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Feb 16, 2011

Taking the pulse: switchboards light up over asylum seeker funeral

On Monday, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison sparked a debate by questioning the appropriateness of using taxpayers' dollars to fly relatives of victims of the Christmas Island shipwreck to Sydney to attend a funeral ceremony.


On Monday, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison sparked a debate by questioning the appropriateness of using taxpayers’ dollars to fly relatives of victims of the Christmas Island shipwreck to Sydney to attend a funeral ceremony.

As part of the ceremony, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship flew out 21 relatives of the victims to Sydney — 20 from Christmas Island and one from Perth — to farewell their loved ones.

Some of the attendees were survivors of December’s horrific shipwreck, which claimed the lives of at least 30 people. Morrison criticised the federal government for funding the visit, which involved a charter flight to Sydney, a night’s accommodation in Villawood and interpreters plus a police escort and health support.

While Morrison has since toned down his criticism, admitting the timing was “insensitive”, his clear opposition to this basic offering has provoked an emotional response to the asylum seeker issue, from both sides.

The major news outlets have all been running polls this morning asking whether readers agree with taxpayers funding the flight. According to a poll on The Australian, nearly 98% of readers (71,750 votes) disagree that the federal government should pay for Christmas Island detainees to attend the funeral:

Meanwhile, around 70% of voters at the Herald Sun also disagree:

Readers of the Sydney Morning Herald bucked the trend, with at least 69% saying they agree with the government funding the travel expenses:

Over on talkback radio the switchboards have been lighting up, with plenty of callers willing to offer their two cents. Here’s a wrap of what they’re saying, courtesy of Media Monitors.

2UE Sydney:

  • Caller Carole says she’s angry over the taxpayers having to foot the bill for asylum seeker funerals yesterday. She says the Muslim community should have been able to do it. She asks where they get money for mosques and schools.
  • Caller Manny says what happened was a tragedy but they should have been buried in their country of origin and having them buried here gives the rest of the crowd more excuse to stay. He says they are queue jumpers.
  • Caller Simone says Joe Hockey is absolutely right. She says the Govt has done what needed to be done. She says if if her father passed away on Christmas Island and she lived in Sydney, that is where she would want him buried.
  • Caller Michael says he is staggered by the lack of compassion [in relation to the Christmas Island disaster]. Host Stuart Bocking says the cost of the funerals is no concern, but it is the principle of the matter. He says something is being made available to asylum seekers that is not being made available to the average citizen of Australia.
  • Caller Anne says she agrees with host Stuart Bocking on asylum seekers and not much was heard about the funerals of those who died in the Queensland floods. She says she heard rumours they [the asylum seekers] are being given a tour over Sydney via helicopter. Anne says if she had a relative who died in Perth she would be asking for the Prime Minister [Julia Gillard] to pay her fare.
  • Caller Chris says a lot of money has been spent bringing asylum-seekers to Sydney, and asks whether the Federal Government paid for the Australian flood victims or the VIC fire victims to go to funerals.
  • Caller Darren said there was only one religion, and that’s the human race and if he was asked to pay $5 towards the funeral of an asylum seeker, he would pay $10.
  • Caller Margaret says she felt sorry for the children who died in the Christmas Island boat disaster. On the other hand, she says that as far as she is concerned all asylum seekers (she refers to them as “illegals”) should be put on a plane and sent back to where they came from.
  • Caller Debra says she wishes to air her disgust and disappointment at the decision to use tax payers money to pay for the asylum seekers funeral. She says she doesn’t believe these people are paying taxes when they get her. She asks if they are going to pay for her bridge climb. She says these govt positions are un-Australian.
  • Caller Janet says she’s furious with the money being given to asylum seekers for a funeral. She says she needs help with her house but all that happened was someone came to talk to her.
  • Caller Aaron says paying for the funeral for the asylum seekers is encouraging more to come.

2GB Sydney:

  • Caller Peter says the asylum seekers who attended the funeral of their loved ones today should thank the Australian people.
  • Caller Bruce says his wife died three months ago, and he received no assistance for her funeral from the federal government. He says it’s sad the asylum seekers died and that the Navy couldn’t save them, but he thinks the federal government should be helping Australians first, before others.
  • Caller John says that Australia doesn’t owe asylum seekers anything. Smith says today’s funeral arrangements set a dangerous precedent for the future.

3AW Melbourne:

  • Caller Colin says he does not understand why people come on boats when it’s easier to come on an airplane.
  • Caller Michael says most people in the community are sick of paying for things such as this.
  • Caller Deidre agrees with host Neil Mitchell’s argument that the orphan should not go back to the detention centre. She says this is extremely traumatic for the child and is angry.
  • Caller June says it is wonderful the way host Neil Mitchell is supporting the fact that 22 asylum seekers are being flown to Sydney for funerals.
  • Caller Chris says disagrees with asylum seekers being flown to Sydney for funerals and asks if the federal government is doing the same for flood victims.

