Friday, May 25, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Iraqi sandwich test: white flight
They’ve seen worse than a media beat-up in war-torn Fairfield

Picture by Paddy Manning

It’s not hard to find Iraqis and Syrians in Sydney’s Fairfield who are offended by the concept of “white flight”, used in passing by New South Wales Opposition leader Luke Foley yesterday and then over-egged by the Daily Telegraph, which had more fun with the story today [$]. As I read Foley’s actual comments, he wasn’t saying “stop white flight” at all, which is what the divisive tabloid’s front page screamed; he was saying that while governments were keen to invest in the outer-suburban growth areas that white people are moving to, they should not forget to invest in those suburbs that many white people have left. Foley is no dog whistler. Still, anything that gives comfort to the Pauline Hansons of Australia is unforgivable, and for that reason alone it was a mistake. Offence was taken, outrage piled on, an apology given, and hopefully we can now focus on the very real issues Foley was trying to draw attention to.

Let’s go back to Foley’s actual words, as reported by the Daily Telegraph on Thursday [$] (and forgive the long grab):

“I’m particularly concerned about suburbs around Fairfield because they’re carrying just a huge burden when it comes to the refugee intake from Syria and Iraq. Something like three-quarters of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees are settling around Fairfield. It’s all right to come up with a grand gesture of we’ll take 10,000 Syrian or Iraqi refugees but where’s the practical assistance? I’m saying, what about that middle ring of suburbs that have experienced, if anything, just a slow decline. In terms of employment, in terms of white flight – where many Anglo families have moved out? I’m not prepared to see the people of those suburbs denied opportunities that are taken for granted elsewhere. I celebrate the growth of the northwest and southwest and the opportunities the airport will bring … but I’m saying let’s not forget about the struggling ring of suburbs as well.”

He wasn’t advocating white flight, and he wasn’t blaming refugees for anything, he was arguing for more services on their behalf. Foley’s problem was that Hanson, the expert she is, jumped on the bandwagon and congratulated him. “I said it 20 years ago,” she said on commercial TV. “I said there’ll be places in Australia that we won’t even recognise as being Australian … I said they’re forming ghettos.”

As it happens, I recently had occasion to read Hanson’s Beenleigh address, given 20 years ago at the formation of One Nation, ahead of the 1998 Queensland election. Without dignifying that speech with a link, it was worth a re-read for two reasons. Not only is it a window into the depths of her cynical political opportunist heart, but it’s also a reminder of how the blatantly, disgustingly racist alarm she sounded – like the health risks of Asian immigration – looks so much more ridiculous 20 years later when none of it came true (of course) and she is trying to pour the same racist petrol on a different fire.

Out in Fairfield, rather than visiting the same pub I’ve tested for The Monthly Today on a previous occasion, which was as empty as the Assyrian man quoted in this morning’s Tele says, I stopped for a delicious chicken samoon at what is literally the first Iraqi shopfront I’ve ever seen in my life. Sitting out the front of one of the cafes on Ware Street, there are plenty of men and some women smoking and talking. Chatting at one table are a bunch of Iraqi–Australians born in Baghdad – one Kurdish Muslim, four Christians, one Chaldean and one former Republican Guardsman who deserted after the invasion of Kuwait in 1991 – and we labour through the background to Foley’s comments and the ensuing furore they’ve read none of. Then we get somewhere: “Of course white flight is racist,” says the Kurdish bloke. “Yes I do find it offensive.” They remind me there’s a long history to tabloid beat-ups on Fairfield, sometimes described as Australia’s most dangerous suburb, going right back to 1997 when members of feared gang the Assyrian Kings murdered policeman David Carty. Fairfield is safer than it used to be, they say.

On through the mall, I sit down in a non-descript coffee shop where more older men, more recent refugees from Syria are playing cards (the game is called concan), drink tea or coffee and get homesick. They are all Christians, the shop’s Iraqi owner tells me, and hardly speak English. Many were farmers from Al-Hasakah, in Syria’s far north east, where ISIS kidnapped more than 200 people and demanded ransoms. But most of these men, I’m told, left Syria well before then, in the early years of the civil war, and have spent years in Turkey or Lebanon before coming here. There is no point talking to them, he says: “You’re a journalist, you’re not going to know who is telling the truth.” He came here himself as a refugee in 2001 – he left Iraq in 1993, but spent six years in Jordan – and points out that Fairfield is huge, used as shorthand for a local government area almost 20 kilometres long. “They all say Fairfield, they don't know what they’re talking about.”

since this morning

Peter Dutton has suggested [$] that he could be more open to a deal with New Zealand over resettling refugees when there are only a “small number of people” left on Manus Island.

Queensland’s Supreme Court will freeze [$] more than $500 million of assets belonging to Clive Palmer and his companies, amid a “real risk” that the businessman could take steps to frustrate or inhibit justice.

High-profile Greens senator Lee Rhiannon will quit [$] federal parliament in August, making way for NSW state MP Mehreen Faruqi after a bitter preselection fight.

ALP president Mark Butler has warned [$] that an early federal poll could force the Opposition to contest an election without first holding a national conference to determine the shape of key policies on issues such as border protection.

in case you missed it

The AFR’s Andrew Tillett considers why federal MP Andrew Hastie risked China’s wrath [$].

Press gallery icons have voiced their support for suspended Sky News host Samantha Maiden, who has been told to take leave while the broadcaster conducts a workplace investigation into complaints apparently relating to her behaviour around other colleagues.

by Luke Goodsell
‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’: a safe take on the rogue’s origin story
Ron Howard’s entertaining prequel is missing the looseness Han deserves

by Helen Elliott
‘A Sand Archive’ by Gregory Day
Day grasps landscape as an intimate living thing

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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