Politics: A visit to my local Member

So the High Court of Australia has told the government that they can’t send asylum seekers to Malaysia, because Malaysia’s human rights record isn’t good and it would contravene Australia’s obligations under the UN Convention on Refugees.

And apparently some voices in the government, rather than saying, oops, OK then, we’d better not do that, have instead decided that the problem is our approach to human rights (which is certainly problematic, though not in the way they seem to think) and our obligations under the said UN convention.  Tony Abbott is kindly suggesting that we return to the Liberal Party’s Pacific Solution, and Labor is not ruling this out.

Of course, this would require that we cease to be signatories to the UN Convention, but that’s alright, because it’s outdated anyway (drat, I had a truly blood-pressure-raising article for this, but now I can’t find it).  And stopping people smugglers is far more important than protecting people’s human rights.

This makes me livid.

Getup is encouraging people to ring their politicians, which is a step I’ve never taken before – and with the acoustics in my workplace, I’m reluctant to do so.  But my local member has his office on my street, so I dropped in this morning before work to say hello and let him know some of my thoughts on the matter.  The poor man probably knows my thoughts on this and several other matters quite well by now, since I am an inveterate emailer and writer of letters.  Still, I’m told that phone calls and visits are more powerful than letters and emails, and I find this whole situation distressing beyond belief (I also find Labor’s current tendency to let the Liberal party set its agenda baffling and deeply unwise, quite aside from the ethics of this situation).

Visits are much more scary than letters.  I’m quite good at communicating via the written word, after all.  I can make sure I’ve made all my points, and I can put them neatly in order with the right words around them and send them off in a tidy, coherent letter.  Walking into someone’s office and saying “Hello, my name is Catherine and I live in this electorate and I’d like to speak to the MP about asylum seekers” is a different thing entirely.

The MP was, of course, unavailable.  I think he might be in Canberra, actually.  But that was OK – I figured I’d be talking to one of his staff members.  It’s still very, very disconcerting to stand there explaining my political opinions to a complete stranger, as he earnestly takes notes and assures me that the MP will certainly call me back.  I explained briefly that my father’s family were immigrants and economic refugees, that my maternal grandmother’s family had been refugees to Britain from Nazi Austria, and that I felt very strongly that we should be treating our immigrants and asylum seekers better.  I said that the Liberal Party’s treatment of asylum seekers under Howard was one of the reasons that Labor had won the 2007 election (it even broke my grandmother’s 30+ year streak of voting Liberal), and that the Labor Party needs to demonstrate that they are different from the Liberal Party.  I said that Australia is a country of immigrants, that most Australians do in fact feel we should process asylum seekers in Australia and allow genuine refugees to stay.  I did not say that even if most Australians didn’t feel that way it was the right thing to do and the government should show some moral leadership, but I thought it very loudly.

I said all this very politely and hesitantly because while I do believe every word about it, it’s very difficult to be vehement and sure of oneself while standing behind a tall counter in a very quiet, neat, official-looking office and speaking to an intimidatingly well-groomed stranger in an expensive suit, and I felt like a right twit, to be honest.  Though I was informed that the MP does appreciate hearing from people in person and on the phone.

Altogether, it was excruciating.  Letters are much easier… but that’s probably why they carry less weight.  Actually, public speaking is easier, too, at least for me.  You don’t *have* to look anyone in the eye for that.  I’m sort of hoping the MP does not get around to returning my call.  One act outside my comfort zone is enough for today.  But if he does, I’ll say it all again, and hopefully I’ll say it better.

I have no idea whether I will ever do this again.  I have no idea whether it will be less scary next time.  I still prefer letters.  But I really can’t bear for us to go back to the Howard era – and under Labor no less.

If you’re Australian and feel strongly about this, please consider ringing or visiting your local MP.  I promise you, you can’t possibly feel like more of an idiot than I did today.  I’d say you’d have a 99% chance of being more coherent than me, too.  And if you do turn into a shy, stammering idiot like me, at least you get to be a shy, stammering idiot who is trying to fix things…

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