Friday, December 15, 2017

CRIKEY: Why George Christensen might make a great immigration minister

Barnaby Joyce reckons George Christensen needs to be given a portfolio. Would Immigration be a good fit? Have you head the rumour? Apparently National Party leader Barnaby Joyce is training up George Christensen for a ministerial gig. At least, I think it’s a rumour. At least I hope it’s a rumour, both for Malcolm Turnbull’s sake and possibly for the sake of the public servants whose jobs come within any portfolio handed to Christensen. And Fairfax says it’s
... time to take George Christensen seriously.
All this raises a few questions:

  1. Which portfolio would be suitable for someone with Christensen’s set of interests and skills? 
  2. If no such portfolio exists, could a new portfolio be created from Christensen? 
  3. By George, what on earth is Barnaby Joyce thinking? It may be true that Christensen is “authentic”, “well-read” and “intelligent”, but what is the broader political strategy here? Is the aim to cash in on a possible Trump factor? Is it to steal votes from One Nation? 

Or perhaps I am being a bit too cynical. Maybe Joyce wasn’t just throwing some praise in Christensen’s general direction to add to a juicy Fairfax Good Weekend profile. Perhaps I should go study Christensen’s colourful parliamentary history for clues.

Let’s start with Christensen’s views on immigration. The guiding principle of any immigration policy, according to Christensen, is that we should not allow (or at least we should heavily restrict) immigration from countries that don’t share our values. Or to put it another way,
... ending immigration from countries with a high level of violent extremism.

To make this policy work, we need to define what our values are. How do we manifest our values and how have they emerged from our history?

These are huge questions that I hope Christensen, for all his wide reading, can answer. Former PM John Howard once defined Australian values in a generic fashion — things like mateship and equality for women. As if people in, say, Afghanistan, don’t have ideas of mateship and friendship. And if broader European attitudes toward sexual assault (yes, 27% of Europeans think rape is acceptable in certain circumstances) are any indication, maybe we don’t need more European migrants.

I’d hate to see Christensen’s version of Australian values emerge from some of the history in his own electorate. Many Australians don’t know this, but slavery was practised in certain parts of the colonies. Most worked on sugar plantations in northern Queensland, where Christensen’s electorate is located. When the Commonwealth of Australia was established in 1901, one of the first pieces of legislation was The Pacific Islander Labourers Act ordering the deportation of all South Sea Islanders to their home islands by 1906:
These Islanders had originally been brought to Australia as sugar slaves. At this time 9324 South Sea Islanders lived in Queensland … They also included those who had lived in Queensland since before 1 September 1879 … Some had married and had families in Queensland. Others had lived here for a very long time and grown old. It would have been difficult or even impossible for Islanders to return to their home islands. Records and knowledge of precise origin were often scant as a result of the questionable recruitment processes and decades making lives in a new country.
To his credit, Christensen acknowledged the cruelty of this slavery policy and the extreme discriminatory legislation that affected them. He even called for a national apology to the Australian South Sea Islander community in 2013.
Just as we’ve had an apology on behalf of Aboriginal Australians who were a part of the stolen generation, we’ve had an apology for those who were forcibly adopted, that in this instance it’s only right that we have a national apology to the South Sea islanders for the treatment they were given.
This is a side of Christensen that is rarely reported. It is also a side he needs to articulate more in relation to those fleeing slavery-like conditions to our shores. Slavery was being practised in Islamic Sate-held territories in Iraq and Syria. This included sexual slavery of women from all denominations and ethnic groups. ISIS is not the first group or state to use sexual slavery as a weapon of war. 

Perhaps we can appeal to Christensen’s better angels. You never know. He may turn out to be a compassionate immigration minister one day.

First published in Crikey on 5 December 2016.

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