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Asia-Pacific

Apr 22, 2010

Tamils vote for independence — and will vote against Labor

Australian's Tamil community want an independent homeland in Sri Lanka. And they want respect from a federal government here that is now denying visa applications to their people.

Australia’s Tamil community want an independent homeland in Sri Lanka. And they want respect from a Federal Government here that is now denying visa applications to their people.

Last weekend saw thousands of Australian Tamils vote on the Vaddukoddai Resolution in a show of support for an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. They’ve told Crikey they’re angered by Kevin Rudd’s statements on refugees; some are preparing to campaign against sitting members during the federal election.

Results show overwhelming support locally as elections in Norway, France, Canada, Holland, Switzerland, Germany and Britain saw 99% of voting Tamils back the proposal. The vote has no real political consequence, though it proves the potency of the idea of independence for a traumatised people who simply don’t trust a majority Sinhalese-Buddhist elite to treat them with equality.

I was an election monitor on Sunday in the outer Sydney suburb of Oxley Park (and visited another polling booth in Homebush) and spoke to countless Tamils who expressed their growing anger at Labor’s refugee policies. Many said they would vote Greens for the first time in their lives.

Some live in marginal seats, such as Parramatta (Labor’s Julie Owens), Greenway (Liberal’s Louise Markus), Bennelong (Labor’s Maxine McKew) and Lowe (Labor’s John Murphy). Crikey understands some Tamils are seriously considering contributing to targeted campaigns in some seats against sitting Labor members.

Labor’s Holroyd City Council Councillor Tamil Vasee Rajadurai told Crikey he was “disappointed” with Rudd’s latest refugee shift. Although he called the Prime Minister a “compassionate” man who apologised to the Stolen Generations and would never sink to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s race-baiting level, he asked the Australian government to understand that Tamils were increasingly fleeing Sri Lanka for a reason.

The Councillor said that it would take years before viable Tamil politicians would emerge in Sri Lanka due to the level of intimidation by government forces in the north and east of the country.

Vyramuthu Vijayasivajie, who arrived in Australia 17 years ago, epitomised the sentiment I heard all day. He always voted Labor but said this year he would for the first time be voting Greens. His antipathy towards the Federal Government was palpable.

In the final stages of the war last year he told me the ALP “stayed silent; while in opposition, Kevin Rudd and the party were quite vocal about the situation in Sri Lanka.” During the crisis, he continued, the Greens spoke out against the atrocities and he was especially happy to hear leader Bob Brown condemn Colombo’s onslaught and the Rudd government’s silence.

Vijayasivajie, 56, met Labor MP Julie Owens last year and told her that if he had no family in Australia he would want to join the Tamils in their fight against the Sri Lankan forces. “She didn’t say much to that,” he said.

He was “angry” with Rudd’s hardening of refugee policy and was scared of “another Tampa”. He personally knew of Tamil women raped by Sri Lankan armed gangs in the country’s north, roaming at night in the areas where Tamils are released after enforced detention.

During last week’s Community Cabinet Meeting in Sydney, Immigration Minister Chris Evans was asked by two Tamils to justify the Rudd government’s suspension of refugee claims from Sri Lanka. Evans claimed the security situation in Sri Lanka had “improved” and two “democratic” elections had been held since the end of the conflict in May 2009. The minister believed in “positive engagement” with Colombo “to provide more security for the Tamil people” — “shouting from the sidelines” was futile.

NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon — running for a Senate seat in this year’s federal election — told Crikey that her party is currently crafting its election strategy but she is hearing a great deal of frustration with ALP policy on Tamil and Afghan refugees.

There is “considerable disquiet in inner-city seats [such as Lindsay Tanner’s seat of Melbourne] where people are outraged that Rudd, who was elected with great promise and hope, had not ended the inhumanity that the Howard government had displayed towards refugees.”

But the ALP may also have troubles in outer Sydney seats such as Reid, Rhiannon argued, because the Greens had “carved much territory” after the 2001 Tampa affair. The party saw a mass influx of new members.

