About last night’s “Send them back…” and Paul Sheehan

Paul Sheehan bleats about objectivity

Oh my God! Talk about laugh! I am almost cacking myself as I type this! Paul Sheehan is really really upset that the SBS asylum seeker reality show isn’t objective. Wow! From Pauline Hanson minus the lippie this really makes sense. Sheehan himself is as objective on these matters as a Dragons supporter would be on his/her team’s chances in the Grand Final. Yes, I do remember the poisonous diatribe Paul published as an “objective” account of the Chinese in Australia in the post-Tiananmen years of the 90s. To quote Anne Henderson at the time:

Paul Sheehan is a Sydney Morning Herald journalist who returned to Australia in 1996 after a decade in the US and, according to his book he liked what he found: “The overt culture of the nation – its language, cuisine, music, writings, film, dance, architecture, design, sport – all, at their highest expression.” Australia, Sheehan believed, had triumphed from a cultural revolution.

But in his time away, other changes had also occurred. Bob Hawke and Paul Keating had achieved what no other Labor leaders had managed – more than a decade in power in Canberra.

Sheehan is obsessed with the notion that “national problems have been caused by shoddy management and by the racial politics played by the Labor Party and its surrogates in the multicultural industry”. Multiculturalism in Australia is nothing more than “Labor’s prodigious political bluff, a bluff that has cost Australian society uncountable billions of dollars and ruined lives.” Forget Jeff Kennett, forget Nick Greiner, forget Kate Carnell, the only multiculturalists are Labor.

On 25 May 1996, Paul Sheehan wrote a piece for The Sydney Morning Herald entitled “The Multicultural Myth”. In the article, he claimed that SBS television was “a metaphor for the evolving fantasy that Australia should be a cultural federation of glorious diversity”, opined that complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Board were so numerous they were having a “carcinogenic effect on racial cohesion in Australia”, called the president of the Anti-Discrimination Board, Chris Puplick, the “unofficial Godfather of Grievance in NSW” and said one of the reasons for high unemployment in NSW was “the plethora of Thought Police employed by the State”. Somehow multiculturism was threatening Australia’s egalitarian culture “built through trial and error, and fought for and protected with blood and suffering of millions of Australians”…

Among The Barbarians is a longer version of Sheehan’s 1996 article, even repeating the view that Australia will be an eco-superpower, a naive claim given Australia’s stance at the Kyoto summit.

What makes Among The Barbarians a disturbing book is

Sheehan’s defensiveness and obsessive selectivity, matched with conspiracy theories.

Despite years of key conservatives as regular commentators in Australian newspapers, more than a decade of Hanson-style voices filling talkback radio on race, immigration and indigenous issues, saturation propagandising by top rating radio presenters like Alan Jones and Stan Zemanek, Sheehan earnestly believes that, under Labor, “so strong and so ruthlessly imposed were the protocols constraining discussion of racism, discrimination, affirmative action and immigration, it would be a foolish move to smash through and express, with undisguised resentment, the unpleasant fears felt in much of the electorate”.

Among The Barbarians is a skewed Australian canvass, self-justified as setting the record straight. Just one side of the debate on the grounds that it’s never been heard. Sheehan picks at topics rather than digests them, often relying on a handful of opinions to support his…

Laugh! I could cry! See also my posts:  A rather odd argument? (2009); Paul Sheehan again (2007); Lawyer Marsden: Paul Sheehan’s vitriol  (2006); Paul Sheehan misses the point (2005).

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12 thoughts on “About last night’s “Send them back…” and Paul Sheehan

  1. Neil, the show isn’t and doesn’t pretend to be objective. So you can expect expect this type of response. I found it (the show) getting up my nose at points, and you know my views on refugees. I thought it was bad selling of a message.

    Now I haven’t looked at Mr Sheehan’s views before in any detail. I will go through all the links and do a companion post tomorrow,

  2. The show quite clearly is NOT objective and that is a very good thing. The whole point was to confront the views of the participants — something they all knew when they signed up. I think it is a splendid pedagogical exercise, and for the participants in varying degrees it seems to be working. Raquel excepted perhaps…. But even she is affected.

    We should also remember that each hour we see was a week of experience for them. No way we can quite be given the full effect.

