Unfortunately you would know that from the headlines in the News Corp tabloid press here in Adelaide this week. The federal government has decided to use a currently vacant military housing estate in the Adelaide hills near the town of Woodside to house about 400 families and children who have come to Australia seeking asylum and are awaiting processing of their claims.
The shoddy and biased journalism of these reports, and the selective comments of many hills residents, have made many in South Australia ashamed. The people who will be housed in this facility are people in need, families with children who are fleeing war zones and persecution. For this reason alone the people of South Australia should stand ready to respond with welcome and compassion, especially as a very high proportion of residents in this state are descended from people who came to Australia under very similar circumstances a generation or two or three back.
Quite apart from any appeal to compassion and human decency, the asylum seekers will occupy housing which is standing empty, and their presence will inevitably bring employment and other economic benefits to the surrounding area. There is no evidence that these families will increase the crime rate, or have any involvement with drugs or disease. (As an aside- there have been some suggestions that the housing estate should be opened up to use by unemployed and homeless Australians, and one wonders what the reaction of the protesting hills residents would be to that proposal). It is very clear that the decision of the Federal government to use the existing facility in this way is a sensibe solution to current needs, and that once the current contretemps has subsided most people will see this, contribute to making it work, and also benefit from it.
The debate over Australia’s response to asylum seekers has been conducted in a way that brings shame and disgrace upon us. Racism and xenophobia, fuelled by ignorance, have been whipped up by the right wing media, with the tacit (and sometimes overt) encouragement of most politicians on the conservative side of politics and some in the Labor party as well. But these bigoted loudmouths and opportunistic political hacks are not representative of Australia, where decency, compassion and a ‘fair go’ are common and shared values. I am sure that most people in the hills and the wider South Australian community will respond much more positively than the press coverage would imply to the asylum seekers who are coming here, that they will be welcomed into our schools, our businesses, and our churches, and that we will find ways to assist them, to integrate them into our society, and to be enriched by them as we have been enriched by each successive wave of migrants and refugees which have come to these shores over the past 200+ years.