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The Government's delusory tolerance rhetoric

  • 03 March 2015

‘Those who come here must be as open and accepting or their adopted country, as we are of them. Those who live here must be as tolerant of others as we are of them.’

Prime Minister Abbott’s National Security Statement last week quite rightly spoke of threats to Australia and the need to address them.

I am not disputing a change to the law to restrict citizenship benefits for those involved in supporting and advocating for the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Daish in the Arabic acronym), or certain terrorist groups. If we are to cancel citizenship, then make the process transparent so that a person affected can respond to allegations, and have genuine review right to make sure that mistakes or over zealousness can be tempered by cooler heads.

These statements of the Prime Minister would seem uncontroversial and it would be hard to think of someone who might disagree with these values. However, what about the situation where we treat people ‘who come here’ quite unfairly, vilify them and punish them just because of how they come to our country. We would not like them to reciprocate the attitude towards us!

One point in particular is the language used to describe people arriving by boat without a visa. There are several different levels of language used, from legal to populist. Whilst for some, criticism of populist language may be seen as being ‘political correctness’, there are times it is appropriate to be technically correct because the populist language maybe offensive, or vilifying.

Take for example previous use of the ‘N’ word – it is seen as offensive to indigenous people, and rightly so. We now use the more technical but more accurate term indigenous people, or even more specific references to a group such as ‘people of the Eora nation’. This is respectful of the people of whom we are discussing, and is terminology they recognise as acceptable and not offensive.

The same principle should apply to people arriving without a visa. In the Migration Act people who are not citizens are either ‘lawful non-citizens’ (s13) or ‘unlawful non-citizens’ (s14). The term ‘illegal’ has not been used in Migration Law since 30 August 1994 when the Act was changed to repeal the term. However the term has survived in common use, and was revived by the former Immigration Minister to the extent that it appears in official Departmental publications.

Curiously, the term is mainly used in the