Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said this week that our country needs to start “calling a spade a spade”.
And that means his department will no longer be using the term ‘asylum seekers’ to refer to those who try and come to Australia by boat, fleeing persecution in their home countries.
Instead, these people will be called ‘illegals’.
Well, Minister Morrison, we think we’ll join you in this “calling a spade a spade” caper and say this:
You sir, are wrong.
As we all know too well, it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia. Australia is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and that means refugees have a right to enter our country without authorisation for the purpose of seeking asylum.
Our country’s signature on that document means that behaviour that would normally be ‘illegal’ is permitted. Permitted as in legal. As in, okay by us. As in, within the bounds of the law. As in, not ‘illegal’ at all.
But Mr Morrison hasn’t just got it wrong legally, but also morally.
Words influence our society’s attitudes and behaviours. Language can serve to dehumanise and blame or it can serve to inspire compassion and love. Mr Morrison has chosen the former, and decided to enforce that same language on the thousands of officials under his command.
Words and language have never mattered more than in the emotionally charged debate about asylum seekers.
This is the debate where “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come,” it etched into the national consciousness. A debate where “stop the boats” was a catchphrase that helped win a federal election. A debate where we speak about “queue jumpers”, when there is no queue.
Language can be a game changer. And the game has just been changed for the worse.
Calling people who come to this country asking for our help ‘illegals’ only perpetuates an environment of fear and hate.
And this country should be better than that.
You can tell Minister Morrison how you feel about this decision by emailing his office at [email protected] or calling on 02 6277 7860.