    I commend the exercise enthusiastically — as yesterday’s post made clear.

    Objectivity isn’t always the best attribute to have. Especially when it is a cloak for partisanship as it always is with Paul Sheehan.

    I have a more substantial post coming up in a day or so which will also address the second story from the pub on Sunday. I might add my friend B is a soulmate for Raquel, no risk of that.

  3. Don’t get me wrong, Neil. I had absolutely no objection in this case to the program’s lack of objectivity. This was a show, if with a purpose, not your standard documentary. My point was just about tactics.

    I did, however, have some very strange reactions at points. I really mean strange. At one stage listening to participants I wondered just what Australia had become – not on attitudes, but experiences. Had no one done some gardening? Had they not slept on a floor before. Seen a pit toilet?

    As it all proceeded, I felt very sorry for Raquel. Talk about a lamb to the slaughter!

    I also wondered about the way the show would be perceived overseas, whether or not it would just reinforce biases against this country.

    I look forward to your future posts.

    So far as Mr Sheehan is concerned, I just want to comment as someone who opposes the way multiculturalism is presented, who believes that political correctness submerged the freedom for proper discourse. In other words, as someone who accepts some of his points and who indeed got very angry at the time. However, just on what I have read to this point, Mr Sheehan appears to be fighting fights that have now passed. He should get over it as I had too!

  4. Neil, back from the shop and just before I cook. I need to complete my review of Mr Sheehan’s remarks.

    Now if you look at my views, I am not going to accept some of the critcisms of him. For example, I think that it’s beyond challenge, and I base this just on my personal experience, that there was an effective form of censorship exercised during the 1990s that required one to speak very carefully in code if you were to express alternative views.

    I accept that you might challenge this and I don’t especially want to debate it, although I may at some point taking just the changing criteria set out in job ads and selection requirements as an example. There was and still is an overload that actually has notihing to do with the ability to do the job, but expresses socially acceptable requirements as officially defined. I still struggle with some of the official requirements.

    How do I say that I think something is crap when I actually have to address it in selection criteria?

    Leave that aside, I have no reason to doubt Mr Sheehan’s sincerity. However, he also seems to express a series of opinions that actually have little to do with objectivity. To my mind, and this is of course an opinion, he is stuck in the same past mindset that I was. He is a culture war warrior.

    What i really would like is a more objective discussion. My view that Australia should admit far more refugees is an opinion. Even though it is a value judgement, the issues can be discussed in an objective fashion. Then, as in the case of the Chin, a final judgement comes back to the weighting placed on issues.

    I can’t address the emotional content is some of the discussion. I don’t think that it’s helpful to have one set of value absolutes opposed to another in isolation. My view is that the Australian people will respond to and respect a carefully argued position that respects alternative views.

    I found this when arguing White Australia in the 1970s. My position was partially couched in the need to avoid trouble in preselection campaigns where my views varied from my audience. Yet I also found that people would accept argument even where they disagreed.

    I apologise that this comment has strayed, yet the stray has a point. Both of us support a culturally diverse and tolerant Australian society. I have tried to argue that we have no choice. Whether the SBS program will help or hinder remains to be seen.

    Anyway, I now have to cook!

  5. Watching Part III — and what a delight! Three cheers for Raquel! Shows given a chance ordinary people are much nicer than politicians and pundits.

  6. It was very good TV and I agree with you on Raquel. It goes to a point I have made, you have too I think, about the capacity of Australians to distinguish between the general and the particular. Like I am prejudiced against x, so and so is x, but I know him/her and he/she is alright. That’s really why our immigration programs have actually worked.

    Would be interesting to see more on the international reaction.

  7. I read Sheahan’s article, quickly, while watching the “Go Back Where You Came From” . My first response was to react to his coloured language. Reading on I and made a mental note to start checking some of his implicit claims to the object high ground. I missed the first episode so, until I can catch up, I’ll accept his criticism of the boat incident on face value. Reading on it wasn’t long before his own bias emerged.

    He wrote:

    “only ”1 per cent of the world’s refugees are resettled by the UN”. Again, a highly misleading statistic.” No evidence offered other than his opinion.