A number of Tamils told me, and this is confirmed by Rhiannon, that Rudd’s asylum seeker stance is denying Tamils and Afghanis due process, a position arguably harsher than under Howard. This is because their claims aren’t even being considered; they are being denied a rightful hearing. It may be “worse than temporary protection visas”, Rhiannon says.

Councillor Rajadurai told me the “President of Sri Lanka has the opportunity in his hands to begin reconciliation [with Tamils] now. It’s the best time to do this now but the signs are not there.”

*Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution

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10 thoughts on “Tamils vote for independence — and will vote against Labor

  1. Michael James

    So an ethnic group has a grievance with what’s happening in their homeland and are upset, in particular with the Australian Government. Let’s break it down.

    The Tamils waged a civil war against the majority government and peoples of Sri Lanka, which included atrocities on both sides, as commonly happens with very long running insurgencies that use terrorism as a tool of war.

    They lost; the majority government has defeated the insurgent’s combat forces and is now attempting to bring stability to the country.

    The Tamil Diaspora, who weren’t there doing the fighting, but sending money to finance the insurrection, don’t like the result of the war or the aftermath and took the time to vote in a meaningless plebiscite to reflect that anger.

    Big deal.

    A community within Australia doesn’t like the Australian government’s external policies and claims they will vote as a block against the Government.

    Good going guys, by voting Green in any significant numbers you are increasing the chances of a coalition victory (which will not see a result you are happy with either) while pissing off the current Government, making them less likely to make changes to accommodate your views.

    Your tactics may make you feel better, and even win you some new friends in the Green movement; however by opposing a policy which has both bipartisan political support and the support of the wider community, you isolate yourselves even more.

    I think this is called a lose – lose scenario.

  2. Roger

    I can just see Lindsay Tanner shaking in his shoes at the thought of a block vote against him by Tamil residents in his seat!!!!!!! That sort of outburst will certainly not make them flavour of the month/year witht the Govt. Perhaps the Tamil community should reflect more on the joys of living in a country, that had the generosity to allow them residency. Should they not , then a one way ticket to Colombo shouldn’t be beyond their means. I will personally be happy to stand at the departure lounge and wave bon voyage. Be interesting to see if these same Tamils have the courage to criticise the Sri Lankan Govt from within Sri Lanka, perhaps on the steps of the Presidents residence. Doubt it. Ungrateful lot.

  3. Mr Squid

    While we’re at it, let’s get rid of or charge the hundreds of non-Tamils in Australia who funded the Sri Lankan Government’s genocide. Australia has a history of providing shelter for people of all religions or beliefs who fund terror, genocide and other forms of crime against humanity. Why is it that we limit our focus to Muslims and not evil Tamils, Sinhalese, Croatians, Jugoslavs, Irishmen, Christian Lebanese, etc etc? Funding terror by anyone – foreign Governments or foreign groups or foreign individuals – is a crime.

  4. MAREE WHITTON

    I totally agree with Michael James and Roger (to-day’s date). If the Tamil Community living in Australia want an independent “homeland” in Sri Lanka, what are they doing living in Australia. Maybe if all the unhappy Tamils had stayed in India and fought the Indian Government, perhaps the Tamils would have won the war and they would have their “homeland”.
    The problem is Australia is too good a place to come to, we are very friendly and our welfare is the best in the world. Once a refugee makes it onto Australian soil they have everything at their fingertips including expensive legal aid which most Australian Taxpayers would never qualify for.
    Stop trying to make every one feel guilty because the majority of Australian Taxpayers are concerned about our own country. I think we all should have a say in who comes to live in this country.
    The Greens don’t care whose votes they get, as long as they get a vote.

  5. daveliberts

    I’m a first generation Australian of Latvian heritage. My people (my grandparents and dad were among the first off the boat in the post-war non-English-speaking immigration boom) arrived and voted Liberal en masse, as Labor was associated in their eyes with the communism they were escaping. The Vietnamese did precisely the same 30 years later, with the result that Gough Whitlam referred to them as ‘Asian Balts’ (a line which still makes me and my 87-year-old grandmother share a chuckle, ‘balts’ being a reference to the people from the Baltic coast which includes Latvians). And you know what? As a first generation Aussie, I love cricket, South Australian beer and I vote Labor. Immigrants do bring their political baggage with them – and they can’t be blamed. But their kids become too Aussie to be anything else. And it’s one of the best things about this country.

