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Mooted boat ban ignores history and humanity

  • 08 November 2016


Ah, my Grannies: how clearly I hear them still. 'Never let the sun set on your anger.' But then I also hear the balancing note of my mother's voice: 'But always remember there is such a thing as righteous indignation.'

Whether it's righteous indignation or just plain fury, I'm not quite sure, but the sun has been setting for quite some days, and I'm still raging, almost foaming and frothing at the mouth.

The reason for this intemperate outburst involves the proposed legislation that is to be debated this week: the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration, among others, are making a strong move to impose a life ban on would-be immigrants who try to arrive on Australian shores by boat and without authorisation.

The reported aim is to stop the iniquitous practice of people smuggling, but how successful such a plan might prove to be is debatable. And what about the people who are truly desperate? What about the 1200 unfortunates who have been detained on Nauru and on Manus? Politicians, it seems to me, are often very good at ignoring the human cost of the measures they implement.

In their previous careers Turnbull and Dutton were involved in the practice and enforcement of the law. It can be safely assumed that they also have some knowledge of Australia's past.

So why are they ignoring precedent (most immigrants in the past arrived by boat, including their own ancestors) and history (many, many immigrants have made an invaluable contribution to Australian society)? For surely it is necessary to live both in the past and in the future.

It would also be interesting to know how many of our forbears were illegal immigrants to Australia. One of my great-great-grandfathers was one such. From County Down in Ulster, he was only 16 when he used his thumb print to sign on as a seaman; the year was the dreadful one of 1847, midway through the Great Famine.

It is not known how many voyages he made, but he was still a young man when he made a decisive voyage to Australia. The story goes that throughout this long journey he was persistently bullied by a petty officer. The critical moment came one morning when something snapped within him, and he clobbered the bully with a deckscrubber.


"Where is the morality, let alone any concept of liberty, in this proposed legislation? And where is there any empathy? Turnbull and Dutton