Thursday, 22 August 2013

Elysium and the failure of the refugee lobby

It is currently Migrant and Refugee Week, and in honour thereof, I saw the film Elysium (starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster) today.

Unfortunately, it's really atrociously bad.

And it kind of provides a paradigm of why, instead of this election presenting an opportunity for a change in direction on Australia's refugee and immigration policies, we instead have a race to the bottom on this, as (alas) for so many other issues.

Sci fi can work...but this one doesn't!

I'm normally a fan of sci-fi.  And it is a genre that is tailor-made for tackling tough policy issues. The latest Star Trek reboot, Into Darkness, for example, managed to be thoroughly enjoyable while also taking a firm aim at the US' appalling drone warfare and execution without trial policies.

Mind you, Star Trek had the advantage of a very strong ensemble cast plus fantastic villain (BBC Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch is a far more convincing blackguard than Jodie Foster), clever writing (involving actual character development, humour and at least some degree of subtlety, all of which are lacking in Elysium), and nice, very creative action sequences (Elysium's are all same old same old).

Elysium is set in a future where the rich live on a space station named Elysium while the poor live survive on a destroyed, polluted, crime-ridden, earth.  When our would-be hero suffers a fatal dose of radiation, he is prepared to do anything in order to get to Elysium and be cured, so goes to his local people-smuggler (whose success rate appears to be the equivalent of two boat sinkings and one boatload rendered to PNG) for help, willing to do anything to achieve his aims.

The story could have been an effective vehicle to make the case for immigration in the US and refugees here.  Unfortunately, the brickbat to the head approach to preaching rarely works, and I almost left the film early.

***Spoiler alert***(Skip the next bit if you plan to go see the film!)

It would have been better if I had, because the ending was predictably saccharine: it turns out our people-smuggler was really an ethical political activist just waiting for his moment; and our ex-crim 'hero', who had previously abandoned his ex-girlfriend and her dying child and pursue his own interests at the cost of the hopes of everyone else, suddenly decides to sacrifice himself for the greater good. And of course, all the main villains get what's coming to them.

**end spoilers***

It is this kind of simplistic, cardboard cutout approach, shared by the Greens and other prominent members of the refugee lobby here, that's probably the reason why the refugee lobby, far from making inroads in this election campaign, seems to be positively encouraging the race to the bottom.

Like the extremists in the refugee lobby, the film doesn't make the slightest pretence at understanding why nations have borders and want to exert some control over them.

The space station Elysium is a caricature of the rich West: not one citizen of Elysium is presented positively, instead all we have is power mad politicians, evil company magnates, and deranged government agents.

Worse, this paradise in the sky boasts magic healing beds can cure any disease, repair any wound.  But this technology is withheld from the slave labour population of earth for reasons that are never made clear.

Is there way forward on refugee policy?

On the vexed subject of refugees, there have been a few quite interesting analyses of late.  One is of data from the intriguing ABC Vote Compass.   It suggests that while Tony Abbott is playing to the views of his constituency, Labor continues to struggle because its supporters are split down the middle on this issue.

So there surely was an opportunity for Labor to take a different route, and potentially grab some Green votes in the process here.  That Rudd (or Gillard before him) didn't is certainly not from want of lobbying; indeed, the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office are holding a colloquium today on “Migration and Poverty: Exploring Ethical Solutions.”

But why have they utterly failed to make any inroads?

There have been at least some attempts to help us understand just what refugees are fleeing from, most notably in the SBS series last year Go Back to Where You came From.  But I suspect that approach still raises the issue for many of us of, why (other than it's economic attractiveness) Australia rather than a country closer geographically and culturally?

Another post over at The Drum recently suggested that advocates should instead make the case for the benefits accepting refugees will have for Australia.  But that's not actually an easy case to make either given our 'non-discriminatory' approach, particularly in the face of the impact of mass Muslim immigration in Europe, and the evidence of the same problems developing here.

A targeted policy?

My own view is that it is the non-discriminatory part of the policy that is the real problem.  Why, for example, should Australia take responsibility for solving the tensions over the Hazara people in Afghanistan that goes back centuries?  Yes, they are persecuted and at risk, but on the face of it we should be pushing for internal political solutions, not supporting yet another round of exile and return.

By contrast, a far stronger case can surely be made, for example, for giving refuge to Copts driven out of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation we indirectly helped into power and that continues to gain aid from Australians even as it continues to burn down churches and Christian homes in retaliation for being ousted from office.

Alas, I rather suspect the ACBC sponsored forum will be far too politically correct to consider advocating for anything but an all-comers welcome approach.

1 comment:

Joshua said...

Another relevant point: Australia ceased taking unskilled migrants in the 1970's, since there were no jobs for them; and there is no point in adding to the unskilled underclass that exists already - that is a recipe for increasing hopelessness and even for attraction to the supposed "easy money" offered by criminality, and thus for passing on of a whole web of social malaise to the wider family and community.

How is a person helped by coming to a new nation, if that person doesn't have the skills - and I don't mean language - to effectively take part in society? They may be safe from imminent danger to their person, but they may be left isolated, unemployed, and in one of the poorest and least safe suburbs of a major city, where all manner of First World social ills can threaten them.

One of the worst forms of perverse propaganda is the promise that "in Australia, you don't have to work, the Government pays for you" - as a working taxpayer, I resent that, no less than as someone once unemployed myself, I recall how soul-destroying it is to be looking for work and unable to find any for months...

As usual, assorted do-gooders seem to try and assert that current policies are cruel. What to my mind is cruel is that those with money - and plenty of it is required in order to obtain passage on even a very dodgy boat - get to Australia ahead of those completely bereft of any wherewithal, those still in the refugee camps of the world, and for every person who gets accepted as a refugee having arrived by boat, one less just as deserving, if not more deserving, poorer and less able refugee is accepted.

And I resent being told by the sanctimonious elites of the land that being opposed to indiscriminate acceptance of any and all boat arrivals makes me a bad person, when it is clear that not everybody on those boats fits the definition of refugee, and some are transparently economic migrants (a class the existence of which seems too embarrassing a truth for the do-gooders to accept). So do many Australians, I suspect: doesn't the idea of Senator Milne hectoring one constitute a veritable nightmare?