Planes we can handle. We don’t really talk about planes, perhaps because they’re rarely leaky or perhaps because we can imagine ourselves on one with the family going to Bali. We can identify with planes. But we’d never be caught dead on a boat. Not like these ones. Boats must be sneaky, devious sorts because we know that if we had $10 000 we’d spend it on a plane ticket – how have these leaky, foreign boats convinced anyone to part with that kind of money when there are shiny Qantas planes to be caught around the corner at the airport? No, boats are not welcome here in Australia.
Planes have people on them. Human pilots in handsome uniforms fly planes and transport people to Australia. Boats are piloted by people smugglers (and not the good kind like that guy from Schindler’s List...) and transport ‘illegals’ to Australia. We don’t need a court to tell us boats are guilty – we know all about boats and their secret agenda. Boats clandestinely want to deposit large amounts of criminal matter onto our shores, which will slowly but surely eat away at our standard of living and fray the edges of our social fabric. We’ve seen what boat arrivals did to another Australian culture 200 years ago and we sure as hell don’t want it to happen to us.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and other politicians don’t like boats, but they do like people, and their children. So much so they kiss them in shopping centres before elections. At times, it seems, boats do actually have people on them, rather than criminals, but we learn from politicians that this rare occurrence always coincides with those times that the boats haven’t made it.
Boats aren’t safe for people, and all sides of politics agree – we love people and don’t want to see them harmed. If any people had arrived, rather than this criminal matter that is the usual cargo, we’d certainly go to any expense to protect them.
With the few boats carrying real people so unreliable, and the overwhelming majority of boats arriving with criminal intent, what other option do we have? Would $292 million buy really good swimming lessons for the real people we care about? Or maybe a permanent land bridge? Then at least we’d be able to see people pushing their way through the queue and move them to the back of the line. It’s a long way to walk, yes, but unlike boats we do like bikes. With the exception of inner-city Melbourne hipsters who ride dangerous bikes without brakes, maybe Australians could donate our very safe bikes. Better yet, we could get that bright Aussie Dick Smith to invent some floating bikes and we could save money on the bridge... though we’d still need to patrol the borders to make sure the people we care about are safely wearing their helmets. And to ensure the queue remains orderly.
You may laugh, but we need to start thinking creatively like this, because it’s hard to marry our righteous boatophobia with our innate desire to protect desperate people from harm and to respect their right to seek asylum here.
I know there are people who feel sorry for the boats. But I’m not one of them, no matter what those bleeding hearts might say about this form of transportation. We know the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that people are free to seek asylum here –but it doesn't mention those rights for boats. Boats must be stopped.
And then maybe we can build that bridge between ourselves and suffering people.
Brad Chilcott is a Lead Pastor and activist for refugees and asylum seekers in Australia.