Potentially Problematic Opinion Month: Australia Should Withdraw From the UN Refugee Convention

That’s it. I’ve had it up to here with this nonsense. The race to the bottom has got to stop somewhere and it’s about time both parties spelled out exactly what that means.

The ultimate way to “stop the boats” is to withdraw Australia’s support for the UN Convention for the Rights of the Refugee.

Yes, the idea makes me sick. But really, it’s pretty much the only move that either party can make that can’t be beaten.

At this point, we’re already looking at a pair of parties whose policies on this issue have made me literally retch and cry. (Well, their policies on a lot of issues have pissed me off, but I can’t help feeling that the ones that deal with vulnerable people fleeing persecution are the the ones that make me the most disgusted.) I’m so furious at both of them that I have reached the point where I have refused to vote for either of them.

Both Labor and the Coalition seem to be always trying to one-up each other in terms of scare tactics, seemingly to see who can score the most votes from the southern-cross-tattooed, wife-beater-and-flag-wearing, racist-bumper-sticker-toting dickhead constituency.

So if you have the humane treatment of asylum seekers as an issue that could influence your vote, I’ve got some bad news – these are your options:

  • A government who will send people to a country that we already accept asylum seekers from, robbing them of the right to ever come to Australia, even if they already have family here. This government has already been found guilty by the United Nations of 150 breaches of the Refugee Convention over the treatment of a number of asylum seekers and the use of indefinite detention since the reinstatement of off-shore processing, with five more cases pending.
  • Or you can vote for a potential government that will not only maintain the status quo, but build on it, reinstating Temporary Protection Visas, which only allow certified refugees three years of residency in Australia, after which they have to reapply and be reassessed. This type of visa also rules out the possibility of family reunion, and has been accused of being the cause of a spike of women and children getting on boats to Australia to join male relatives, many of whom died in the SIEV X disaster. They are also suggesting a Work For The Dole-type scheme, which sounds good to the average punter, but if you ask anyone who has actually been on government payments, you’ll discover that these sorts of programs actually reduce the time that could be used to search for work, or to volunteer as part of the community.
Two “leaders”.
No vision. No compassion. No solutions.

Both parties have said they are trying to stop people smugglers by taking away their product, namely permanent residency in Australia, but really they are just trying to pander to poorly informed voters with action that looks like it’s doing something, without having to address the actual problem, which is that there is an increase of people fleeing persecution. Indonesia doesn’t want them, Malaysia doesn’t want them… Where else are they supposed to go? Perhaps to a country that is safe, can offer them support and has signed the UN Convention for the Rights of the Refugee? (Hint: That would be us.)

The fact that we have signed the Convention is the reason why they are coming here, but if we are so keen to breach it, why are we even on board any more?

It seems I’m not the first to ask this question. Kevin Rudd has already indicated he would like to “update” the Convention, saying it no longer addresses the traffic flow of asylum seekers. Tony Abbott has said that he supports the notion of changing the Convention, but experts say that changes to the 1951 Convention, which came about after the Second World War and the exposure of the full effects of the Holocaust, are unlikely.

So what are we waiting for? Well, Australia recently won a seat on the UN Security Council, so pulling out of one of the biggest UN Conventions would probably be a bad look for us right now, especially if the time comes that Australia has to shake a finger at other nations for breaching their human rights obligations.

But really, we don’t need to jump to end point that I have suggested. There is a far better option, but one that neither political party seems to have the balls to float to the electorate.

Human rights campaigner and QC, Julian Burnside has proposed an alternative solution: process asylum seekers in Indonesia using Australia resources, to reduce the waiting time and in turn eliminate the incentive to seek out people smugglers.

I entirely agree with this suggestion because it not only allows us to reduce the burden on our Indonesian neighbours, it also offers a range of opportunities for Australians. Consider this: Australian students studying social sciences like psychology, social work, law and other humanities could go to assist the work in Indonesia, and in return for a set period of work, receive a discount on their HECS/HELP debt. It also gives them priceless professional experience that will serve them throughout their careers, as well as bringing back cultural knowledge that they can share with family and friends, which would slowly spread through the community, making it easier to integrate asylum seekers and refugees into the community.

Julian Burnside also suggests that refugees could be required to live for a period of time in regional and rural areas, working locally and boosting populations in towns that are struggling to survive. This sounds like a brilliant idea to me, especially as it will expose Australians who otherwise might not have had previous interactions with other cultures to new experiences and perspectives.

So we might not need to pull out of the Refugee Convention just yet, but one thing is certain: our political leaders need to shift the focus of the discussion from simply stopping the boats to fixing the broader problem. It’s time to stop freaking out about the symptoms and treat the cause, and in turn, fulfil our obligations not only as a nation, but as human beings.

*****

If you’re looking for a little bit more info on what the difference is between refugees and asylum seekers and roughly how many we take a year, this video is a good place to start. It was produced by the ABC’s Hungry Beast in 2009, so the stats are a bit out of date, but the most important part of the message is pretty clear: for asylum seekers, there is no queue. This is something that is being conveniently left out of the debate by both sides of politics.

The other thing the video notes is that emotions tend to run high on this issue. As you can tell, I am no exception.

Potentially Problematic Opinions Month: I’m Fat. That’s Okay.

Don’t mind me. I’m just being fat and fabulous.

I am a fat woman. I have no qualms saying that this is who I am. While I’m not necessarily proud of it, I know it and I don’t need reminding. More importantly, despite the good intentions of many who do so, I don’t need to be chastised for it.

