The theme for Refugee Week 2014 is 'Restoring Hope'. The reason we need to restore hope is that it has been destroyed by government policies. It's therefore important to understand what the government is doing and why.
Ian Haney Lopez, the author of Dog Whistle Politics, correctly points out that 'Dog whistle politics doesn't come out of some desire to hurt minorities. It comes out of a desire to win votes. It's racism as a strategy. It's cold, it's calculating, it's considered, it's the decision to achieve one's own ends, here winning votes, by stirring racial animosity….public racism has evolved. The way in which racism, the way in which racial divisions are stoked in public discourse has changed. And now it operates on two levels. On one level, it allows plausible deniability. This isn't really about race, it's just about welfare…And on another, there's a subtext, an underground message which can be piercingly loud, and that is: minorities are threatening us.'
The government is spending $8 million per year on spin that translates into a multi-million dollar media advertising campaign because of the extent of the media coverage given to it.
As a polling issue the government relies heavily on this issue, both to get elected and then to maintain support. That's why they have to stick to the hard line needed to maintain popular perception that their policy is working. They will also rely on the same perception to get re-elected.
Ramping up the issue was easy. They knew people have a degree of innate racism and fear for their own security territorially and economically. Those concerns are allayed only through exposure to individuals from other nations and informed understanding.
But people are always interested in what they perceive to be a threat to their own interests. Perhaps that's why by and large there has been silence from the public about the colossal expenditure on offshore detention centres but public outrage about comparatively minor proposed cuts to welfare which involve direct personal consequences.
Would any Australian seriously contest the closure of offshore detention centres if the money this saved was immediately redirected and equally distributed among pensioners, single parents, the disadvantaged and to improve education and health?
So the government knows that a perceived threat is a great voting issue. What the government needs to do is show how effective they are by eliminating the problem of the boats arriving on our shores, but they also need to perpetuate the fear by saying that the threat is always going to be there and you need them to contain it.
By creating an Australian border force, politicising the navy and involving at least six separate government departments, the government is creating a perception that they are the ones to effectively deal with a problem which plays on that fear. The fear is neutralised as long as the government maintains its stance. All cleverly portrayedas a service to society.
Curiously, in July 2012 a poll confirmed that 78% of Australians believed that politicians were playing politics about the welfare of asylum seekers rather than being genuinely concerned about them. Unfortunately, playing politics about an issue doesn't mean the issue isn't a legitimate popular concern, and you can increase that concern by playing politics about the issue.
What's the issue? It's the collaboration of the Australian public.
This month a Lowy Institute poll confirmed that more than 70% of Australians support the Abbott government's Sovereign Borders Policy, 60% of voters say asylum seekers should be processed offshore and nearly half of the population identify asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat as a critical threat.
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