Asylum, Immigration Major Factors in Australian Elections

Half a world away in Australia, asylum and immigration are major election issues, and there appear to be some parallels between the complaints being made down under and the emerging asylum battle here in the United States. Elections in Australia are less than two weeks away and newspapers report that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's Labor government is under heavy fire over these issues.

Australia and the United States have very different geographical issues that affect immigration, with the U.S. having a sprawling 2,000 mile border with neighboring Mexico as opposed to Australia being completely surrounded by 4,650,000 square miles of ocean. Although both countries have large land masses--Australia is about the same size as the contiguous United States--the USA has over fourteen times the population: 320 million vs. 22 million.

Those differences aside, however, the political situation in Australia may be a sign of things to come in the United States, as an increasingly fed-up population seems likely to exact political revenge on a government that they see as weak on immigration enforcement. U.S. politicians pushing a radical immigration reform agenda should take note. As Reuters reports in their article "Asylum Seekers Threaten To Sink Australian Government In Election," the situation in the Western part of the city of Sydney echoes much of what Americans are facing:

In this traffic-choked home to two million, a crucible of Australian multiculturalism where many are new migrants, soaring living costs, groaning infrastructure and disappearing jobs have badly hurt Labor, along with crime and drive-by shootings helping to fuel feelings of insecurity.

And as voters lose faith in Rudd's pledge to improve lives through better transport, health and education, they have also grown resentful of new boat people seen as potential security threats, immigration queue jumpers and rivals for jobs.

Two issues causing the backlash against Australian asylum seekers are also at play in the United States; those seeking asylum as a way around traditional immigration and the difficulties of providing welfare state benefits for new immigrants. It's also not just the Anglo-Australians who are questioning the new asylum seekers; it's immigrants themselves, such as a woman profiled by Reuter's, a Vietnamese immigrant named Thi Duc Diep:

Diep fled Saigon by boat in 1978, and like many other overseas-born Australian voters now has a deep antipathy to asylum seekers, who she believes are fleeing for largely economic reasons and the promise of generous welfare.

"We came here for freedom. We worked hard to be honest," the bespectacled 53-year-old says. "I don't want people who don't want to go to work. They shouldn't just take the unemployment benefits."

One Australian politician, Michelle Rowland, whose seat is in jeopardy frets about the problem and says something that could apply just as well to American cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or Houston as it does to Sydney:

"When you're sitting in a traffic jam on the motorway or waiting for a train that never comes, it's easy to think about the taxes you've paid and the benefits others might get," Rowland says. "Asylum is right up there."

The Australian elections take place on September 7th. 


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