Tony Abbott has decided to bring back the Pacific Solution as a way to “turn back the boats”.
The Pacific Solution being the name given to the Australian government policy (2001-2007) of transporting asylum seekers to detention camps on small island nations in the Pacific Ocean for processing in regards to their refugee status.
The policy is consistent with Abbott’s Real Action campaign which casts him as the man to protect Australia from “illegal immigrants”. His campaign is reminiscent of the attitudes of some of the men from Cronulla who took part in the race riot in 2005. On that occasion young men wanting to “protect” Australia bashed other Australians.
Those who rioted in Cronulla believed men of Middle Eastern descent were a “dangerous other” from whom Australia must be protected. This was particularly the case in light of September 11, Iraq, the London bombings, and the Bali Bombings. Many Lebanese-Australian are Christian. But this did not seem to matter. Within the current international political context “Muslim” is often conflated through metonymic slippages with “Middle-Eastern” and “terrorist” and “illegal immigrant”.
Abbott’s Real Action electoral campaign includes a TV advertisement with a map of Australia. Bold red arrows signal “illegal immigrant” arrivals from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The image wouldn’t look out of place as war propaganda warning us of invading terrorist hordes.
The advertisement again encourages us to conflate terrorists, illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.
Politically and culturally Abbott has chosen to use a very particular model of manhood to advance his cause.
Just like the men who took part in the race riots, Abbott appears to be acting out a troubling model of Australian manhood. It’s one that relies on xenophobia, masculine pride, nationalism, and an ugly model of mateship to work.
I have been doing research with a broad range of young Australian men for a decade now, in cities as well as rural and regional areas. I also grew up at the beach as a surfer and lifesaver. Unfortunately, I keep getting first-hand experience of this model of manhood working across too many of Australian society for my liking.
After the Cronulla Riots I did research with some of the young men who took part. They believe they were letting everyone know that they were proud of “Australian values” and were “defending” their country - just like the Diggers did.
During World War I and II the Australian Diggers came to represent strength, mateship and sacrifice. As a young man all I heard were celebratory stories about the diggers. It wasn’t until much later that I heard whispers about the trauma, fear, and horror of some of these blokes who went to war.
A mythological Australian manhood emerged that came to emphasise strength where no vulnerability is allowed.
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