a handful of people illegally and indefinitely in unbearably degrading conditions. Above the law and beyond the reach of parliament, theirs is a barbaric and despotic empire.

People flee because of particular conditions. War is one outcome of predation, poverty is another.

Early last century, millions of Europeans fled to the United States to escape war and poverty and find jobs. When the US introduced the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico lost millions of farm jobs to US subsidised agriculture.

Many Mexicans then tried to do what the Europeans once did, go to the US. The US now spends $18 billion each year restricting their border.

Borders are not purely an informal matter of cultures or races. They are a way of controlling people’s movements. They vary over both space and time.

Take Australia’s borders. Since Tampa we no longer quite know where they are or to whom they apply. John Howard did not mean you and me, when he said “We will decide who comes to this country”.

Shouldn’t people have the right to move freely? Isn’t fleeing poverty, environmental destruction, or simply seeking a better life no less a legitimate reason for crossing borders than the UN sanctioned “fear of persecution”?

Today we are losing the struggle against barbarism. Even Brad Chilcott, founder of Welcome to Australia, recently argued it would be better for the ALP to adopt a kinder version of the current policy than to ethically challenge it. He thinks if the ALP were to adopt a platform in response to progressive protest, it would only give the politics of prejudice a new impetus.

Writing in the ALP affiliated website, he said the only prospect for “practical outcomes” is “an approach that keeps the public onside”.

That approach accepts political opportunism, with its talk of “people smuggling” and “sovereign borders” as reality. It shirks the challenges intrinsic to socialism as well as many faiths, of rising above predation and self-interest, to welcome the stranger.

Perhaps it is too late, and we are too few to successfully haul our society out of this predatory mire. Even so, we have to resist it as best we can, because it is so profoundly wrong. For socialists, our starting point is: welcome all the boats.

[Niko Leka is a convenor of the Socialist Alliance Newcastle Branch.]

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