John Menadue | Our Darker Angels

CPD Director and former Secretary to the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, John Menadue, is appalled by the prevalent attitudes towards asylum seekers in Australia. He says Julia Gillard is competing with Tony Abbott to show how tough she can be, when really both are playing with the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. In a recent talk at the St James Ethics Centre Menadue said “If Ben Chifley and Malcolm Fraser had appealed to our darker angels we would never have taken large numbers of Jewish and Indochinese refugees.”

Phil Dobbie from BTalk asks Menadue isn’t the debate today really about Islam? Why else would we concern ourselves with the small number of boat arrivals, predominantly refugees from the Middle East, and be less concerned about the larger number of asylum seekers who arrive by air, many of which come from China?

Menadue says Australia has an “irrational, and illogical obsession” with boats and it’s a “national disgrace that we’ve been attacking them”.

While the “unscrupulous people” on talk-back radio might “apeal to these darker angels of ours”, Australia needs real moral leadership from our politicians by “appealing to our better angels” like the government’s of the 1970s and 1980s.

As the government has failed to “facilitate an informed debate”, the debate around asylum seekers has devolved to become “a proxy debate about race, and a proxy debate about Islam”. As such, CPD is proposing that the “government should establish an independent, professional organisation to facilitate public debate” to act as a “mediator” and “interpreter” to “facilitate understanding in the community”.

“Refugees by definition, are risk-takers, they abandon everything for the chance of freedom and opportunity”, and while there may be some initial setbacks, “the contribution they have made in Australia cannot be bettered by any other groups”.

Mandatory detention and off-shore processing were “an enormous waste of money, at great cost, and didn’t succeed”. As such, CPD is calling for the phasing out of mandatory detention “within two years”.

So why has the issue of asylum seekers become so divisive in Australian society and what can be done to appeal to our better angels?

LISTEN to John Menadue in conversation with BTalk’s Phil Dobbie here.