A year before he died in 2015, former prime minister Malcolm Fraser agreed to meet me at his Melbourne office to discuss Australia’s treatment of sea-borne refugees.
The cruelties of the offshore detention system, he said, made it look, “from outside Australia … as if the white Australia policy battles are still raging”.
There was no way, he said, that a boatload of “white South African farmers would be treated that way if they sailed into Fremantle harbour” – a sentiment he also expressed to the ABC in 2012.
They were prophetic words, because this week 2GB’s Ray Hadley asked Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton if he was planning to help “white South African farmers who are facing violence and land seizures at home”.
Mr Dutton replied: “I’ve asked the Department to look at ways in which we can provide some assistance … potentially in the humanitarian program, because if people are being persecuted – regardless of whether it’s because of religion or the colour of their skin or whatever – we need to provide assistance where we can.”
This has brought howls of outrage from the Greens, who have been calling on the government to provide visas to 20,000 Rohingya refugees – a tiny fraction of nearly a million fleeing Myanmar – as it did recently with a one-off 12,000 intake of Syrian refugees.
Greens refugee spokesman Nick McKim told The New Daily: “Peter Dutton’s willingness to help white South Africans stands in complete contrast with his cold-hearted neglect of the Rohingya people. He’s now unambiguously taking Australia back to the old racist white Australia policy.”
Ease of integration
It is almost certainly true, as Mr Dutton told 2GB, that white South Africans would “integrate well into Australian society”. They have no trouble communicating in English, and, as the minister pointed out, there’s a “huge South African expat community within Australia”.
What’s hard to see, however, is why that would leapfrog them up the humanitarian program waiting list.
In his interview, Mr Hadley said there were “reports that one white farmer is murdered every week”.
That’s a terrible statistic, if true, but there are far worse reports coming from the “crisis on our doorstop”, as the Greens call it.
Medecins Sans Frontieres reports more than 10,000 Rohingya have been killed in the past six months – close to 400 people a week.
They too have been forced from their land, and their homes and villages destroyed.
Dr Jay Song, a migration researcher with the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, points out that humanitarian visas would not be the right path for South Africans.
She says that although in-country displaced persons can qualify as refugees, they must be facing political persecution.
The South African government says this is not the case. It states: “There is no reason for any government in the world to suspect that a section of South Africans is under danger from their own democratically elected government.”
Dr Song thinks skilled, family or even student visas would be better routes into Australia for the farmers in question, especially if they could bring skills to regional Australia.
As it turns out, the farmers themselves don’t seem too keen to move to Australia at all.
Afrikaner lobby group AfriForum, while welcoming Mr Dutton’s comments, is maintaining that solutions to “the problems that Afrikaners and other minorities experience in South Africa must be found and that a future must be created at the southernmost tip of Africa wherein Afrikaners and other minorities can continually exist as free, safe and prosperous”.
Whether that is achieved will depend upon how bad the violence and unrest gets. The South African government’s plans for forced land redistribution clearly have the potential to get much uglier.
One thing we can say, however, is that Malcolm Fraser’s prophecy looks to be right on the money.
Australia has been locking up legitimate refugees on Nauru and Manus Island for the better part of two decades, trying, absurdly, to resettle them in Cambodia and Papua New Guinea, and offering them cash bribes to return to the countries they fled.
Not only would that brutal treatment never be dished out to white South African farmers, but we are now proactively trying to add them to our humanitarian intake.
Australia’s disgraceful record of politicising refugee issues has rarely been more brazenly displayed.