Triple M Melbourne:

  • Caller Clint says he has compassion for the asylum seekers but does not think taxpayers money should be used to fly them down for the funeral. He says he missed his grandfather’s funeral because he could not afford to fly down for it and the Government did not pay for him.

Melbourne Talk Radio:

  • Caller Lenti says Asylum seekers should be sent to North Korea.
  • Caller Paul says people need to take personal responsibility for their own actions, including those that come from abroad.
  • Caller Ted asks if the government paid for Soldier [Corporal Richard Atkinson’s] family members to fly to the funeral? Host Martin King doubts it. He says it would not have happened if the asylum seekers did not come here in the first place.
  • Caller Paul says he is sick of facilitating a criminal enterprise of people smugglers. He says the families of deceased asylum seekers should pay their own airfares, not the tax payers.
  • Caller Cody thinks Federal Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey should pay for the funeral transport costs of the relatives if he supports it.
  • Caller Gay is disgusted in the Federal Government. Gay complains about having to organise transporting her own family for a funeral and receiving no existence.

ABC Illawarra:

  • Caller Gary says that there will be people out there who have lost relatives and have had to foot the bill themselves, so it is not fair that the taxpayer foots the bill for the asylum seeker funerals.
  • Caller Mike says that he can’t understand the ‘bloody mindedness’ off some of the people in the opposition, including Abbott, about the asylum seekers’ funerals in Sydney this morning.

2CC Canberra:

  • Caller Tony says it seems very convenient PM Julia Gillard was out of the country while the asylum seekers from the Christmas Island boat tragedy were being buried in Sydney.

6PR Perth:

  • Caller Dave discusses asylum seekers and says they are taking [Australians] as idiots. He talks about tax payers money going to illegal immigrants.


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35 thoughts on “Taking the pulse: switchboards light up over asylum seeker funeral

  1. Meski

    And the newspaper polls aren’t worth the paper they aren’t printed on, when you can quite easily vote multiple times with a bit of trivial cookie/scripting manipulation. Although looking at some of the dumb comments from talkback, that’s probably beyond them.

  2. Jenny

    Has anyone reminded these people that if we didn’t lock up asylum seekers in the most appalling conditions in remote locations that they would be free to travel to their families’ funerals of their own accord without needing the Australian Government to fly them there under police guard?

  3. Liz45

    I despair! Sickening! Let’s have the stats on pollies trips to wherever to study the mating habits of polar bears(or some such educational investigation that will enrich the lives of their citizens?). Didn’t stats disclose, that prior to last Fed Election pollies used several hundred thousand $$$’s on their stationery budgets? Denied(wink wink) sending out election propaganda prior to the election? Yeah! Right!(I see little pink pigs?)

    Incidently, I found the close up shots by the media an invasion into these peoples’ grief! Unbelievable! That poor woman’s agony on the front page of a Murdoch rag! Disgusting!

  4. Mark Duffett

    Meski, you’re not kidding. Have a look at the ‘Should Julie Bishop keep her job as Deputy Opposition Leader?’ result at The Australian. If someone hasn’t fiddled that, I’ll eat my hat.

  5. JeffPC

    I am absolutely disgusted with Australians today. These people died on a remote island because of our government’s illegal and immoral asylum detention policies. The *least* we can do for the victims and their families is allow them to attend the funerals. I was disgusted with the opposition yesterday, but now I’m disgusted by what Australia is becoming. These are people… most of them people who have suffered unprovoked violence against them in their home countries. Some have suffered torture and many have lost family members. Almost none have ever been activists or rebels or militants. Many are children. These “boat people” are victims; and then, when some of them die in an horrific accident, primarily of our causing, we can’t even offer attendance at their own family member’s funeral. For shame, Australia, for shame!

    Brilliant work by the opposition to take our eyes off the death of children asylum seekers and the sight of actual loving families weeping over a senseless loss… just like recent events in Australia. No, we must think of “boat people” as heartless monsters with beards,bombs and guns intent on invading Australia and ruining our way of life. We can’t be allowed to dwell on the sight of asylum seekers as little children and poor desperate families.

  6. Pdaddy

    Well thanks for that article. I’m going to print it out and put it on my fridge. That way when the wife complains that I am too quick dismiss the vast majority of Australians as moronic oxygen thieves I can point to that article and continue my rant. I honestly despair.