  6. Roger

    DAVELIBERTS…… You are my kind of guy, except anyone who loves Sth Australian beer has a serious problem with their taste buds 🙂 loved your post hope a few Tamil/Australians take time to read it and Antony Loewenstein ensures they do.

  7. michael crook

    The Sri lankan Tamils, probably more than any group apart from the Palestinians have attempted to explain to Australians the genocide taking place in their home country, but we have such a fantasy world approach to world affairs, created by our media, that we choose not to listen, largely because if we do, then the complicity of our own government in supporting these genocides might make us feel a little uncomfortable. Like the war crime invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, we twist and turn and lie to ourselves, because we are “nice” and are “humanitarian”. I regret to say that we are neither, as part of the war machine of the greatest terrorist state in history, we will be judged correctly by history as a small cog in an evil machine. I feel sorry for the Sri lankan Tamils, the Palestinians, and the Afghans who must feel that are surrounded by the most sanctimoniously hypocritical truth denialists in the history of the world.

  8. Roger

    Michael you feel sorry for the Sri Lankan Tamils? Do you feel sorry for the Ghandi family after the Tamils murdered two of their members who were at last attempting to open up the closed society in India that had kept the class system alive and well. Any chance you still feel so sad for the Tamils who in this country abuse their new found democracy, which the Ghandi family were attempting to initiate in India. Your sorrow for them is shrouded in either ignorance or a blatant disregard for terrorism. Frankly I am convinced you are just stupid, probably a supporter of Senator Fielding, thats the type of rubbish he spouts.

  9. Michael James

    “The greatest terrorist state in history”.

    My oh my, is that what passes for history in today’s education system? Lets check out just a few from recent history.

    Check out Nazi germany, 6 million Jews, gypsies, priests, Poles and anyone else who they didn’t like passing into the ovens, plus plunging the world into the greatest, most destrucvtive war in history.

    Check out Soviet Russia, tens of millions dead from purges, revolutions, forced collectivisation, exiled to the Gulags, rorced relocations of entire populations, enlargement of borders vis military action and signing a non-aggression pact with the aforementioned Nazi Germany, about as breathtaking piece of cynical realpolitik as one can find.

    Check out the people’s Republic of China, currently sitting between two stools (confucianist communism and robber baron capitalism) but which was once the byword for repression, statist control of every aspect of society, vast famines caused by political dogma and the repressive control of dissent through one of the world’s great internal organs of surveillance.

    Check out North Korea, its everthing that a repressive nation state shouldn’t be, in the view of the hereditary thugocracy running the place the only things of less value than the lives of foreigners are the lives of their own citizens.

    Perhaps Michael Crook should check out some more of that history he mangles in the pursuit of a political point.

    At the moment all he does is insult the intelligence of the readers of Crikey.

  10. michael crook

    Dont normally respond, but my grasp of history is fine thank you Michael. The USA hs engaged in terrorist acts in foreign countries for well over a century now, with Mexico and Cuba being early recipients, and I dont need to list to the 50 countries it has bombed or invaded since WW2, quite apart from the targetted asassinations in many others. While it may not be the first state to engage in permanent war as state policy, it has certainly taken war to an art form, and recognises no rules to govern its actions. For example it does not recognise the International Court of Justice as having any jurisdiction over its own citizens and repeatedly flouts Geneva Conventions on the conduct of its wars, and because of the poor military performance of its standing army, now employs increasing numbers of mercenaries to carry out its pogroms . Keeping in mind President Eisenhower”s final speech there is little doubt in my mind that many of the recent wars, eg Iraq, have been conducted mainly to maintain the profits of the US military industrial complex. Slaughter of innocents to keep the shareholders dividends intact? Now that is what I call taking terror as government policy to an art form. The USA has learnt well from history, and by its very arrogance has placed itself not only in the company of those countries you mentioned, but by the very longevity of these policies, exceeds them. Also unlike most of those countries, they are not yet finished.