On Monday the Australian Government signed off on their ‘refugee swap’ with Malaysia, a deal which will supposedly ‘smash’ the operations of people smugglers, the ‘scum of the earth’ as Kevin Rudd infamously described them in 2009. Under the deal Australia will take 4000 UNHCR approved refugees from Malaysia and dump 800 asylum seekers into the seedy overcrowded illegal underworld of life in Malaysia as a refugee, UNHCR approved or not. The Malaysian deal is yet another chapter in a dark decade of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers.
Sadly, the Malaysia announcement has overshadowed an even more important and damning report released this week. While the media have been focusing on the trivial issues asylum seekers’ mental health, justice, equality and legal rights, it has gone largely unreported that the average number of people attending AFL games has fallen by 3%, down to 35,718, the lowest number since 2006.
While I am opposed to mandatory detention, I believe the majority of Australians are likely to support it, in one form or another. Therefore, I suggest a compromise. I wonder if somehow, we could address these issues together, two birds with one stone as it were. I am proposing we shut down all the detention centres and move the asylum seekers to the MCG, Docklands and Adelaide Oval.
First we need to examine the numbers. In the last ten years approximately 17,022 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia by boat. Now in some people’s view this is 17,022 too many, however if we put this number into (an Australian) context, we see that it is roughly the average attendance of a North Melbourne or Port Adelaide home game. And as football fan will tell you, that is not a huge number. Now, if the government closed down its offshore detention centres and relocated the asylum seekers to the MCG, Docklands Stadium and Adelaide Oval then crowd numbers would be increased and a national tragedy could be averted. While there is a legitimate debate as to whether being forced to watch Port Adelaide is any better than living on Christmas Island, it’s worth a try.
Financially this deal would be a hit. Instead of the government pouring tens of millions of dollars into private firms to run their detention centres, the money could be redirected to the AFL. With the money the AFL would save propping up North, Port and other struggling clubs, Andrew Demetriou could be earning $4 million a year instead of having to scrape by on only $2.5 million, poor sod. In 2012 the Adelaide Oval will be redeveloped to host AFL matches. With a fraction of the money spent on detention centres, the ground could include a purpose built centre for asylum processing. When or if mandatory detention ever ends, that facility could be turned into housing for an academy of young sports people. So, with money saved from imprisoning asylum seekers and a political problem solved, Gillard and co. could refocus on important issues like government advertising, overseas junkets and stopping those pesky gays and lesbians from wanting equal marriage rights.
The strongest concern from white Australia about new arrivals, by boat or otherwise is their failure to assimilate to ‘our culture’ or ‘our way of life’. Now, imagine if asylum seekers were held, not in remote Christmas Island, Nauru or PNG, nor sent to Malaysia, but instead housed the MCG or Adelaide Oval. There could be no excuse for not assimilating. With weekly exposure to footy, cricket, meat pies and beer (albeit mid strength) imagine how ‘Australian’ they would be after only a few months inside. They could be educated in the MCC Museum, learn the history of the Ashes and be immersed in the culture of Bradman, Warne, Matthews and Whitten. The children would be taught essential Aussie phrases ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi Oi!’, ‘Baaaalllll!’ and ‘Tony’s a wanker, da-da–da-da-da’. It would be like a little Australian-making factory and when they would eventually leave, it would be bare-chested or bikini topped, caped in the Australian flag with a Southern Cross tattoo. Of course, for their own protection the asylum seekers would need to be locked away for Collingwood games, after all we would be trying to assimilate them and welcome them, not increase their chance of mental illness or scare them back to Afghanistan, China or Sri Lanka.
The only potential downfall to this plan is that if the asylum seekers were housed at the grounds and AFL crowd numbers continued to decline, the general public might realise just how small 17,022 people are.