    Then he wrote:
    “the decision to send a punitive signal to the people smugglers and their clients has been proven to stop the people-smuggling trade.”

    I assume he believes that the Pacific solution worked? No real evidence related to ebbs and flows in movement or conditions within countries of the region that aren’t signatories to the International convention that are warehousing, asylum seekers. No mention of other AFP activities in those countries. No attempt to analyse the relations between people smugglers and local law enforcement agencies. No attempt to put a figure on the cost of covert operations in Indonesia, Malaysia or other warehousing centres.

    I can go on, line by line, but I’ve other things to do.

    Sheahan seems to be suffering from ‘land that’s girt by sea xenophobia’. He’d possibly benefit from being part of an intercultural encounter group like the one created for the SBS program. Having operated a program of such intercultural encounters for an 18 year period I’d only be too happy to act as his guide, at least through Indonesia and Malaysia.

  8. It’s hard to believe after the way this thread has gone, but my original post was not a forensic examination of Sheehan’s article. Nor was it meant to be more than a throwaway line while I continued to think about the next post… To remind you. Aside from saying I do not admire Sheehan’s track record since reading Among The Barbarians while living and working with the Chinese he encouraged paranoia about, all I said was: “Oh my God! Talk about laugh! I am almost cacking myself as I type this! Paul Sheehan is really really upset that the SBS asylum seeker reality show isn’t objective. Wow! From Pauline Hanson minus the lippie this really makes sense. Sheehan himself is as objective on these matters as a Dragons supporter would be on his/her team’s chances in the Grand Final.” In other words the idea of Sheehan advocating “objectivity” is oxymoronic. He was and is essentially a propagandist, a grinder of axes — and the latest article is in keeping with that. “Refugee series is strictly for the gullible” in the title is more than a little tendentious.

    Richard Ackland picks up on that this morning.

    Gullible as ever, I just lapped up SBS’s Go Back to Where You Came From. In fact, it inspired me to think about how the asylum-seeker problem could be ”solved” so that we could be spared too much more posturing.

    Somehow we have to dispel the way the problem is stereotyped. On one hand there are good refugees waiting patiently in a notional queue for their ”turn” to be sent to some nice place like Australia. On the other, mean-spirited queue jumpers who arrive on boats without papers. If we start with the objectives of proper people management policies and control of our borders, we can come up with all sorts of out-of-the-box solutions.

    Second, we must recognise that the link between detention and deterrence is a furphy. Since mandatory detention of asylum seekers was introduced in 1992, the rate of asylum-seeking arrivals has increased…

    Unfortunately, perhaps, Ackland also veers off into territory that takes us well past the achievement of this excellent 3-night program. What the program did do superbly was put a human face on the politics and spin — and challenged those who have departed so far from what we might once have thought decent as to have rejoiced when those asylum seekers were drowned off Christmas Island not all that long ago. As one participant in the program said, it “served the bastards right.” That participant was shocked afterwards to think she would once have thought that — and worse.

    On Sunday I was sharing a drink with someone who in fact did dance and cheer when the asylum seekers drowned. Clearly he is not alone.

    That our media and pollies have brought us so low sickens me. That this program broke the stereotypes cheers me no end — and the fact that we do after all, as Raquel the Bogan concluded, have hearts. Love you Raquel! 🙂

    Sheehan can watch Border Security whenever he likes, or tune into Alan Jones or whoever any day of the week and bitch about illegals and queue jumpers and criminal refugees. It has become the norm and is not even seen by many as indecent.

    Fortunately we now have had one powerful television series to teach us what decency is, and what heroism in in the case of some of the people we met.

    What the best political solution to the refugee situation may be really is another matter, but the poison which has infected thinking on the matter needed to be confronted — and this program did that superlatively.

    In my opinion.

    • The opening line refers to items now deleted from the thread.

      Also take time to read Hadi Zaher in New Matilda. It comes with its own thread of course — the appropriate place to respond to it. I noted there an old sparring partner whose views make me look like a total conservative!

  9. This is the first time I have ever trashed a thread. The exchange that was here was getting nowhere and reflected badly on both participants, I suspect.

  10. Pingback: Two footnotes or updates: but not trivial | Neil's final decade

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