Six weeks ago, it was Christmas Island. Today it was Villawood in Sydney. Another month, another riot at an Australian detention centre. This is beginning to look like a habit.
One hundred were involved in last night’s trouble, a quarter of all those that Villawood houses. Fires were lit and nine buildings burnt to the ground.
Sixteen detainees clambered onto the roof of the centre from where some hurled tiles at the police and firefighters below. Six detainees remained up there, undetained, well into Thursday evening.
Just as Australians were winding down for the extended Easter break, the Villawood riot reminds them of one of the most potent issues in politics.
The radio shock jocks have been at full throttle all day.
“These hooligans are the last people we want’ they say ‘Fast track their asylum applications by refusing them. Send them all back.”
Ironically, the detainees and their supporters, and they do exist even if hysterical parts of the Australian media drown them out, want one of those same things. They also want faster asylum applications.
Many of those involved in the Villawood riot have been waiting for decisions on their cases, and on appeals to applications refused, for up to 20 months. That’s a long time to be held captive, particularly when there’s no end point in sight.
Even criminals, who have committed clear-cut crimes, can look forward to a particular date when they’re eligible for parole.
Is that justifiable reason to riot? Refugee advocacy groups say ‘no’, but it does make the actions understandable if not excusable.
Outside Villawood today, I met one Iraqi man, who was held on Christmas Island for nearly two years before his asylum application was granted.
His wife’s uncle is there now. He has been for eight months. and counting.
The common reaction of Australians to the asylum issue is that those who turn up unannounced to Australia are cheating the system.
Australians, on the whole, aren’t racist. Despite a common belief that the country is overcrowded, a concept unfathomable in to the rest of the world, they’re generally open to letting genuine asylum seekers in.
What isn’t liked is the idea that some are skipping the proper process by overstaying visas or arriving unannounced, by rickety boat. Let them appeal for asylum in other countries, say some, and then be ‘allocated’ in manageable numbers to Australia.
But here’s a thought. Those who are adventurous, and entrepreneurial enough to travel thousands of miles, take huge risks and invest considerable sums in getting here are the very people a country should want.
Reward the risk-takers now, and they’ll reward Australia over the years and decades to come.
That’s not a popular position. Giving someone a ‘Fair go’ is an admirable Australian quality. It’s trumped, though, by this: it’s unAustralian to cheat.