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Global_18

Arena Politics Australia’s unlucky boat people Australia receives far fewer asylum seekers each year than many European and African countries. Yet its bleak offshore asylum processing centres, intended as a deterrent, fall below standards required by international law Kylie Field The phrase ‘the lucky country’ has been used as a nickname to describe Australia since the 1960s. It used to be used to describe the weather, the lifestyle and the good fortune of the wide brown land. But, ironically, it was penned as a form of criticism against Australian society – its ‘cultural cringe’, its convict past and its White Australia Policy. Donald Horne, the Australian author who coined the phrase, argued that he was in fact talking about a country that wasn’t too clever: Australia, he believed, was simply lucky. Fifty years on, the term ‘the lucky country’ is part of the Australian psyche. It is used widely by politicians, the media and in general conversation. Australians believe wholeheartedly that their geographical isolation from the rest of the world makes them lucky. Civil wars and political unrest are often greeted with a ‘glad it’s not in my backyard’ sigh of relief – a conceited arrogance that masks a darker sentiment. But the irony is that for those that seek asylum in Australia from such conflicts, ‘the lucky country’ is not quite so lucky. The current situation for those arriving by boat is to be placed in detention at offshore processing centres on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, and Nauru. Conditions are very poor and recent violence at a camp on Manus Island resulted in the death of a young Iranian refugee. Despite this, in a recent poll conducted by New Zealand-based UMR Research, 60 per cent of Australians polled want those arriving by boat seeking asylum to be treated even more harshly. But what does this say about the lucky country? According to Professor Gillian Trigg, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Australians have been demanding that the government adopts the most stringent policies imaginable to stem the tide of refugees coming to Australia. “There has been no national outrage. We don’t have a legal or national culture that makes reference to human rights concerns that other Australian Government DIBP Creative Commons by 2.0 40 l www.global -br ief ing.org second quar ter 2014 global


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