  7. atticusdash

    Wow. There really is an ideological divide between readers of the SMH and the Murdochracy. I mean a fundamental… fissure between them in how the world is viewed and what is important in it.

    I am astonished by the levels of self interest, and the vitriol employed to self-justify a position exclaiming just exactly why we must not give in to the base concepts of human decency and compassion.

    I don’t know how you describe yourself to your children if this is your language in the face of terrible grief. How do you tell them that this is how just and compassionate beings behave? How can you claim this is us at our best?

    I find this kind of thinking physically painful to contemplate. What Christian benevolence? What bloody Enlightenment?
    We are apes with opposable thumbs. Surely there must be a better creature than us to inherit the earth?

  8. shepherdmarilyn

    The media help to drive the sickness because they simply refuse to make the fucking pollies tell the truth.

    Why is everyone focussed on the cost of funerals and not the $1 billion tag for illegal fucking detention.

  9. Observation

    Its just so easy to take the redneck, fearful and ignorant view. People shooting off their mouth without considering the humanity of the situation. Unlike most countries we have no threat up against our borders and have not gone through the atrocities of a country being torn apart by civil war or foreign occupation directly threatening our families.

    What the hell do we know!

  10. Keith is not my real name

    Helicopter rides over Sydney… ROFL… says it all really

    Caller Anne is a fucking moron.

  11. Liz45

    @SHEPHERD MARILYN – I agree with you! If you can, please let them know that we’re not all heartless and racist. It’s heartening to read the comments of people here. I feel as angry and frustrated as everyone else. Morrison has a very mean mouth and cold eyes, as do the others who froth at the mouth with such hatred – I find them very scary indeed! I imagine that some of them would look like the pro-dictator supporters in Egypt. Scary!

    I also worry about how those poor people felt when they got back to Christmas Island. Who cuddled that little boy until he went to sleep? Why wasn’t he allowed to stay with those who love him? I can’t imagine that they will receive the loving support they need – in a jail? No way!
    The authorities had enough time to bring them to Sydney and let them stay with family or friends, with medical/psychological backup as required. Cheaper too – if they’re so worried about bloody money!

  12. Stevo the Working Twistie

    Why should somebody else have something I can’t have? Especially when they’re a funny colour? No-one’s helping me upgrade my 42″ plasma to a 52″ LCD. Bloody wogs.

  13. Meski

    @Mark: yes, that one’s been hacked. It’s tempting to run the scripts up to beyond the current population of Australia, just to make it look even more ridiculous.

  14. klewso

    That would have been “The Villawood Versaci” wouldn’t it?
    And that “Ozzy Pole”, first you’d have to be in the habit of buying it, to read it, for it’s op-ed take on “whirled gnus”, to know they were running such a poll, to vote in it, Right? So what does that say about that “demographic”, so “catered for”, by “Limited News”?

  15. klewso

    Marilyn – isn’t that what made Assange “Pubic Enema No. 1” – the questions WikiLeaks has since posed?

  16. Mark from Melbourne

    Three cheers for Darren.

    And brickbats for Debra – “she doesn’t believe these people are paying taxes when they get her(sic)” – what a numnut!

    But what about Tony “let’s have a conspiracy theory” from Canberra. “it seems very convenient PM Julia Gillard was out of the country”.

  17. leone

    Caller Gary needs to understand that us taxpayers foot the bill for hundreds, maybe thousands of funerals every year. The destitute, war veterans and their dependants, victims of crime, pensioners, Centrelink recipients, victims of natural disasters, families who can’t afford to pay fir a funeral for a relative – they all get free funerals or subsidies towards the cost. And…… no-one has to be an Australian citizen to get this assistance.

    So why whinge about 12 funerals for people killed in a tragic accident?

  18. Jenny Haines

    All this proves is that in trying to please talkback radio, politicians are dealing with bottomfeeders in our society who have poorly informed and reasoned views.

  19. michael crook

    I hope that all of you guys are out in the community spreading a humanist message. Online is fine, but you have to get an alternative message to people whoses view of the world is obtained from advertising rags.

  20. Ten black donkeys

    I don’t think you should worry about what people who phone in to talkback programmes say or think (if they do think). They can’t be all that representative because they mostly seem to be extraordinarily thick or just plain weird. What normal person would want to be heard on talkback radio? (Or post a comment on the Internet?)

  21. botswana bob

    The Australian on-line poll has 98% of its “readers”(sic) disagreeing that the federal government should pay for Christmas Island detainees to attend that funeral
    that so agitated the taxpayer-funded waste of space Scott Morrison.

    You usually get a figure like this from the total vote for the government in an Iranian election.

