ERC calls for withdrawal of "prime-time attack on asylum seekers"

The Edmund Rice Centre (ERC) has condemned the Federal Liberal Party’s television ad campaign broadcast in Western Australia and Queensland on Sunday night – calling for an immediate withdrawal of the campaign.

"This ad campaign is a prime-time attack on asylum-seekers, and can only be regarded as another low in Australian politics,” said ERC Director, Phil Glendenning.

“Australia and Australians have moved on from being frightened by images of extensive arrows coming from our north to represent invading hordes,” Mr Glendenning said. 

Against the background of a small asylum-seeker boat in open ocean, the ads show a map upon which five large red arrows progressively stream towards Australia from the north-west – with the arrows bearing the names: Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

“In an election year, once more the dog-whistle is back! Australian society has moved on from this sort of low-rent, base, ugly, partisan divisions,” he continued. “Sadly, both sides of politics make the mistake of confusing border-protection with dealing with the issue of asylum-seekers. They're not the same issue,” Mr Glendenning stated.

“This playing of the race card ignores the facts of the matter: that Australia receives only 1.6% of global applications for asylum in industrialised countries; that an Afghan asylum seeker is four times more likely to apply for protection in Norway than in Australia; and that the end of the war in Sri Lanka does not mean peace – especially for the Tamil minority,” Mr Glendenning affirmed.

“Moreover, under Australian law, people seeking asylum are not ' illegals' - and all political leaders know it!” 

“Under the Howard Government people were sent back to dangerous situations in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran. Through the Edmund Rice Centre's research into Australia's deportations, we have documented that some of these people died and some of their children died.” Mr Glendenning stated. “As a nation we have a role to play to assist vulnerable people: to assess their claims professionally and efficiently, to assist those with valid claims to achieve sanctuary and security, and for those who do not have valid claims to be safely returned,” he said.

“Australians are no longer scared by the xenophobic policies and tactics of the 1960's. The timing of these ads invading families’ Sunday night Mother’s Day viewing represents another low attempt to push an out-dated fear of foreigners. The Hanson agenda will not be over as long as politicians are prepared to stoop this low. Parents are trying to teach Aussie kids real values, such as 'showing compassion for others' or 'being concerned for the vulnerable'. It's a tough enough job already, without national leaders invading the family lounge-room during prime-time viewing to promote messages of intolerance,” Mr Glendenning said.

“The most disappointing element of the asylum-seeker debate of the past ten years has been the forsaking of values-based leadership in both major political parties, in favour of poll-driven pandering to xenophobia.”

“It is no coincidence that as Kevin Rudd has walked away from commitments to some of the world’s most vulnerable people – on issues like climate change and concerning Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers – he has plummeted in the polls. Significantly, those rejecting the PM’s positions on these issues have not moved to support Mr Abbott.” he stated.

“Australians are clearly looking elsewhere. They are looking for leaders with courage, a sense of morality and a desire to lead Australians to some place better. A place that is not characterised by xenophobia and the sort of silly childish maps reminiscent of the worst of the 1960’s. Leadership is not about instilling fear. This ad campaign needs to be withdrawn now!” Mr Glendenning said.

Over the past nine years the Edmund Rice Centre has conducted research into what happens to Australia's rejected asylum seekers. Two major reports have been published Deported to Danger and Deported to Danger II – leading to the making of a television documentary, A Well Founded Fear, which screened nationally in 2008.

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