Why Dutton Is So Dangerous

March 23, 2018
Iain MacLeod

Last week’s blog post on why the Australian Minister of Home Affairs (Immigration) is, in my view, either a racist and a hypocrite or simply a cynical Australian politician playing to a small racist constituency in Australia, hit a nerve in South Africa as I expected it would. The reaction to last week’s blog across various forms of social media and in private emails to me deserves some further exploration.

The reaction to it confirmed two things for me – what politicians anywhere will do for a few votes and how, sadly, South Africans are for the most part these days, seemingly incapable of any form of grown up discourse.

On the Minister, I cannot believe he was not being very calculated and while I’d like to believe he had the best interests of South African farmers in mind, the way he has gone about handling the issue suggests his kite flying exercise was more for domestic consumption; appealing to an anti-immigrant (unless those migrants are white) constituency rather than any real interest in reaching out to a group in possible need of ‘rescue’ in South Africa.

There are clearly enough people in Australia who believe their pre-1958 ‘whites only’ immigration policy represented some sort of demographic ‘dream time’ that a cynical Australian politician will seek to exploit that minority world view. It is a shame that a country where 20% of its people were not born there and who, for the most part, all get on like a house on fire living harmoniously, has room for a Minister of Immigration who will try and exploit a minority view for political gain. If he was genuinely concerned with the plight of white farmers in South Africa (or, simply more intelligent) he would have quietly floated the idea to his colleagues, gauged their reaction and if they were in agreement that white South African farmers deserved special treatment, they could have quietly gone about creating a visa pathway for them without the political grandstanding. You have to ask yourself why Dutton handled the issue the way he did.

Recently New Zealand did something similar in creating a special pathway to residence for several thousand largely unskilled farm workers at a time the same Government was tightening up on migration in general because of concerns we were dropping the ‘quality’ of our skilled migrants. Sensibly, and with profound (or cynical, depending on your perspective) political judgement, it was done quietly and what could and arguably should have caused a political backlash, passed virtually unnoticed by the public. As a result, 4000 people who would not otherwise not have had any pathway to residence because they are effectively farm labourers but who were making an economic and social contribution to the rural economy, now have a path to achieve it.

Mr Dutton, it seems to me, must have known his musings on maybe, possibly ‘looking at’ creating a pathway for white farmers was not going to fly and it is impossible for me to conclude that he has done anything other than cynically exploited the situation white farmers find themselves in across South Africa. He didn’t fly his kite for them, he flew it for political gain at home.

Those of you who think, so what, if it helps thousands of farmers to get somewhere ’safe’ and to a ‘civilised country,’ you might want to reflect for a moment on what the chances of it happening really are.

It is very interesting that in the past few days the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, one of the Government’s most senior Cabinet Ministers, several senior politicians along with the Prime Minister himself have all poured cold water on Mr Dutton’s suggestion. It would suggest that his kite-flying exercise was pretty much simply politicking, not for the ultimate benefit of any white South African farmer, but for local consumption. That is what made me so angry and disgusted – if he was truly serious, he’d have gone about it very differently and in a way that might have been politically acceptable and worked.

The second tragedy the piece illustrated is that South Africans have sadly got to the point where they cannot have a grown up discussion about anything without it descending into ugly vitriol and accusing one another of every opinion being based on a racist worldview. Anyone who ever believed in a ‘rainbow nation’ must surely, by now, realise if it wasn’t always an illusion, it is a crawling baby struggling to learn to walk. I got to the point a while ago in South African hotels of dreading the question about what colour toast I wanted for breakfast, in case my preference for ‘white over brown’ might be construed as the outward manifestation of my inner racist, rather than a simple taste preference. (‘Why don’t white people want to eat brown bread I ask you!?’ I can hear Malema screeching into his bullhorn, ‘It’s because if it is brown, it is inferior to white!’ I imagine he’d then start dancing and singing about ‘one farmer, one piece of brown toast’).

That last week’s blog resulted in a very predictable firestorm of ignorance, abuse and hate on social media was sad. All I was saying was if white farmers deserve a break because their lives are threatened what about all the other people around the world being threatened for no reason other than their skin colour, religion, political beliefs as well? Why aren’t they being treated with the same ‘compassion’ as Dutton claims to be showing white farmers? There are thousands of people being held in appalling conditions in Australian detention centres who one might reasonably argue should be ahead of South African farmers in the ‘help us’ queue.

No matter what the discussion point, if you don’t agree with my opinion, I must be a racist. If I don’t agree with yours, it is you who must be a racist. So it seems to be in South Africa. Even 24 years after the dismantling of apartheid, old world views in South Africa still run very deep. There are plenty of politicians, Julius Malema being the prime example in South Africa, willing to exploit those for maximum political gain. To also have a senior foreign politician in a country like Australia which has a very recent – some would suggest ongoing – sorry history of racist immigration policies, is to offer little other than pouring fuel on the South African flames. I am not sure who that actually helps in South Africa.

Is a target of 30% black ownership of land in South Africa such a bad thing if done properly, sensibly and fairly? Before I set anyone else off, I agree – if it is done properly – and over the past 24 years it is hard to find a lot of evidence this is an economy where the political leadership has done much ‘properly’. And therein lies the real problem – only when local politicians stop turning the economic argument into a racial one can there be any chance of success or peace in this land.

Maybe I didn’t explain it very well, but so many people either could not see beyond their own biases having read the piece last week and launched into racist attacks (seemed to be equally split between black on white and white on black) yet most, in their haste to rather froth at the mouth seemed to completely miss my point.

I feel as desperate for the farmers of South Africa as I do for any victim of the senseless violence that pervades this country.

Mr Dutton has raised the expectations of literally millions of white people who now want to believe, because they are white, that Australia is some sort of knight in shining armour that will ride to their rescue.

I am pretty certain that it will not happen – not for the South African farmers let alone any other white, ‘christian, cricket and rugby playing people’ that he has said ‘assimilate’ so well into Australia. If those things count then add ‘points’ for being a fully paid up member of your local South African cricket club to the ‘points’ criteria for skilled migration. If being Christian makes you a good Aussie, then give all those that go to a Christian Church 20 bonus points. Australia operates a test for English language so why not a tractor driving test, if what they want is farmers?

Mr Dutton’s biggest mistake (or achieving exactly what he wanted) of course, was to go public with his musings rather than quietly make the suggestion, perhaps at a closed Cabinet meeting, for further discussion.

Ironically, he has now put the Australian Government in a position where in my view, they cannot help the South African farmers and for me, that is the greatest tragedy of all – a cynical politician of the worst kind or just a very stupid one.

Across Australia the clear majority of people have great sympathy for anyone who is targeted, officially or unofficially, because of the colour of their skin. Given how divisive the ‘benefit’ of economic migrants and refugee seekers is in Australia it is simply not going to open a residence door just because a person is ‘white’.

It is 2018 after all in most of Australia, even if where Mr Dutton comes from it is still 1918.

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