  22. MsLizDM

    “Colin says he does not understand why people come on boats when it’s easier to come on an airplane”…

    If he was being straight up about it, then it shows a huge lack of understanding about the issues surrounding people smuggling and about immigration policies. Back to education. This is the kind of stuff we need to learn about in school & understand the complexity of issues rather than sit in reaction mode when reading headlines from the tabloids.

    I’m all up for a more compassionate conversation in the media regarding these desperate people & faster processing of their claims for asylum by the government, rather than promoting xenophobic attitudes listed in the article – it will have positive flow on effects in our community & quell much of the fear. Maybe I’m being a delusional optimist, but it gives me a sense of hope to believe it.

  23. shepherdmarilyn

    I wonder why they get so deranged about boats, this is an island after all.

  24. Malcolm Street

    Ah, Australia, land of the mateship and the fair go…

  25. Tamo

    Talk Back radio is radio for the unemployed and the unemployable.

    I have never been able to listen to it because it’s broadcast in working hours and/or to/from work time.

  26. Stiofan

    I may have missed it, but why were they buried in Sydney, and not on Christmas Island or in Perth?

  27. Meski

    @Stiofan: Why not? An idle question, but if you were holidaying in Bali, and died, where would you get buried?

  28. Stiofan

    @Meski: if I were holidaying in Bali and I died, I would be buried in Bali unless my family paid for me to be buried somewhere else. To put my question in terms you might prefer, why were the Christmas Island dead buried in Sydney and not in Los Angeles?

  29. Gederts Skerstens

    A little sideline: How about this? Everyone gets to say what they think without penalty. No loss of job, no jail, no fine, no teary public apology.
    Undoing Political Correctness should be enough on the platform to get any party elected. Politics has nothing to do with the current Medieval snuffling around for blasphemy. The wrong word or phrase spotted by vigilant informers, pointing to heretical thinking, followed by holy howling.
    If you don’t like an idea, don’t vote for it. But any idea gets to be said. Fundamental.
    The Labor Party as free-thinkers? Maybe in the mists of time. Currently thin-lipped Correctists, except for a couple of the union guys.
    (Not Cameron. Burns would’na much have cared for your Correctitude, Laddie.)

  30. Clytie

    Stiofan, Christmas Island is very difficult and expensive to reach. I think you actually have to have government permission to visit parts of it. So burying these people there would make it very difficult for their family to visit their graves, which is an important part of mourning and recovery.

    Since their relatives mostly live in Sydney, that was the sensible place to bury them. It’s not really a big deal, but for some reason Morrison wants to make it into one.

    I’m not too worried about heretical howling (my dog does it occasionally, disagreeing with the dog next door), but I do worry about people stirring up others against any group. With a nod to Godwin’s Law, this is how the Nazis got away with murdering over 6 million Jews, many of them German citizens. The Nazi Party kept telling the people how Jews were taking their money, cheating them out of jobs, endangering their daughters, sticking together and only marrying each other etc. and after a while yobbos could roam the streets, looting Jewish homes and raping and murdering Jewish people without anyone really protesting.

    It’s not “just talk” when it is designed to dehumanize a specific group, to make them suitable victims for blame and violence. It’s really dangerous.

  31. Stiofan

    Virgin Blue runs regular flights to and from Christmas Island, so it’s hardly difficult to reach. Even if it were difficult, why weren’t they buried in Perth? Sure, it might have been more expensive for their relatives in Sydney to visit the graves, but that is the case for anyone who has relatives buried interstate or overseas.

  32. Meski

    Again I’d say, it’s up to the relatives to decide where they are buried, not us.

  33. nuytsia

    This question is impossible to answer without consideration of obligation and generosity. I would support an assertion that the Australian Government is under no legal or moral obligation to pay the airfares of the mourners. It is not the fault of the Australian people that their relatives are dead, and it is not the fault of the Australian people if they do not have the means to pay for their own airfares.

    That said, I would have been ashamed if we had not had the generosity to spend a lousy few thousand dollars to ease this sad and unusual situation.

  34. leone

    Scott Morrison is not exactly the one to be talking about wasting taxpayers money.

    Morrison was formerly the managing director of Tourism Australia (on a salry of $350,000 a year) and reponsible for the disastrous ‘Where the bloody hell are you’ campaign. This campaign cost us all something like $180 million. It was a failure. The ads were banned in the UK and Canada and were quickly withdrawn.

    Morrison left his potion not long after and opted for politics instead. Maybe that was a bad move.

  35. BeachSummer

    Fellow Australians,
    We are born into privileged lives, whilst those in other countries are not. They are experiencing terror and horror beyond what we can comprehend, and for this I think we should use our privileges to demonstrate compassion and love for all, and revive Australia’s motto of a “fair go”. After all, what makes one human being different from another?

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