Debates in Ireland over Australian policies on detention

Deborah Staines d.staines at
Sun Mar 26 04:20:32 PST 2000

although this subject line seems to be running out of puff, and has been expanded by a parallel discussion on 'becoming-stateless', i'd like to reply to just a couple of the issues raised-

>>You don't believe Australia has returned to the White Australia Policy?
>No not quite insofar as the White Australia policy was a public statement
>about the shared identification of Australians, while this is a racist
>immigration policy by stealth, pretending it makes no specific division in
>terms of 'race'. I think that is very different.

I'm inclined to agree with Catherine on this one. We probably need new ways of describing what is happening in Australia now. I have read only occasional extracts from the White Australia Policy, but I would think that what we are looking at is not so much a return to that established routine so much as a modified technique of persecution. New measures of exclusion which authorise racial discrimination. Further (and out on my own here) I would want to ask, for instance, how a 'White Australia' policy could reject people who bear white-skin privilege, which surely some of those on the 'BlackList' do (e.g.Eastern Europeans)? Doesn't this indicate that the prejudices which are being established through this selection principle have taken on a further complication than skin colour? Or am I misunderstanding what is meant by 'white' Australia here.

>>...Racist ignorance _is_ endemic in Australia; extremist and
>>opportunistic anti-immigrant politicians _do_ enjoy a lot of support, as
>>evidenced by every election since 1992
>yes, but...

I think it's very difficult to characterise a large populatio/nation in this way without falling into generalisations. I would agree that everyday we are constituted as raced bodies, and here it has a foundation in the settler moment when the indigenous culture and its people were pretty much destroyed. We have a history of invasion, genocide, and patterns of racism.

This is inscribed history, and one that fashions many of the divisions and often unspoken resentments between communities. But this has different effects. I think that many Australians are ignorant of some of the specific forms of racial prejudice that government policy might produce (some of which have come to light in this discussion). Many white Australians perpetuate racism through micro-fascisms of disenfranchisement, the 'blindness' to their own privilege. And then there are also conditions of explicit, violent, and seemingly shameless racism. On the other hand, I think credit should also be given to the ways in which most Australians are required on a daily basis to negotiate racial and cultural difference and often do so with positive results. I think it's more complicated than saying a racist form of ignorance is endemic - although that's true - because that sounds too static. People shift their positions around race and difference throughout their lives and the way they articulate those changing opinions and feelings are important markers of social and cultural growth. The anti-Hanson movement was just as important as a site of cultural articulation as the Hanson supporters, and might even claim a kind of success. But I would agree that there are problems with any assumption that Australia is somehow happily and un-problematically 'multicultural'. (and now i fear i'm generalising and shall cease trying to describe Australians...)


I said:
>> How do states protect without reinforcing their
>> territorially defined statehood?

Angela replied:
>Correct me if I'm wrong, but in the case of refugees, states don't actively
>protect, they grant a secularised version of sanctuary. The concepts of
>asylum and refuge used to indicate a space of non-applicability of state
>authority, as its origins in churches suggest -- those given sanctuary were

I'm looking at a current OED that says sanctuary provides 'shelter, refuge, protection'. So this is an interesting point of departure - as I asked in my above question - how is protection to be offered without boundaries? I don't say this merely to contradict you - if it is a contradiction, which I don't think it is, it's a problematisation - I ask because I am actually interested in how states might offer refuge if they were not constituted as bordered territories. Which comes back to the model of 'open borders' which you put forward in the earlier post. I'm very curious to know how open borders could work in relation to existing conditions of violence.

>>countries which initially refused to take in Jewish refugees from
>>Germany -- they're "rich" appparently, so switch off the empathy meter.
>That's a very good point Angela. I'd like to know what Deborah makes of it.

I guess I'd need more information, dates, places, etc.


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