Protest creates possibilities

June 25, 2015

Brad Chilcott is the director of Welcome to Australia, a community organisation that, according to its Facebook page, is “dedicated to giving asylum seekers, refugees, new arrivals and long-term migrant residents of Australia a warm, dignified and positive Welcome to Australia”.

An article by Chilcott entitled Possibility before Protest has appeared on, a website for ALP members and supporters.

The article does not clarify Chilcott’s relationship with the ALP.

Chilcott argues that an “ideological argument” would re-energise the politics of fear and vilification of the worlds’ most vulnerable. By ideological argument, Chilcott means insisting on valuing life before politics, profit and the services to capital provided by borders.

But the politics of fear and vilification is precisely that: politics. Since the Tampa affair, fear and vilification of refugees has been turned into a permanent state of affairs by both the Liberal-National coalition and Labor because of political expediency.

Chilcott is right to say it is the work of conservatives and an aligned media that have prevented the electorate from asking the government to rescue refugees.

But he goes on to present the results of a survey that says “70% of Australians want us to continue our harsh deterrence policies” as if that were an unalterable fact of nature. It is contradictory: either these attitudes have been manufactured, as he himself says, or 70% of Australians are moral cretins.

Regrettably, Chilcott uses precisely the same false argument that the conservatives and aligned media use in their “Stop the Boats” mantra. He declares that the public “will not countenance any policy … that appears to reopen the boat journey from Java to Christmas Island”.

But this phrase did not originate from the public; it came from the government in Canberra

Chilcott says that a “perfect Platform” — or the ideology of valuing life — will never form the basis of ALP policy. That is true, but not so much because of the ALP membership, but because the leadership ignores the ideals of some of its members.

Chilcott’s recommendation that the ALP should keep the “public onside” is redundant. That’s what they have been doing all along, since the Tampa affair.

And it is a recipe for defeat. It leaves the coalition policy as the default position. Furthermore, if there is no significant difference between Labor and the Coalition, then what is the point of voting Labor?

Chilcott declares the ALP to be the “one” voice of progressive possibility, which he counterposes to it becoming just “another” voice of progressive protest, suggesting protest is something done by trivial and annoying faceless groups.

Yet it is a fact that most of the refugee advocacy groups around Australia contain people from all walks of life. When we march together it is an affirmation that our diversity forms our community. It is this diverse movement that creates the hope that treating refugees as human may become a "realistic" political option in Australia.

If we allow the faceless factional power-brokers of the ALP to carry out a stage-managed conference unimpeded by protests, the best we can hope for is the election of an ALP government completely lacking in progressive possibility.

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

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