I have tried plenty of diets in an attempt to shed weight, and some have been fantastic in the short term, but more often than not they leave me feeling sluggish, bloated, agitated, hungry and generally awful to be around. The weight-loss shakes might initially taste okay, but my tastebuds always end up catching up with them, revealing their true, artificial nature, no matter how much I’m told to cover it with servings of extra fruit, soy milk, extra ice or by using a blender. (Yes, apparently using a blender makes a difference to taste. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either.) The eating plan might be full of nutrients, but it quickly becomes difficult to stick to when you’re eating something starkly less appetising than the delicious, home-cooked meal the rest of your family are eating. The exercise plan hurts, and believe it or not, I have little to no tolerance for things that hurt, especially when the pain extends for days or weeks afterwards.

I am fat. I have been for a very long time, and despite the holier-than-thou health-sermons people continue to throw at me (or at themselves in my presence, which is just as demoralising), I would rather accept it and enjoy my life in my current form than rob myself of simple pleasures in an attempt to change it.

And according to researchers at Monash University, the University of Canberra and the University of New England, that is a perfectly good response.

A recent study from the aforementioned scholarly institutions on the effects of the “Fatosphere”, a group of blogs about “fat acceptance” and what it means to be plus-sized, seems to indicate that acceptance of one’s shape and size actually results in individuals making better, more healthy lifestyle decisions. Despite arguments from some critics that these sorts of blogs, and the support groups that surround them, promote obesity and unhealthy lifestyles, the study indicates that this new culture is actually reducing dangerous behaviours like crash dieting, cycles of starvation and binge eating, and laxative abuse.

From a personal standpoint, I completely understand where they’re coming from. I’ve seen it in my own life.

In the ten months that I was at home with my family, I wasn’t going out very much, and the only people I was spending time with were folks to whom I was already very close. I didn’t have to worry about being judged for what I looked like, and was freshly armed with a collection of delightful (I would even go so far as to say life-changing, in their own way) plus-size dresses, so I wasn’t concerned about my body at all. Nobody around me was making remarks about their own weight, because we were all comfortable within ourselves. It was just cool all round. When I weighed myself in the morning (well, afternoon) before my shower, it was more out of curiosity than a need to see how much my weight had fluctuated. I was eating better (thanks to being fed good food by my family) and was eating less overall (because I was sleeping more, I wasn’t emotionally eating and had little to no junk food on hand).

Slowly, I started making changes to the way I was living. Unlike the bracketed elements above, these were choices I took entirely off my own back because I wanted to. They weren’t about losing weight; they weren’t about the way I looked… Well, they were actually about my wondering if I would ever be able to be a companion to The Doctor if he ever turned up on my doorstep. (There’s a lot of running involved, okay?) These decisions weren’t based on any kind of external pressure, and they weren’t for any other reason than because I thought they might be fun.

I started walking a few kilometres almost every day, churning through podcast after podcast. Once I week, I walked down to the nearby park and did a few rotations on the different equipment there. I even tried the Zombies, Run! app… (But that was an abysmal failure that left me unable to walk straight for almost two weeks, so I decided maybe I wasn’t ready for that yet.)

As the study linked above suggests, these healthy choices weren’t attached to changing the way I looked. They were about doing stuff I wanted to do. I made that decision not because I felt I had an obligation to do so, but because it just appealed to me. In fact, I’d even say that because there was no obligation, it actually made the choice more appealing.

In the ten months that I was at home, I lost 13kg. It’s not hard to do the maths.

Fast forward to my current situation: I’m working in the industry I love and writing commercials that make me really proud, but I’m also hanging around a lot more people who I’m still getting to know. Unlike back home, a lot of the people around me are very health conscious, which is really great for them.

What’s not so good for me is the way that their vocalness on the subject feels almost pervasive. Every day, there’s a comment about what’s good and what’s bad food. As a result, I am once again becoming increasingly conscious of my body and the way I look. The fact that I have so many brilliant dresses means I have a sort of armour, but the talk of carbs and protein and blood type diets is still confronting. It makes me concerned that because they’re judging themselves, I am also being judged for what’s on my plate or how much blubber is on my frame. It makes me anxious, and that makes me reach for the chocolate bar(s), despite my best efforts to nibble on carrots and apples and other greenery through the day.

That said, it’s not only the anxiety that makes me eat junk as a response; there’s also a significant degree of satisfaction to be had in erecting (and consuming) a great big middle (Kit-Kat) finger to the expectations of others. Being surrounded by negative opinions of certain beloved foods makes the defiant consumption of those things even more tempting: “Screw you! I’m having a whole bag of Doritos to myself and none of you kale-chompers are gonna stop me!”

I’ve become reluctant to go out and exercise because there are considerably more joggers and cyclists doing the rounds, and I inevitably end up making comparisons between them and myself. I walk to and from work most days, but that only really works because the stretch that I walk is pretty much deserted. My awareness levels in terms what I look like have shot through the roof.

And in the last month, I’ve gained 3 kilograms.

I’m more than willing to grant that this attitude could well be me trying to shirk off responsibility. I almost certainly need to address my weight in order to improve my health, but the fact remains that I am more responsible about my health when I don’t feel like I’m being coerced into it.

Putting all that aside, there is still one other issue that I want to make perfectly clear: the only person’s health you need to be concerned about is your own. My fat doesn’t have any effect on anyone but me, and therefore whether I want your advice on diet or exercise is up to me.

And to be perfectly frank, I don’t want it. You can keep that Potentially Problematic Opinion all to yourself.

*****

Potentially Problematic Opinions Month is a thing that runs all the way through August, and was initiated by the incredible Alexandra Neill of Adventures in TV-Land.

This week, Lizzy has written about how Sansa Stark is amazing, and there are more to come!

I was going to try and keep up with a post each week (nobody mention how many BEDA posts I’ve missed – this was meant to be for Sunday 11th but only went up on the 18th!), but I’m obviously way behind. There may be a late explosion of PPO’s though, just so you know. I’ll definitely have one next week. x